Sent Off In Style

Remember how I said in an earlier post that Filipinos will use a motorbike for just about anything?

Well, when my wife and I flew back out of the Philippines, we had to leave through Clark Air Base, since that’s where we arrived at. We spent most of our stay in Antipolo and had to commute back to Pampanga for our flight. The original plan was to leave Antipolo the day before, spend the night in Pampanga and then head back to the airport the next day. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to leave Antipolo though, so we wound up leaving the morning of our flight.

Our trip back to Pampanga was a bit hectic. We stopped by my brother-in-law’s restaurant to have a meal first and then we headed to Manila. Before leaving Manila we had to stop by POEA. That’s the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, or in other words, another place to get slammed by senseless fees. We had a bit of baggage with us, so my wife deposited me at the nearest Starbucks, told me to have a coffee and surf the net on my laptop and then disappeared for a while. I think she knew I would have fun surfing the net on my own laptop for the first time in 8 days and she probably didn’t want me in the POEA. If I were there, they might have tried to hit her with more fees, just because, and then I would get pissed off, and it would have led to me making a scene and being aggravated for the rest of the day.

After that we had to find our way to a bus terminal. So, we jumped in a cab. Unfortunately, the cab deposited us at a bus terminal that only had routes going in the opposite direction from where we wanted to go, so we had to do some walking. It was hot that day, and we wound up being a little toasted by the sun while we trudged up the street. Luckily, a bus going to Pampanga happened to be stopped on the side of the road, trying to pull in more passengers before it hit the highway. We hopped on and relaxed.

By this time, we were counting the hours. We weren’t sure we were going to make it on time. The bus was kind of puttering around too, stopping everywhere to find more passengers and we started to get nervous, but once we hit the highway this guy’s foot turned to lead. He laid on the horn and tailgated people to get them out of his way and we reached Angeles City in a short 55 minutes.

Now, it was time for another headache. When we got off at Angeles City we realized we didn’t remember exactly how to get back to my father-in-law’s house so we could get the rest of our baggage and freshen up a bit. After a furious texting session, we finally gave up on outside help and took our chances. We hopped onto a Jeepney that deposited us at what looked like a Jeepney terminal. Then we just asked around until someone pointed us in the right direction. The ride on the 2nd Jeepney was a bit long, and we were nervous because we weren’t sure we were going the right way, but eventually we saw things that looked familiar and we got off in the right place. A short tricycle ride later and we were at my father-in-law’s house.

So, the hard part should be over right? Well, not quite. The yard is walled and the gate was locked. My father-in-law wasn’t answering his phone, so we wound up leaning up against the wall by the house, yelling for him. We knew he was there, since the house’s windows were open and the gate was locked from the inside. I was about to look for a place to climb the wall when we heard him call out from inside the house that he was coming. Turns out he caught a cold and was laid up in bed, passed out.

Once we got in we packed our things together and then took showers. Yup! Showers! We got to enjoy the first pay-off of fronting the money to have the water connection hooked up! The water was cool, which was refreshing on a hot day. I prefer hot showers usually, but anything is preferable to dragging water in from the well and washing out of a bucket. In Asia, “central” anything is rare. As in, there’s no central A/C. There’s no need for central heating of course. Also, there’s no central water heater. The only place you usually get hot water is in the showers, and that’s only if you spend extra cash on a wall mounted water heating unit.

So, after we freshened up, we began our journey to the airport at Clark Air Base, accompanied by my father-in-law, who wanted to see us off. My mother-in-law was still on her way from Manila and said she would catch up with us at the airport. So, how did we get from the house in Pampanga to Clark? Here’s where the motorbike comes in. Part of our trip was on a modified motorbike that had a frame built around it, including a passenger area/cargo area in the back. I was amused, and impressed, by the owner’s ingenuity.

On the trip, I had the pleasure of seeing this pigs riding in the sidecar of another motorbike (which I also showed in Part 9).

The ride in the modified motorbike was fun, but it was incredibly slow. By the time it dropped us off outside the main gate to Clark Air Base, I was almost sure we’d rode all the way back to Antipolo. Outside the gate, we had one more Jeepney ride to go before we made it to the terminal.

We went ahead and checked in as soon as we got there. We arrived at 7:30 PM, and check-in had started at 7:00 PM. Afterward, we came back out and talked for a while and waited around for my wife’s mom. She must have gotten hung up in traffic though, because at 7:55 PM we gave up and went inside to finish the check in process and move to the departure gate area. We didn’t want to risk missing our flight. We wound up saying our goodbyes to her over the phone. She arrived at the terminal at about 8:05 PM, but by then we’d already gone through immigration.

Arriving in the Philippines

Arriving in the Philippines was a much better experience for us this time. We flew into Clark Airbase in Pampanga province. The airport is small. There isn’t even an enclosed walkway from the plane to the terminal. You have to do it the old old fashioned way and walk down a flight of portable stairs onto the tarmac and then walk to the terminal.

Coming down those stairs reminded me of the flights I’ve taken into military bases in Kuwait and the US, like Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia, Biggs Army Air Field in Texas, Balad in Iraq, and the landing area for military flights at Kuwait International, near Camp Wolf. I don’t think that last one had any special name. It’s not really surprising that the disembarking process at Clark reminded me of those places, though, because Clark Air Base used to be a US Air Force installation. The buildings all had that cheap US military look and feel to them, but at least they were clean and in good repair, which is more than I can say for NAIA in Manila. That place is a dump. (Can you feel the love?)

It didn’t take long before I was reminded that I was in fact in the Philippines again. Before I had even made it past the exit doors I was assaulted by a barrage of “Hey, sir! Hey, sir! Taxi sir?!” Sometimes there’s so many of them, or they’re so insistent, that it’s hard to ignore them, but ignoring them is generally what I try to do. One thing I’ve discovered about the Philippines from past trips is that if you’re a foreigner, you will be ripped off if you don’t have a local to do your shopping for you. That doesn’t apply to major stores or franchise-type grocery stores, because they have set prices, but any stall or stand in the street is likely to try to stick you for extra cash. Filipinos have the mentality that if you’re from overseas you must have money to waste. One example of that I can give is a guy that tried to charge me 50 PHP for a pack of Marlboros, when the 7-11 around the corner was only charging 38. Who’s that guy trying to fool?

Leaving Clark Airbase was an event in itself. My wife’s parents met us at the exit area for the airport and after the formalities we moved around to the side of the building to try to get a taxi to their house in Porac, Pampanga province. At any airport you’re likely to get ripped off on cab fare, but I was shocked at the price. We weren’t even going that far from the airport, but the driver wanted 650 PHP (only 13.36 USD but very very high for the Philippines). My wife’s mom tried to haggle with the taxi coordinator, but it wasn’t working. Even so, she kept badgering the poor guy until the cab actually arrived. Neither one of them wanted to budge and in the end we wound up paying the full 650 PHP. At least the taxi justified the price. It was the size of a Jeepney, but closed in like an FX, and the air conditioning was cold. There was plenty of room for everyone and our luggage too.

The ride fromt he airport to my in-law’s house was a lot different from riding from NAIA to their house in Antipolo. Pampanga is a provincial area, so it had more of a country feel to it. Also, it looked a lot more poor than areas closer to Manila, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. We went through part of Angeles City and it reminded me of a big Antipolo.

The apartment we stayed at is in a residential area in Porac. I think the neighborhood is called Santa Cruz. The nearest city area is Angeles City. It has a mall, a movie theater, McDonald’s, Jollibee, and the typical convenience stores, food stalls, and general goods stores. Also, there are plenty of street vendors selling everything from fruit to whole roasted chickens.