I’m out of practice. I forgot what it was like to have a long travel day; planes, buses, taxis, negotiating the unknown on your own. Getting to your desired travel destination can be like running in a travel obstacle course! Granted, I think I am pretty skilled at this, but it’s been about 6 months since I put myself through this kind of travel obstacle course. I’ve been safely living in Vietnam taking little side trips to Singapore and southern Vietnam. However, I was now leaving on an unplanned adventure in the Philippines; I had to dust off my travel skills again.
I left HCMC this morning with the standard crazy ride to the airport in my little taxi surrounded by motorbikes, bicycles, walkers, vendors; the general craziness of a semi-developed country’s transportation. My flight to the Philippines went rather smoothly and I was excited to get yet another new stamp on my passport. I love coming into new countries, you never really know what to expect and everything is new. I was surprised that such a huge airport had so few people working in immigration and even less people working in baggage! I waited about 40 minutes for my bag to arrive on the belt. When I stepped outside the terminal I was hit with a blast of hot, sticky air welcoming me to this island nation.
After a shuttle ride to the wrong terminal, an unsuccessful quest to find an ATM that wouldn’t spit out my Debit Mastercard (ultimately I had to solve this at the money exchange), and finally a taxi ride into Manilla, I completed my first leg. My family from Singapore were in Manilla for a week for a softball tournament. (yeah, I used to think it was a big deal to travel outside of Peoria for a softball tournament when I was a kid – my nieces were crossing international borders!) I had a small reprieve for about 6 hours while I saw my family and repacked my bag for my trekking in the northern Philippines After a shower and proper dinner of pizza and donuts, I was off for leg #2 – a 10 hour overnight bus ride to Banaue.
The next obstacle is getting to the bus station and hoping that they have me down for a seat based on the phone reservation I made a couple of weeks ago. As with most countries, bus terminals are never located in good parts of town. Then again, I’m unsure where the good parts of town are in Manilla as it’s a good idea to be on your guard the whole time as with any big city. I paid more to take a car from the hotel that night at 9PM to the bus terminal in fear of being lost in a bad part of town, or being taken advantage of by a unscrupulous taxi driver.
The one thing I hate about arriving in a country for the first time is the fear that envelopes me. Prior to your trip, there is no shortage of people/things trying to warn you. All of the pre-reading you do, all of the people you meet will always remind you of how much peril you are in when you arrive at a city like Manilla….or Bangkok, or Saigon, or Rio, or Lima, or New York City, or PLACE NAME OF LARGE, DIVERSE CITY HERE. I am aware that they are trying to simply warn you, trying to ensure that you don’t get taken advantage of, or have items stolen, or be kidnapped, or PLACE NAME OF SCARY THEFT SITUATION HERE. However, I hate these warnings, mainly because they tend to make me over-worry about things that I really don’t need to worry about. In short, when I hear about the story of someone being taken to a far off destination by their taxi driver and had all of their items stolen and left in the middle of nowhere, I’m freaked out. Who wouldn’t be; especially when you are a female traveling solo. This causes me to enter a new location with so much trepidation that I smell like fear. I make decisions that aren’t necessarily economical, instead they are expensive but safe. This continues until I settle into a place and get to know the ‘lay of the land’, the culture and what I, Sherry, really need to worry about. Then I relax and start actually enjoying the place.
After realizing that the bus station wasn’t the scary ghetto that I had imagined in my mind, I settled into my seat on the bus and prepared for my 10 hour journey with a few Dramamine, a blanket, pillow, and my ipod. Within a bout 10 minutes I was asleep. It was restless, wake-up-every-hour sleep, but it was sleep. I arrived at my destination, Banuae 5 minutes after I woke up at 8AM. Being ushered of the bus as I was wiping sleep out of my eyes was quite a wake up call.
The moment I stepped off the bus I was bombarded by men asking me questions, “Are you alone?”, “Do you want to see the rice terraces”, “Where you go?”, “What’s your name?”, “Where do you stay?”….this was one question too many for me in the morning right after waking up from an unfitful sleep. I gave them all a mean stare and walked away so that I could have a second of peace and try to figure out where I could go get a cup of coffee. Questions in the morning are bad…really bad…they make me angry….I need time to wake up and I certainly don’t need to be asked if I’m alone the first thing after I wake up; living in Asia as a single female is the epitome of being alone.
After I got my cup of instant coffee (yuk – but I’ll take what I can get) and had some eggs and greasy ham, I was feeling a bit more in the mood to talk and answer questions about my solo travel. I had my trip to plan after all, so I had to get moving. I had come to Banuae, small mountain town of 2,000 people and an Unesco World Heritage Site, for 4 days with absolutely no plans, no place to stay, and no idea of an itinerary. All I knew is that I wanted fresh air, green mountains, and trekking. It was a long journey here, but now the fun was about to begin!