Waking up at 5 AM during a vacation. Check. Ok, 5.10. We left the hotel a little after 5.30 for our flight at 7.50. Coco Huts had cost us 10800 pesos, and was totally worth it. Very helpful staff! This time the flight was from the Caticlan airport, 45 minutes – 1 hour away. The transfer crew thankfully were more helpful with the baggage, and we even had the van all to ourselves. At the Caticlan jetty, we had to pay porters about 20 pesos per bag/per shore to get it into the boat and out, but it’s worth it from experience! From the jetty, we were taken to the airport, and had to pay airport fees of 200 pesos each. But it’s a nice, small, clean airport and there’s WiFi. The Cebu flight was on time and we reached Manila around 9.
We realised when we landed that the hotel had arranged transport for us from Terminal 1! We boarded the transfer bus to Terminal 1, and it promptly broke down on the way! Thankfully, we were picked up immediately by another bus and dropped at Terminal 3 departure. We made our way to Arrivals and tried to find the taxi counter where our transfer to the hotel had been booked. The folks there studied the mail print out with a reverence and attention that made it seem like an archaeological specimen! Turned out English was a forgotten language there, so they pieced together letters and formed words, then tried to understand the sentences that resulted. We repeatedly kept saying Nissan and even stood in front of that specific counter but they waved us into silence as they studied the manuscript! The girl at the Nissan counter continued giving her undivided attention to her chewing gum. No multitasking, no sir! Half an hour later, they had reached line 6 where Nissan appeared, and the girl was summoned to take care of us. She wasn’t convinced, but spat out the gum and proceeded to her next task with the enthusiasm that our nation’s leader displays before giving a speech.
The car took another 15 minutes to get to us, and from there we took an hour to get to Casa Bocobo. It cost us 600 pesos, and much cheaper that the 1000 peso options we were given by other airport taxis. We suspected that metered taxis would have been cheaper. At Casa Bocobo, we were told that check in time was 2 PM, and the earliest time we could be given a room was 12 PM – checkout time. We spent the next two hours staring at various available walls. While D sulked, I was busy multitasking – the combination of a lack of breakfast and the early wake up provided me some material to start a headache.
We stubbornly decided to have a meal only at SM Mall of Asia, our destination for the day. At 12.30, we were taken to our room, and I discovered that I would need an adaptor to charge anything here! We quickly freshened up and took a cab to the mall, 250 pesos and about 20 minutes away. After getting there, and discovering that reading about the 4th largest mall in the world and understanding its ramifications were two different things, we realised that there was no way we’d be able to cover it in a day! We surveyed the lunch options and decided to go multi-cuisine at Pho Hoa. After a quick but excellent meal Pho, Kungpao chicken, Brochette, mango juice and Black Jelly drink and 855 pesos later, D was heady with the prospects of the massive shopping time ahead of her, and my headache gave a me a welcome message!
The interactive maps at the mall were helpful but upside down and we spent quality time getting lost, but since we weren’t looking for anything specific, it was okay and we kept discovering new avenues and shops! I found an old favourite that had disappeared from India – Springfield! There was also a smaller version of ODEL in Lanka, and we rued the fact that we had already picked up stuff for everyone! This place is obviously a shopper’s paradise, and I frequently wanted to ask D if she needed tissues to stem the salivation. Across the road was the bay, and at about 5.45 we made our way there to watch the sunset. The promenade was alive with crowds, kids playing and mime acts! The mall had a huge number of options that allowed us to watch the bay as we had dinner. After inspecting the options, we chose Abe where we tried Manok sa Luyang Dilaw, chicken in coconut milk, and Betute, farm frogs filled with minced pork. D was queasy about the latter when she ordered and kept asking if they’d be fried, but I saw none of that later as she crunched away the dead frog’s legs! 😀 Rice and beer and sangria followed. The bay view was beautiful, and the meal cost us 1100 pesos. Worth it, and the only thing that spoiled it a bit was my nagging headache. The taxi back cost us 300 pesos, we gave 50 extra because the driver was a sweet old man, who looked like he could survive in Bangalore traffic.
Back at the room, I asked for an adaptor – unfortunately not available, and confirmed our taxi for the airport, thankfully available. Thus ended Day 6, our last night in the Philippines.
The plan was to visit a nearby mall. We had given our breakfast preferences the night before and quickly consumed that in the restaurant. The adaptor was finally available as well!
Robinson Mall happened to be a really short walk away, and on hindsight, we should have just lunched here the previous day! The shopping options were quite good as well, and we bought more here, despite having less than 2 hours. This has become a ritual, the last day frenzy and the rush to the airport. We reached Casa Bocobo just in time. We had already paid the 2500 pesos due. Stuffed the new acquisitions into the bag and hoped into the cab which was waiting. 650 pesos took us to the airport. We changed currency from the one option available. This airport is an 80s style one and doesn’t really have options to do anything much. The Malaysian Airlines flight to KL was delayed after we boarded and some fidgeting later we were on our way. This one didn’t have screens, so we were a bit bored. At KL, we were back in the familiar corridor and killed time (with the help of chocolate drinks at Old Town and currency exchanges involving amounts less than $10 😀 ) before the flight to Bangalore! Four hours later and the last 15 minutes of Life of PI and 3 episodes of Big Bang Theory later, we were in Bangalore. After the sloooooow motion Immigration queue, and a Meru, we were finally home!
I loved Philippines more than Bali and Cambodia – Palawan for its beauty and balance with nature, Boracay for the sunsets and the buzz, and Manila for just being an awesome city to look at and be at. Thailand is probably close in terms of mind space. Philippines had everything we wanted in a vacation, and is relatively less touristy. It was well worth the visa headache, which involved us submitting everything we had except my dad’s horoscope and property documents, and cost us Rs.3500 each! The trip cost us about Rs.1.9 lakhs with flight tickets (including within the country) at about a lakh, staying options at around Rs.4ooo, meals at about Rs.1500 each and shopping of course! In essence, ranks right up there in terms of journeys, and highly recommended!