Somewhere around the beginning of April...
Now I was out of Laos it was finally safe to say that finally, I had visited a country that I did not get sick in- the first one on the trip so far!!! Here's hoping this sets a new pattern for health moving forward...
The next part of our lives is a little time that we like to call luckily-unluckily.
Our flight from Luang Prabang to Manila, Philippines stopped over in Bangkok for a 3.5 hour layover. Even with a long ass layover my first stop at airports is to check in and find the gate and make sure everything is good before doing anything. Bridger's first stop is usually the first pub he finds. I won and as soon as we got there we tried to check in at the transfer counter. Luckily everything went smooth from Luang Prabang to Bangkok, unluckily the checkout counter wasn't open until 2.5 hours before the flight so we couldn't do anything at that point. So Bridger got his way and we went for a casual dinner and drinks at the Irish pub. We went back to check in an hour before our flight left thinking, no prob, we've already checked in in Luang Prabang so this is just a formality. We go up to the Philippine Air check in counter, proceed as normal, and then there it is, oh for the love "can I see your onward ticket". Fuuuuuuck! I even knew that Philippines was really strict about this requirement before letting you board but in the total last minute plan switch I didn't even think of it. We tried our Korea to Bangkok arguments (we didn't know, we are just travelling leg by leg, we promise we'll leave) and even some new ones including the promising "we didn't book a ticket because of the incoming typhoon so we didn't know our itinerary/where we're flying out from". At one point Bridger said "Korean Air asked us for an onward ticket to Thailand but then they said it was ok, we didn't need one" haha. The lady looked at him like he had 7 heads and was like "um yes, that was Korea, this is the Philippines". We pursued this for awhile until this stone-faced, no sympathy lady made it very clear that it didn't matter what we ever said, we weren't getting on that flight without a ticket out because apparently Philippines immigration fines the airlines if they let people on without proof of exit. Ok, and now we were within one hour of flight leave time, panic!! Luckily Bangkok airport had free wifi and the password kiosk was literally around the corner from us (haha how often does this happen for them?!). Unluckily my phone has like 10% battery and drops just by looking at it because it's so old and crappy and Bridger's good phone barely had any battery power left because we couldn't charge properly and the iPad was still not connecting to the internet. So now we're sitting on the airport floor in the middle of the transfer counters and Bridger is trying to hammer at the teeny tiny screen with his sausage fingers searching kayak for a cheap flight out of Philippines from a ton of different cities on a ton of different dates because we hadn't even decided where we would fly out of, where we would go next and how long we were going to stay in the Philippines for, all essential variables in searching for flights! We did this all the while watching his cell battery drain out and the minutes before our flight leaves whittle away before our eyes knowing that if we missed this flight, we stood to lose a shit ton of money because it was such an expensive last minute flight. This fight garbage was made especially difficult because when we left the Philippines we would be leaving SE Asia so we knew it would be a long haul flight, not just an easily throw away one. Luckily Bridger maintains a relative level of sanity under pressure because I was a total write-off and just couldn't even think straight anymore. The flight attendant lady at the desk had made some calls and said she could offer us a $600 flight to Dubai with Philippine Air leaving on whatever day but we had to tell her within 10 minutes because the ticket desk was closing and she had to leave the desk to gate. A $600 one way flight seemed kind of outrageous and we were finding some flights on Kayak for like $400 ish and luckily we caught an insanely lucky break because our flight got delayed 45 minutes so time crunch relieved a tiny bit. Totally paralyzed by possibilities, we eventually found something affordable on Kayak with like 25 minutes before boarding, entered the details which is extraordinarily difficult on a tiny iPhone in a rush. We submitted and unluckily, Kayak you asshole, came back with a message that says "the merchant has denied your request to purchase these tickets". You've GOT to be flipping kidding me!!! Fortunately the lady was still at the desk. In desperation, ok lady, we'll take your stupid expensive flight. Well unluckily, too late, the ticket booth was closed, we can no longer buy that ticket. Noooooo!!! Luckily the flight got delayed another 15 minutes and now we have another few minutes gift before flight leave time and having lost all faith in Kayak and second hand ticket purchasers, we went direct to the Cebu Pacific, Philippines discount airline website and booked directly knowing it would be more expensive but at least we eliminate the middle man with this 10 some minutes left. We chose anything at this point and entered details and submitted while running to the gate. Luckily the wifi had been working pretty quickly on our search, unluckily somewhere between desk and gate we entered some sort of wifi black zone and the iPhone, with like 7% battery left got stuck on the "processing payment" page and would.not.budge, stuck at the unfortunate place between payment and confirmation. We didn't want to mess with pushing any buttons and risk losing all the info entered but can't go on like this forever. So now we're running away from the gate area waving the phone around madly trying to reconnect. We literally had minutes left before boarding and nothing so had pretty well resigned ourselves that we were missing this flight but luckily we were in Bangkok where we didn't need a visa to enter the country so we could at least leave the airport, get a hotel and try again tomorrow. With nothing to lose anymore we refreshed the page and luckily instead of totally resetting, it just confirmed payment. Now with like 5% battery and everyone in the gate lining up to board we were in a race against time and battery life to get the emailed confirmation, praying it would be immediate. Not only would we have to get it in minutes, the battery would have to hold out so we could show the airline people otherwise it would be totally useless. Luckily it came through, we gave it to them and they scrutinized it and verified it and then let us through the gate to board. The stress! With no spare time to grab a water and existing in a constant state of panic for 2 hours, our mouths were so dry that our tongues were just sticking to our teeth and we could barely swallow but we were getting on that flight!!!! So far, between the last minute costly flight in, an approaching typhoon and a poorly researched expensive flight out, the Philippines had not been good to us financially or mentally!
Our flight from Bangkok to Philippines was overnight arriving at like 3:30 am. Arriving in the middle of the night is usually not in my travel plans but with the jack last minute flight, we were taking anything we could get. We took the most harrowing taxi ride from the airport to our hotel and thank goodness it was the middle of the night because there was less traffic and I'm certain we would have been in an accident had there been more cars on the road. We've traveled to alot of countries with shit driving practices but I'd say Manila driving exceeded all shitty drivers in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Panama put together. Our driver was barelling down the roads weaving in and out of traffic with literally inches to spare. And it wasn't just our guy doing this, it was all drivers on the road. At one point two vehicles on each side started closing in on us at the same time and I thought we'd get crushed. Not gonna lie, kind of an intense ride. We made it to the hotel though for some reason this taxi driver thought he deserved a tip for his efforts and made it clear.
Luckily Bridger had the foresight to book a hotel for "yesterday" instead of "today" so we were able to check in immediately and go to sleep for a few hours. Unluckily, bless him, the hotel that he booked was NOT in the district he thought it was/we were trying to book in and it was NOT $40/night like he thought it was/it was supposed to be according to what he told me when he was doing his "research" (the message I got was something along the lines of how everything was around that price anyways...). He actually even had a photo of a map with the hotel location pinned on it which was actually not at all where the hotel was...where'd he get it?! I'm honestly not sure how this happens when he takes over. Regardless, here we were at 4:30 in the morning in the skyscraper business district of Manila walking into (I mean bellboys opening doors for us) a 50 some odd floor condo-hotel for business people talking to the smartly-dressed-in-suits hotel staff with our dirty travel pants, unshowered heads and 70L backpacks. It was a fun game of "who completely doesn't belong here".
This hotel was very awesome I must say. We were on the 46th floor (our ears popped going up the elevator), it had its own full kitchenette, a pool, a fitness centre, a beautiful glass shower separated from the rest of the bathroom (In Asia thus far, it's all in one unseparated room) and the best part was that it had it's OWN wifi! Coming off a few months in Cambodia and Laos who may have the shittiest wifi in the world, I could finally make some FaceTime calls to the long disconnected fam!
Though no matter how great it was, it still managed to have the obligatory dead cockroach hiding under the curtains. We just left it there our whole stay.
Every day the doorbell would ring (yes it had a doorbell) and people would be there asking if we needed anything, housekeeping, supplies, whatever. Bridger and I, not used to fancy stuff, really don't know the script for tipping etiquette in these types of situations so erring on the side of caution, just threw out a few bucks every time someone did something for us. It got to the point where we actually started to wonder whether they were creating reasons to knock on the door of the tipping people. Haha at one point the doorbell rang and someone showed up to give us two pairs of slippers that we never asked for. And then 5 minutes later somebody else showed up to "Fix our wifi" which was actually a bit eerie because minutes earlier I happened to say "this wifi isn't working that well right now". So then we really started to wonder if maybe they had bugged our room to find out when we needed stuff so they could get tips. But then again, maybe this was all just in our heads!
The first thing we did in Manila was to go to the mall to the Apple store to see about getting the iPad fixed. At this point I was so foul in the Philippines because it had costed SO much money so far that I expected the worst. In a bizarre and completely-coincidental-that-it- existed-and-that-we-found- it twist of fate, an Apple store just happened to have recently moved wtihin walking distance of this crazy hotel. So we started walking. No taxis for these budget travelers.
Most Filipino's speak quite conversational if not totally fluent English which is amazing for interacting with people and for getting around easily, though, I had to remind Bridger of this as we walked down the street to the mall so he didn't say something stupid (like "we need to get the hell of of shithole Manila asap" at the airport surrounded by locals, ugh) and totally intelligible in public! Made it to the mall and to our delight it was a true inside, air conditioned, normal store kind of mall that I hadn't seen in months after mainland SE Asia and we were right at home because it was so familiar to our kind of malls at home! Sure enough, the apple store fixed the iPad no problem and just like that we were back up and running. Then while wandering around the mall we found a long looked for floating piece and red filter for our GoPro camera, a big bottle of sunscreen and tampons WITH applicators (seriously, this was a find-tampon with applicators are an almost impossible find outside of North America; I almost jumped I was so excited!). And the Filipino people all day had been so extraordinarily wonderful going actually out of their way to chat with us, direct us or otherwise help us without us even needing to ask first. Though I also had to remind myself that because Filipinos speak English, it is much easier for us to engage beyond a simple hello. But seriously they are actually so wonderful and this held true for the entire time we were in Philippines. Hands down the friendliest, warmest place we have been yet. Manila has a reputation for being a pretty grim, don't-miss-much-if-you-don't-go kind of place but after this day we were IN LOVE with Manila and the Filipino people!
As we were walking around the mall, Bridger saw a few teenagers on the elevator with skates on and I would say, actually pounced on them asking if there was a skating rink in the mall. Sure enough there was which we checked out immediately. It was hilarious because we saw the transition from closed for figure skating time to open public skate and my goodness, when those gates opened there was a 5-10 minute constant and steady flow of Filipinos that flooded onto the ice, some skating away freely but many grabbing hold of the rail along the wall, joining the long line up of people skate shuffling along it the whole way around the arena! Funny how much we take for granted a constant source of ice in Canada.
Because the hotel costed more than expected and also because we just happened to be in the only Catholic country in our travels over Easter weekend so lots of things were closing down, we figured we would take advantage of that kitchenette and save money cooking all our food. The grocery store was also so familiar to us. It was laid out in the exact same way as in Canada with fresh foods and meat on the perimeter and aisles and aisles of packaged food and otherwise junk food in the middle. Like North Americans, Filipino's love their packaged junk food. Felt like home, which after several months on the road, we didn't feel guilty about loving! One stark difference was that Manila grocery stores (we were in far too many in our short stint there, it's almost all we did) was that customer service in theirs was off the charts incredible. The staff were running all over the store back and forth finding everything for us or directly leading us to exactly where something was and if they didn't speak English, finding someone else who did. And the follow through was incredible. IF they said they were going to get something for you even if you had been waiting so long that you think they forgot about you, they never did and they always came back with exactly what it was that you were looking for. It was truly exceptional! Once we finished we had about 17 pounds of groceries in a paper bag (grocery store is plastic free, awesome huh?! Another score for Philippines) but could we find the right exit, of course no. So we went out what we thought was the exit, walked across the street only to realize that we could not get to our hotel from there so walked back in and to the other side of the mall with our 17 pounds of groceries to the next exit. The mall is full of security guards who also became our tour guides because every 30 steps we had to stop and ask someone how to get to our hotel and they were the most readily available people.
After this first day out and about I'm quite certain that we didn't leave the hotel room after that which was fine because pretty well the whole world shut down because of Easter holidays. We spent alot of time sleeping, researching our plan for Philippines and cooking. Bridger actually cooked us an amazing jiggs dinner for Easter dinner. We were really enjoying ourselves until we somehow ended up in a big fight about Bridger making fun of me on video camera or something so that wrapped our our Easter haha.
While in Manila we watched the incoming typhoon Maysak news closely because our travel plans depended on what it did. Ps. typhoon season hadn't even started yet at this point so we thought we would be in the clear. Can't count the number of Filipinos who attributed this to global climate change. Anyways, it was classified a a super typhoon out in the ocean and did some serious damage to the small islands east of the Philippines but still hard to predict what direction it would go and what strength it would be when it moved into the Philippines.
What blew my mind while waiting for the hurricane to blow in while I was in Belize a few years ago and watching this storm is that nobody has any idea what things are going to look like until it actually gets to land. As a landlocked Albertan I would assume there would be able to be some sort of reliable predictability of this stuff but doesn't seem to be that way at all. It's a total game of wait for it to show up and see. This bought us an extra one or two days in Manila as we stayed put to see what/where this would hit. This meant that we got to find out exactly what our beautiful hotel costed every night because we had to extend our stay past our initial booking...turns out it costed like $80/night! My god I was going to kill Bridger!!! Either way, our initial plans were to stay in Manila for a day or two and then head up North to see the famed and amazingly gorgeous rice terraces. Mother nature had different plans for us as that typhoon was going to blow directly 100% through that entire northern island and crushed my dreams of seeing those terraces. We made plans to hit another island outside of the path instead. One interesting thing we realized out of this close monitoring of the storm via media was how utterly sensationalist North American media is compared to the rest of the world.
Where Philippines new sources just clearly and neutrally stated facts, the North American news headlines personified the storm and used these dramatic, powerful words in their reporting. It was absolutely shocking and a little bit disgusting. No wonder that we are a society that lives in total fear of everything abroad because the true nature of everything gets so heavily filetered and skewed through our media. Trust me, things are not as catastrophic on the ground as media would have you believe.