As Many Miles as Shoes

Shoes. The only thing between your feet and the rest of the world.

Marikina City is known as the shoe capital of the Philippines, a fact I learned while exploring the Shoe Museum last week. Many Filipinos don’t even know that a shoe museum exists in Marikina but by the powers invested in Google I was able to find the most obscure of tourist locations. Even the guard at the door looked surprised there was a visitor.

There is a reason the museum isn’t well known. The entire shoe exhibit takes only 20 minutes to walk through, including detailed reading of labels and inspection of dusty glass cases. The museum boasts 749 pairs of shoes, almost exclusively donated by Imelda Marcos, the wife of President Marco. And I will admit the woman did own quite a lot of shoes but when shoes aren’t dancing, climbing stairs, or running through giant mud puddles they aren’t much to look at.

I had so much time after the exhibit that I decided to explore the city. I walked into a large covered market, common in the Philippines. Rows upon rows of small stands held everything the average customer could possibly want, ranging from clothing and necklaces to household appliances and plastic toy guns. The stands are mirror images of one another and it’s a shock that any of the vendors turn a profit. When twenty other people are selling the exact same items at the exact same price, it’s difficult to distinguish yourself from the rest.

Next to the goods is the wet market with meat, fish and produce available for the evening meal. I watched the men and women fanning away flies that flocked to the ribs, chicken breasts, and other cuts of pork and beef. The market feels raw and uncensored. Bar codes and printed price tags are replaced by hanging handwritten signs and open air.

The vendor booths continued into the adjacent building, reserved for souvenirs, seamstress and tailoring shops, and you guess it…shoes. Tons of them. The Shoe Museum had nothing on the assortment here and all the displays were for sale. I was overwhelmed by the variety of flip-flops, sandals, flats, and heels – lined up and extending in either direction. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many shoes in my life.

So if you find yourself in the shoe capital with a free afternoon, skip the museum all together and wander over to the market. Walk through each aisle, conscious of hurried mothers or rowdy teenage boys. Stall after stall bulges with things you probably won’t buy but appreciate each vendor individually. Everyone is just trying to make a living after all.

TIME CHECK: Exactly 38 hours left before flight bound for JFK. Better make it count.