Sunday, June 12, 2016

Philippines Vacation - The Last Day in Tagaytay & The Flight Back Home

Tagaytay - Balay Dako Restaurant
My last full day in the Philippines was Sunday, March 31st. The family had planned on visiting Tagaytay and having lunch there, but due to Momsie Pilaring’s illness, there was a possibility of a cancellation. She didn’t like it very much when the doctor told her to rest at home. Nonetheless, Larry, Ninette, and I proceeded with the plans because we were meeting Ben, Elgee, and Uno there. Thankfully, there was not too much traffic that morning and we arrived at about 11 a.m., just in time for lunch. The family had mentioned a very good restaurant in the area called Balay Dako, which means big house in the Bisaya dialect. Apparently, the chef who owns the place is from one of the Visayas provinces. The place was packed as it was very popular with out of towners. There was a bit of a waiting period so some went to buy some goodies from the bake shop while others went up to the patio to take pictures. I went outside to explore and just as I reached the gate, I saw Ben, Elgee, and Uno driving in. They parked then went inside the restaurant to look for Larry and Ninette while I stepped out to the street to look around. The street was lined with restaurants since the location was a great viewing area for the dormant Taal Volcano. Is it really dormant? I’m not sure anymore.
Ninette & I with Taal Volcano in the background from Balay Dako Restaurant
After about a 45 minute wait, we were finally escorted to our table where the waiter took our orders. The specialty of the house is bulalo, which is essentially beef shank and marrow bones in broth, but in this case it is served sizzling and covered with some kind of mushroom sauce. We also ordered vegetarian kare kare. This usually comes with the same kind of beef parts as bulalo, but I guess since the bulalo already had a lot of meat, the kare kare became vegetarian. Who knows? I’m just guessing here. Anyway, when people talked about the sizzling bulalo, they made it sound like something out of this world and a new way of cooking it. It turns out that the sauce was the same kind and taste used for beef stroganoff. Well, my expectations were deflated, to say the least, but other than that, it tasted really good and the beef was very tender. With beef stroganoff that you eat in cafeterias all over the United States, sometimes the cubed beef is tough to chew. I know we ordered some other food but I can’t seem to remember it now. I’ll have to check out the photos we took to see what was on the table. Thanks to my sister in law Ninette, I found pics of the food we ate in her Facebook photos.
Sizzling bulalo - the specialty of Balay Dako (below are: kare kare without the baka, prawns, & BBQ chicken

After lunch the Bautista Family had to return home and meanwhile we drove to a Taal Vista Hotel to take some photos, then to a nun’s convent to visit the chapel and say some prayers. It appeared that the nuns were cloistered because I don’t remember seeing any. I walked around the place and they had statues around the compound depicting the Stations of the Cross. Nice touch.
Larry & I with Taal Volcano in the background taken from Taal Vista Hotel
Pretty soon we were heading back home and for about the first 45 minutes, it was uneventful. When we were about to exit the town of Carmona in Cavite towards the South Luzon Expressway, suddenly we were being pursued by a police motorcycle with two cops on it. They told us to pull over and told my brother he had run a red light. My brother said, he noticed the red blinking light and not understanding what it meant, just followed the cars ahead of him. Hmm, there seems to be no standard traffic signals in the Philippines which leaves you to guess hopefully correctly. Nonetheless, the police officer started to take out his tickets and told my brother that the standard fine for running a red light is 1,000 pesos, and get this, my brother had to come back the next day which was a Monday to pay the fine at the Carmona town hall since it was closed on Sunday. My brother pleaded that he had to work the next day and will be unable to come back, and can we just pay a reduced fine to the officer himself so the officer can pay it at the town hall. Apparently, this was double talk for bribery, which in most cases is acceptable in that country. So they negotiated for half of the quoted fine and I handed over 500 pesos to my brother and he surreptitiously slipped it on the palm of the officer. Having made the deal, the cop let us go, and for the first time in my life, I was complicit (or is it aiding and abetting?) in bribing the police. It is something that will never happen in the U.S. (for me anyway). Checking on the exchange rate today, that bribe of 500 pesos cost me a whopping $10.70!
Well, the inevitable happened when we reached the city. Traffic. We crawled slowly towards Ateneo De Manila where Ninette had to sign some papers before going home. It was already dark when we got there so a security guard escorted us to Ninette’s office. This was by the way one of my requests during my visit – to see her place of work. The others were to see Larry’s school which I accomplished on the day I was in Greenhills, and to visit the hospital where he had his kidney transplant, which we did when Pilaring had her check up.
On the way home from Ateneo, we stopped by a grocery store where be bought some durian ice cream which I had been craving for. Lacking the real fruit, the ice cream came a close second.
The next day at about 8 a.m. Larry drove me to the airport in a circuitous way through Manila because he said since I arrived, we always drove via Epifanio De Los Santos Avenue. Larry dropped me off at NAIA 1, we gave each other a tight hug, expressed our brotherly love for each other, and said our goodbyes.
I made my way to the China Southern Airlines queue and checked in. Since I hadn’t exercised that day yet, I went looking for a long hallway to walk in. My boarding area didn’t have a hallway so I had to ask a security guard for permission to walk in the only long hallway in the terminal. I completed my requisite 30 minutes walking up and down that hallway and soon entered the boarding area. After about 30 minutes, we boarded the plane and headed to Guangzhou where it was raining. We had to get off the plane in the rain to board some buses which drove us to the terminal. I was supposed to have a 7 hour layover so I put in another walking workout through the large terminal, which made up for the lost day I had on my way from L.A. to the Philippines. That darn layover was so long and if that wasn’t bad enough, I couldn’t access the airport’s wi-fi. You needed a special login from the Chinese social media app called We Chat which I couldn’t download because I didn’t have access to the internet in the first place. I walked some more and  tried to take short naps to pass the time. If that wasn’t bad enough, the flight was delayed for an hour thus making it an 8 hour layover.
I got hungry while waiting so I finally gave in and entered one of the terminals' restaurants. I asked the server how much a certain noodle dish was in dollars and she said $14. Oh well, I didn’t have a choice but to order the food since I was starving. While I was eating, another man came in and asked if he could buy a cup of coffee so he could use the restaurant’s wi-fi. Guess how much that cup of coffee cost him? Yes, $14! Perhaps that was a fixed price for anything if you had to pay in dollars regardless of how much it cost in yuan or RMB.
After waiting another half hour in line, we finally boarded the plane for the long 14 hour flight. When I found my seat, I was appalled to see a couple with their baby who was already crying. OMG, it was going to be an excruciating 14 hours if that baby was going fuss the whole time. I readied my eye mask and my earplugs just in case. Well what do you know but that baby slept for about 11 or 12 hours while I probably slept intermittently about 7. Thank you for resting little one, and thanks for giving me some rest too.
My seatmate on the flight back home
We arrived in LAX about 8:30 p.m. and I had some leeway before the reserved shuttle bus stopped running at 11 p.m. Going through customs, I was surprised at the new computer terminals for U.S. citizens where you inserted your passport and the machine verified your identity. Then it spit out a printout of your face and some other data. Then we picked up out checked baggage from the carousel then headed out. There was one more stop to make before exiting the terminal. We passed by some uniformed officers where I noticed the passengers handing something to them. I asked the officer if he needed my luggage tag and he smirked and said he needed the printout of my face from the computer I inserted my passport earlier. I’m sorry sir, I didn’t mean to diminish your position as a Customs Officer. With that I went out to look for the shuttle bus pickup area. Since I wasn’t sure where it was, I called the company and was directed to the correct place. After a few minutes wait, 5 of us boarded the bus. Two were headed to the San Pedro cruise ship terminal, one to the border of San Pedro and Palos Verdes, and the other to Belmont Shore in Long Beach. If the plane flight wasn't long enough, I was dropped off last. I finally made it home just before midnight, thankful to be back in the good old U.S. of A.

Bonus photos: Top - Saying goodbye to Uno. Bottom - Visiting a gastrobar in Quezon City
Thanks again to Ninette for all the photos posted here. They all came from her Facebook page.

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