Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Challenges + Humor of Traveling Around the Philippines

The Philippines- a visually stunning nation and high on my recommended list, but there are some downsides to traveling this vast expanse of islands, the first of which being the difficulty of getting from place to place.

Traffic lights here are sometimes three minutes long, and due to congestion, confusion, and selfish drivers creating gridlock, it can take in excess of 10 minutes to get through a single Manila intersection. Needless to say, you need to allot far more time than you'd deem necessary for the distance if you have a flight to catch.
But now that you're at the airport, seemingly with time to spare, it doesn't necessarily mean you haven't missed your plane. That's because airliners in the Philippines only take-off only at two different times during the day; early or late.
Of the six flights I took, four departed tardy, and the other, which we anxiously chased down over two gate changes, somehow took off a half-hour early.

Inside the Cebu Pacific plane, her aisles designed for a population who's average height is 5' 3", leg-room for me is non-existent, I feel like I'm in a pressurized chamber, which of course I am, but should it feel like it?
The airline itself doesn't exactly inspire confidence. It's raining hard outside, and before take-off the captain announces we have to "balance the weight, and would anyone anyone like to take the next plane out of Manila in exchange for a voucher?"
Some people rise to accept the offer, which is no doubt deemed especially generous for the average Filipino considering their low hourly wages.
Twelve minutes later, we're still grounded.
"Sorry, we made an error in the calculation. We need three more volunteers to step-off the plane. We'll get you right on the next one."
A bit more slowly this time, but some people choose to take the next flight.
Twenty minutes later we still haven't moved. Once again, "Two more, just two more people." I rise on the premise the next plane will reach Boracay more quickly, but I'm beaten to the punch.

Want to save time by landing as close to your destination as possible? Prepare to pay more for use of these smaller airports specifically built for tourists with money.
El Nido area
The difference can be large. For example on Palawan island, you'll definitely want to visit El Nido, but unless you have money to land on the nearby runway, you're arriving in Puerto Princesa, which is five to six hours away by van, a decent part of which (at least time-wise) is over unpaved road, with lots of nausea inducing side-to-side bouncing.
I'm guessing my van's driver makes about $10 per trip, as he weaves around dogs, children, and trees taking up the narrow road. I tip him a couple bucks, and the grateful look on his face indicated I was definitely augmenting his income.
me with a halo in a protected lagoon area
Oh, and you're going to get hit with fees everywhere you go. When landing at the closest airport to Boracay for example, you have to take a boat to actually get to the island. You're going to get hit with a terminal fee, an environmental fee, a landing fee, a fee for sunlight, a fee for future lunar eclipses, etc etc . They're not large, but they add up not only for you, but whoever gets to manage that money.
The is an episode of VICE, where they expose the violent Philippine political system and the constant assassinations that take place between rival politicians. This a very corrupt nation, and I'd be willing to bet a large part of those "environmental fees" you're being charged end up paying for the shoe closets of their mistresses.
Also, while in general I find the islanders to be quite friendly, there were enough times during my two weeks I had to to question whether the average Filipino grew up around lead paint. A couple stories:
On an airplane: I stand to stretch my legs with a walk down the aisle, and feel a hand reaching out to stop me. It's a 50 year old lady telling she wants to read ... To read?
"Do I look like a Phillipine Airline stewardess?" I respond, with at least a hint of disbelief in my voice.
Now the plane lands and everyone rises to exit, except it's taking some time to line up the stairs. The aisle is densely packed with all the passengers, and I can't even raise my arm. A short, stocky Phillipino lady in her 40's loses patience and tries to squeeze around me, perfunctorily uttering "excuse me," I turn towards her gesture towards the sea of people around us packed in like sardines and retort, "I'd love to."
Where does this moron think she's going? A tank would bounce off us, and be thrown off the plane if it tried to pass.

Boracay island: 1 AM, Some starlight, but otherwise dark, Beside me two Filipina women shudder, almost visibly shaking,
"What's wrong?"
"Are those ghosts?"  they ask, pointing to silhouettes in the surf of two people on a late night outing.
"I'm pretty sure they're not," I deadpan. Then I look, and they're truly afraid.
"You really think they could be ghosts?" I inquire.
They nod their heads. "We Filipinos are very superstitious."
"Lead paint?"

Look, the Phillipines are definitely a bit disorganized, and nothing really works properly or consistently. From the airlines, the internet, the roads, even the toilets and showers, things are constantly breaking down, but I still believe with all my heart, that these islands are an absolute must see and should be near the top of any traveler's list.
But it's not a place to bring a toddler, A lot of the buildings are in a state of disrepair, and I'd be too concerned he'd eat some of the paint that's chipping off the walls.
Boracay's white sand beach- for real


  1. Where exactly in the Phillipines was this? And when?

    1. Joanna
      I was in Manila, Palawan Island, and Borocay in September '14 (the last of my ten country journey)

    2. It is very beautiful the Philippines

  2. Loved the past photo. And the plane story. haha :)

    1. Thank you Priyanaka :) I see you are a computer engineer. That is very impressive to go with your love of travel. Glad you enjoyed the story, thanks for the nice note!

  3. Weight-and-balances are a thing with airplanes, esp. smaller ones. A good thing to take from this is, if you're on a plane and something happens, don't go all crowding up forward or to the rear. Stay put.


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