This is the story of my trip to the Philippines,back in May of 2002 to meet the lady of my dreams.
By this time,I'd been writing to Ellen now for at least 2 years or so...and we'd finally planned to meet each other face-to-face.
This seemingly difficult task was made infinitely simpler by a local gentleman named Mr.King.He's an expert on trips to the Philippines...and I can't even tell you how many people he's helped to meet one another through his modest office which he operates out of his home in Northfield.All my tickets were obtained through Mr.King,and his prices beat everybody else's that I'd checked.Plus...he's a nice guy.So much for that.
My point of departure was to be in Philadelphia.When the day to leave arrived,my nice-niece Heather volunteered her time and car,to drive me up to the Airport...which is about an hour to an hour and a half from where I was living (in Mays Landing) at the time.So at 11:30 AM Heather came by...I loaded my stuff in her car...and off we went.
My plans included an American Airlines shuttle flight from Philly to New York to catch my main flight to the Islands.
As my normal luck (or lack there-of) would have it the shuttle-craft was delayed or cancelled.So there I sat,up in Philly and wondering what I'm going to do now?
Since the scheduled plane was not happening anytime soon...the Airlines decided to provide the passengers who were stranded,with a limosine to take all of us up to New York.Cool!
But there were more passengers waiting than could fit inside the one limo that arrived to take us.Most of the other passengers were going to Ireland from New York.
That particular day,I was the only guy going someplace else.Their flights were all scheduled to depart a few hours earlier from NY to Europe,so they needed to get up there ASAP.
So,guess who stayed behind in Philly and let the others go ahead.
So as the other folks piled into the limosine like sardines...I waved good-bye to 'em and sat back down on my solitary bench.I was told another vehicle was on its way to take me to New York.
After about two hours of bench-time,counting ceiling tiles and cracks in the floor....finally...my ride arrived.
My driver's name was Rob and his buddy's name was Walt,who was going to accompany us for the trip to NY.And the only person in the limo was its one-and-only-passenger,me!
These two guys (knuckleheads) assured me they knew how to get to New York.But I had my doubts.Especially when they had to pull into a gas station up in North Jersey and ask how to get to the Kennedy Airport,and get across the river.Although we got lost on the way...I still did get there in plenty of time to catch my flight.With a good 10 minutes to spare.
I presented myself and my jumbo suitcase,to the Cathay Pacific Desk,where I was cheerfully greeted by a couple of lovely flight receptionists.I'd heard good things and I've heard bad things about Cathay Pacific.But I'm here to tell you,that if you ever want to be treated like a king,and you appreciate good and courteous service.This is the way to go! And I did not travel First Class.I travelled Economy Class,and it was still awesome.And their food is absolutely delicious too! Now let me also tell you this: I'm not your ordinary run-of-the-mill sized traveller! I'm a blimp!! And when I say that,I'm not exagerating.I'm so big that I cannot pull the tray down from the seat-back in front of me...and have it lay flat.
Additionally...a normal sized seat-belt won't work either.I need one of those extendo-matic doo-hickies to get it to work.
Besides that,the seat is usually so darn tight that I almost need a shoe-horn to get in and out of it.I'm the guy they were trying to pass that new flying regulation about.The one where fat guys have to pay two fares to fly.Fortunately for me...the law was not in effect,when I took my trip.Or I would never have been able to afford it.
My plane was scheduled to leave NY at 22:50 hrs.(that's 10:50 PM for you Rookies)
Since it was raining pretty hard,we had a couple minutes to wait until the Pilot got the go-ahead from the Tower.After stowing my single carry-on AWOL Bag in the overhead luggage compartment,I hunkered down into my assigned seat.
My little nest was #46-A...a Window Seat looking out over the Left Wing.It was louder than Hell,but after a minute or two...I got used to it.Actually it wasn't really too bad,because the roar of the jet engines masked the usual ringing and whistling inside my head that I have to normally put up with morning,noon and night.
We rose up into the sky,and I could feel the pressure of our acceleration pushing me back tighter into my tiny seat. I vigorously and nervously chewed on a stale piece of gum to keep my ears clear as we reached for a higher altitude. All the while keeping an eye on the cute little gal in front of me demonstrating how to put on a life-preserver in case we would crash.
And how to use an oxygen mask in case we should suddenly have a drastic change in cabin pressure,etc. I was not able to hear a single word she said....but I had no problem in understanding what she was trying to explain to us. Its always such an especially calming way to get off on the good-foot,and ease any fears we may still be harboring,such as: "what the heck am I doing on this stinkin' plane anyway".Or,"If man were meant to fly we'd have wings". And all that other sort of nonsense.
But here I was.And there was no turnin' back now.
We headed from New York,west to Vancouver British Columbia.My newfound travelling companion who sat in the aisle seat,of my row,was to disembark here.
He'd really been a good guy to meet on the plane,because it'd been so doggone long since I flew.
He showed me how to work the TV thing,and the Music thing...and the Map thing.
For any of you who aren't familiar with the Map Thing...this's gotta be one of the coolest gizmo's they've come up with in quite awhile!!
There's a computer-like monitor or screen on the back of the seat directly in front of you. Not only does this device let you watch TV or Movies on there....you can also see where you are and where you're going.It tells you how f-a-s-t you're going and the wind velocity.And you can see how much longer it'll be till you get there. Its quite in invention! Anyhow...the guy sitting next to me,showed me how to operate the thing.
And he was very helpful along the way.In fact,it was he,who suggested we pull down the tray from the seat-back in between us,so I could set my food tray on there when it was time for our meals.
Since I couldn't lay my own down flat...the one that was directly in front of me....without it being still 3/4 of the way up...resting on top of my enormous gut...I don't know how I'd have managed.
I never got your name...but I'll always wish you safe travelling my friend... wherever you are.
From Vancouver we headed west towards Hong Kong.And in the meantime,we crossed through the Twilight Zone...into another time.We actually moved forward in time one day...from the 14th to the 15th of May.
We ran into some mildly rough weather,but overall it was a fine trip.
May 15th at 06:11(AM)...we landed in Hong Kong.
I was feeling tired from my long flight so far. But I was so anxious to meet Ellen,nothing else mattered.
Hong Kong Airport is very modern and also,it is Very HUGE!! I was dying for a smoke (wow...aren't we all...) but as with most places you're considered a stone-cold outcast,if you want to fire one up.Finally I found what is called,a "Smoking Lounge"....down the long corridor,all tucked into a sealed room.Oh,what a cloudy place that was.I could have saved lighting mine and just walked in there and breathed the air...it was so thick with smoke.
Anyhow,after a brief trip to the Men's Room,to take my daily morning dose of around 10-12 different prescription medicines and a sight-seeing hike around the place to find my terminal,we finally left Hong Kong at 08:15(AM).
Now we were finally on the last leg of the journey.Heading to Cebu.
The Philippines is made up a a ba-zillion little islands.THe main three parts are:Luzon,the farthest Province to the North.The Visayas,the Central Province.And finally Mindanao...to the far South.
Most folks I talk to,seem to land at the airport in Manila,which is up in Luzon.But that's way far North of where I was heading.
And instead of getting a shuttle plane to transfer me,to my destination...I had arranged a direct flight into Macatan International Airport,which is in Cebu.
We had a very smooth take-off.A Beautiful morning,as we flew above the clouds.I could look out the window and every once in awhile through a break in the cotton balls....I could see the the mountains,the ocean,and dotted here and there,were scattered tiny little ships in the sea.At 10 minutes past 10:00,the Captain announced we were nearing Cebu.I was so eager by this time to meet Ellen,and now I knew that in less than a half-hour...I'd be with her.
On this beautiful sunny and clear morning,May 15th...I arrived at the Cebu Airport in Macatan. I didn't have any trouble at all,finding and checking my luggage(1 jumbo-sized suitcase and 1 carry-on bag).I went through Customs in the blink of an eye.
The 1st thing I did upon exiting Customs...was to go and exchange $200 for Pesos which is the standard currency in the Philippines.At that time the exchamge-rate was under 50-Pesos to the Dollar....somewhere around 47 or 48 or so.(I believe as I'm writing this,today it is somewhere around 53-P to 1-$....a great time to go and get more bang for your buck).
I started to leave the Airport Terminal and see if I could finds Ellen.I had already let her know (of course),what time I was supposed to arrive there.And hopefully she would be there to greet me.
As I exited through the glass doors,into the tropical heat...a taxi driver approached me and asked if he could give me a lift.
And almost before I could answer him...I heard someone yell,"JIM...Hey,JIM".
There was Ellen!!! Along with her Auntie and her cousins.Wow!!
As beautiful as I already thought she was,from her pictures she'd sent me.
Nothing could prepare me for the loveliness that was standing here in front of me.And the incredible joy I was feeling as I laid my eyes on her for the first time.
Ellen's cousin Randy drove the automobile and riding shotgun was his brother and Ellen's other cousin Rodrigo.These guys are also both Taxi Drivers,and they'd got ahold of one of their bosses vehicles for the day.This was Wednesday,the middle of the week. I'd really not made any kind of arrangements or reservations anywhere at any hotels for me to stay in. Nothing to worry 'bout. These guys already knew of a great place to stay.It was called The Castle Peak Hotel.It was a large,modern and very clean establishment.
My room was large and clean. There was a nice big clean bath & shower in its modern bathroom (or "CR" as they're called over there).It had air-condioning (air-con over there).We had a refridgerator (ref),Color TV,a radio,a table & chairs and two beds.
Every day the maids came in and changed and made up the bed.We had room service every day.They've got a terrific restaurant.They'd even go outside the hotel and buy us things if we needed something.
Each & every member of their staff that we came in contact with...from the top to the bottom...were all very friendly,courteous and professional.
I would honestly recommend this place to anyone who might ever be thinking about staying in Cebu.And the price will not break your wallet either,believe me.
Its very low-key as far as advertising or promoting itself. But it is well worth seeking it out.Oh,and did I mention....?..The food is awesome too!!
After we got settled in,we jumped back into the taxi,and did a little sight-seeing and recon.
We went to the Casino there in Cebu.Its a real nice place,and has a Duty-Free Store.Marlboro's were going for $11 per carton!! That is NOT a typo.Right now around here they're over 50-bucks a carton.And I traveled half-way 'round the world and could purchase 10-packs for $11.00. What's wrong with this picture? Do the words,"New Jersey"..and "Taxes"..come to mind?
My only regret is that I only picked up one carton while I was there.What a freakin' nimrod!!
And then we went to the S. M. MALL.If you think you've seen Malls around here...ya ain't seen nothin',till you've seen the S. M. MEGA MALL!!!
Puts most of our malls to shame.
And as far as Security goes...they've got armed guards posted at the Entrances and Exits.And before you can get in there,they take a stick and go inside all the women's purses and bags to make sure they're not packing anything they shouldn't be.
All they did was eye-ball me,& then they let me go right inside.Quite a difference from how things are done in this neck of the woods.We picked up a few items so I could pass out some little gifts as went made our rounds and met more of Ellen's family.
We went over to Ellen's Uncle & Aunt's house,which is where Ellen lives,and met them.I was certainly made to feel comfortable and welcome.And I felt right at home.What a time I was having!
Then we went to a really neat looking barbecue place.It had a thatched roof,and wooden poles lashed together as side walls and supports.Ellen,Randy,Rodrigo & I ate here.We had barbecued chicken,and some kind of soup.And on the side was a little dish that had some of the tiniest red peppers you ever saw.So,since I like hot stuff...I figured,"why not"...go for it". WOW!! Those had to be the hottest little peppers I ever stuck in my mouth.
The only thing that comes close to 'em was.....back in the 'Nam one time when we came across an abandoned old base camp and I found a whole slew of the same kind of peppers growing near what must've been an old NVA Latrine.And with those little buggers,I remember sticking about 3 or 4 of em inside the camo-cover band of my steel pot,to save for later to add to my C-rations...and spice 'em up a tad.Well..again,as luck would have it...one of the guys who was out on a RIF called over the radio and said they were taking enemy fire.So,we had to grab our gear and run off looking for them.Up and over a bunch of rotten tree stumps and vines and other miscelaneous shit growing along the trail,I got my arm bitten up with a mess of those nasty red fire-ants.Somebody called in a "Pink Team" or a "Red Team"...to give us all a hand.Now,this was a pair of choppers,1 Loach and 1 Cobra...or else 1 Slick and 1 Cobra,if my memory serves me correctly. But I do forget what this particular team was that day.But as they came in shooting up everything...and right at the side of the mountain a few meters below us and right where we were heading.It made quite an impression on my young and simple mind.Come to think about it...maybe that's one of the reasons I'm not especially fond of the sound of choppers flying overhead anymore.HHhhmmm....But,anyhow...let's not get too distracted from my hot-pepper story here.What I was about to say...as I took cover...more from our own choppers,than from any enemy shooting at us...I felt this terrible burning on the back of my neck.I figured,Damn..its gotta be more of those doggone fire-ants again".Nope!! It was those little Red Hot Peppers!!! The little bastards had popped open while they were wedged between the helmet cover and the elastic strap that holds the cover on the steel pot.And the seeds had trickled down the back of my neck.I was sweating like a pig...and all my pores were open at the time.So these peppers left a durable and lasting impression on me too. Called welts.And to end an already overly-long side-bar...these are probably the same exact variety of hot-peppers.... that were burning blisters inside my mouth right now at this barbecue restaurant in the Philippines!! They were still just as HOT as I remember they were!!! Meanwhile....back to my visit with true love,Ellen in the magnificent Philippines.... (To be continued...)