I had some hideous experiences in the airport on Christmas day. My first flight got delayed by four hours. Not bad, because I had a six hour layover in Manila. But when I got there I found out that the airline had overbooked my flight! I had to go get another ticket upstairs. I thought it was going to be some quick thing; they gave me a special booth to go to and told me that they had notified management that I was coming. I bought into it....
I got up there and saw the floor in front of the check-in desks absolutely packed full of people. There was not a single open space on the floor. I waited in that line for four hours, packed shoulder to shoulder with other pissed off travelers. I missed the flight that they had previously wanted to put me on and had to get another ticket. The people standing around me were actually pretty nice: it wasn't so bad chilling with them forever. But, I had been up all night; it was too tough to stay sanguine. Some of the people that had gotten up to the counter to find that the checker wouldn't take their ticket or that some other problem was preventing them from getting on a flight or that people kept cutting in line would get up onto the conveyor belt that takes checked baggage and started yelling and screaming at the poor flight secretaries! People would start to laugh and cheer them on because the line was moving at twenty feet an hour and it felt like nobody was getting anywhere. It was great entertainment. Once I got up to the counter I had to fight with other people to get the lady to take my information and give me a ticket. She actually took mine as soon as I got up there because I just put it on the counter instead of shoving it in her face. Score. People in the line I was in clapped and cheered once someone got a ticket and had their bags taken. I got my ticket and stepped onto the conveyor belt to walk around to security while about thirty people clapped and cheered me on.
I finally got into Puerto Princessa only four hours late on Christmas day. I will never fly on Christmas again.
The whole trip in the Philippines was simply amazing. It was like Hawaii, but about a hundred times cheaper. Well. The beaches and climate were like Hawaii. I actually thought that it felt a bit like India. It definitely had a better economy than India – all the tourists – but I still got the feelings for some reason.
It was weird traveling with my friend Susie and her family though. They were so hesitant to go out and just get random food. First, they were afraid that everything was going to give them food poisoning. Second, they had to worry about the diets of two kids. Susie also wasn't so keen on just walking around to see the place, she wanted to go and do the things that the agency she had booked her trip through recommended. It's weird to come to this sort of a vacation after the sorts of things that I've been doing. I also noticed how much they seemed to complain about the random things that Asia doesn't have. Like... bathrooms with toilet paper. Internet. Air conditioning. Consistently good service at restaurants. Food that you know and recognize. I've gotten used to this. It was interesting to see how much I've adapted to this sort of stuff when comparing to her family. I think I said, "Meh. That's Asia" a lot.
We did do lots of stuff though! It was pretty cool what they had set up for us. The Philippines, at least the island of Palawan, is entirely limestone and marble, resulting in some pretty awesome caves to explore. Unfortunately the ones we went to were run by tourist agencies. I don't think you can find the ones that aren't, but I thought it would be pretty cool to do some independent spelunking after seeing these.
There's also a huge underground river that we went through. The entire thing is about forty kilometers; we only went eight in (you can only get there via boat even though they say you can hike to it, I'll get to that later though). So we took a boat along the coast. We were dropped off on a beach and got into another boat that some guy paddled into the cave. There was a bright light that we could shine around the cave to see bats and stalactites and the huge caverns. It was incredible.
The next day I went to explore all the beaches that I could see from the boat trip. It was pretty tricky to get around some of the rock points. Secluded white sand beaches and dense jungles. Really loud birds and bugs were sounding all around. I found a tree that stuck out over the water and was able to sit in it and dangle my feet into the waves without getting wet. I could also hear and see monkeys. I spent about five hours here reading. At the end of the beaches were some huge limestone cliffs. The tide was coming in so I couldn't get to the last beach though. I had expected the way along the beach to be blocked by the incoming tide. I planned to take the trail back to the town that they said people could hike to the river on. I found it pretty easy, but it was overgrown! I thought that it would be awesome, since no one hikes it anymore, to bring some headlamps and a couple of friends here and hike the trail at night, commandeer one of those river boats with the lights, and then paddle into the cave during the night and go all forty kilometers into it without a guide or other tourists. I only had about an hour of daylight left and decided that without a light I shouldn't risk the overgrown trail. Regrettably I turned back. On the way back I found a zipline tower! I saw it from the beach but I didn't expect to find it. I looked around for some harnesses to ride it back. It goes over the water and everything! Didn't find any though...
Then we went to a tiny town called Port Barton. Not much here. Some good swimming. It rained a lot while we were here. I walked around and talked to a lot of the locals. They're all so friendly. Most people can speak some amount of English here. Then we went to El Nido. We spent New Years here. This whole town was populated by Europeans that were about thirty years old. Susie dragged me down to some party at a bar on the beach for New Years. I got culture shocked pretty hard here. It was weird being surrounded by a bunch of white people that wanted to get hammered. I think I was the youngest person there. I felt so out of place, which is saying something considering where I've been in the past five months.
And now I'm in Thailand!