Next day. The second to the last of this Philippine trip.
I woke up early to find that the Gonzaga Bulldogs were on a live stream. It was 6 in the morning in Cebu, half time of an evening game in the states. I watched that as Praxy got ready for the day. Game over at 7am, so we went to eat breakfast.
The Maxwell motel has a great free breakfast. One of the best I’ve ever had in the Philippines. Most motel restaurants suffer from low traffic and indifferent employees. So the food is invariably cold and poorly prepared. Many times with inferior ingredients. Not so at the Maxwell.
Next door there is a culinary school. The motel has worked out a deal where the students prepare and serve meals. I’m guessing the motel provides the ingredients and clients and the school provides everything else. Win-win. And another win for us customers.
Those students are eager to please. Everything we ate was cooked perfectly, hot from the stove, and tasty. Brought to us by smiling student with one teacher watching over them. It was funny watching a young man learning to be a waiter. He had a heck of a time with balancing plates and was obviously very nervous. I gave them tips the first morning on waiting on foreigners as they didn’t bring us any water. Next morning, they were offering water to us with smiles. We tipped them well.
Back to the room for prep, then off to the new Shoe Mart mall, SM Seaside. We wanted to visit this “largest mall in Asia” to see for ourselves.
I wasn’t very impressed. For one thing, it’s so darn big it takes forever to find the store you’re looking for. Another, the stores are very upscale. Prices were high and there wasn’t a lot of shoppers. A third, as it was new, there were still many stores under construction. I don’t hold that last one against them. It will fill.
There were many foreigners in the place. The only people that could afford it. Lots of youngsters window shopping. I got a big charge out of watching people learning to ice skate. And an empty bowling alley.
Praxy went in to get new frames for her glasses. Nothing fit and the prices were outrageous. As much or more than the US. I bought a new set of headphones for my computer as one channel quit on my nice Sony noise-cancelling ones after one cruise, two Philippine trips, a trip to Arizona, and 1/2 dozen Idaho trips. Plus I used them daily at work. No more shopping. (I was able to fix them when I got home!)
I did stop in the local Burger King for lunch. Notice a pattern in my blog? I love eating hamburgers.
Anyway, a bunch of foreigners showed up for lunch and we congregated for a chat. Lets see; Washington state (myself, Praxy showed up a little later after eating ANOTHER halo halo), Arizona, St. Louis, Detroit, Ohio, San Diego, Texas, and North Carolina sitting in the same area chatting. Others off to the side that chose not to join us. The guy from St. Louis, Dale, and I spent a lot of time talking, we are now FB friends.
Dale was touring the Philippines and was wistfully looking for a place with good, inexpensive seafood. Well, you just can’t get any better than Eastern Samar. I suggested he take off for Tacloban and then explore Eastern Samar from there. He is reading my blog and I hope to hear back from him if he takes off that way. He’s retired and just wandering around enjoying himself. I’ve got 5 more years at least before I retire.
Since prices were high, we took off after lunch for the Robinson’s mall near Osmena Fuentes. I knew of a couple of inexpensive shops there for glasses and yep, they had what Praxy needed. Twenty five dollars covered it. A LOT better than $200. That gave us time to shop up some things we wanted to bring back to the states. My beloved pork and beans. Dried fruit. Facial soap. Hand lotion ( Yeah, the American brands are MUCH better in the Philippines. Not near as much water, as in waste filler, in them). We tightened up our luggage with goodies so our clothing wouldn’t slide around so much (HA!). Later, it gave US customs an excuse to thoroughly inspect our luggage in Seattle. They let us go as we had nothing illegal.
Back to the motel, our last night in the Philippines for this trip. It was and is a decent motel. Location is reasonable with restaurants, both American and Philippine, nearby. Ayala mall is long walk away, but doable.
Since the Maxwell didn’t have a refrigerator, I improvised.
I made reservations for the final night, leaving at 9pm for a motel close to the airport. ACE Penzionne. Prices were high here as well. It seems that the Eucharists and their pilgrims had every single inexpensive room in the whole area of Cebu City. Argh! So we got a fancy room for $27USD across from the Guisano Island Mall Mactan. A great room for the price, with a few odd wrinkles thrown in.
Wrinkles. Yeah, all motels seem to have them in the Philippines. Misty Blue had a floppy shower head and odd acting power cord for the air conditioner. Duptours had a 15 minute wait for hot water. Maxwell had a very balky water heater and the WIFI wouldn’t work. I had an ethernet cable that fixed that problem. Yep, I’m prepared. Four trips to the Philippines have given me insight.
ACE had a beautiful bathroom with a divider between shower and the rest of the bathroom. However, there was a little hole cut in the divider to drain the sink and toilet area into the only floor drain that was the shower. But, the low point of the bathroom was next to the toilet. So the water flowed through the hole when you were taking a shower and puddled around the toilet. I put a plug in the hole.
I thought something was odd when the valet put two bath mats in the bathroom, arranging the second one carefully on the sill between the bathroom and bedroom. I couldn’t figure that one out. Until we started showering. He knew a swimming pool was about to form!
Now why would any place have a set up like that one?
Oh well. It’s the Philippines. Exactly like Mexico. It’s up to you to deal with a problem, not the motel staff. If you don’t like it, move. No refunds. Your choice.
Through all this, Bill and Chona invited us over for lunch at the Mactan house. They are seriously considering selling the place and I think that would be a good move. It is a long way from everything excepting the fireworks factories. Two weeks ago it took them over two hours to get from there to Chona’s father’s house (Martin’s) in Mambaling. Horrible traffic day. The only other close thing is the airport, but how many times a year does a person use that place?
We had a great lunch and afterwards they took us back to the Guisano mall across the street from our motel. We shopped around a bit, then crossed the street for hopefully a little sleep. I got a little. Maybe 45 minutes. Praxy didn’t sleep a bit. We just get too keyed up thinking about the upcoming flights home.
I snuck out on an open door and shot a couple of pictures before the sun set. Both bridges.
Quite a bunch of rather…er…not so fancy houses in the foreground. You can’t see these at all from the road near the mall. I don’t know how the people get back here.
Not a bad view looking towards the old bridge. Downtown Cebu is in the background. This is the route the fast catamaran takes when it approaches Cebu from Tacloban and the northern parts of the Philippines.
Jhitter came by with the van at 9:15 to take us to the airport. Been quite a while since I’d seen him, it was nice to chat a bit. He works a Dell call center for the US there in Cebu. His English is excellent with little accent.
Off to the airport. Nothing unusual that I haven’t covered earlier except…YOU STILL HAVE TO PAY THE TERMINAL CHARGE IN CEBU. People have been telling me online that the terminal charge is now included in your ticket. WRONG! You still have to come up with 750PHP each before they will let you into the screening area. Philippine travelers, you’ve been warned.
No problem. I had totally expected that and I was totally ready. I’m not a dummy, I could clearly see it wasn’t included on my ticket. A former airline employee knows how to read ticket charges and those charges are spelled out at the base of the ticket. I’ve argued with people about it this year. Everyone going in had to pay.
The only thing I could figure was that the terminal charge was being paid by the airline out of their fare. Nope.
I suppose it is possible that the terminal charge is now included on the tickets as I purchased mine in June. However, terminal charges were supposed to be included at the start of 2015. Everyone I saw had to pay in Cebu and get the receipt there in th terminal.
We brought back an additional $100 of Philippine pesos for the next trip. We also have plenty of small change for taxis and motels as those places don’t have change in the middle of the night.
Midnight rolled around, another thirty nine hour day began. Flight about 1/2 hour late, no biggie. We had a 12 hour layover in Seoul. I’m going to take a break (I caught Praxy’s cold) and finish this later.
1/29. As I mentioned, our flight was a little late, about 30 minutes or so. Not a problem. I managed to get about 1 1/2 hours of sleep on the way to Seoul. Not bad for me.
We deplaned, went through customs, and found the tour kiosk near the baggage claims area. They have several tours available, but we wanted the longest they offered that day. Turned out to be the Gyeongdeokgung (I’m glad I only had to type that and not pronounce it) palace tour. On to a bus for the one hour ride to Seoul.
I’m always impressed at the sheer size of the city of Seoul, South Korea. Five miles from the airport you start seeing apartment houses. Row after row. Mile after mile. Town after town. It seems to me that relatively few people actually own houses in Seoul. Those houses are clustered together and there is hardly any space between the few that you see. Real estate is at a premium, at least near the city.
Traffic moves along pretty well for a large city. We arrived at our scheduled time, even after waiting 15 minutes in a long line of slowed vehicles. Finally, the Gyeongdeokgun palace came into view.
It was built in 1405, and burned during the Korea-Japan war of 1592. Restored in 1609 and is in the process of being upgraded in 2016. It will be another 30 years until all restoration is completed. Why that long? The site is huge! It covers the area of 80 US football fields. There are a throne room, banquet hall, servants quarters, meeting rooms, relaxing rooms. You name it. Anything a medieval king could want.
The weather was also very very cold. Maybe 10F above with a fairly stiff breeze. I froze. Praxy, on the other hand, was wise. She borrowed a coat, supplied by the tour outfit.
I should have been as wise. I had on long underwear a four layers of clothing. OK, unless I was out in the wind. She seemed pretty comfortable, even though she was coming down with a bad head cold at the time.
Some of the interior art works. These are original and quite valuable.
We had to pay for lunch on this trip. $7.00 bought us a wonderful lunch of beef stew with all the Korean trimmings. I should have got a picture, but there is the usual kim chee, pickled bamboo, pickled cucumber and onions, and swiss chard. We were starved, so we cleaned up our stew plus the stuff on the condiment tray that was to be added to your stew. It was weird, no one else from the tour hardly touched their condiments. I guess it was because it all looked strange to them. We had eaten all this four years before and knew how tasty all the goodies were.
We then had one hour to explore the nearby Myeong-dong market. Lots of fun looking around. Praxy got some salt and pepper shakers and street food granola. I took in the sights. We cautiously got back on the bus a little early. They threatened to leave without ANYONE that showed up five minutes late. Too many people making too many flights and too many different times, the company wasn’t taking any risks. Cost for a cab one way was $70 USD if you missed the bus. No refunds. Everyone was there on time, we left two minutes early!
Back to the airport at 3pm. Through customs and then a 3 1/2 hour wait. Hmm. I’d heard that you could get a free shower at Incheon airport if your layover was more than 3 hours. We qualified at 12 hours. Since I was still chilly from the tour, I searched out the showering area. Upstairs and look around.
It was true. I showed my boarding pass and was instantly given a towel and sent to a shower room. Wow. Hot water. I could have stood there for an hour, warming up after that very cold day in downtown Seoul. Change of clothes and I was refreshed for the remainder of the 39 hour day from Cebu to Pomeroy.
It’s no wonder Seoul Incheon is considered the best international airport in the world. I firmly believe it, although I don’t have knowledge of most international terminals in the world. For what it’s worth, the ones I do know: Manila, horrible. Cebu, mediocre. San Francisco, Los Angeles, fair. Seattle, Hong Kong, good.
But…Great terminal, boarding areas, and signage. Easy through customs. Free city tour or off site motel, and/or showers for long layover passengers. Motel available (very expensive) on site on the international concourse (don’t have to clear customs to stay there). Plenty or restaurants and shopping. Simple, easy to follow transfers between concourses. Aircraft congestion is lessened by plenty of wide taxiways for the aircraft. Four runways with no obstructions or restrictions on all eight approaches.
Two hours till boarding. Praxy was on the computer, I was bored. Time to do a little looking around. Perfume store. Leather store. Expresso shop. Super expensive bar. (yawn) Healthy drink shop. Fancy clothes. Restaurant, nope still full from lunch. (sigh) Toys. Too expensive and too uppity, all of them. Oh well, cruise through the ultra-expensive duty free liquor store anyway. Bottles of this that and the other at anywhere from $50USD to $400 USD. No way I’m buying anything here. Double take. What the flipping heck?
I’d seen worms in tequila bottles, but how could I NOT buy this? Ginseng liquor at a duty free shop with a big ole gnarly root in it. 21,400 Korean won. Not bad at $21USD. Since I still had a pocket full of won, this was a great excuse to thin that lump down. I knew I could transfer it to my luggage in Seattle at customs, then clear security in Seattle with no liquids in my luggage. It would make it home easily. Done that with chop sticks four years earlier.
Boarding at 6pm for the 6:30pm flight. And, we wait. Finally, they take off four containers and pulls someone’s luggage out and reload the containers. So we leave at a little after 7pm. Why am I bringing that up? Because, it meant another half hour sitting in the Boeing 777.
I don’t care how you slice it, 10 and one half hours in a big aluminum tube is a long time. Asiana’s seats are very comfortable compared to say, a jeepney or a Duptours van. Still, after ten hours, my butt gets sore. And I have a lot of trouble sleeping. I should have taken my Valium, but I hate taking stuff like that (I’d make a lousy drug addict). Next time I will for sure. I slept maybe a half hour during that 9 hour and twenty minute flight. Misery. Too tired to watch a movie, so I listened to music.
Finally, Seattle. It was a rare clear day in Seattle. I got to see everything as we came in. The Olympic mountains, Space needle, Ballard locks, Puget sound, all of it. One of the few times I’ve been in Seattle when the weather wasn’t cloudy and/or rainy. Sweet!
Not counting the three hours we waited in Cebu from the motel to midnight, we were now five hours from the Philippines to Seoul. 12 hour layover including the city tour. 10 1/2 hours on a 777. That’s 27 1/2 hours with maybe 2 hours total of sleep. And Praxy was now suffering from a nasty head cold. She was doing a lot of sleeping, but not feeling the best.
Customs. Quite easy now in Seattle. Everything is on the computer and your passport gets scanned before you approach an officer. The usual paperwork is now filled out using a touch screen. No problems. Until we picked up our luggage.
We got singled out. I don’t know why. Maybe because we were from the Philippines. They asked about food and I’m not ever going to lie to those people. To get caught can get dicey and besides, I’m a Federal Government employee. We are expected to be honest (it can be grounds for dismissal from your job, laxly enforced nowadays), although we all know that many are not. The paper customs declaration had asked if we had food. The on screen one didn’t. I checked the food box on the paper one, so I think they spotted that and asked to look our stuff over.
There are certain items that are banned from entering the US. I know most of them, but something can always come up that I don’t know about, something recent. I had checked the US Customs website while in Cebu and figured we didn’t have anything questionable except some pork. In the pork and beans. But I knew that small amounts of processed pork, or a little bit of cooked pork (like bacon) is OK. I was right up front with them, telling them I had canned pork and beans in the luggage, plus other processed foods like dried fruit and granola. Once they understood that, they put our items on the conveyor without a visual inspection. We got through immediately with a smile from the agents. It pays to be up front and honest with US Customs. They know instantly if you are lying, and if they can be bribed, it would take one helluva lot more money than I’ve got.
They didn’t even ask about alcohol. Each person is allowed a 5th. We were well under that.Because of all of this, Asiana only checked our luggage to Seattle. So, we had to haul it upstairs to the ticket counter and re-check it. Come to find out Alaska Air had a luggage counter downstairs just past customs that we missed. Oh well.Back through security and time for more waiting. Noon. Our flight to Boise connecting to Lewiston left at 4:30pm. So five hours in Seattle. We ate a little lunch and hung around. Praxy got into a little adventure, you can ask her about it. Hilarious. Funny things happen when you are exhausted.The trip from Seattle to Lewiston takes three hours and was uneventful. I sure hope that Horizon Air reinstates the late afternoon flight direct from Seattle to Lewiston. I know exactly why they changed their schedule to it’s current mess (former employee here). It’s for marketing the Seattle and Boise flights in a way that “saves” them money. I doubt if it works. The flight from Seattle to Boise was full. 16 people from Boise to Lewiston. Looked like five or six on to Seattle. It doesn’t look to me like their plan is working quite as they had planned. Many people are now driving to Spokane, we almost did that. Oops!Two quick stops for groceries and gasoline in Clarkston, then on home arriving at 9:30pm or so. Now we are 27 hours to Seattle, plus another 9 1/2 while in the USA including Customs. That makes thirty six and 1/2. Plus 2 1/2 hours until midnight makes a 39 hour day. Yup. Because of the international dateline, we spent 36 1/2 hours on January 25th getting home. We cheated a bit and missed the last hour. Bedtime at 11pm. Thirty eight total. For myself, I got about 2 hours of sleep in that time. Praxy slept more, but was ill with her head cold.Praxy slept the clock around plus three more hours. I was up at 9am. It’s now Friday and I’ve got my internal clock now set to Pacific standard time. It took three nights. 10 am and my sweet wife is still asleep after being awake in the middle of the night. It takes her about a week to adjust.That’s about it for this trip. I usually end up with another post as I come across things that I missed. Ulp, here’s one.
Google says there are almost 1000 types of bananas in the world divided into 50 or so groups. This is a red one that I tried while in Asgad. I wished there had been more than two, one for Praxy and one for me. Delicious.
I must have eaten twenty different kinds while in the Philippines. This one was second best tasting. Sweet and firm. Many are sour or have a weird texture. Some, plantains, are not sweet at all and could be a potato substitute. One of the sweet harder ones makes up the banana-que that you see on street corners. If cooked right, yummy! Rolled in brown sugar and roasted over charcoal. Something you just can’t find in the US.So, what’s next? We’re talking about it already. Maybe to the Philippines next December but I doubt it. My annual leave is getting a little short for a two month trip and one a month trip, given the logistics, is out. We are toying with visiting one of Praxy’s friends in Australia near Melbourne. If the airfare comes in right, I think a month there could be a go. Looking for $1200 out of Spokane to pull the trigger on that one. Right now $1400-$1800. Closely watching fare sales already. Too early to book November and December 2016 anyway.And I have a daughter that is thinking about marriage in the summer of 2017. When she firms up her plans, I’ll make mine. Might have to save up some money for that! And I’ve about forgotten what a full winter of snow and rain is like. Darn.My sisters both have told me they’ve enjoyed following another one of their brother’s crazy adventures. I hope everyone else has enjoyed it as well.Traveling the Philippines is not for the squeamish or faint of heart. For those, blogs like this are the best way to get a peek at it. Most “adventure” and “tourist” sites give only the positives of traveling. The Philippines or anywhere else for that matter. Beaches, food, sun, glamour. That’s the Philippines, right? Well, I try to show the real deal. What it’s really like from a foreigner’s perspective. Beaches, food, sun, and glamour all right. PLUS…Heat, humidity, and rain. The complicated logistics of traveling around an island nation. Friends, family, and fun. Hard work and frustration with the system. The rewards of generosity from abroad; new houses, medical clinics, agriculture buildings, and town halls; and our more modest donations of books, OTC drugs, and piglets to people who can’t even imagine affording any of those. Birthdays, holidays, lazy days. How a pudgy, balding, sweaty, “cano” struggles to adapt to an environment totally unlike his permanent home in the good ole US of A.Been fun. Unless I think of something else, see you on my next adventure!11:15am 1/29/2016 Pomeroy, Washington, USA