The Way Home – Part I

//The Way Home – Part I

The Way Home – Part I

Ever had a nightmare in which what you want and what you get just won’t match up?  You want out of a house, say, and the doors you choose never lead outside, just into another room, and another, and another, until the house becomes a giant maze, swallowing you whole and the only way out is to wake up.  That’s what happened when it was time for me to leave the Philippines – she turned into a giant maze of a house, swallowing me whole – but I was already awake, so I had to wait for her to get tired of chewing on me.  I had to wait for her to spit me back toward Canada.

After our two-week Habitat build, Randy and I flew to the nearby island of Palawan to spend an idyllic week in the quaint beach town of El Nido.  Our resort was perfect, as was the weather, and we unwound by kayaking, snorkeling, reading and touring beaches.  We did not have a care in the world until “stupid o’clock” (that’s what my friend, Heather, calls the ridiculous hour one must depart for the airport, or from the airport, whatever the case may be) the following Saturday morning.  “Stupid o’clock” in this case was a 4:30 a.m. departure by “fast” car from the Bus Terminal in El Nido, bound for the airport in Puerto Princesa for an 11:50 a.m. flight.

If one was actually in a fast car, the trip, which is over rough, windy roads, would probably take four hours.  Randy had spent some time in the Philippines in 2010, on the cheap, travelling by jeepney (shown in the website picture rotation above).  Now jeepney drivers are not on a timeframe and make various stops en route:  to deposit and pick up travelers, to deposit and pick up goods, to chit-chat with friends and family, and to eat.  Randy thought she’d step it up by getting us a “fast” car from and back to the airport, but we’d found out when we arrived the previous Saturday that a “fast” car, which is a cargo van, operates just a tad faster than a jeepney.

On departure day, our driver Marc, having gathered up as many bodies as he could, left the Bus Terminal promptly at 5:10 a.m., despite Randy saying, loudly, at 4:30, “Usually the bus leaves when it’s supposed to, whether people taking it are there or not.”

“What time do you have to be at the airport?”  Marc asked, as he put the van in drive.

“10:45,” we said.

After about an hour, there was a stop in Tay Tay, for coffee, for the restrooms, and to pick up a few more bodies.

“What time do you have to be at the airport?”  Marc asked.

“10:30,” we said.

As we traveled along, a couple more people got in.  One was a man, carrying a wooden tool box with the pointy end of a saw sticking threateningly out one side.  “Be careful with that,” Marc said.  The other was a woman, pointing an index finger toward us from the roadside, indicating one person.  There was a long wait at a busy crossroads before Puerto Princesa while a group of Texans got off of our van to get on another one.  I was relieved to find out their bags were staying with us; getting them off the top (“upster” Marc called it) would have caused further delay.

“What time do you have to be at the airport?” Marc asked.

“10:15,” we said.

Traffic in Puerto Princesa was mayhem, and you have to understand that Filipino traffic congestion is different than North American traffic congestion.  There are just so many different types of vehicles sharing the road, from bicycles to bicycles with side-cars, from motorcycles to motorcycles with side-cars (tuk-tuks), from cars to SUVs to “fast” cars to jeepneys to full-size buses – most of them loaded beyond capacity.  I actually did see what I presume was an entire family of five loaded onto a single motorcycle, the mother at the back holding a baby delicately, under the armpits, off to one side.

This reminds me that I need to back-up, put this tale into reverse, for a moment.  I simply must tell you about how this same hodgepodge of vehicles moved around an eight-lane ring road we took daily to get to the Habitat build site in Quezon City.  Forget about the lines marking out the lanes, because everyone driving there did.  The important thing was that each vehicle had to get to the inside lane, the fast lane, before angling back out for its exit.  Absolutely every vehicle did this.  It did not matter whether its exit was the next one, or the one around the other side.  Blinkers were not used, but horns were:  a little “beep-beep” to let someone in, a longer “HONK” to say, “Hey, watch out.  I’m here!”  It was a hair-raising experience to begin with, but after two weeks of not witnessing an accident or road-rage, I began to see it as a beautiful road dance.

Anyway, Marc got us to the Puerto Princesa airport at 10:30 and we had our bags off the top and were sitting waiting for our Air Asia flight back to Manila by 10:50.

“Phew,” Randy and I said, simultaneously.

It’s about an hour flight from Puerto Princesa to Manila.  Randy had booked our flight from Manila, that is our big, expensive Cathay Pacific flight back to Vancouver, with a short layover in Hong Kong, for 7:55 p.m.  I sat there wondering what we’d do in the Manila airport, with almost seven hours.

That is, until an announcement came on saying our flight was delayed until 4:50 p.m. A collective groan was heard throughout the small airport.

As Randy headed back through security, toward the Air Asia counter, she left me with this thought:  “Here in the Philippines, 4:50 could very well mean 5:50 . . .”





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