I punched most of this up as I was killing many hours in Manila airport.
The journey to Boracay
To get to Boracay, you fly into Manilla airport first. I can positively say that this is the worst airport I’ve ever been through. It’s an unbelievably disorganized shit-hole. The airport has four terminals, and they’re scattered all over the place. It’s obvious that zero planning went into it as it expanded.
When the plane landed in Manilla, I immediately became happy as the tropical heat blew through my clothes. Yes. This is what I came here for. A destination that involved nothing but t-shirts, swimming pants, flip-flops, and chilling out.
My friend and I looked around and saw a guy standing there looking like he had some important official function at the airport. I walked up and asked where we should go. We were flying with Philippine Airlines but we had to re-check our bags, get boarding passes, and go through security again. The friendly Filipino sent us on our way, and we walked to the terminal.
I have excellent orientation skills, and I always manage to instantly find my way around any place, but Manila Airport completely managed to stump me.
On the way to the terminal, a small army of people tried to get us into taxis. A security guard there stopped us and told us we had to go somewhere else. It was almost as if he protected us from getting into a random taxi. We followed his instructions, walked up a flight of stairs, and ran into another security guy. He gave us yet another set of instructions, and off we went again. After passing the taxi people again, we arrived at the place he told us to go, only coming to the realization that we were were standing in the spot we started out. We asked the first guy again, and he mentioned a bus for terminal 3.
We went to the buses, and sat down. The guy in charge of making things work over there, asked us where we were going. We told him Kalibo. He again sent us to the terminal where the security guard was who told us to go to the buses. My friend started walking there again, and I followed under protest, arguing that this will lead to the same outcome. And indeed it did. We got sent back to the bus terminal again and told the guy there we were going to terminal 3, and that was that.
It took about an hour before the bus arrived. There’s no rush for anything in the Philippines. I didn’t recognize the manufacturer of the bus, but it had a fake Mercedes badge on the font grille. They call these things Jeepneys, as they are made from parts of old Jeeps from World War II. The technology was rudimentary, and the bus bounced around harshly, accelerated in a stuttering kind of way, and smelled like diesel and motor oil.
The ride was slow, but it was interesting. At one point, the bus actually drove over the runway. We passed several hangars, some with very crummy-looking planes in them. We passed some collapsed buildings and a couple of workshops with a bunch of random shit lying around that was rusting away. There were a couple buildings around the runways that were either getting torn-down or built, I couldn’t tell. A 747 taxied right by us as the bus rolled down the runway. It was a pretty surreal experience. Several huge hotels loomed in the smoggy distance.
The first stop was terminal 4, and it was small. This was the terminal for domestic budget flights. Planes were parked out in front, and people were getting in with staircases on the runway. It looked more like a bus station than an airport.
After a while, the bus drove on, and we finally arrived at terminal 3. At this point, four hours had passed. It turned out we actually needed the 6-hour layover to get to the right terminal. They had an old X-ray machine that had a CRT monitor, and metal detector gates. I didn’t have to take my shoes off or take my laptop out of my bag. Just put in all in a big pile through the X-ray machine and walk on. The woman working the X-ray machine was just sitting there without really paying attention to the screen.
The security man and woman standing next to the metal detector gate were laughing about something when I walked through. I stopped an stood in the right place to get the usual pat-down, but the guy just tapped me on my back with his flashlight, signaling I could move on. He didn’t even look at me or interrupted his current conversation. No one really seemed to give much of a shit who or what came through there. The complete lack of interest on their part amused me.
When we finally arrived at the correct gate, we sat down to grab a bite, and I inquired my friend about the bus ride he mentioned after we land in Kalibo, the next stop.
“So, how long is the bus ride?”
“About two hours.”
“Yeah. I could had booked another flight that was closer the island, but that was 50 bucks more expensive.”
“Show me where that airport is.”
He pulled up Google Maps and showed it to me. The other airport was right next to Boracay.
Still tired and pretty miserable from the massive jet-lag and the sweaty, crowded, smelly chaos of getting to goddamn terminal 3, I wanted to kick the guy’s ass when I saw that map. Anyone in their right mind would gladly shave off two hours of travel time for fifty bucks, especially if it avoids having to ride a bus for two hours in a third world country. Since we also still had to buy bus tickets, we were probably talking about maybe a $25 difference.
Then the flight got delayed.
Terminal 3 was packed and hot, and every thirty seconds (I started timing it because I got bored) an announcement was made through a cranked, busted PA system that tore everyone’s eardrums apart. It was maddening. When we finally got on the plane after sitting around for another five hours, it sat parked on the runway for an additional two hours before it finally took off.
The reason for this delay: a high-ranking politician had decided to make an unplanned visit to the airport we needed to go to.
The last little bit of sunlight gave us a glimpse of the vast slums around Manila Airport as the plane took off. The flight itself took about two hours.
Getting from Kalibo to Boracay
As we walked out of the tiny airport of Kalibo, we had to wade through a small army of cab drivers and tricycle-taxis to get to the bus reception desk.
The bus that would take us to the port turned out to be fully booked, which meant we had to take a cab. We picked one of the few that had a halfway-decent looking car: a white Toyota that was relatively new, but looked worse for wear. Our cabbie was named Victor, a man in his fifties with leathery skin and salt-and-pepper spiky hair. He agreed to take the our fare for a 1000 Pesos, the equivalent of about 20 bucks. Not bad for a 75-minute cab ride. He promised with pride and a smile that we’d get there before the tour buses would. After he finished smoking his cigarette, we got in, and started our drive.
Within five minutes I learned why the car looked rough, and I found a newfound respect for Japanese engineering.
Victor drove like it like a getaway car after robbing a bank. He threw it violently into corners, overtook buses through blind corners, and barreled down unlit roads at 70 miles an hour. His range of emotions didn’t seem to include “fear” nor “responsibility”. I heard the tires squeal when he hit a particularly nasty corner while going down a steep hill in the black of night.
The constant adrenaline rush from the ride instantly relieved us of any lethargy from the almost 10 miserable hours at Manilla’s absolutely worthless airport (I can’t say this enough: this airport really, really sucks).
This being the first time ever visiting a third-world country, I was taken aback by some of the things I saw along the way. In the black of night along barely-lit streets were stray dogs everywhere, very young-looking hookers walking the street, bony men pushing overloaded carts filled with all kinds of random garbage around, beat to shit rusty pick-up trucks with at least ten people in the back, half-collapsed shacks that served as houses or storefronts (most of them deprived of electricity)… this was definitely a far-cry from the world I knew and grew up in. It almost felt wrong in a way to come here for a good time in the form of mindless sunbathing and drinking. Then again, tourism contributes greatly to the economy here, so it is what it is.
After less than 75 riveting minutes just like Victor promised, we arrived at the boat station that would take us to Boracay.
About thirty tourists, mostly Koreans and a handful of Australians, were waiting for the ferry. As it turned out, there were several different ferries going to different places. The complete lack of organization behind it was impressive. How anyone ended up in the right ferry is still amazing to me, but somehow everyone did.
Our boat was a real piece of shit: a worn-out steel vessel with at least twenty layers of paint, powered by a two-stroke diesel motor in the middle. The prop axle made the entire boat vibrate as the captain hit the throttle.
We were sitting all the way in the back behind a family of friendly Filipinos. As I made eye contact, the woman wildly gestured to warn me to pick up my bag that was on the floor, as the boat was flooded with at least three inches of water.
Everyone seemed relieved when we docked on Boracay Island, including the locals. A ten minute tricycle-taxi ride took us to our hotel, and that was that. We had finally arrived.
Find the full photo essay on Boracay here. Be sure to check it out, as it is Hugh Mungus.