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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Philippines 2012: Getting There

Getting there was an adventure in itself, even though it is not particularly difficult to get from SFO to Manila.  Though there are a variety of more efficient ways to get from SFO to Manila, we flew Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, spent the night there, and then flew to Manila in the morning.  You can fly directly to Manila, but we booked the flight with miles, and flying through HK seemed like the best option on a Oneworld airline.  Plus neither of us had ever been to Hong Kong before, so we didn’t mind spending a night there.  We flew first class on the way there, which was delightful.  Rob said he thought I was more excited about the flight than the trip itself.  Even though our route was not particularly efficient, and I am sure we somehow lost a day out of it, I liked it, because we left home in the early afternoon (meaning we didn’t have to wake up early, and we also didn’t end up packing until the last moment like we would if we left in the evening), and we got to Manila in the middle of the day, leaving plenty of time to get to the resort and recover before our first day of diving.

So, we packed everything (well not quite everything… more on that later) on Friday afternoon and then had a leisurely morning on Saturday, even having time to get breakfast before meeting our cab.  We got to the airport at the recommended two hours prior to departure (which I have never understood, but I am a rule-follower), and checked in and got through security without any light or camera-related hiccups.  The woman at security impressively identified our canister light heads as being dive gear before I said anything to her.  We missed the turn to get to the lounge (which I swear was not marked) and made it all the way past our gate before we found a map and figured out we had to go all the way back to security.  Most of the lounges in the terminal are in a sort of far off area.  We went to the CX lounge, which was nice and shiny (I think it is less than a year old).  We spent about 15 minutes figuring out how to print out our itinerary (which at checkin they warned we should carry when we entered the Philippines), since the staff at the lounge couldn’t actually print it out for us (which I found to be rather lame), and then we wiled away the time eating wonton soup and pork buns (the baked kind, not the steamed kind), until our slightly delayed flight was ready to board.

The boarding lounge was a zoo, and we had to wait in a pretty long line since I guess half the world has status on CX.  But once we got to the plane, we were whisked away to a magical quite place away from the hoi polloi.  After stowing our bags, I invited myself into Rob’s cubicle and we drank champagne while we waited to takeoff, which seemed like a surprisingly long time.  But we finally took off, and shortly after that, dinner service began.  I once again took my place in Rob’s visitor seat so we could eat together.  The meal started with caviar and smoked salmon and more champagne (though at some point Rob switched to scotch, because he is like that), yum yum yum,  And then a crab salad that was a bit overly dressed but had nuts and dried fruit, which are, in my opinion, the only reason to ever eat a salad.  We both had the beef tenderloin, which I thought was super yummy and cooked perfectly.  Rob’s was apparently cooked a bit more than mine, but upon discovery of this, I gave him most of what was left of mine (there was no way I could eat it all after all of the other food), and he agreed that it was very good.  For dessert, we had bread pudding and we also took a little bit of cheese from the cheese plate.  Then we had coffee and pralines.  Unfortunately since Rob is allergic to hazelnuts, I was forced to eat most of his for him.

Eventually I left Rob alone and changed into my pajamas (which Rob found very amusing) and returned to my seat, which had been transformed into a bed.  I knew that in the interest of adjusting to the time change that I should get a significant amount of sleep, but it just didn’t happen.  I think I ended up getting about 3 hours of sleep.  I watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which was a movie I thought sounded interesting when it came out, but I had never gotten around to watching.  So, all I can say is that I watched the entire movie from start to finish, and I have absolutely no idea what was going on.  I think maybe I need to watch it again on a bigger screen, where it is easier to keep all of the old white men straight.  Aside from this, I alternated between trying to sleep and reading (Devil in the White City, pretty interesting book).  When I eventually did get to sleep, I slept very well, as the seat/bed was really comfortable.  When I woke up, they were preparing for the pre-arrival meal service.  I think this time I convinced Rob to come and visit me, so I could have the comfy seat.  I had the lobster ravioli, which was good except it came with a big scary pile of spinach on top (blech); Rob had roasted chicken.  For dessert, I had some sort of pear, almond cake with a giant dollop of whipped cream on top, and Rob had ice cream.  When we were finished, we were pretty close to landing… and I couldn’t believe I’d been on the plane for 14 hours!

The landing into Hong Kong was very scenic, plus there were zillions of boats that you could see off the coast, which was cool.  Once landed, we got through immigration and customs very quickly, and after a brief wander and a consultation with the tourist information desk, we found the way to our hotel (the Regal Airport Hotel), which is connected to the terminal by a walkway.  It was very convenient, which is why we decided to stay there.  After getting our room and showering and changing, we decided to head into the city to the night market.  After getting some not very helpful (basically false) information from a bell hop, we got the correct directions for how to get there on the train and subway.  It took us about an hour door to door, and was quite straightforward.  The best thing about the subway was the interface for buying a ticket.  You touch the station that you want to go to, pick how many passengers there are, and voila!  (Basically the opposite of the Deutsche Bahn ticket machines, which recently left me traumatized and fearful of all train ticket machines!).  

Once we found our way there, we wandered around for a while, looking at various counterfeit leather and electronic products, and some mahjongg sets, and then we found some food, including some super tasty chow fun.  Mmm.  Then we headed back toward the subway, and met a friendly kitty along the way.  He was in very good shape, and didn’t seem like a stray; it turned out he belonged to one of the shopkeepers.  We took the train back to our hotel, and I promptly fell asleep.

I woke up really early and eventually so did Rob, so we headed to the airport and killed time at the CX lounge.  We considered lounge-hopping, but once we got to the Wing, we got lazy and just hung out there.  We had some tasty Chinese food at the noodle bar, including roast pork buns (which I love!) that came in cute little single-bun bamboo steamers.  We also shared some noodles and other various dumplings, which were all quite tasty.  They also had a variety of continental breakfast offerings, but I don’t know why anyone would eat those when they could go to the noodle bar instead :) 

Eventually it was about time for our flight so we wandered over to our gate, where things were a bit behind.  They finally lined us up and we were among the first to board.  We were in non-adjacent seats, not even close to adjacent – there was basically a wall between our seats.  I tried to get us adjacent seats online, but it showed no other seats available.  But there was only one other person in the first class cabin.  When I arrived in my cubicle and looked over the wall and said to Rob that we were so far apart, once of the flight attendants promptly re-seated me right behind Rob.  We had some pre-departure mimosas in Rob’s cubicle, and then I took my seat.  Shortly after takeoff, they started breakfast service.  We had fruit, and then we both opted for the dim sum option, but I also got some yogurt, which was very tasty and came in a very cute little jar – I’ve never had yogurt in a jar before.  It was quite turbulent, and the seatbelt sign came on shortly after breakfast service started.  Their policy is to not serve hot beverages when the seatbelt sign is on, which I totally understand (and they were super apologetic about it), but it made me wish they had brought the coffee before the juice :)  Once breakfast was over, I snuck back to my seat and before you know it, we started our descent.  We started our very bumpy descent and then it sort of stalled out and we did a huge loop past Manila and then back around and finally landed.  We were just a hair late.

We cleared immigration very quickly, waited a few minutes for our bags, and then walked through customs, and chatted with a very friendly customs agent.  The resort had sent some very thorough instructions on where to go to get to the hotel lounge, complete with step-by-step pictures.  But somehow I immediately lost the scent, so I asked at the tourist information desk, and they pointed us in the right direction.  When we got to the lounge, we sat down and about 2 minutes later, someone arrived to retrieve us and walk us to a van, where we were handed cold bottles of water (ahhh).  The van ride took just under 2 hours, about half of it on the highway and half of it on smaller roads.  Eventually we got to the point where we would meet the boat, the “port” I suppose.  Our boat pulled up, and it was of a style that I had seen only in maritime museums before.  It had outriggers, and while I didn’t know the term for this sort of boat at the time, a bit of googling suggests it is called a bangka.  The ride over to Puerto Galera was pretty sporty.  It wasn’t scary rough or anything, but there were whitecaps everywhere plus some breaking wind waves, and it was just very slow going at first.  I was thinking that the average tourist might get sick in such seas.  It turns out this was not typical, but was considered rough.  It took about an hour and a half, which is quite a bit longer than typical.  When we finally arrived to Sabang beach, we pulled up to the “port” and we walked down a scary little plank to get off of the boat.  As I got to the end of the plank, I stepped off of it, and stepped right into a hole in the dock, and twisted my ankle.  Ouch.  I tried to suck it up and walk it off, which was pretty painful.  We were met by one of the DMs from the resort and a couple other guys to haul our bags to the resort, which was a couple of minutes walk (hobble) along the beach. 

When we arrived, they sat us down at a table by the desk, gave us some limeade (or some local drink that approximated limeade) and briefed us on the resort.  We made plans to do the dive briefing/paperwork an hour later, and were finally excused to our room, and someone brought our bags up a minute later.  And that concludes this portion of the story…

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