Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Vancouver to Manila - the long way around

Summer in BC was amazing. Camping, golf, sailing. The Cariboo, Sunshine Coast, Vancouver Island. But come mid-September the weather had started to change, the rain had begun to fall, Colleen had headed off on her latest yacht deliver, and I didn't have any real need to remain there. So it was time to move on.

I've had a love of Southeast Asia for quite awhile. I've enjoyed our trips to Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. Also, I'm on a tight budget, not having an income coming in, so it had to be an affordable place. I had been thinking of making a trip to the Philippines for awhile, and it was time to make it happen.

I looked up how to get there. I could do the trip on miles with Aeroplan or KLM. Aeroplan would fly me right to Asia, with one stop, and around 18 hours total. KLM, on the other hand, would fly me from Vancouver to Amsterdam to Taipei to Manila. But KLM would treat me decently and I'd have decent length layover in Amsterdam. So, of course, I chose KLM.

On September 30th started the day by dropping a bunch of our things in our North Van storage locker, then visiting my mom at Kiwanis Care Centre. She was asleep when I got there, but I woke her up and we were able to join the coffee party they were having.

I got a drive to the Seabus terminal, caught the boat across to Vancouver, caught the Skytrain (subway) to the airport, and caught my flight out. Realizing that even though I'm pretending to be a 20-something backpacker I am no longer a 20-something backpacker I upgraded to economy comfort, knowing that my back might need the room.

The flight to Amsterdam was relatively unremarkable. I try, but really don't succeed at sleeping on flights. But when I got there the bigger reason for this longer route was clear. My friend Quincy met me at Schiphol airport and we headed for Purmerend golf course. He had a spare set of clubs in his car, I had brought a pair of shorts and a collared shirt. We hit the range and the chipping green. The third-member of our threesome, Bas, joined us just before our tee time, and we headed out.

Not shockingly, I played terribly. It was about 3:00am Vancouver time when we teed off. Even getting a bogey on the front nine was success. Surprisingly I got better on the back nine and wasn't unhappy with the round. Afterwards we all grabbed a beer and Quincy was ready to head for an early steak dinner. It sounded great, but I was getting worried about the time and didn't want to be rushed, so I headed back to the airport for my next flight.

Back at Schiphol I tried to upgrade for the next leg. The folks at KLM are usually great, and they directed me to talk to the gate agent. Unfortunately the person at the gate was a miserable unhelpful person, so I gave up on it. My Dutch golf buddies had taught me an important Dutch term to be used when golfing - teleurstellend. It means "disappointing", which is common in my golf game. The service from the KLM agent was teleurstellend.

My biggest fear being back at the airport was falling asleep and missing my flight. I was dying. My head kept dropping down and nodding off. But I made it onto the flight and headed for Taipei. It was a long and boring flight, and I was running out of decent movies on the inflight entertainment system. I reminded myself that I was in the midst of flying from one Pacific coast to the other Pacific coast in a day, with a round of golf in the middle, so I shouldn't be so precious.

The Taipei airport was interesting. We all had to deplane, walk through the airport to another gate, and then get on the same plane, which had been moved while we were going through the airport. I didn't get the logic of it.

The flight from Taipei to Manila was just a couple of hours. Fairly painfree. Upon arrival I headed through customs. I had read that you were supposed to have a return or onward ticket upon arrival, but I had chose to disregard that information since I didn't really have a plan for what I was going to be doing next. The customs office asked me for my return ticket, and I told her I didn't have one, that that I worked in advertising, I was here for two weeks, but that I didn't know what my next destination was and would be buying a ticket shortly. This is one of those occasions where having a bit (ok, a lot) of grey hair and not looking like a 22-year old backpacker comes in handy. She give the a close look, stamped my passport for departure at the start of November, and waved me through. Nice!

I had gotten some good advice about Manila from the gentleman sitting next to me on the flight. He had told me to get a SIM card for my iPhone from Smart or Globe. After arriving and getting my bags I went into the arrivals hall, where there was a Smart booth set up right there. They had a good price for a month of unlimited Internet access, texting and incoming calls, so I got that plan. The internet didn't work immediately, but I restarted my phone and it worked. To jump ahead a bit here, the Internet only worked long enough for me to get away from the airport and then it died. A couple of days later I got some help from another Smart retailer, who helped me call their customer support. After a lot of back and forth I found out that my iPhone had been set up for a Blackberry plan, and the folks at Smart had no intention of fixing the problem. Pretty annoying. That second retailer had been very helpful, and I bought a Globe package from her. It worked perfectly, and has been working ever since. So, my advice, go with Globe. That seems to be what most Philippinos have said to me too.

I walked out of the airport to the taxi stand. It was a bit chaotic, but the official taxi person there, walkie talkie & clipboard in hand, showed me the fixed price list to Intramuros, where I was staying. I paid the approximately 1200 pesos and jumped in. I later learned that this was a nice little scam as well, officially sanctioned by the airport. That fare should be a bit less than 300 pesos, but they're quite happy to help people new to the city out by charging them a 400% premium.

So, in my first two transactions in the country I'd been ripped off twice. What a dumb tourist I am. But, to avoid giving the wrong impression, I've been here for a couple of weeks as I write this and the Philipinos that I've dealt with have been nothing but honest and straightforward. The only dodgy practices come from the tricycle drivers, who will always inflate the price, but even they can be managed with a bit of negotiation. I don't mind paying a "tourist-tax" of a few pesos here and there because I don't know what I'm doing or where I'm going, but I do mind getting ripped off. Sure, I can afford it, but the principle matters.

My cabbie drove me through the insanity of Manila traffic. No rules. Everyone goes at once. And somehow no one gets in an accident, and we went to my hotel, the Bayleaf Hotel. The Bayleaf isn't a terribly cheap hotel, but neither is it in the ranks of the high end international chains. And it seemed like just the right thing after a very long flight. I could just chill.

I checked in and went to my room. It had been quite the trip. The rooms at the Bayleaf weren't terribly nice. Decently designed, but smallish, with poor WiFi, but the staff were terrific. Very eager to assist with any request. I was exhausted. I took a shower and needed to get some dinner. I didn't have the energy left to do anything other than grab a cheeseburger at the McDonald's next door. A shameful move upon arriving in a new country, but sometimes it's what's required.

I went back to my room, climbed into bed. It had been over 40 hours from door to door. Three flights, three continents, 5 movies, one round of golf, several gin & tonics, almost no sleep. It was good to be here.

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