The Trip Out

Beginning June 17th

We (note that this is the ‘royal we’ in that Eliz has done 99% of the preparation work and I just carry things (and complain)) took an Uber to National airport. There was some confusion in that it seems Eliz had signed up for ‘pool’ and a large vehicle (note that we are taking 5 bags and 1 box, each around 50 lbs, for nearly 300 lbs of stuff – almost all this for the parties and very little for ourselves) and the guy who showed up wasn’t a pool driver (pool, evidently, is where the driver can pick up more than one fare). It seems that was more expensive, but I can’t say that I paid that close attention. The driver appeared to be Thai, at least based on the script in the prayer (I’m assuming) stickers all over the vehicle. The beltway, shockingly (not), was crawling along, but we left some 3 hours early, so no worries.

Until we actually got to the airport. Man, is National dysfunctional! We were standing outside for curbside checkin and I wanted to get out of the heat, so insisted we go inside. Guess what? They only have self service checkin! I started grumbingling at that, then decided I’d go sit this one out and try and calm down. Except I kept being brought back in because, it seems, self checkin isn’t actually checking anything in, we got to stand in yet another line to get weighed. Except we didn’t actually get to check the bags in yet, we had to carry them ourselves to the TSA scanner. In my usual ‘charming’ asshole way, I started to complain louder and louder, sprinkling f-bombs fairly liberally and really pissing my wife off.

Eliz kept getting wound up as I was wound up and we started to bicker amongst ourselves. She got so upset she had to visit a chapel to pray and calm herself down.

I did eventually apologize, but it took me a while to climb down off my high horse.

We finally got on the plane to NY. We’d no sooner reached cruising altitude when we started descending. Last time I was at JFK I vowed it would be my last. I make lots of vows like that, but time heals all wounds, or puts enough scar tissue on that it’s easy to forget.  Little convinced me to change that. Though they had a shuttle train to get us terminal to terminal (instead of buses), we had to take all sorts of elevators up and down to reach it. Up and down. And one of the elevators was barely big enough for our bags and Eliz had to take the stairs.

At first Eliz had us waiting in the Aeroflot line, but my sarcastic comments finally got her to check and the Philippine Airline (PAL) line was gratifyingly short. After we finally checked in, I wanted to go to a sit-down restaurant, but lo and behold, in the terminal we were in there was exactly one, and it was full. We did manage to find a table we could sit at and had something to eat while we waited. And waited. And waited…

The plane was a new 777 and Eliz had the forethought to get exit row seats. Full-sized exit doors, so nearly 6 ft of legroom. The downside was no window, which sucked. And there was no place to store anything, so it all had to be shuffled through the overhead bins.

It seems some relative works as a purser on PAL and she put the word out so the stewards/stewardesses were very friendly toward us and brought us lots of little gifts. Other than it being really really long, and the landing in Vancouver rather violent (my teeth felt like they were going to shatter), it was the usual dull routine. I might have dozed a little, but unlike trips in the past, where everything would go silent when I fell asleep, it just felt like no time had elapsed.

We got a new crew in Vancouver, so more well wishes and additional goodies. We tried a number of neck pillows and I learned quickly that the conventional U shaped ones were worthless. While they work fine if you’re (I’m) sleeping on my side in the car with the seat back, in the plane my neck would be forced forward if I had the opening toward the front, and if I put the opening toward the back, the damn thing would just fall off. We got one with two cylinders connected by a sheet, except it would slide around and fall away. What worked for me was a modification to the cylinders: they are L shaped, so tuck under my chin, but, most importantly, they connected in the front as well, to keep the damn thing from sliding around. I probably ‘slept’ (dozed) a total of 8 hours, a few from NY to Vancouver, and more Vancouver to Manila.

The flight from DC to NY was around 45 minutes and from NY to Vancouver about 5 and a quarter, so at Vancouver we had airtime of 6 hours. The air time from Vancouver to Manila was around 12.5 hours, if memory serves, plus, of course, waiting time in DC, NY and Vancouver. But we weren’t home yet…

In Manila we had to claim our bags, then check them right back in again. After going through customs. There was no line when we got to customs, unbelievably, but then it seems our bags were the last off the plane, so we stood/sat around for a long time. Then, much like how JFK has a half dozen terminals, Manila has several, so we had to change in order to get home. Note that we had to kill some 4-5 hours before our flight would leave.

We wait to take a shuttle to go to the other terminal (I believe there are 4) and finally a bus showed up. We piled aboard (with our 6 carryons!) and after a rather long time, the driver came on and started to collect money. For a shuttle! I don’t know if it’s an officially recognized scam or what, but it was only 20 pesos (there are some 53 pesos to a dollar), though my wife hadn’t made any change yet, so gave him two bucks. And that would have been OK if we went directly to our terminal, but no, it seems we toured Manila first, making random stops along the way. Eventually we wound up at our desired terminal and had lots of time to kill. A sister and brother (both inlaws to me) were already at the airport and terminal, so we were supposed to meet with them, except no one had working phones (have to get a compatible sim card first), so it was a matter of a prearranged meeting. Except Eliz and Don didn’t find them (I was tired, so sat with the carryon luggage).

It turns out they were sleeping in a place you can rent beds, but by the time I found that out, it didn’t make sense to pay for it, since we were boarding in an hour or so. We did, though, bump into they’re foster brother Tito, and he had been able to connect with them over wifi, so eventually, after they woke up, we could meet.

Note that the journey is still not over… One of our carryon bags was deemed too big, but fortunately Tito checked it in as his, so we were let through security (slightly less a theater than in the US – none of this nonsense about liquids or taking shoes off). We found the siblings and waited some more. They’d bought sim cards and were configuring their phones to work here and I sort of observed with glazed eyes. We then went to wait at the boarding area and I had to lie down on the uncomfortable metal chairs because I could barely stand. The flight time was 50 or 55 minutes and I probably dozed a little. We landed at the Tacloban airport and no sooner had we taxied to the disembarking area (just a spot on the tarmac; it’s literally just a runway, you taxi down the runway to take off) when it started to rain. Since it is walk down the steps with no protection, we wound up waiting on the plane for probably 20-30 minutes before we could finally get off.

Tito runs an ice business in Tacloban, and he had a couple of his employees and a truck to take our luggage. He then drove us to Mama and Papa’s house (I’ll try and get a picture of it; since my first trip it has expanded by ⅔ when the finally purchased the property next door; Papa’s father’s house and the siblings fought over selling it to him for decades). There are basically only two-lane roads except in the middle of big cities (and Tacloban doesn’t rate as ‘big’) and everyone uses the same road. Pedestrians, my favorite – though we didn’t see any on the way home – caribou (basically oxen-looking things), three-wheeled bicycles, three-wheeled motorcycles, cars and trucks. It’s constantly speeding up, slowing down and swerving. It takes a lot to make me motion sick, but driving on these roads has done it, though thankfully not at that time.

Tacloban has decided to make essentially all roads one-way in an attempt to make the traffic slightly less chaotic, so we had to loop around to get to the ‘rents-in-law house. I quickly said ‘hi’ to both, then went straight to bed for a couple of hours. I was practically cross eyed by the time I laid my head down. We left around 2:30 PM on Saturday and arrived at around 3 PM on Monday (we cross the date line, so ‘lost’ a day) for 36.5 hours of travel. Nearly 20 in the air, the rest sitting around airports. I am so not looking forward to the trip back, but will do the best to put it out of my mind until then.

For those of you who didn’t know, Typhoon Yolanda hit Tacloban City very hard. Around 6K people died from the storm surge of nearly 15 ft. My parents-in-law, fortunately, have an extremely solidly built concrete house that’s 4 stories, so they could easily get out of the way of the flood (which saturated the first floor; it seems they didn’t understand what storm surge meant and I wasn’t smart enough to ask). It was a trying time. I blogged a bit about the time here. Anyway, in places near the airport, where the ground was literally swept clean, the usual shanties had been back in place for quite a while. Since they largely used scrap, they largely looked exactly as I remembered. Closer in, where many of the buildings were replaced with concrete, the look was much more modern and clean. Closer in still, then it was back to the typical dark concrete (mildew starts growing before the building is even finished, making everything dingy). I didn’t see any overt signs of the disaster, except, perhaps, for the nearly endless construction. There was a large container ship washed ashore and I was told they saved part of it when they cut it up for scrap and turned it into a restaurant, so may need to check it out.

On the 777 I thought of lots of plot elements for the sequel screenplay I hope to complete while here. Sadly, I didn’t record any of my thoughts and most has vanished. I hope I can recreate some (most (all)) of it when I have had a chance to relax.

I have no idea how often I’ll do one of these, as there may not be much to write about. I intend to largely sit around and relax, which is a great-to-experience vacation, but makes for lousy story telling.

Author: Tfoui

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