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Published: January 16th 2011
Tuesday was to have been a leisurely day. The packing had been done for a week and our plans called for our son Noah to take us in the evening for a short ride to the Sarasota airport where we were to catch our Delta flight to Atlanta for the night with a connection on Korean Airlines the next morning for the long haul to Manila. At 3 PM we learned that our flight had been canceled due to bad weather in Georgia and so we found ourselves scrambling for a rental car and a hasty drive north.
We wrangled a Chrysler 300 and zoomed along I-75 for 500 miles getting into icy Atlanta at midnight. Thank God for satellite radio. We fell into bed at the Gateway Sheraton hopeful that Korean Air’s aeronautic cojones were made of sterner stuff than Delta’s. They were. We boarded a roomy 747 stretch and took off at noon. Our ride made comfortable by the fact that the canceled connector flights had kept many of our traveling brethren off of the plane. I had an entire row of seats to myself. The poor man’s upgrade.
Korean Air turned out to be one of the best airlines we had ever flown. The stewardesses were buffed to a high polish. Their matching sea-foam outfits and smooth sparkling makeup gave them the appearance of an Olympic synchronized swim team killing time on their second job. They kept us plied with food and beverages while we kicked back and scrolled through over four dozen movies provided for our viewing pleasure. I watched seven. I had no idea that Eat, Pray, Love sucked so badly. I think Julia Roberts is using Carrot Top's agent.
We landed in Seoul 16 hours later. The ground crews were bundled like Eskimos against the freezing weather. I shivered looking at them and started to worry about my clothing selections for the trip. Seoul airport is beautiful. The only airport I have seen that compares favorably with Hong Kong’s magnificent sky-port in Lantau. Punch drunk but still standing, Karen and I sipped two Lattes before our next leg to Manila which was jam-packed with passengers. Fortunately the flight was a mere three hours and the company good. I spent the time talking with a 20-year old Canadian girl from Ottawa named Steffi. Philippino parents, pre-med, bi-lingual and anxious about the future. I like that in young people. Anxiety I mean. Evidence of humility in an age group not well known for that particular virtue.
We landed in Manila’s Aquino airport at terminal three. The old terminal. The very old terminal which is reminiscent of Bangkok’s old Dong Ha building. We had two planes arriving at the same time which made for a long wait to clear passport control. The wait was made longer by the passport officials’ requirement that all arriving passengers show evidence that they had an outgoing ticket. This rule had the large groups of Chinese business men tearing their bags apart looking for paperwork. Fortunately, Karen and I had already gotten our visas from the Philippine Embassy in D.C. and we sailed through unscathed. We picked up our bags and breezed through customs. It was midnight and what few baggage inspectors there were seemed too tired to do anything more than take the declaration forms and move everybody along.
We hired a yellow cab (always get a yellow cab in Manila and avoid the independent drivers if you can) for the short 200 peso ride to the Marbini Mansion Hotel near the seaport. Along the way we passed dilapidated buildings that were shuttered against the night. The only activity we saw was along the rows of large gentlemens’ (?) clubs that lined the streets. More of them here than in tawdry Bangkok.
At our hotel we fell into our room, spectacularly jet lagged and happy that the hard part of the journey was at an end. My first impressions of Manila are best expressed in my initial e-mail to Noah:
It’s 5 AM Saturday morning here. I just finished stringing 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep together with the help of the Swiss pharmaceutical elves. I think that Mom and I are slipping into a normal bio-rhythm. Yesterday was spent cloistered in our hotel room with HBO and Ramen noodles. Manila is a vile place. Homeless people line the streets where they sit on patches of cardboard with their bag of belongings. They don’t hassle you in any way. They do not seem to have the energy to beg. They just sit in the humid heat. Banks, of which there are many, are all made notable by the trios of armed uniformed guards who stand at attention outside the portals. They display stainless steel pump action 12 gauge street sweepers and AK’s. They have enough ammo to replay the battle of Khe Son. Every Philippino I’ve met speaks excellent English. They are a small people averaging about 5 feet in height. To make themselves appear more menacing the street thugs run in packs of a half dozen small, unwashed, wife-beater draped imbeciles. They lack any creativity in criminal planning. A mugging usually begins with a guy waving a piece of lined notebook paper in your face offering to exchange money at rates too good to refuse. His office is a wet, dark alley safe from prying eyes. The only color in the streets is provided by Jeepneys which are highly decorated public transportation vehicles that look like stretched US military jeeps. After the war the Philippinos took abandoned Jeeps and cut the jeeps in half welding expanders in the middle. The first stretch limos if you will.
We are leaving in an hour for Palawan. Elongated version of Thailand's Ao Nang. 1 hour flight south of Manila. I expect that there will be a better view if nothing else. I’m looking forward to snorkeling on Bacuit Bay where, in 1944, six Japanese transport ships were caught with their anchors down by a squadron of Marine Corsair fighters. They lie in less that 30 feet of water which makes them accessible to the scuba-less. The water is supposed to be phenomenally clear. I will advise after we get there.
After two nights in Manila we caught a Cebu Pacific turbo-prop to Busuanga and the town of Coron. A spectacular island with friendly people, green hills and a sea full of fish but more on that later.
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