Published: September 23rd 2008September 15th 2008
Now I will write a blog entry about my vacation for those of you who don't care how much it costs to get into the Camp John Hay Butterfly Sanctuary or how many times the bus stops between Baguio and Vigan.
Laura, like me last January, arrived around midnight at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. (Aquino is actually a famous Filipino politician who was assassinated on the airport's tarmack in the 80's, which I personally think makes him a bad person to name the airport after.) I was so excited to see her that I had traveled to Manila the afternoon before, and had to find something to occupy me for the 36 hours until I picked her up. The day of her arrival I decided to check out the SM Mall of Asia, the biggest mall in the continent, the one place I assumed would occupy me for 14 hours.
SIDE NOTE: SM Mall of Asia
Driving up to it's entrance the SM Mall of Asia does not look like the biggest mall in the continent. Although it does have a giant metal outline of the planet on its front lawn and a Hypermart, because obviously a Supermart
was not big enough for the biggest mall in Asia. However, as I stood inside the entrance trying to locate myself on a map with quadrants I realized that the mall, deceivingly short, probably covers as much ground surface as my home town. Getting my bearings I headed strait to the ice skating rink to gawk, because there is nothing weirder then watching Filipino kids in shorts skate on a rink with a kokanee commercial-esk mountain backdrop. And then headed strait to the movie quadrant, where there are, of course, fifteen normal screens, 4 imax screens and a premier room. The movie selection in Manila is known to be much better then the selection in Baguio, and I was hoping for something intelligent, sassy or foreign. I got the latest Rob Schnider movie. Luck was not with me on that one. However, the theaters did face Manila Bay, so I was able to wait for my movie indulging in Starbucks on the boardwalk.
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You are not permitted to wait for arrivals inside the NAIA, which I think is a pretty stupid security policy, since you are allowed to wait across a 4 lane road -
a position from which I suspect you could still advantageously set off a bomb. I paid Php 30 at the entrance of the outdoor waiting shed, which I assume was the cost of the use of the hard plastic benches. But I was too excited to sit. I stood anxiously chewing on my nails as I waited for her to maneuver the labarinth of the NAIA, and then tore out of the shed and skipped across the road to hug her the moment she came out of the terminal - which the security guards allowed all us waiters to do, making their outdoor waiting shed security policy even more useless. Laura was already crying like she hadn't seen me in years. That first night we stayed up until almost 3am; and I don't think I have ever talked English so quickly in my entire life.The next day I took Laura through the maze of Metro Manila to the bus station that would carry us home to Baguio.
In Baguio Laura and I stayed in a nice hotel downtown. This was partially because I have told her about my apartment's rat problem too many times for her to be happy
sleeping on my couch, and because I wanted an excuse to stay somewhere with a hot shower. Sadly our shower was on a two minute scalding water, 6 minute freezing water cycle, but the beds were comfy and the cable was English. I was admittedly excited to finally get the chance to do some of the Baguio tourist stuff I miss being in the office every day. We started our adventure the best way possible - at a beautiful hot springs resort about 20 minutes outside of the city, where we lounged in a private jacuzzi looking out over the Cordillera mountains. Our second morning we visited Camp John Hay, where we had our photos taken with some friendly, tropical butterflies and took a trail ride on tiny, native horses. Just slightly bigger then ponies, I thought it was hilarious but Laura was pretty worried we were hurting the horses. We also trecked to the Mansion, the President's summer home in Baguio, so that we could check out the gardens and so that I could thumb my nose at her front door; and then to the other side of the city to Tam'awan, an artist village, where we had our
portraits drawn. While in Baguio I even got the chance to introduce Laura to my coworkers and friends at a party thrown in her honor. Many of them have told me since that Laura is the prettier sister, which means that they are now off my Christmas list, but also that they liked her.
After three days in Baguio we left for Vigan, a small town along the west coast of Luzon. It is famous for its restored Spanish district, its Boroque Cathedrals and its colonial period museums. I found the little town itself beautiful and a warm, dry change from rainy season Baguio. We had fun checking out some of the more campier attractions in the city, like a private museum about the life of former President Quirno, which is run by his aging grandson, who could be seen wandering around in the parts of the museum which are still his house; and the personal zoo of a former Governor (read: dynastic political family who are close to the President and have more money then God... enough to fill their own zoo with camels, peacocks and about a half dozen tigers). It was all the kind of kitchy
stuff that I love, but Laura was itching to get to a tropical beach.
Our last couple of days, having already seen most of the interesting things in town, we escaped to the beaches around Vigan. We spent one whole beautiful day at the Pug-os Beach Resort. We seemed to be the only tourists in the area and so the resort staff allowed us to use their cabanas and deck chairs for free, which is pretty cheap, since renting shade normally costs about Php200 in the Philippines. The day was about 27 degrees, the sand was mocha, and the water was the most beautiful shades of blue I have seen so far in this country. Laura swam and I read and then she parked under a palm tree with a novel and I sunbathed, which resulted in both of us suffering terrible full body sunburns. The moral to that story is that red headed white women and direct tropical sunlight should not mix, regardless of how much sunscreen in involved. We spent the next couple of days shamefully hiding our two tone body parts.
On our last day in Vigan (Laura's second to last day in the county)
we got up early, called Mom to let her know that we hadn't killed each other in our 10 days together and headed to the bus station to catch the 9am trip from Vigan to Laoag. I gave us three hours to travel the hour and a half distance, which I should have known wouldn't be enough. Our day started to sour the moment we arrived at the terminal and discovered that our bus had yet to arrived, and was not expected until 9:30, which became 10 as the clock in the waiting room hit 9:20 and as I stared to get snippy with the ticket booth operator. We did finally catch our bus, just minutes before ten, only to have it break down on the side of the road 20 minutes outside Vigan. It didn't start moving again until we had safely missed our flight. Fuming, barely speaking to each other, and towing heavy luggage, Laura and I rushing into Laoag as soon as we arrived, trying to find another flight. We were lucky and got tickets for one, which sadly didn't take off until 8:30 pm. I felt like we were in a bad episode of the Amazing
Race. At a loss for what to do with our 8 hours in this little town the travel agent suggested that we spend some time at the 5 Sisters Department Store, which provided baggage check.
Hot and grumpy I was praying the 5 Sisters would be shiny and air-conditioned like the countries hundreds of SM malls. Unfortunately we stepped into a building just as hot and just as sticky as the rest of town. The baggage claim agent seemed unimpressed as we handed over our luggage to sit along side everyone else grocery bags, but he took them anyway; and we spent our whole day in the Department Store, intermittenly reading local ice cream treats in their canteena and checking out their bizarre sales rack of old National Geographic magazines. Late in the day, however, we made a surprise and thrilling discovery on the third floor. We stumbled across three aisle wide selection of knock off purses and wallets. We spent ages laughing at the ugly models and trying to pick which Php200, Php400, Php600 Louis Veton, Lacoste, Prada or Coach we were going to take home with us.
By the time we boarded our plane to Manila
in the evening we were in much better moods. However, I was getting a bit anxious about Laura leaving in the morning. It was weird to think about being separated again and not seeing her for another 4 or 5 months. I was also sadden by the idea of being alone in the country again. The longer I am here the more I miss my family, and having Laura visit was a wonderful distraction to put those feelings at bay. We got in late and spent a short time chatting with close friends of mine in Manila who let us sleep at their house, before going to bed and almost immediately getting up again to get Laura to the airport. Apparently 29 hour cross continental journeys don't allow for leisurely mid-morning start times. At the airport we cried again, but with less fervor, knowing that the time apart would be shorter this time.
Having Laura here was also great because it taught me a lot about being a tourist in a country like the Philippines. I am such a non-tourist, even when I am on vacation. I have the ingrained sense of an exposurist. So getting to be on
vacation with Laura taught me a lot about relaxing into my vacation. It also gave me much more insight into all of the other western visitors I encounter here, who I wasn't sure before that I really understood. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, since I am on such a learning-from-personal-lessons-kick here
that I would learning even while on vacation. I do miss Laura being here. I feel so lucky that I have a sister who would put that kind of time and distance into coming to see me.
There are more photos below