April in The Philippines: Long Trek to Clark (Kids, don’t try this at home)

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You know what they say about always trusting what you hear on the ground and that your guesthouse is the most reliable info source? Well, it’s not always right that I can tell you. Thanks to my guesthouse, I probably took the longest route ever to get to Clark airport for my flight out of The Philippines. I guess it turned out pretty cheap, but I sure would’ve paid the extra needed for a direct bus there.

This is what happened: I checked out at the ungodly hour of 5.30am and hopped into a cab to take me to Pasay Bus Terminal. There, I caught the onward bus to Dau. It was a pretty uneventful trip as it was an airconditioned and not very crowded coach. It was only when I got off the coach that I discovered to my horror that (a)  I still had to navigate past the gate of Clark Freeport Zone to get into the airport and (b) the trike ride from Dau would only take me to the gate. The 5 minute trike ride of less than 1km cost me 50 PHP (S$1.50). Feeling stiffed, I stood uncertainly at the gate of the Freeport Zone trying to figure out how to get inside without spending the last of my reserves on a taxi (200 PHP) and getting stranded for not having the local currency to pay my airport tax.

A couple of jeepney drivers offered to take me and my dive gear (it was a huge bag) into the complex for 180 PHP. I refused and decided to try my luck with a bit of crying. The stress of the journey and the early morning start helped. Soon enough, another jeepney driver came up to me, telling me he could take me into the Zone somewhere close to the airport for 20 PHP, but I’d have to walk to the gate myself. Wiping away my tears and thanking my lucky stars, I climbed into the front seat of the jeepney (a rare privilege), waited for it to fill up with people and we were off!

The Zone was rather large, and to my surprise (doh!), more people wanted to get to other parts of the Zone than the airport. I was set down about 5 minutes later in a fairly deserted area about 500m away from the airport. There wasn’t anyone around except the odd security guard patrolling the odd gate. They all smiled at me and pointed me in the right direction. Given the dive bag that was almost size, it was pretty obvious which direction I was heading. One of the guards even introduced himself and we had a little chat. Another one motioned to me that I had to jumped across a drain at the narrow part if not I’ll be stuck and not get to the terminal! It’s amazing how friendly they all were to an odd stranger.

After a pretty long and sweaty trek in the hot sun, I finally reached the airport gates! After showing my passport to the guards, I fairly stumbled to the cool of the waiting area outside. A chat with the locals made me realise that I was quoted the right prices, and even the lowest possible prices. They were amazed that I trekked in to the airport.

After taking a cab, a bus, a trike and a jeepney, then going on foot, I hopped on the plane and sank into the comfy seats, secure in the knowledge that Noid was picking me up in her car on the other side.

[post script: I later found out that there were scheduled buses leaving from SM Mega Mall to Clark Airport. Le sigh.]



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April in The Philippines: Jeepneys

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Jeepneys are the quintessential way of getting around in The Philippines. Traditionally, they’re etrofitted ex-American army trucks painted all hues of colours except subtle. Most looked totally pimped out and a lot of times the gangsta look was contrasted with lots of devoutly Catholic imagery on the inside. The sides were normally painted with the route it plied and you’d normally climb in, call out your destination and pay your fare to the conductor. The jeepney is one of those vehicles that is never full. More and more and more and more people pile in and if there isn’t space on the inside, the conductor would hang on to the back of the jeepney. If there still isn’t space, it’s last in stay out as the last few guys would have to hang on for dear life together with the conductor.

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I never quite got the hang of these jeepneys as I’d never really know where I was going and it was far easier just taking a taxi, especially with my big dive bag.

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The ones in the picture below are strictly speaking buses, not jeepneys but they’re really cool anyway. These are long distances buses at the northern Cebu bus terminal. All sorts get on the bus. Omar and I had an amusing time trying to take a video of a pair of cardboard boxes with holes in them. One cheeped a lot and the other crowed at intervals. The problem was that the video was long and tiresome and Murphy’s law struck: no crowing at all until a good boring minute was over. It was my first rooster on public transport!

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