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2 Weeks in the Philippines

Description: A description...By James Dylan

24 April - This morning we woke up early, around 4 am (mostly because of the jet-lag) and went swimming again in the hotel pool, which was pretty nice, for the kind of hotel it was. The tiles were chipped or missing in many places, and nothing had been done to maintain it other than a half-assed cleaning, as far as I could tell. Afterward we ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant and were surrounded by DOMs, sitting either alone or with their little girls. Needless to say, it was really uncomfortable and strange. I was also amused at how normal they acted, as if it was not out of the ordinary to be sitting at a hotel diner table with a young girl everyone knew you had sex with the night before. Weird as in he is 60 and she is 17 (with a body of a 12 year-old). That’s why they all come here - they aren’t judged.

Back in the room, I flipped through the phone book and called a local travel agent to inquire about chartering a helicopter or small airplane that could give us a tour of the volcano, Mt. Pinatubo. She sounded shocked at my request and told me it would be too expensive! I jokingly told her that she wasn't my mother, and to just look. She said she would call me back, but I was unsure if she would or not.

I also flipped through Jan Peter's travel book "The Philippines" and saw a listing for private airplane tours, and the listed number even worked. The man on the phone was a retired US Air Force pilot who lives in Angeles City, and luckily, he was free that very morning, and would pick us up in an hour. His name was Jimmy Boyd and operated Navion Air Service out of Clark Field. Tel (63) 45-331-7181, mobile (63) 917-826-0251 and he has a web site;

We then went for a walk down Bar Street, bought some bootleg DVDs (The PI is a bootlegger's paradise; they actually have stores in malls that only sell bootleg movies and music), and when we got back to the hotel there was an authentic US Army Wiley Jeep from the '60s parked out front. As I was admiring it, the pilot came out, said "howdy" and drove us out to his private hangar on Clark Airbase, where he had two vintage planes, plus several classic cars.

We agreed on a flight plan (over Pinatubo a couple of times, the surrounding area, then down to Subic Bay) and a price, which came to 90 minutes for 9000 Pesos, or just about $200. The airplane was a shiny vintage 1949 Navair, which was in its original condition with the original seats in the back, and it had that nice, old-airplane smell, kind of like a vintage VW Bug. We climbed up onto the wing and into the rear seat, taxied onto the runway, and took off. On the way to Pinatubo he told us how, after the 1991 volcanic eruption, the entire area was covered with several feet of ash, and how the military basically closed the base and handed the keys to the Philippine Air Force and left. All that was cleared was one road into the base, so the government hired hundreds of civilians with nothing more than brooms and shovels to clear the entire base, but especially the runways and taxi lanes of the airport.

It was slightly cloudy and a little hazy up there, but it was still a great trip, being several thousand feet up above the huge crater, which was filled with dark water.  Mr. Boyd flew us all the way down to Subic Bay which was the location of the old US Naval Base, and we flew around a few times, then back up to Pinatubo. On the way back to the base he flew over one of the "washes" or channels that the ash flow created. It was amazing; it must have been a mile wide and just went on for miles, this wide path of eroded land bordered by mountains of ash, with a small creek running down the middle of it. This is the very wash we would be hiking up the next day, as it turned out.

Dotting the sides of the hills and the edge of the river were hundreds of small shacks, housing who knows how many families. I had no idea what these people were living on, as I didn't see any farms near the shacks. Coconuts? Mangos?

The Travel Agency

We landed and the pilot drove us back to the hotel; it was fun riding around the base in the old Jeep, with the Filipinos looking at us and pointing. When we got back to the hotel, I went into a small travel agency situated next door and looked into hiring a guide or signing up for a tour to the top in Mt. Pinatubo. The girl behind the desk started making some phone calls, and there was also an older Filipino man in the room who came over and started helping her. I guess this didn't happen a lot, as it took them quite a while to figure out whom to call. I didn't want it to turn into a big production, but it did (and I found out why the next day). Also, this was my first time in the Philippines, before I knew all the little backdoor deals and scams.

They said they would make some calls and get back to us, and I gave them Charito's phone number so she could deal with them in Tagalog, which, if you are an American, is a good thing to do. Businesses tend not to rip you off as much if you are with a Filipino. Another thing we did a lot was, Charito would go in stores alone to make a purchase, then once the price was agreed upon or whatever else business conducted, I would come in and pay. You could always see the disappointment in the shop owners' eyes, knowing they had been robbed of a chance to rob me.

We jumped into our stuffy rental car and drove around Angeles and Clark Air Base the rest of that day. Mt. Pinatubo was (and still is) huge, and it still takes all day to drive around, especially due to the dirt roads. There were many native Filipinos (Charito called them "Jungle People") on the mountain when it erupted, and I have heard some people say as many as 600 died. Those who didn't die lost their land, and occasionally you will see some very dark-skinned, wiry-haired people walking around - these are the Jungle People. They seem to live on the fringes of society now, scratching out a living.

Driving around, way out in the country, along the edge of a small wash, we came upon more of these makeshift shacks, most made out of branches and tarps thrown together. This area was very dry and dusty with ash from the volcano, and scattered all around were pumice stones of all sizes, many gathered up in small piles, some in burlap sacks. I am assuming these were sold to some company to use for cosmetics. I am guessing that the people who lived in these houses sold these for money, probably their only source of income. As a Jungle Person, you know you have it pretty rough and are truly on the fringes of Filipino society when even the poor Filipinos consider themselves better off than you are.

So I was driving along, casually looking at the scarred landscape and slowly making my way towards the volcano, when the travel agency called and said they booked us on a tour up Mt. Pinatubo with a guide for 5000 Peso, which I laughed at. 5000 Peso is a bit more than $100, and I knew that in the PI this was quite a bit of money, way too much money for a simple tour-guide. I knew they were taking advantage of the fact that I was an American, so I told her to forget about it, that I would find someone else, and hung up.

About 10 minutes later they called back, saying they quoted the wrong price (of course) and it was actually only 2500 Peso, which included the drive to the trail head in a special 4x4 Jeep and a guide to take us up to the actual crater. I had limited time here in Angeles City and didn't want to waste it, so I told them to book us, but we weren't going to pay any extra fees. They agreed, feigning being insulted, but insisted that we come back and pay them right away, before they closed that night. It was already late in the day and we were miles away from Angeles City and there was no way we were going to get back to the hotel before they closed.

I had been warned about this by my co-workers who had already been to the PI, so I told them we would pay them when we got back, and if not, the next day. They lied and said they couldn't promise us that we would be able to reserve the tour, and I told them, "Oh well". Everybody wants their money up-front in the PI. This place just wanted it in case we changed our minds or found a better deal. They accepted and said the Jeep would be at the hotel at 5 am, because if we hustled we would get to the top before the heat kicked in at noon, which would be better, as we would be walking downhill by then.

I knew it was going to be a long, hot hike in the direct sun, and realized I was really "white", due to being on night shift for the last 8 months. We stopped at a department store, wove our way through the DOMs and bought a white, long-sleeved shirt to cover my arms.

That night we ate at a nice Bohemian restaurant actually owned by an older Czech man who was also the cook, and it was pretty good. You will never get service anywhere else like you do in the Philippines. They are at your side from the moment one of them opens the door for you, pulls the chair out for you, hands you the menu, etc. A waiter stood by my side the entire time I was perusing the menu, ready to answer any questions. I was hesitant to go to the restroom, afraid he might come in and want to hold my equipment for me while I took a leak. The food was good, the beer was better, and then we went back to the hotel to prepare for the hike.

The Jeep

25 April - We woke up early, and as we walked out to the street, we saw a large, extended Jeep 4x4 sitting there, and oddly, a western couple sitting in it. Suspecting it was ours, I approached the driver, and he had our names. Oh, now I know why the price was suddenly cut in half - another couple signed up. I don't know why I thought we would be alone, and it didn't matter, except now these two had the front seats, and Charito and I had to sit in the back, and I knew it was going to be bumpy as hell, and I wasn't disappointed.

We took off and got to see a beautiful sunrise over Mt. Arayat, but it was way too bumpy to take any pictures. It was enjoyable, sitting in the back with the cool, early-morning air whipping around us. We passed through many small villages and settlements, listening to legions of roosters crowing, and it was much more pleasant to do this in the early morning than later in the day, with the terrible traffic, heat and dust.

The travel agency said it would be a 90-minute drive, and it was... to the boundary of the park, which also meant the end of the asphalt. We stopped in a small village and quickly became the highlight of the day for all the villagers, who all came out of their houses to look at us. We were shuffled into a small, open-air concrete block building and told we had to pay an "entry-fee" which (of course) the travel agent didn't say anything about, and to sign our names in an old, mildewed, green ledger book, and also fill out some other paperwork. It was all for show, to make it look like they were actually doing something to earn the money.

The guy who asked us to do all this looked like he was just roused out of bed; his hair was all mussed-up, he had a dirty wife-beater on, and a cigarette dangling from between his lips. A couple of the villagers came in from outside to watch. Finally, we all packed back in the Jeep, some guy in a blue vest jumped into the passenger seat (our tour-guide?) and we took off. At the outskirts of the village we were stopped at a military checkpoint, and across the street I could see a small barracks. They checked our paperwork, lifted up the gate, and we rolled in.

The landscape changed almost immediately as we entered the wash. It was a large, ash and rock-filled, mile-wide, flat riverbed with a small creek running down the middle. Occasionally we would see water buffalo grazing, and off in the distance we could see huts on the surrounding hills, sometimes smoke drifting up. After a few miles it started getting bumpy and the rocks were getting bigger, we passed several natives gathering pumice stones and piling up burlap sacks for pickup. It was a bizarre landscape, a scene that could only be created by something as catastrophic as a major volcanic eruption.

As we got closer, the wash narrowed, and I could see that what I thought were hills were actually ash-deposits from the eruption years ago, now covered with grass and trees. Since it was soft ash, it eroded easily and created displays I would expect to see only in a science fiction movie, and actually, I wouldn't be surprised if one day the area was used for such a purpose. In several places, the heavy rain created huge, pointed spires out of the ash, giving the place an alien look. I only wish the ride wouldn't have been so bumpy, as I couldn’t take many photographs.

It was another hour of being tossed around in the back of the Jeep until we hit the trailhead. So much for the 90-minute ride. Due to the water eating away at the ash, the driver never knew what to expect, the further we went. Once, the creek passage narrowed down to just a dozen feet and the tour guide had to get out and move several large pumice stones out of the way so we could squeeze through. Finally, after an hour of this, we hit the trailhead. I could see the way ahead was tight and blocked by a few smallish boulders, but thought that if the PI government hired a few guys to come out and clear the way, we could have gone up much further. Once we started hiking, the way opened up.

The Hike Up

We all crawled out, happy to be free of that painful Jeep, and from being knocked around. We stretched our legs, utilized the tree line as they say, the driver laid down in the back-seat, the tour-guide put on his flip-flops, I hitched up my shorts, and we took off. Wait, flip-flops? The tour guide was taking us up the side of a volcano, over huge boulders and debris, and he was wearing flip-flops? You gotta’ love the Philippines. The guide was name Jose, and he brought his girlfriend along because he didn’t speak English but she did. Great, another person who will want a tip.

I was a little worried about him being our tour-guide, as he looked about 60, and had a large belly, and didn't know if it was in him to hike up a volcano in 90-degree heat. But Charito said he told her he had done it over 50 times. Jose said we needed to hurry, as he (we) didn't want to hike in the heat of the day, and man, did we ever hurry. I don't know how he walked in those flimsy, worn-out shower shoes, but we had trouble keeping up with him. Several times we even lost sight of him! Isn't a tour guide supposed to stay with the people he is guiding, or at least walk at their pace?

I found out the other couple (to whom we hadn't spoken a word yet) were German. I didn't let them know I spoke German, as that’s always fun; listening to them talk about you, with them assuming you don't know German. However, I was happy they were German, as I know Germans are good hikers and I didn't want to be held back by some lazy yuppie couple from New York. Charito really impressed me too, as she was a 36 year-old retail worker who didn't exercise all that much, but she performed even better than the Germans, leaping from boulder to boulder like a mountain goat! I made jokes about her being a true "jungle-girl", and that climbing mountains was in her blood, for which I received a true "city-girl" smack upside the head!

Going up the mountain was pleasant; we were in the shade, it was cool, and we were well rested and full of energy, anxious to reach the crater. The sides of the wash were over 100 feet high in some areas, straight up, with trees growing right up to the edges. We passed several large yellow boulders that I realized were sulfur, and when I scratched it with a key I could smell the rotten-egg smell. The tour guide pulled us over and showed us one area where you could see jet-black chunks of trees that had been turned into charcoal by the heat of the blast, and had been buried in ash until the creek exposed them. I pulled several pieces out, and they were perfectly shaped branches, just in charcoal form. He warned me not to pull anything out of the walls, as they were very unstable, and I could cause the whole 100-foot deposit towering above me to collapse.

About two-thirds up the wash became narrow and jungle vegetation started to appear, then became heavier until we actually were walking through jungle. Near the top, deep in vegetation, we came across a natural spring, and the native people had rigged up several bamboo poles to pipe the water and created a waterspout. Sadly, as in America, there was trash around. Candy wrappers, water bottles and chip bags were scattered about. While we were sitting there resting I walked around and gathered most of it up, but where was I to put it? I piled it under a rock, hoping someone, someday might bring it down. The Germans knew what I was doing (but didn't help), and the tour-guide was looking at me like I was crazy. There is trash almost everywhere in the PI - piles of it on the side of roads, in backyards, and vacant lots. I think the chip bag is the national flower of the Philippines.

He said most of the trash on the mountain was from the South Korean tourists, and he hated them, by the way. I mean, he told us this. And not because they littered, but because they were mean, cheap, greedy, terrible people (these are all his words, not mine). He said the week before he had brought a group of 50 Koreans up the mountain, and not one shared a snack with him nor tipped him when he brought them back to the village afterward. He said that several months ago he was stuck on the mountain for three days during a typhoon with several Koreans (he had tried to tell them it was coming, but they insisted...) and they huddled together in a cave waiting for the once-timid-creek-which-was-now-a-raging-river to subside, and not one of them would share any food or water with him, and none of them tipped him when they finally got off the mountain. So yeah, he could care less about Koreans. I would have my own adventures with Koreans in the future, as it turned out.

The Crater

Around 10am, 5 hours after we left the hotel, we emerged from the jungle, crested a rise, and there it was - a large, dark lake inside the crater formed by one of the largest volcanic eruptions in modern history. I took a few pictures from the overlook on the lip of the crater, and then made the descent down to the lake. Someone (the government?) had amazingly gone through the trouble to build a concrete staircase from the overlook down to the water. I say amazing because unless they flew the materials in, all that cement had to be carried up by humans. I don’t think even a water buffalo could have made it up on those loose rocks.

This was a hundred foot, near vertical staircase that dropped you off on the “beach.” Near the water’s edge were several bamboo huts in which we all rested, and we were thankful for the shade, as it was now becoming very hot. We took off most of our clothes and hung them around the huts to dry, as they were soaked with sweat. We spent an hour just resting and lounging.

It was breathtaking to be in the crater, surrounded by the mountain peaks and seeing the lake disappear off into the distance. I don't know the actual diameter of the lake, but it seemed very large; I'm sure it was well over a mile across. It was dead silent; you couldn't even hear the wind. We had the whole crater to ourselves. It was one hell of a trip up there, and I didn't regret it.

The German dude and I stripped down to our skivvies and walked out into the water, but it was unpleasant and not at all refreshing. The water was warm and full of what I am guessing was dead algae. The water was actually crystal clear, but when you scooped up a handful, you could see the fine, small, green plant matter in it. Who knew what it was? I tried swimming in it but it was hard to move my arms and it was difficult to stay afloat. Trying to describe it to the German, the closest thing I could come up with was "thick water". There were no fish in it that I could see, nor any other living thing in the area, even birds. I moved a large rock on the shore and was startled to see several large cockroaches scurry away, some on to the water! I didn't know cockroaches could swim.

Looking around, I noticed several paddle-boats and canoes on the shore, and the small lagoon area we were at had been roped off, all the way across to the cliff on the other side, creating a swimming area. I asked the tour guide about this, because, in trying to take some photographs, this junk ruined most of my pictures. Here I am, in the crater to a huge volcano, surrounded by majestic peaks, gigantic boulders, and mountains of ash, I have to look at a dozen brightly colored paddle-boats and a string of bleach-jugs strung across the lagoon.

He said it was the Koreans (again). Evidently, a Korean travel agency that brings groups up here did it, without permission from the locals. I asked him how, in the name of Buddha, they got all these paddle-boats up here, and he said they paid the natives to carry them up, by hand, for a few dollars each.

I asked how they were allowed to bring them up here, and he said they simply bribed the mayor of the district in which the volcano is located. They told the mayor that they thought it would be good to have something for the tourists to do after hiking to the crater (instead of taking in the beauty and splendor of it all?) and thought the tourists would like it.

I asked the guide what he thought of it, if that maybe it wasn't good to have all this stuff in the crater, and he actually agreed with me. I told him most tourists, especially the ones who spend 5 hours getting to the top of a volcano, and especially American tourists, don't like this kind of thing and prefer to see the crater in it's natural state. He just gave me that familiar Filipino "shrug-of-the-shoulders" that said, "Well, what can you do?”

I went over and untied the rope with the bleach bottles strung across the lagoon and let the wind blow it across to the other side, and it floated away and disappeared at the bottom of the cliff.

The Germans agreed with me that the boats and jugs were an eyesore and laughed about the whole thing. I walked over to the boats, and the tour guide told Charito that if the Koreans saw me in one of their boats, I would have to pay them 500 Peso ($10).

This made me even angrier, and I told her to tell him I HOPED a Korean would come over the hill and demand some money from me. I would tie him to the paddle-boat before I sunk it.

After another 20 minutes or so of lying around, taking pictures and resting, I got dressed and told the guide we were heading back up to the rim to take in the view up there again, and we wouldn't be coming down to the water again, so we would wait for them up there. I guess I made the Germans feel I was rushing them, because they, in their typically arrogant German way, made a fuss, saying "Why rush - let's relax and enjoy the view - chill out - you Americans are always in a hurry..." etc.

I just told them I had seen everything here and was heading back up and they could sit here all night if they wanted - I didn't really care - and we headed up the staircase.

Up top we took some more pictures and lazed about, happy to be alone for awhile. I walked off into the jungle to try to look down into the small "over-flow" space that had been dug into the hillside by the government in an attempt to keep the lake level low, and almost stepped into a snare that some jungle people had placed in a path (later on the guide said it was to catch wild chicken). Soon, the “relaxed” Germans and the tour guide came up from the crater and we headed down.

The Hike Down

The sun was really beating down now, there was no shade, and the guide was really in a hurry to go, so he was always far ahead of us. Surprisingly, the Germans were falling behind, because of the girl. She turned out to be lazy and out-of-shape, always complaining about the pace of the hike, the heat, the rocks we had to climb over, etc.  Several times the guide had to go back and get them to make sure they were still on the trail. I was 40 years-old, Charito was 36, and the guide was well over 50, and we were all doing better than the Germans.

All I can say about the hike down the mountain was that it became our own, personal "Lord of the Rings" trek. Near the end, the heat beating down, no water left, the tour guide far ahead, no one talking, the wind whipping ash around us, our eyes filled with grit...all I could think of was those two little people from the movie climbing the volcano. Our only purpose in life was simply to get back to the damned hotel. Finally, we reached the truck, woke the driver up, and headed off down the wash.

Our only relief, however, was that we no longer were in the direct sunlight and that we were sitting down. We couldn't relax, though, because we had another hour of being tossed around in the back of the Jeep while picking our way down the riverbed, all the way back to the village and the beginning of the paved road, and then another 2 hours of sitting in traffic, breathing in fumes, just to get back to the hotel, which we did around 4 PM.

Talking to the guide before we reached the village, I told Charito to ask him, if he didn't mind telling, how much money he was being paid to take us up the volcano. I couldn't believe when he told us 500 Peso, which is a little less than the 5000 Peso both of us couples paid! 500? Where did the extra money go? Charito asked the driver, and he said he was only making 1000 for the day, pretty good money, but he had to buy his own gas. But that still left 3500 Peso, which is almost $75! Just so you know, I didn't mind paying this, but I wanted the money to go to the people who actually helped us and worked with us, not some people sitting in an air-conditioned office who made a simple phone call. I thought they seemed a little greedy about the whole affair, a little too eager, and then I knew why.

Anyway, when the guide got out of the Jeep at his village, I know the German tipped him, and I gave him three or four hundred too, so he was happy. He said he had 10 children, and he seemed like an honest enough guy.

When we got back, we took showers and relaxed a bit, and then walked over to the travel agency. The girl was at the desk, and was all smiles when she saw me, until I started asking her questions. "Hi, me and my German friends paid you 5000 Peso for the trip up Mt. Pinatubo, and since the guide gets 500, and the driver said he is getting 1000, that leaves I was wondering if you could break down for me, if you don’t mind, where all the money goes?”

“Oh, and thanks for telling us about the entry fee we had to pay back in the village. So tell me, how much does the driver get, and how much are you guys keeping for yourself? I mean, all you did is call the Jeep driver, so I am guessing you don't keep too much for yourself, do you?"

I could see the image of the man reflected in the window behind her; he was in the adjoining room, hiding behind the partition, listening. He didn't seem so eager to come out and help, this time.

Not surprisingly, the girl didn't know what to say, and was stammering, acting like she didn't understand me, looking around the room. She stammered something about how "the driver hasn't been paid yet, we will pay him tomorrow." 

I couldn't get an answer out of her, and I knew she understood me. I asked again, "How much money did this agency keep out of the 5000 Peso we paid you yesterday? That poor mountain guide said you are only paying him 500 Peso, and the driver said he is only getting 1000 and he has to buy his own gas, and that leaves 3500 Peso, so where did it go?"

Man, she looked like a deer in the headlights.

She kept looking over into the other room, but the man wouldn't show his face. I knew damn well where the money went, and I told them so. Did I make too big a deal about it? Again, it wasn't because of the money I paid, it was about the money going to the people who worked to earn it.

Manila to Boracay

26 April - Checked out of the Clarkton in the morning, hit the NLE and drove back to Manila. It was a nice ride, until we hit the Manila city limits. There were very few signs directing us to the airport, and because of the lack of street signs, we soon got lost and were soon up to our necks in traffic, which for the most part means we were parked in the street. I don't know how, but by tracing back our route and deciphering the map, we found ourselves on a bridge that we were able to find on the map, and we slowly made our way to the airport.

The traffic was terrible, and now, on top of it all, we were unable to find the Avis drop-off location, as no map was provided! There was no map in my Avis paperwork or in the glove compartment. Charito called the Avis office but they didn’t answer the phone. Once I tried going into the rental car "pickup area", but the rent-a-cops wouldn't let me in the access road. You could only reach it if you were emerging from the arrivals terminal or with a special pass. Charito called Avis again and there was still no answer.

The flight was leaving in 90 minutes, check-in was closing soon, and we were stuck in traffic on the mile-long stretch between the airport and the main road, and I was writing off leaving today. Suddenly, near the end of the stretch, I had a hunch that maybe I was just heading the wrong way; so at the airport exit, I turned right instead of left, came across a building that looked familiar, went into a parking lot, drove around a bit as it became familiar, and there it was, the Avis Rental Car Return Depot! I sped in, slammed on the brakes, threw open the trunk and started pulling the bags out and piling them on the asphalt. Some Avis employee came out and started checking off items on the inspection sheet, and I told him my flight left in 45-minutes and we needed to get to the domestic terminal. He looked at his watch for a minute, said "45 minutes?" and whistled for effect.

I said, "I know, I know, can we hurry up?"

He handed the clipboard off to another worker and started throwing the bags in the back of another car and we took off.

On the way, he told me the ride to the domestic terminal was 500 Peso, or some other ridiculous price. I started laughing and shaking my head. I told him that I wasn't charged when I was brought to the car lot, but they charge when the customer leaves? I told him I had never heard of a car rental company charging customers to shuttle customers to and from the airport. He tried giving me some BS about how "regular airport, no problem, but domestic terminal, extra fee!"

He acted like there was a problem, but when he saw Charito was dialing someone on the phone, he said, "No problem, no problem", so I knew he was doing the usual shakedown for money from tourists.

Of course, we got stuck in traffic on the way, but still made it in 15 minutes. We pulled in, and he stopped by the front door and didn't get out. I guess he was mad about not getting paid, so I would have to unload our bags myself, which I did. Ironically, if he HAD gotten out and helped with the bags, I would have tipped him.

We grabbed our bags and ran inside, and.... hit a long security line which passed thorough a metal detector. Luckily, there was one for males and another for females, which was much shorter. I gave Charito our tickets and told her to go through and run to the check-in counter and let them know we were there. She left and I stood in the agonizingly slow line, which got worse because porters were coming up with peoples' bags and cutting in line! One guy tried to cut in line in front of me and I literally pulled him back and shoved my way in front of him, giving him a glare. He could see I was pissed so he didn't pursue it. He paid the porter to do it, I guess.

Finally, I made it through, grabbed my belongings and ran to the Seair counter, where Charito was talking with the girl, showing her the tickets. The girl looked bored, and I could see she was not going to let us in, but when I smiled at her and came up and put my arm around Charito, she smiled and said we could go to the next counter, which was for a different flight.

I thanked her, went to the next counter and we checked in. Charito was pissed about it. We came across incidents like this several times in the PI, where Charito would be treated differently by other Filipinos if they knew she was with an American or if they saw us together. It was strange. If anything, I thought it would be the opposite, as it is in Germany. My German ex and I were often treated poorly in restaurants and stores.

We had to go through yet another security point and pay a "terminal fee" of a couple bucks, then entered a huge waiting room with several hundred people in it. Luckily, our plane to Boracay was late boarding (usual in the PI), so we had a few minutes to kill, but we had made it.

The trip was short, and after just 45 minutes we landed in Caticlan, a small "banana republic" airport with a very short runway lined by coconut trees. It was so short that when we landed, the pilot immediately hit the brakes. Caticlan is located on the large island of Aklan, which also has a larger airport in Kalibo, about 90-minutes away. Luckily I did my research before buying the tickets and saw Caticlan is about 5 miles from Boracay and chose it over Kalibo. Many travelers I talked to, when booking their flights, were not told about Caticlan by the travel agents, so they had to endure a 90-minute ride from Kalibo, stuffed in a van with 8 other passengers. Oh, they had to pay for it, too. One couple we talked to was actually mad about this, and they felt their travel agent screwed them.

So we landed and were met by a girl from the hotel (I had never been greeted by someone holding a sign with my name on it before), took a motor taxi (tricycle) down to the small wharf, paid another "terminal fee", bought ferry tickets, went through another security checkpoint where they poked through our bags yet again, and boarded a small passenger boat that took us across to Boracay. Security to take a 20 minute boat ride to another island? Was there a threat of a hijacking? Who knew?###

All contents © 2011 by Gene Mahoney