Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Philippines - Prologue - Valuable Lessons

Before too much time passes (it's already been over a month), I want to write about my trip to the Philippines. It was, in a word, amazing. I have a feeling that the fingers are going to be in hyper-type mode, so I'll discuss the trip in sections.

I'm also going to try something a bit different with this entry...see if you can figure out what it is.

On the morning of December 26, I get up, grab my luggage and coat (knowing that the only time I'll use the coat is on the commute between Incheon Airport and my home), and head out. After I arrive at the airport, I exchange money and head to a longer-than anticipated security line. Thankfully, I get to the plane, a bit rushed, but with no problems.

The flight lasts an uneventful four hours. As the plane begins its descent, I look out the window and notice forested mountains and a multicolored patchwork on the valley. The colors are made by buildings...hundreds of small buildings crammed together in thin strips of land. It's as if someone dropped a million soda cans into a small stream. I recall stories I've heard about poverty in the Philippines, and the plane goes on.

The plane touches down. I depart with my backpack and carry-on, go through immigration, and am greeted by this:

Just to be clear, they're not there to greet just me. It was just a cool thing to see at an airport.

I've booked a budget hotel for the night, so now I just need to find a way to get there. I struggle a bit with the wifi, so I decide to just go find a taxi since I have the address.

I ask the attendant at the guest services desk where I can find a taxi. He calls a man over who insists on taking my carry-on bag for me. I follow him outside, engaging in friendly chitchat. The view outside includes a Philippine flag and a Christmas tree. Though I would later find out that both of these were in large supply in the Philippines, I take a picture just because.

The woman in the picture asks where I am going. I show her the hotel name, and she pages someone on her walkie-talkie. She writes up a receipt and says "1800 pesos, sir." I dig for some money and give it to her. I figure I ought to tip the gentleman for helping me, so I hand him some money too..,1000 pesos, which happens to be the smallest bill I have at the moment.

Along comes the taxi, and off we go. As I look on at the city, with top class hotels adjacent to shanties, I think, "How much money did I just spend?"

Later on, I do the math. 1800 pesos = ~$40, and 1000 pesos = ~$20. The taxi ride takes about 15 minutes (the trip is about 2-3 miles), and I later find out that it's a "luxury cab," much pricier than a typical taxi.

Essentially, I gave a dude $20 for taking my rolling suitcase 100 feet, and I paid $40 for a short cab ride.

The lessons here?

  1. When transferring currency, request several small bills. You never know when someone won't have change. Don't get me wrong, the bag man was nice, but a smaller tip would have been appropriate.
  2. Ask the hotel for a shuttle before arriving, then there's no risk of getting taken for a pricey ride.
Also, I don't have hard feelings for the bag man or the cab call woman. For all they know, I have cash to burn.

Anyhow, I get to the hotel. I notice how warm and humid the weather is. I definitely won't be needing that coat. The staff is very helpful, and they help me arrange a shuttle to the airport the next morning (though I arrived in Manila, my first actual destination is elsewhere, but I can't get there till the next morning). I'm led to my room:

That AC unit is blasting its heart out, but the air at the top of those stairs (where, incidentally, the bed is located) is jungle hot. Oh well. I run out, grab a few supplies, get a massage ($10! Not bad), shower, and hit the hay.

After a night in the sauna, I get up early, wake up the desk attendant, and check out. I ask the taxi to take me to the airport, terminal 2 (I believe). I've double checked which planes go to which city, so I'm feeling confident.

For a much lower price than I had paid the previous cab, I got to the airport. I speak with a security guard to make sure I'm at the right terminal.

I am...not.

It turns out that my source of information was a document for one airline, and that airline was not the one I was supposed to take. I find a taxi and ask the driver to take me to terminal 4.

I recall the horror stories I've read/heard about the inconvenience of getting between terminals at the Manila Ninoy Aquino Airport. "How far is this other terminal?" I think. Thankfully, it's only 5 minutes away. The terminal is quite small. After going through security and checking in, I pay a terminal exit fee. Any time someone take a flight in the Philippines, domestic or international, they pay this fee. The fee isn't too high, but it's definitely different.

I grab some breakfast and eventually step outside to board the plane...

Next stop: Tagbilaran!

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