Published: March 28th 2010March 28th 2010
A lonely beginning
a deserted airport and a taste of things to come
A number of unpleasant surprises awaited me on my journey to one of the most spectacularly beautiful countries on earth. The first was when I realised I only had a 100 HKD note and needed the correct change of 33 Dollars for the bus, so I lost the whole lot.
The second came when I the bus went to the wrong terminal and I had to withdraw more money to take a taxi to the right one. The saga continued when I had all my beach vitals taken off me in the airport as I stupidly forgot about the bastard terrorists cocking everything up for us all. I had foolishly decided to store my mosquito repellent, deodorant, sun block and after-sun in my hand luggage in case I had my bag lost like as I did in Africa, and then of course had to hand it all over and baggage screening!
At this moment, a very odd thing happened - I began to cry about it. I’m not entirely sure why. It may have been going off to a new country on my own, it may have been tiredness, or it may have been from frustration, but I cried
Beats the ass out of a London Bus!
the whole way around the departure lounge, duty free and then at the gate until the flight was called for boarding. I eventually cried myself to sleep on the plane - yet another lonely experience as I had no one sitting in my half on the aircraft, almost like the check-in employee had decided westerners had a contractible disease and it was best to sit them away from everyone else during the short journey.
When I arrived in Manila at 23:45 it was an incredible 32 degrees and I wondered what kind of weather was in store for me. I thankfully picked up my bag, found an ATM and withdrew all the money I felt I needed for my week in Gallera. I was under instruction from the hostel when I pre-paid for my airport pick up, to call them from the pay phones outside arrivals so they would leave after they confirmed I was there. I needed some change for the phone. The unfortunate luck persisted when not one sole would change a 1000 Peso note for a few coins for the phone. I walked the whole span of the arrival hall and asked in every shop. With
tears beginning to well up again, a very kind airport worker took pity on me and gave me 5 pesos for nothing. Sadly, this proved utterly useless when all five numbers I had stored for the hostel refused to connect, were turned off, or went unanswered. I tried for a full twenty minutes before handing back the coins to the lovely woman and headed for the taxi rank.
After getting ripped off by the taxi, I decided I didn’t like the Philippines so far and pulled up at the hostel of doom. The staff seemed completely ignorant of the fact I was standing there for 10 minutes before I was deemed important enough to bother with. They refused to give me any refund on the airport pick up service I didn’t receive and asked me to find my own room. After scrambling around in the dark and musty corridors, stepping on cockroaches all the way, it appeared to be surrounded by all the worlds roosters in cages right outside the doors and windows! I hadn’t expected much more from the cheapest place in town but it was worse than I originally feared.
After dropping my bag off in
the dingy, dirty room I ran back through the cockroach infested streets to the reception building to enquire about the bus to Batangas pier, and the ferry from there to Gallera. The new woman at reception told me in a very unsure manner that the bus departed at 8am from the pier and it would take me at least 2 hours to get there by bus from a neighbouring hotel. With that, I set my alarm for 5:30 am and headed to roast in the room around 2:30 am.
In the very early morning I headed to the road to find a taxi after an awful night’s sleep (due to bastard chickens and broken flickering lights). I was totally panicked by the thought of arriving so early at the hotel and missing the bus.
I got my first look at Metro Manila and it looks a lot like Africa - hundreds of coca-cola fronted shops, people sleeping rough on their own stack of junk and young people with dirty faces pedalling clients around to their destinations in bare feet.
When I arrived at the hotel I was informed that it was in fact the bus that left
at 8am and not the boat. I was also told that several boats ran all through the day and there was no need to worry. Everyone who came into the hotel for the next few hours of my wait were middle aged and fat western men, with stunningly attractive and young Filipino women on their arms.
After the drawn out wait for the ‘bus’, it turned out to be a famous ‘Jeepney’ I had read so much about. Their origin dates back to the war when American Jeeps were left abandoned in their hundred and were then accosted and decorated with graffiti and interesting names, and used for transportation around certain islands. It was loud and full of character (and air con), and I enjoyed the drive of the part of the road I was awake for. I arrived at the pier 3.5 hours later. I was rushed along for no apparent reason as I then sat on the stationary boat for a further 2 hours. The boat was not a ferry; it was a bamboo tethered compartment with a plastic cover over it, with not a single westerner on board.
Soon things turned ugly - a few
hundred people arrived on a bus, obviously what we had been waiting for. Even the locals were concerned about the overloading of the boat and we all became a bit worried. In the month that I left the UK, a boat ferrying passengers between Manila and Palawan cracked due to over loading, killing nearly everyone on board. I also heard stories while waiting of ferries on this journey falling apart and survivors swimming 15 hours in a random direction to find shore.
After a two-hour wait onboard we were finally off. I began to nod-off to sleep when a loud thud and the sounds of splitting wood awoke me with a jump. Passengers began nervously grabbing bags and standing on seats. The boats radio was belting out Filipino and women and children began to cry...after frantically peering around I realised in my half-asleep state that the boat was collapsing and we were sinking.
With no land in sight, all I could think of was home. How I would never see my friends, family (or dogs!) again, how I would never taste cheese again, see David Gilmor live or have a family! I felt sick and began to shake,
but to my surprise I didn’t cry. With water swelling in around the luggage, I grabbed my bags and stood on the seat to searched the horizon. It felt like hours, but was probably only a few minutes, men began yelling and pointing towards the sea.
Another boat was coming! We were going to be saved.
People scrambled to the sides and began to be hoisted onboard. Everything was going to be ok! My things were only slightly wet and to my great relief, my laptop (with all my photos on it) survived unscathed.
An hour later I arrived at White Beach. I eagerly jumped off the boat to be accosted by tens of accommodation owners. I had already reserved a room for 900 pesos but as one of them was offering me 500, I couldn’t refuse. Desperate lie down, shed my burning hot bags and sweltering clothes I trudged as quick as I could to the wooden hut, dumped everything and headed back out to the beach front bars to get a drink and re-evaluate what the hell I was doing here...