Manila Flavored Coffee
The last leg of my journey was about four hours long. I had expected to be wide awake, given the amount I had slept. Instead, as soon as I flopped into my tiny seat, I crashed, naught to wake before our landing.
No matter where you’re flying, landing at night is always essentially the same. You see the lights of the city around you, the lights on the runway, and little else. When you’re close enough to the ground, you see vehicles. It’s the disembarking that really gives you a sense of the place.
The Philippine Islands have around 90 million people living here, with slightly more than five million of them in the Manila area. As I exited the small plane, the lines to get through customs were absurdly long, with special lines for natives equally as full as the rest.
Before getting in line, I crawled into a corner and flipped my laptop open to get in touch with Denise. Sadly, MIAA doesn’t have free WiFi unlike the other airports I stopped in. I closed my laptop and tucked it back into my case, figuring I’d make the best of things when I found some internet access.
In addition to your standard passport information card, you also have to fill out a customs card. Both these forms request a PI address as well as a home address. I had no idea where I’d be staying, so I left the local address blank.
As I neared the front of customs, another American a few lines over was harassed by the immigration official about where he was staying. “I’m staying with friends who live here. I don’t know the address.” The official called some guards and pulled him off to a side room. Suddenly, I wasn’t feeling so comfortable.
The lady behind the glass looked over my forms as I passed them to her. She asked where I was staying. I said I wasn’t sure yet, probably a hotel or hostel. Where was I planning on visiting, she asked. I told her I was staying in Manila and Cebu for sure. She nodded, stamped my papers and waived me through. It was like a shampoo commercial. No fuss, no muss.
I grabbed my luggage off the rack and tried the net again. Still nothing. I swung by the money changer and traded in some cash so I’d have money for a cab if necessary. I considered calling my parents, but after buying the phone card, I couldn’t get it to work. Instead, I began to ask about where I could find wireless.
After 10 minutes of asking various people, someone suggested the airport hotel, two blocks down. I took my time wandering through the throngs of people, easily a head taller than most. There was no sign of Denise. The taxi drivers accosted me at every turn, but I just shrugged them off and kept walking.
I crossed the bus pickup area and waded through the car pickup area, spotting the hotel at the far end of the parking lot. I crossed quickly, heading straight forward, but began to worry when I noticed the eight foot tall fence between the lot and the hotel.
The curb beside the fence was perfect sitting height, so I sat down and flipped my notebook open. For the first time since my arrival, I was connected.
Quickly, I logged into my email and began to search for a phone number to call. Where were they staying again? I tried IMing Sarah, but Denise‘s “cell phone” turned out to be her house phone in Guam. Then she suggested I check Denise‘s blog. Right there, on the bottom, was the “posted from” tag labeling her locale as the Swagman Hotel.
By this time, several airport security officials had gathered around the strange looking white man sitting on a laptop in the back of the parking lot. At first, they were hesitant to let me stay, but as I began showing them phone numbers and asking questions, they began some of the most helpful people. One guard even offered up a cell phone for my use.
The Swagman Hotel‘s website listed an address and phone number, so I scribbled it down on a piece of scrap from one of my tickets and began to walk back to the airport to make the call. Halfway across the now empty parking lot, I heard someone say, ” Ben?”
And there she was.
Denise and her two friends had been waiting for me and were freaking out. They had arrived much earlier, thinking I was on a flight from Tokyo. And when I was spotted wandering across the parking lot in the wrong direction, coming from a dark corner in the middle of nowhere, suddenly I was found.
It’s a very strange sensation to be completely lost and completely not worried. Perhaps it’s the strangeness of the entire trip, that everything about the last month or so seems surreal and perfect in a way I couldn’t even dream of. Sure, things have gone wrong or changed or been underwhelming at times, but in the end everything has worked out.
I spent last night in a comfortable bed at the Swagman Hotel in Manila. I woke up early and had a lovely breakfast. I had time to chat with Robbie, Denise‘s dad, as well as the rest of the family. And as everyone seemed to realize that things had fallen into place, we were all smiles.
The rest of the family went on to Cebu today. Denise, Jhoan (Denise‘s step-sister), Jhoan’s boyfriend Jessie (hey, a boy Jessie spelled with an i) and I have the option of continuing on today or catching up in a few days. I really don’t mind either way.
Regardless of what we choose to do, I’ve arrived and that is enough. Now to get my camera working…