We left Luxor having not done much other than relax and slip easily into a summer of travel. I knew the kids would effortlessly make the transition and this was confirmed to me on our final day in the city. Tired of the hassle I did an adult strop and rather than get ripped off, opted to walk the 5 miles back to Luxor central. It was fifty degrees and the sun was burning down on us, every half mile or so we stopped in makeshift shade and drank water. We were all sweating profusely and after about a mile my strop became a mission, I wondered if we could do what we normally would not be able to do. Of course I risked sunstroke and so along route bought Abi a headscarf to cover her shoulders. We all (including Jack) had backpacks and the sweat cut deep into the fabric of the bags, but we made it. In just 2 hours, in the midday 50 degree temperatures with little shade we arrived at Maria’s having silently achieved in my mind – The transition I hoped we would. In the UK 5 miles is nothing, but we felt every step of that walk, the sun burned hard on every part of our skin that was bare and we felt every single step we took. In my mind, we were ready to take on the world, and sat in Luxor airport I no longer had concerns, or anxiety but a sly smile. A happiness that knew this summer would be one to remember, that the experiences would be life changing and that the flight to Doha could not come soon enough.
Leaving Luxor we said our goodbyes to our good friends Maria and Sayeed, the kids promised to be back and as they almost squeezed the life out Pascha the cat, kisses and hugs were a plenty. But the journey continued and before long we were checked in, and waiting for our flight. It was Monday the 22nd of July and our flight was due at 1830.
Flying Qatar Airways, we boarded at around 17.30 and I was surprised to learn the flight was empty, with just 8 other passengers on the flight we literally had the plane to ourselves and the 3 hours and half passed quickly with a very smooth and pleasant flight over Saudi Arabia. We landed into Doha at the local time of 2230, with the promise of a new airport opening ‘soon’ we hopped on a bus to the transit terminal and had a very, very, very, very long wait until our flight to Manila the following morning at 0830 on the 23rd July 2013.
Obviously the night dragged and we barely slept, we did however find a quiet room that said ‘quiet’ in just about every language except for the one the dick head on the phone half the night spoke. The seats were clearly designed to be uncomfortable so that you would wonder around the duty free buying shit you don’t need or want.
The way Doha airport (Qatar) works is efficient. In fact slick is probably the best word and it is synonymous with the Middle East at just how effective things are. Transit passengers are kept in one massive duty free/terminal and then when their flight is called they are bused to the aircraft and loaded straight on. Which is exactly what happened to us at around 0730. The bus seemed to take forever and when we eventually pulled up to the huge Airbus A340 I knew our summer was about to begin. And once boarding was complete the pilot said “In about 3hrs we will be over Indian airspace and we expect turbulence which will continue all the way to Manila due to the cloud cover and typhoons” I knew instantly it was going to be a bad flight and I was not wrong.
The plane started bouncing around sky almost on cue after 3 hours. We bounced around for the most of India and then smoothed out for an hour of the Bengal sea, only to be completely thrown about the sky for the next four hours. It was probably at its worst over Thailand, the plane was dropping only to stop with a huge bang and then be thrown side to side. We were struck by lightening a few times and I filmed it on my phone which I will upload to you tube and post on here in the next entry. But as I looked out into the darkness and across the huge airplane wing (we were sat on the wing) I saw little blue sparks making their way across the wing, the wing was illuminated with blue sparks with the clouds flashing with lightening and the bolts jumping from the cloud to the wing. The flight info said we were at 34,000 feet and I have to be honest, getting struck by lightening wasn’t really on my agenda. But we felt nothing, no jerk, no flash of the IFE, nothing. If I had the window shut I wouldn’t even have known. Except for the mental turbulence of course.
In the end the flight took just less than 10 hours and for at least 7 hours the seat belt sign was illuminated and it really was a tiring, and tough flight to endure. Still, we have flown hundreds of times and that is one of a handful of times I have got off a flight a little anxious. And still, it was nothing like the Tokyo to LAX one we endured back in 2010.
The plane started its descent and before long sky scrapers pierced the low clouds. I got my first glimpse of SE Asia since 2010 and as ‘motorcycle emptiness’ blasted through my head phones I felt a tinge of excitement. Not least because the plane had actually managed to survive what nature had thrown at it, but because we were back 🙂
Naturally the plane touched down to sighs of relief at 2315 on the 23rd July 2013 meaning we had literally flown for a day and to be honest it felt like it. The kids had tried to sleep but its not easy and broken sleep is almost as bad as no sleep and stood waiting for our bags at Ninoy Aquino, Manila, Philippines we were all physically and mentally exhausted.
We did a kind of zombie walk out to the taxis and just is my luck, jumped into a taxi with the worlds most talkative driver. Keen to get insulted by every mispronunciation I made it was a bit of a chore and my pissed off-ness mixed with tiredness was at its absolute limit. Then (and this is not an joke) I noticed a neon sign that read ‘Midget boxing’ and I sprung to life. Suddenly we were in cheesy/neon/seedy central. Every single building was either a topless bar, a women’s oiled up wrestling ring, a cockfighting ring or a seven eleven.
Pulling up at our hotel in Makati City I wondered if I might actually like Manila, but within about 15 minutes we were checked in, naked and snoozing away, it was 0100 24th July 2013.
My phone very nearly got the wall treatment when it kicked off at 0830, but I opted for the snooze, had a quick shower and then donned trousers and boots. The nex t part of the journey was through a malaria area and so a sweat fest was on.
We grabbed a taxi across the city to Pasay where we played a game. In SE Asia and the US there is a donut chain called ‘Dunkin Donuts’ the kids absolutely love it and cant wait to return. But anyway, the game was, the first person to spot a dunkin donuts gets any donut they want and sat relaxing I heard the following conversation between Abi and Jack:
Abi: Did you just see that car Jack? (in excitement)
Jack: Abi, I am trying to concentrate on finding a dunkin donuts I didnt see anything, please don’t bother me…
The taxi pulled up right in front of the bus to Batangas Pier which is the pier for boats to Mindoro (the next island down) and on the South West coast of Luzon.
The bus cost 160PHP per person (£2.40 with kids half price) and took about an hour and half. Still exhausted I looked transfixed out of the window at the huge metropolis buzzing past the window. The city soon became mountains and the mountains were beautiful. Tinged with banana trees, coconuts and a lush green foliage, the Philippines became instantly beautiful.
The bus rolled into Batangas pier at about midday and through the hassle and my new found fan club we waded our way to the terminal.
Now, you have to understand just how exhausted I was by this point, I mean seriously. I was out on my feet and with about 20 filipinos in my ear, high 30’s temperature and crazy humidity I tried to determine the boat, and where we needed to be.
For some complete bell end reason I decided for the 1445 to Calapan was where we needed to be on Mindoro. A scam from the start I paid 270PHP and 180PHP for the kids (£3.60 and £2.70 respectively) and then made our way to the terminal.
“Ticket sir” was the request from the woman at the terminal door, to whom I showed our tickets. “No sir – terminal ticket” Piss taker of the year 2013 I had to go buy a ticket to get in the terminal in which i needed to board my boat!
Anyway, after getting over that minor detail we munched down on pot noodles and donuts and waited for our boat.
The boat zoomed all the way to Calapan in about an hour and half and getting off I felt like the king. We had finally made it, the last stop on our epic journey.
So we walked out of the terminal and I start asking people “Sebang” (where our hotel was) and they look at me blank. Until suddenly one bloke starts laughing like he’s getting paid a dollar to be funny and he got my attention. Turns out we had got the wrong boat.
It was a complete fail and actually we were some 50km from where we needed to be.
We jumped in a tricycle and headed to town to assess the situation.
It was clear tourists don’t come to Calapan as we were surrounded by people all trying to get a look at the failures and so we quickly jumped into some kind of minibus, handed over 100PHP for me and 80PHP each for the kids and away we went headed to Puerto Galera, which is the North of the island and where we should have been.
The bus must have taken the long way around and as we chugged into town it was now dark and 1930. A typhoon had felt like adding to the picture and so like the humidity wasn’t enough we waterproofed our gear and hopped into a tricycle for the 7km to Sabang for 150PHP.
Of course the road was flooded and when a road is made of mud gets flooded its a poor situation to be in and I knew it meant one thing. I had to push the thing up a mountain.
So, in the middle of a typhoon, on a mud track up a mountain to Sebang, in complete darkness, me and Charlie were pushing a motorbike and sidecar up a mountain whilst the driver made a mini effort to care.
Eventually we pulled into the beach and divers paradise of Sabang and got ditched in the middle of no where with the driver assuring me our hotel was down some dark and flooded lane.
But he was right, and though soaked to the bone, we made our way to our hotel to be met by Chuck the Australian owner who looked and me and said “Stuart?” to which I said “yeah” he looked at me with kids in tow, completely drenched, and said to his wife “get this man a beer”
It was 2100 on the 24th July 2013. We had travelled 7,000 miles over 50 hours and a beer was just what I needed, it was the perfect end to our journey and the perfect introduction to the Philippines.
We ordered an absolute feast for our evening meal and the kids seemed so unaffected by it all. Eating my fresh Tuna sandwich washed down with a San Miguel I looked at them, they were tucking into the biggest burger I have ever seen. Jack must have sensed me looking and he caught my glance, he smiled at me saying “dad this burger’s well nice” Abi and Charlie agreed and between them they continued their feast.
I looked out at the sea in the darkness and saw shadows of palm trees flickering in the moonlight. This was where the trip started, and I couldn’t have been in better company.