Thursday, March 8, 2012

Travel Thursdays: Welcome to the Philippines! You Didn't Really Need Your Luggage, Right?

Welcome to Travel Thursdays! Partially inspired by the many trips we've taken and have yet to babble on about, and partially inspired by Emily's genius and super awesome new blog (go check it out!), Nat and I have decided that we'd like to use Thursdays to discuss all things travel. Because we like it that much and think it deserves a little more attention in our colorful little corner here.

The very first thing I learned on this trip is that if you are ever traveling through China, you really should figure out what you should and should not do when traveling through China.

For example: You should look into whether or not you need a visa for your layover. You should not just wing it. You should insist on getting your boarding passes for each leg of the flight when you check in at your initial airport (thanks for nothing, unfriendly Air France lady at Tegel). You should not tell yourself, "Well the line is so long behind us, let's just go to the plane. I'm sure it will work out fine!"

It's like he knew it wouldn't just be fine...

Thankfully, I was traveling with a smart dude who decided that we should ask again at the Air France counter in Paris (our first of two layovers) about this whole getting-through-China-without-a-visa thing. And, to no one's real surprise, their response was, of course, "if you don't have a boarding pass all the way through, you need to exit, get your bags, and then check in again. For that you need a visa." After a long time of him talking to multiple workers and me sitting on the sidelines pretending to read but secretly freaking out a little bit, the "visa expert" at the gate finally printed out our final boarding passes from Guangzhou to Manila and said, "oh yes, I took care of that" when asked if our bags would be checked all the way through too.

Next lesson: You should not ever believe that your bags will arrive where they are supposed to unless you actually see someone physically putting a new sticker on your bags.

By this point we were just happy that we were going to make it to Manila and not be sent home by the Chinese customs authorities, so we were pretty resigned to the fact that we would not be seeing our bags anytime soon. It's good to mentally prepared for things like that when traveling so as to prevent complete meltdowns upon arrival after 24 hours of flying. (Luckily, we also each  had extra clothes for one day in our carry-ons as well as the most essential toiletries - another one of Micha's smart dude moments.)

Needless to say, our bags did not arrive when we did and Mark, the helpful Manila airport worker who processed our lost baggage claim and gave us his cell phone number to follow up with, told us it was our fault (technically, it was stupid Air France lady at Tegel's fault, but whatever) and we would have to pick up the bags when they arrived (whenever that would be). After getting to our hotel (ok, I'll be honest: I did have a tiny meltdown at this point, but I now think that the tears had more to do with lack of sleep than lack of my backpack...) and not being able to change clothes (so pleasant!), we headed straight to the air conditioned mall to escape the lovely feeling that jeans (that you've already been wearing for a full day) give you when you walk around in a hot and sticky tropical climate.

Manila really is a fascinating city. Not one that you would ever want to spend a ton of time in, but fascinating to see nonetheless: I mean, it's rather poor and dirty, but there's an interesting mix of Asian, Spanish, and American influences to be seen everywhere; it's gritty but not dangerous - we saw so many families traveling with small children! - but the amount of creepy North American and European old men traveling alone with one purpose in mind isn't always the most pleasant sight when you're just trying to enjoy your (light with sugar added) beer and watch with a dumbstruck expression the chaotic mess of jeepneys, tricycles, and giant brand new SUVs that fight for every square inch of road space, pedestrians be damned!

Durians! The stinkiest fruit on earth that is strictly not allowed in hotels due to its permeating aroma.

The worst part about the ridiculous waste of plastic you see here, is that most people burn their own trash each evening. Including plastic. The smell is as enjoyable as you would imagine.

Someone's too big for the supermarket...

New high rises are slowly crowding out old (and quite) decrepit buildings in Malate.

The simplest version of the tricycle - with a bike attached (instead of a moped).

A jeepney up close (they orginally came about as people built them up/pimped them out from US military jeeps left over from WWII) and the mad moped rush to the front of an intersection.

The Philippines takes their security unbelievably seriously and we had to go through a security screening plus present our passports for inspection in order to receive a visitor's pass to enter the airport and pick up our lost luggage. Then we had to return the passes once we were done to ensure we didn't sell them to anyone looking to cause trouble.

Onwards and upwards! With bags finally in tow, it was time to head to Cebu...

And that's where we'll pick up next time. Pictures of pretty, pretty beaches will be included, I promise!

Most pictures by Micha, some by Nicole (usually the crooked ones).

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