Hello Philippines! This is the land of… um… I’m still not sure. We didn’t see enough of it for me to come up with a clever AND fair generalization. We landed in Manila and only ventured out a few blocks from our accommodation, and most of our limited time was spent recovering cancellation refunds and troubleshooting our trip due to lockdowns happening around the world. The metaphorical walls were closing in around us. Kind of like Tetris (or Jyn’s iPad bird game) when you have one tiny row to work with at the very top edge of the screen, it’s flashing, and you see a loaded set of blocks ready to ruin your day. That’s analogous to our current situation.
MNL airport education.
When we landed in Manila the first time en route to Palau, we quickly learned that the Manila international airport (MNL), is actually three separate terminals separated by several miles. We landed in Terminal 1 and had to transfer to Terminal 3. Surprisingly, there is no airtram or quick mode of transport from one terminal to another. You can pay $50 to a taxi (50 freakin’ dollars for three miles in an inexpensive country! Balderdash!), $3 to the random unofficial sketchy buses, or wait for the free official shuttle bus that comes hourly-ish. We opted for the free bus even though we were strongly advised to take the taxi by multiple gentlemen in uniform with badges. They were the nicest conmen that we have met. Why are taxi drivers parasites in almost every country? When we returned to Manila after our trip to Palau and Guam, we were older and wiser and made it to our hotel without being ripped off.
Our limited free time.
When we did get to wander outside, we walked to the 14th largest mall in the world (SM Mall of Asia, ~4,600,000 square feet of floor space), ate at Hawker Chan’s (branch of the world cheapest Michelin-starred meal), had boba tea, pho, coffee, saw Jeepneys (modified jeeps individually and festively customized for local transport), went to the gym, and enjoyed temperature screening nearly everywhere we went.
Jyn’s difficulty getting through hotel security.
Public places would not let you in if your body temp was above 37 degrees C (98.6 degrees F). Let’s recall that Manila is a tropical place with searing sun. Body temperatures were taken on your forehead so if you were walking around in the sun for a while, your temperature might be elevated. Jyn found this out by being put into “mini-quarantine” at our hotel on a regular basis for being half-a-degree over. She would have to sit in the AC for about five or ten minutes to cool down so they could retake her temperature. As you can imagine, she was thrilled to be in “time-out” over and over. She eventually passed that retest every time, but each time we returned to the hotel, the anxiety of potentially failing the temperature test and being carted off to the hospital in a jeepney probably just made her temperature higher. Good times.
The lockdown starts soon.
Breakfast, which turned out to be a great value with lots of variety, was included with our hotel. On March 13, as we went down to breakfast, we noticed Manila newspapers in the lobby with headlines shouting “Manila on Lockdown”. Uh oh. We read the news and saw that Metro Manila, where we were, would be on lockdown, with no travel in or out, for 30 days beginning March 15 (actually 31 days, from the beginning of the day on March 15 to the end of the day, presumably, on April 14). We were semi lucky because we already had ferry tickets leaving for Coron island the evening of March 13. Not a big deal yet. Since Manila was going to be closed, we could fly from Coron to Cebu to get out of the country and then link up with our next round-the-world trip ticket flight from Singapore to Vienna on April 14. Keep in mind that we MUST make it onto that flight and ALL of our round-the-world ticket flights or the airline would cancel the rest of the tickets (or so we were told by the Singapore Airlines call center representative). So in order to keep our trip alive, we could not get locked down in Manila for 30 days; such a delay would cause us to miss the flight from Singapore and effectively cancel the rest of our trip.
But our overall plan was still intact: we could get to Coron, stay for a couple weeks, and make it to Singapore to get on our RTW trip flight with time spare. No problem. It would be a vacation from the craziness. We planned many fun activities in Coron for the next couple weeks: a visit to Barracuda Lake, seeing multiple ship wrecks, taking a freediving certification class, and spending time on some of the most beautiful islands in world.
Get on the boat and off the boat.
As planned, on March 13, we arrived at our ferry close to five hours early. We went through security and Jyn got a refund for our return ferry since we could not return as expected on March 22 during the Manila travel lockdown (#CoronaSmash). We hauled our stuff onto the giant ferry (which appeared to be a refurbished cruise ship), locked our bags in our room, and relaxed in the karaoke cabin.
After lounging around the ship for a couple hours, the time was approaching 6:30pm. The 12-hour overnight ferry was scheduled to depart at 7pm and did not have internet access. It was crowded with people escaping Manila, so the PA announcements were difficult to hear over the crowds and the lousy acoustics. I did mange to catch a faint sentence fragment containing the phrase “Coron lockdown.” I thought that must be a mistake and immediately went to the front desk. English wasn’t their first language so it was tough to communicate. The front desk staff called over a manager to clarify, and he said that the lockdown of Manila had just been extended to Coron. I rushed back to the karaoke room to tell Jyn the unfortunate news. If we got locked down in Coron, we would miss our critical round-the-world trip flight on April 14 and the rest of the trip would be over. The ferry was preparing to leave. We went back to the manager and asked to see where the lockdown information came from. He showed us the document from the mayor of Coron. He recommended that we get off the ship immediately.
Off the boat. Now what?
In whiplash fashion, we decided that we should get off the boat, without a plan and without a hotel, in order to salvage the rest of the trip. We jogged to our room, unlocked our stuff, and jetted off the boat. We passed people who seemed carefree. Perhaps they were unaware. As we were scrambling off the boat just a few minutes before its departure, we told a couple backpackers boarding the ferry about the lockdown and they seemed unbothered. If we didn’t have our round-the-world trip flight to catch, we would have also been unbothered and would have been fine with being stuck in Coron for a month. Probably.
Back to the hotel.
We got off the boat and got refunds for the ferry again. By now it was about 8pm. We had 28 hours to get out of Manila (the lockdown was scheduled to start at midnight between the 14th and the 15th). We decided to take a “Grab” (equivalent to Uber) back to our former hotel. At least we had WiFi there, security, and maybe a place to sleep. After we arrived at the hotel, we had to find ways to get out Manila. Given that all visitors to Manila were in the same boat as us and needed to leave ASAP, we booked two separate flights out (just in case one was later cancelled or whatever else–at this point, we were used to things going not at all according to plan). At that time, each of us actually had three flights to get out of Manila, but we knew the original flight out, about two weeks away, would get cancelled due to the lockdown. Now, we had a little over five hours before we had to be at the airport and ~25 hours to get out of Manila. Sleeping at most airports is terrible, so we booked a room to shower and sleep in for a few hours.
We woke up at 3am and made it to the airport by 4am (too early for breakfast. Crappypoo!). Our flight was scheduled to leave at 7am. We got through security and waited at the gate. 6am rolled around and our flight got delayed. Then, it got delayed again. At this point, I was happy to have booked two flights out that day, but the logistics of switching flights seemed rough. Finally, we got on the plane at about 9am and I canceled the backup evening flight as we boarded. Thank goodness we got out of Manila before the lockdown–we saw in the news after we were safely in Bangkok that things got chaotic at MNL later in the day.
Thailand, here we come!
We decided to fly to Bangkok because we could stay there for a while-ish with Chinda’s dad, if needed. We landed, got picked up, ate goose, and could breathe a brief sigh of relief. The icing on the cake was that I received an email from Singapore Airlines. They had canceled our next flight of the round-the-world trip, that April 14 flight that we just played travel gymnastics in order to make. Ha. Well played, universe. Next post is self-quarantine from Bangkok and our unraveling round-the-world trip.