Beaches, ensaymadas, and one hell of an airport

Well actually, not just one airport. They all kinda sucked.

But we’ll get there.

Mid-February marked travel time. And, as described in one of my previous posts, this trip was long-anticipated and well-planned.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Travel day! Trevor and I headed for the airport in the afternoon. We were both freezing our butts off while waiting for the bus (and also during subway transfers) – we wore the least amount of warm layers we could brave, as these would just become unwanted extra luggage for the next 10 days. By a little after 21:00, we were on our plane and headed for Manila.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

We arrived in Manila just after midnight, and joined the many other passengers who settled all over the terminal to catch some shut-eye. Our next flight was at 7:00. There was some floor napping, after which we headed to the massage suite, where we had mediocre, but relaxing massages before dozing off in the comfy lounge chairs. When it was time to check in, we realised that the domestic terminal was in a whole different part of town! So in our exhausted states, we headed outside, only to be bombarded by taxi drivers. I’m not even kidding. People say that that’s what happens, but you don’t know what to expect until suddenly they’re all fighting over you and grabbing your bags.

Anyway, without any further thought, we got into one of the taxis and set off to the next terminal. Long story short, this guy saw some suckers coming, and made bank. We spent as much on the 10 minute taxi ride as one would to take a taxi from Hongdae to Paju at midnight – more than ₩60000 (a good R500). I was completely unprepared for this and didn’t think to ask how much he was going to charge until we were moving. But such is life, and I’ll never make that mistake again.

The domestic terminal was not what I expected, but very similar to places I’ve seen on The Amazing Race. I was most amused by the sign above the check-in counter with, get this, the “estimated time of departure” for our flight to Kalibo. This was over 90 minutes later than the time on the tickets. Sigh. It was hot and sticky, there was no air-conditioning, and there were people everywhere. It was more intimidating than I’d anticipated. We were hungry, but there were only kiosks with snack-type foods available. None of our devices could pick up the wi-fi that was advertised all over the waiting room. The seats were so uncomfortable. Urgh, it was a less than ideal situation all round.

Eventually, after a delay of more than two hours, we set off for Kalibo. From the flight, we had to still take a 90 minute bus ride to the ferry terminal and board a 30 minute ferry to the island. Thankfully we pre-booked with a charter company, as the bus/ferry booking procedure seemed even more intimidating than getting the taxi.

And then the tipping started. As soon as we started moving, someone would grab our bags and carry them to wherever we had to be next (the bus, then the ferry, then the shuttle), and then these guys would hover and wait for a tip. We were handing out banknotes like it’s nobody’s business. I think we just lost track of the exchange rate and we were too tired and overwhelmed to care. Living in a first world country can spoil a kid! Thankfully, I managed to sleep through most of the busride, which made it feel much shorter.

I’m glad I’m not scared of water or being on it, as the ferry would then have prevented me from ever reaching Boracay. But we were on it, and in almost no time (y’know, compared to every other leg of the journey so far), we were on Boracay. We made it onto the shuttle and got dropped off at our accommodation.

The accommodation, sadly, was a disappointing experience. A friend of mine recommended The Lazy Dog Bed & Breakfast, and that’s where we booked. Because the smaller rooms were booked out, we even shelled out to get a family room. However, when we arrived to check in, we had been moved to a self-catering lodge across the road. This was both disappointing and endlessly frustrating, but what can you do?

Trevor and I settled in, and in the evening, we headed out to explore D’Mall, an outdoor shopping complex on the beachfront. And finally, the weekend picked up! We had burgers, arbed around the little shops and found White Beach.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

This was the only full day we’d have in Boracay, and it was an easy decision to commit to spending a lazy day on the beach.

The morning started off with some souvenir shopping, after which we grabbed our beach gear and reading material and headed for the beach.

First, we took to exploring Bulabog Beach, which was practically right where we stayed. Bulabog Beach is on the “windy” side of the island, and it is famous for windsurfing and kiteboarding. After some photo ops and oohs and aahs at the impressive abilities of the surfers, we set off for White Beach, which is the quiet, white-sand-palm-trees-perfect-for-lazing-all-day kind of beach, over on the other side of the island (like, an entire 10 minute walk away!). On the way, Trevor was really amused at being able to find bottled Coke at one of the kiosks.

At White Beach, we walked along the shoreline until we found a spot further off that was a little quieter and less bustling. Many of the beachfront lodges have reserved areas on the beach, with deck chairs and umbrellas and lots of guests. These areas were busy, and noisy, and just not “island beach”-y enough. Now, if you haven’t figured it out yet, White Beach is named after the endless stretch of white sand, which perfectly complements the crystal clear waters. Once we found a spot, Trevor settled into some reading under the palm trees, and I worked on my suntan. I had no intention of swimming, but I couldn’t exactly go to a beach, on an island, in my swimsuit… and not test the water! And it was lovely. Even though it was hot out, it was nowhere near the sticky humidity I so enjoy complaining about in Korea. The water the ideal temperature to provide relief from the sun. And yes, of course I napped under the palm trees! Would you have it any other way?

Throughout the day, I was overcome with a sense of… happiness? comfort? invisibility? at the sight of all the different cultures, ethnicities and languages represented on the island. On a superficial level, it felt good to not be stared at for not being Korean, but on another, deeper level (one that I didn’t really consciously know I possessed), it felt… right. Coming from a “rainbow nation”, I’ve evidently taken for granted just how good it feels to be a part of something bigger. For the first time in almost a year, I didn’t feel like “the foreigner”, and it was a welcome feeling.

At the end of our beach day, we hung around long enough to watch the sunset (totally worth it!) and headed back to shower and change before finding some food.

Food. Of course, a big part of this vacation was about escaping Korean cuisine, and we made good on this. We had a buffet breakfast (thankfully the B&B still made good on feeding us)  and after much deliberation decided on pizza for lunch. And I hear you saying, “but there’s plenty pizza available in Korea”. Well, we wanted the good stuff, not the sweet, corn-laden Korean version. And we weren’t disappointed. In the evening, we opted for Spanish Tapas and lamb chops. Yum! (Who knew that during my time in Korea and surrounds, I’d try more different cuisines than I ever had at home?) In the course of the day I also tried some mango from a street vendor (I’m not a fan of mango, but this was something else!), and after discovering a bakery that sold ensaymadas, I ate as many as I possibly could. You would too at something ridiculous like 5 pesos a pop! That converts to roughly 125 KRW (1,10 ZAR).

Monday, 18 February 2013

I’d like to pretend this day didn’t exist, because it was just tiring and an entire non-event. We got up, got ready, ate, packed, and waited for the shuttle to come fetch us. Shuttle to ferry to land to bus to airport to some more delays to being cashless in a tiny airport with no card facilities to booking in at the airport hotel to braving downtown Manila after dark in search of food to sleeping to waking up to some more terminal confusion to freaking out when I thought I’d lost my bank card to yet another delay to finally (FINALLY) being on our way to Singapore.

So to get back to the title. There were beaches. There were ensaymadas. And there were some sucky airports (or more accurately, airport experiences, but whatever). As a newbie traveller, I made all the mistakes, but I’m ready for a redo. Next time, I’ll know what to expect, and I’ll have only good things to say. And that’s a promise!

Click on the photo below for a collection of photos from the weekend:

Click on the pic!

Click on the pic!

Denim ditching, airport prancing, and other holiday build-up-ness

I’ve been avoiding this long enough now. I need to write about my holiday. It’s been almost two months, and there’s so much I want to write down and remember.

This one’ll be a dull post about the planning bits.

~~~

I knew that coming to Korea would mean having the opportunity to travel, but travelling alone didn’t appeal to me at all.

My friend Trevor and I are both public school teachers, so we have a fair amount of vacation time. Unfortunately, our vacation dates don’t correspond so travelling together seemed unlikely. When we figured out that our “spring vacation” (it was still snowing then) dates would correspond by all but one day, the possibility of having a travel buddy seemed more and more real. In December, we started circling the issue, neither of us sure what type of travelling the other would be interested in.

One night, we were hanging out and looking at options. Trevor has a friend who is studying in Singapore, so he seemed to favour this destination. My preference was “not Korea”, so we agreed to look into it some more.

Flights to Singapore connect through Manila (the Philippines) and in a moment of spontaneity, we entertained the idea of a longer layover. Two countries in one trip? Excellent!

Accommodation in Singapore is pricey, so the reasoning was that we’d literally be saving money by spending part of our holiday in the Philippines. And so a plan was born. The plan was to spend a long weekend on Boracay, an island in the Philippines, and then a week in Singapore.

We had two months of planning ahead of us, and at times it felt so inconsequential. There were days when I got bored of looking at landmarks and tourist attractions online.  I had one rule: no set itinerary. We agreed to list things we’d like to see and do, and take it one day at a time. Trevor took to Google Maps to plot everything we wanted to do in Singapore. This would be the main part of our trip and it required a larger investment of time and energy. It was a unanimous decision to see the weekend as total R&R time. Eating and being on the beach were the only things on our to-do list.SAM_0145

Foreign currency! This was probably when the trip started feeling really-real. Having foreign currency and knowing you’re going to use it is a flippin’ awesome feeling.

Trevor’s mom got us in touch with a former colleague of hers. Scott and his wife, Jennifer, and their three children are currently expats in Singapore. Trevor started mailing Jennifer, and she kindly and generously offered that we stay with them during our time in Singapore. Oh my goodness! What an absolute gift! This tremendous saving made me look forward to the trip even more.

Soon all the necessary accommodation in the Philippines was booked and paid for, and all that remained was counting down the days, and packing.

Packing. I only had 15 kg of check-in luggage, so this would be quite the challenge. I knew I’d have to leave room to bring shopping back, and really, I didn’t want to be weighed down by luggage (geddit?!) – we had 6 flights and some ferrying ahead of us, so the lighter, the better.

I bought a travel hairdryer and a few travel-size bottles to decant my favourite products into. Korea is not big on variety, and cosmetics are sold in bulk, so it wasn’t as easy as back home where I could pop into Dischem and buy a range of smaller sized products. I decanted and repackaged and prioritised like a champ.

About a week before, I summoned my good friend Cindy to help me pack. Cindy is a seasoned traveller – she’s travelled to almost 30 different countries. She applied some tough love and my luggage was halved within minutes. And just as I thought we were done, she’d make me shed more. Thankfully, both were tropical destinations so I wouldn’t need any heavy/warm clothing.

Now, if you’ve known me for any period of time, you’ll agree that I’m very seldom seen leaving the house without (not make-up, but) denim. Denim is the basis around all my wardrobe choices. I’m just that girl. During the packing process, I decided not to take my jeans. I’d only be wearing them out of and back into Korea anyway. Tights would do. Next up, my denim 3/4 pants were ditched. And when I had to choose between denim shorts and black ones, I chose the more lightweight black pair. At least I’d still have my denim jacket, right? Think again. Cindy gave me one look and pointed at the “reject” pile. No denim. None. How would I make it? (I made it just fine, by the way.)

I settled on two pairs of shorts, three shirts that could be worn with both pairs, a skirt and two dresses. And of course lots of shoes, right? Nope! I wore my trainers and packed one pair of beach sandals and one pair of more smart-looking ones. Singapore is a classy place, so one dressy outfit was necessary.

Proof that I can, in fact, pack light.

Proof that I can, in fact, pack light.

All in, my luggage came to a whopping 8 kg (beat that! 10 days in 8 kg, baby!). Next up was hand luggage, which was nothing more than my travel documents, mp3 player, cellphone and a book (I’m yet to embrace this kindle business). Lots of shopping room!

Trevor snuck in this shot of me prancing about.

Trevor snuck in this shot of me prancing about.

Cindy helped me pick out a “travel outfit”. I’d need something that would keep me warm in Korea (temperatures were still in the negatives), but that I could shed off as we reached warmer destinations. I’d also need to be comfortable while flying, as we were flying with budget airlines. Everything would need to fit into my luggage during our time in the tropics. I’m not an overly experienced traveller (especially not an international one), and I told Cindy that I felt like “one of those seasoned travellers who prances around airports in ridiculous outfits”.

And then it was time to go! Trevor and I braved the cold to catch the bus, and then the train, to the airport. It was nice to experience the airport, not as a terrified newbie to a new country, but as a leisurely traveller. As Trevor put it:

“Well, we’re out of the cold and neither of us is emotionally traumatising ourselves by moving to Asia.”

That summed it up well.

Check-in and customs were a breeze, and soon we were off.

Next stop: Philippines!