Monday, September 24, 2012

Manila to Zamboanga (MNL to ZAM)

Arriving in Manila, I was expecting a blast of hot air to hit me but having just come from summer in L.A. the impact of the Philippine heat was minimal. First things first. I entered the first bathroom (or in Philippine parlance: CR) I could find to relieve myself. I noticed a man in uniform standing by the door and I couldn’t figure out if he was a valet or a cleaning guy. Next up: customs. Clearance through customs was not a problem even though I declared that I brought a computer and a cell phone for personal use. Before exiting NAIA Terminal 1, I need to exchange some dollars to pesos. A money changer was conveniently located near the exit of customs. The exchange rate was 41.80 pesos to the dollar that day. Boy did I feel rich having a wad of high denomination peso bills in my waistpack. Then I went looking for the shuttle bus which took passengers around the four terminals of NAIA. With a 20 peso fare, I got dropped off at terminal 3 for my flight to Zamboanga later in the day.
First order of business in terminal 3 was to buy a SIM card and load some minutes into my cell phone. My brother recommended SMART so that’s what I bought. After doing a rebooking of my return flight at the Cebu Pacific ticket counter, I started scouting all the floors of this relatively new terminal. In doing so, I managed another half hour or so of a walking workout. Up and down hallways, and up and down 4 floors I went. I noticed that it was cooler in the first floor and as you went higher, so did the heat. After my walk, I tried to connect to the free wi-fi but could not get a strong enough signal to keep me logged on. My brother told me later the signal was stronger in the boarding area. I ended up trying my new SIM card and texting my brother, a friend and a cousin while trying to kill time.
When it was almost time to board, I went to the entrance of the waiting area and an employee of Airphil weighed my carryon baggage. It was 10 kilos, 3 more than allowed. He told me to find a plastic bag so I could divide the contents and make the carryon lighter. I wandered about thinking where I can get a plastic bag and when I was about to leave, the employee took pity on me and allowed me to enter the boarding area despite the excess weight. Going through another security check, I placed my baggage, wallet, cell phone, belt, and shoes on the x-ray rollers. When I got to the other side of the body scanner, my cell phone was missing after passing through x-ray. I asked the security people if they had seen it. The guy ahead of me could have picked it up by mistake or intentionally after all. After a few seconds, to my relief, one of the security guys saw that the phone had fallen through the rollers. Whew! A disaster averted.
In the waiting area, the cacophony of Chavacano and Tausug dialects permeated the air in addition to the humidity. My brother Larry called to find out how I was doing but I could barely hear him because of the noise. When it was time to board, one of the Tausug guys was asked by the ground personnel to take off his sunglasses so they could see his eyes. I told him on the way to the plane that he should have winked at them.
Oh my, I’d forgotten how cramped the seats are on domestic flights. I’m not heavy set and I still felt squeezed in the tiny seat. It didn’t help that I was on the window side. My back felt uncomfortable the whole hour and a half of the trip and I squirmed throughout. The only thing I got out of my seatmates is that when they arrived in Zamboanga City, they still had a bus ride to take to Zamboanga Sibugay. I didn’t envy them.
Having no checked in baggage, I breezed through the arrival area bypassing the baggage carousel. Heading out to the street, I was swarmed by tricycle and taxi drivers offering their rides. I was already forewarned that the ride from the airport to Western Mindanao Medical Center should only cost about 50 pesos. These drivers were asking for as much as 80. I compromised with one of them, a fellow Tausug, for a still overpriced 70 pesos. After flying and waiting in airports for more than 30 hours, I was in no shape to haggle and argue over 20 pesos. On the way, the darn driver even had to borrow 50 pesos to put some gas in the motorcycle tank. Well, at least he got me to my destination safely. Believe me, I was so disoriented with the streets that evening, I didn’t even know which way was up.
And then after 13 very long years, I finally saw Mama…

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