Philippines - Day 11 (Boracay-Manila)
This is entry #13.
Link to entry #12.
Jolayne is also chronicling our trip here.
Day 11. Tuesday, April 9th.
Next: Philippines - Day 12 (Traveling/Korea)
Tuesday, our last day in the Philippines. It started early as usual, as Jolayne wakes up before the sun (pretty much anywhere in the world, it would seem). It's actually a nice time of day; not as hot.
This morning we noticed it was slightly cloudy and the wind was stiff and had shifted, coming in on our side of the island. It was quite refreshing. We liked it and so did the kite boarders.
We had a busy morning planned, getting ready to go (and scheduling in a private massage!) Before all that, I decided to take a quick jaunt back down to the bayan (town center) to take more movies/videos and to see about buying a couple last minute souvenirs. Really I just wanted to get all the experience I could before we had to leave, snapping pictures along the way. Here's some random shots:
I made my way a couple miles (or so) back down to D'Talipapa (the souvenir part of the market) to find some more coin purses that we could share with friends. By the time I got there I was pretty drenched in sweat; good workout. I found some coin purses (what is it with me and coin purses, anyway!?) and made my way back towards the villa. Trouble is, I hadn't planned right and used up the rest of my cash; I had nothing to hire a trike to get back. So I had another 2-mile jog ahead of me and had to double-time it since I knew breakfast would be on.
We enjoyed mango pancakes once more for our last morning. They were again delicious and a nice way to bid farewell to the more-relaxing part of our trip.
After breakfast Jolayne and I were treated to private couples massages. All through our visit along the beachfronts there were people hocking cheap massages where you'd just plop yourself on a bench next to everyone else and get a rubdown for the equivalent of $5-10. We never did that (didn't seem super relaxing right there in the middle of the noise) but instead hired private therapists to come over. Turns out it was a great idea. While the private massages were much more expensive, it was a unique experience I really enjoyed.
First we were given saris and instructed to dress down into just them. We did so and were then led down below the villa to a private beach grotto with two massage tables. Down there, we were completely alone and enjoyed heavenly massages with the water lapping against the rocks only a few feet away. The morning breeze made it that much better. I don't think Jo enjoyed it quite as much as I did; she prefers a softer touch and really didn't appreciate all the oils rubbed throughout her hair! For me, it wasn't a big deal. We had planned to get short massages for the kids as well, but by the time we were all done there simply wasn't time before we had to head for the airport. Too bad for them.
We hurried back and got dressed and finished packing. I'd arranged for a multicab (a miniature jeepney) to take us to the jetty port (P300) and we made our way quickly after a warm goodbye to our hotel staff.
Sadly, we also had to bid farewall to hearts on toilet paper. Tears.
Once at the port, I had to pay this fee and that fee one more time, and then we quickly made our way onto a ferry headed across the channel back to the main island. Once again the ferry was just an enlarged banka with outriggers and open-air sides (though covered). As we were crossing the channel, we incorrectly caught the wake of another boat and several ladies on the opposite side from us got completely drenched with the splash back. They laughed it off, but it wasn't just a little squirt. These poor ladies were soaking.
After disembarking the short ferry ride (10 min or so) we then carried our own bags (kids were still under orders to not let any eager porters help them) over to the trike terminal. I'd read it was a short trike ride to the airport from the ferry port. I paid for two more trikes and we hopped on. Had I known the airport was only a couple hundred yards behind the ferry port, I would have skipped that ridiculous step. A few minutes later we were in front of the airport. It was a nice looking place that seemed quite modern.
We made our way inside and checked in. Our bags were weighed and I had to pay another P500 or so overage, even though we all only had rollaboard-sized luggage. We were only permitted 10kg each, which was pretty tiny. I was really glad I'd left so much of our gear at that hotel in Manila; it saved me a ton. Then I was treated to a fabulous iPad reunion. The airline's station manager came out when I explained to the desk staff what had happened. I think he was a little perplexed at my continual use of the word "miracle" as I explained the story to him in Tagalog. They were all very courteous to us, however, and I managed to snap a picture with the security guards who delivered the iPad back to me. So cool!
When we checked in we found that the published flight time had changed yet again. Strange! As mentioned early on, flight schedules are more like general guidelines than anything else. This one had changed several times and no attempt was made to communicate that it was now supposed to leave a half-hour earlier than I'd originally thought. Thankfully, however, it was late (like nearly every flight in country, it would seem) and we wound up leaving only 15 minutes after our originally published time.
Paid--wait for it--more departure fees and went through security and into the waiting area, ready for our flight. The kids zoned out immediately.
Caticlan is a very small airport that only operates during daylight hours (no runway lights), and has a very short field. From what I'd researched, the airport regularly closed in bad weather, and the short field caused more than a couple of mishaps over the years. I wasn't exactly nervous flying out of here (it was a perfect sunny day), but it was definitely something I was paying attention to. Only small aircraft fly out of Caticlan. Our plane was a Q300 (propellor driven) and they put the brakes on run the engines all the way up full throttle before beginning the takeoff run. Wanted to use all the tarmac they could. Once we got airborne, it was beautiful seeing all the islands we flew over on the short hour back up to Manila. It was a view I hadn't seen previously of the country. Islands everywhere!
On arrival into Manila, I could easily see the piles of trash strewn everywhere along the rivers and neighborhoods. It was pretty disgusting, and unfortunately that it was so easy to pick out from the air. On landing we parked away from the terminal and were again met by buses. We made our way to the terminal and our bags came out very quickly. Aside from their compulsive tardiness, the local airline did a great job I thought.
Before long we were back out at the curb and met by our old friend Jun with his van. Inside were Normita, Armida, and the kids. How fun to see each other again! When we left Pampanga the week prior, we didn't think we'd see one another again. Thus the tearful goodbyes. But Armida managed to get the day off work and we all missed each other, so the gang took a Victory Liner bus from San Fernando down to Manila and met up with Jun who agreed to chauffeur us around one more time. Yay! It was about 330p by this time, and we had until evening before we'd need to be back at the airport for a long journey home. So we had about 8 hours together.
Our first stop was back over to the Marriott hotel to pick up our stowed bags. We had to again go through tons of security to get onto the campus. Guns, dogs, and inspections galore. Then I hopped inside and quickly retrieved our bags. What a great trick that is! Didn't cost me a thing (exempt for the tip) and our bags were nice and safe while we were gone. Back out to the van and on our way. By this time we were pretty hungry. We hadn't had any lunch, so I asked Jun if he'd stop over at Shakeys Pizza nearby. He readily agreed and we made our way inside; all the kids joined us. The adults stayed in the van. Stuff gets stolen out of vehicles very regularly, so Jun was a sport (the entire time) and guarded the bags. Inside, we tried to find something on the menu that wouldn't take a half hour to cook and eat. We got salads and spaghetti and managed to get back out to the van surprisingly fast. Kristen, Alyssa, and Allison were just peas in a pod again, singing, playing, and generally having the best day ever.
Our next stop was to the Manila Temple. I had been there a number of times as a missionary, since that's where the area offices were (across the street). But remember, it's been 17 years! I only knew the general area. And the air card I'd purchased for my iPad still didn't work worth a darn, so I couldn't get any maps loaded up. Normita had been there many times before as well, but she's always been a passenger and thus didn't know the way either. We were kind of a comedy of errors as we found our way over to the right neighborhood. Ultimately we made it and pulled in around 5pm. It was Armida's first time there, which was pretty cool.
Once we got there we quickly ran into the Aliac family (Oliver had picked us up originally at Clark). Small world. They were on their way home from visiting family in the Manila area. The kids had a great time running around, playing, and generally being irreverent on the temple grounds (despite our efforts). Kristen and her Filipina sisters went together quite well; they just giggled and laughed over and over. Even Armand was more comfortable now; he too was running around and chatter-boxing (I don't think he said two words while we were in Pampanga). We managed to get some great pictures of the group. It was a nice stop. I also ran into 3 American missionaries who were getting ready to head home after their two years of service. It was a fun chat to explain to them what we were doing and get their take on things. They each exclaimed how they hoped they'd be able to come back with families one day.
Next, we all piled back into the van and headed towards the American War Cemetery. It's huge, like many dozens of acres. It was something I'd long wanted to see. But despite it being huge, I think it must not have been huge enough because we couldn't find it. No worries. As we drove around town trying to find this silly place, the sun neared the horizon. Oh well. But the kids sat in the back seat bouncing around (no seat belts) playing, goofing, and acting like the long-lost cousins they now were. It was truly heartwarming. Actually, he said they were little angels even though it wasn't Sunday. That was funnier. Then they started singing primary songs, which was pretty great. primary presidency for some time now, and it was obvious how she'd spent much time teaching the children the songs.
Driving around, I noticed how some part of Manila clearly looked like we were at home in the States. Curbs, sidewalks, traffic lights, and even parks with grass (that's the one that surprised me the most). So different from the sites only a few blocks away, where the shanties were literally built on top of one another. We wound up at the Mall of Asia, the third largest mall in Asia.
Again, Jun stayed with the van to keep all our stuff safe; great guy. The place was huge (and air conditioned!) We walked around for a while and let the kids run and play. Then we set out to find dinner. We really didn't need to drive that far considering what we wound up doing. Oh well. Our flight was to leave at 1145p, so we had a few more hours to kill at the mall. We decided on Pizza Hut, which as a chain is much nicer in Asia than the US. Expensive, too. The place was packed so we waited a good 30 min for something to open up. While we were waiting Jo went to a pharmacy and made her first purchase by herself in Asia! Yay. Finally we were seated and while we were waiting for food we showed off all our hundreds of Boracay pictures to Normita and Armida. Time flew; after enjoying our pizza it was already time to head back to the airport. We just weren't sure how long it would take to get through the lines.
The airport wasn't terribly far away, and we arrived quickly. As we rolled up, we saw hundreds of people sitting outside on the sidewalk and curb. I figured it was all part of heinous lines we'd be waiting in. Suddenly it was time to say goodbye once again. Truly the DeOceras were family with us, or perhaps it was the other way around. Armand, Allyson and Allyssa are great kids and beautiful people. It was wonderful watching their personalities come out. When I first met them, they were quiet, somber, perhaps even fearful. Within a short time they were smiling and having fun together with my kids. By the time we were ready to leave, they had dropped their guard and were fun loving goofballs who would have fit well in my own home. Their parents and grandparents are pretty amazing too. These people are pioneers in their own way, working hard for a better life. I admire their dedication and example.
It was great that we had another day together and that they'd taken so much time to take the bus all the way down from Pampanga (a couple hours each way), with young kids. Jun was also great about driving us all around town; a true gentleman. Since we'd done all our crying a few days previously when we thought we wouldn't see one another again, we were spared the tears this time. But we all embraced warmly, hoping we'd see one another again soon. And just like that we were in the airport, ready to make the long, long journey back home. What an amazing journey we'd had in the Philippines! And what wonderful people we met! A true bond.
Even though the trip wasn't over yet, I was already considering how much more I'd enjoyed the personal nature of our trip than the touristy things. It was the family visits, the personal stories, and living in the culture that I had enjoyed the most. It made me want to come back and to focus even more on service and friends.
I learned later that after dropping us off at the airport and heading back over the bus terminal, Normita (passenger seat of the van) had taken off her seatbelt in preparation to arrive and get out. They were pulled over (not by a cop car, of course, but a guy on the side of the street or perhaps on a motorbike) for this traffic violation and told that the fine would be P1300 ($52). Steep. Of course, they were able to avoid this "action" by simply paying the good cop P250 immediately, and he released them. That's how the corruption goes. It's a very good thing we weren't still in the van when that happened, as the cop would have seen westerners and thought we had lots of money; it wouldn't have turned out near as well. I had stories as a missionary where other missionaries were apprehended and charged with crimes they did not commit as part of a shakedown process that's all too common. I recall once driving in Manila myself and having a cop (on foot) flag me down and direct me to pull over. My companion commanded that I not stop, and we drove on by him. I had committed no infraction, and he was almost certainly going to try to make a few bucks off the white guys in ties (who were surprisingly poor!)
Our time in the Philippines was nearly over. We had a long red eye ahead of us, with a 4-hour ride (leaving at midnight!) back to Incheon. Then a 12-hour layover in Korea before another 10-hour ride across the Pacific. Finally, another 2.5 hours after ground time in San Francisco before getting back to Denver. The most interesting thing was that our 36-hour trip home would all be on Wednesday! In fact, we would land in San Francisco BEFORE we left Korea, even though it's 10 hours later. That date-line stuff is interesting.
It turned out the hoards of people outside the airport were just sitting there; not in line or anything. Perhaps they were meeting inbound flights later. We entered the airport very quickly (remember, security is at the exterior door in this part of the world). The Manila airport (NAIA as the locals call it) isn't exactly an ode to modern architecture. The place could compete with LaGuardia Airport in NYC for obnoxiousness. I really had hoped we could skip it all together and just leave from Clark, but it wasn't to be.
Before checking in, we wanted to resituate our gear so that we'd only need a single bag to change clothes in the much-cooler climate of Korea during our layover. The weather in Incheon would be near freezing when we landed, though warmer during the day. We had nothing but warm-weather clothes, so we put all the pants, etc into a single bag (or so we thought…) Checkin proceeded quickly, and the Star Alliance Gold status proved once again quite helpful. The staff at Asiana were extremely courteous, just great to work with. This flight was nearly full, so we weren't going to be able to stretch out in our own rows like we had previously. Of course, true to Philippine form, the flight was late (there's only one runway at NAIA, and flight delays are chronic).
After checking in, we had more airport-payment circus to deal with. We had a number of forms to fill out and fees to pay, of course. It cost P550 ($22) each for a departure fee to leave the country. While that sounds strange, it turns out most airports charge such fees. It's just that NAIA is one of only a tiny number of airports in the whole world where that fee isn't just embedded into the fees/taxes in your plane ticket itself. After paying the departure tax, we had to go through immigration (fairly long line) and then finally on to security (the real one this time). Men and women go through separate lines, but the quality of the screening was really a joke and made TSA look quite good (amazing). It's no wonder the Philippines has been on Europe and North America's naughty lists for air travel for the last several years.
Ultimately we made our way to the Star Alliance lounge with plenty of time to spare before our (late) flight. This lounge was NOTHING like the one we'd enjoyed in Incheon. It was old and crusty, like most everything in the airport; in need of updating. It's just too bad the corruption in government is so rampant in the Philippines. Seems like half of every peso spent on government projects must get skimmed somewhere; nearly every public-works project ends the same, terribly over budget, with amazingly poor quality. While in the lounge we watched the CNN International news about how North Korea was warning foreigners to leave South Korea because of impending attack, and that's precisely where we're about to go. Ha, glad CNN was there for us. I didn't feel like there was any problem, though, and the ticker at the bottom of the screen read that the British Embassy said not to worry. Of course, I don't think that made Jolayne's parents very happy; they were a little worried for our safety.
The kids by this time were pretty wasted, and they crashed on the (aged) couches while we waited. I started blog notes. The Asiana staff told us not to worry about anything, that they'd come personally to get us when boarding was ready for our flight. Classy. As midnight approached, it was time to say goodbye to the Philippines. What a grand visit we'd had! I absolutely loved it, all of it.