Merry Christmas from the Philippines! Our flight arrived in Manila from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the pre dawn hours of Christmas morning after a few sleepy hours on the plane. We had several hours to kill before we connected to Puerto Princessa, our final stop of the day, and it's a good thing we did!
For starters, the line to clear customs was long, mildly disorganized and very slow moving. Very frustrating at 4:45 am when your flight only had 30 people on it. Once we got through and had our bags we looked for our connecting airline check in desk in vain for about 10 minutes before being advised that we were in the wrong terminal. No worries, "where is the shuttle or train to get to the other terminal". Audible laugh. "There is a shuttle but you are better off taking a cab".
We made our way back downstairs and out to the shuttle stop where we were advised that the shuttle doesn't run until 6:00am and then would only leave when it was full. "You're better off taking a cab" he advised.
We walked down to the taxi que where we waited in the slowest, least efficient taxi line I have ever seen. There were only about 20 people in line and there were at least 35 cabs lined up...but the way the thing was run left us standing and waiting for what seemed an eternity as one guy simultaneously tried to manage the line of people, the taxis, and fiddle with the pieces of paper that he insisted in writing each passenger's name on. It seems no transportation que is complete in the Philippines without at least one seemingly worthless piece of paper.
Finally, we were in the cab and asked our driver to take us to Terminal 2 to which he snarfed an audible displeasure at what would be a smaller than ideal taxi fare. When I asked him why there wasn't a train or something to take instead like most major international airports have he chuckled "Not here! Welcome to the Philippines." Welcome, indeed.
Finally we arrived in Terminal 2 and checked in without incident except for having to pay the 200 peso "terminal usage fee" and then surrender my boarding pass to a security guard woman for apparent safe keeping when I went out of the terminal for 2 minutes to search for food. Predictably she made an error when I returned with my numbered key chain to claim my boarding pass and gave me somebody else's, which is why having people give someone else their boarding pass is a bad idea.
Now, I am a patient person and have traveled enough to know that patience caps and deep breathing are required items when you travel particularly in this part of the world but I hadn't slept much and found myself coming to the end of my rope by the time we mercifully were allowed through security and found our gate.
In 50 minutes airtime from Manila you can be in Puerto Princessa on the relatively desolate island of Palawan and so we were. I was slowly but effectively blocked out from my prime position at the baggage claim, but luckily I was able to keep an eye as the bags came through since (for once) I find myself to be on the "tall" end of the spectrum. It didn't help much when I tried to squeeze back to my original position to claim our bags. The dudes might as well been Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard the way they skillfully blocked my out. So, I missed the bags as they went around once and disappeared back out as the belt went around. Round 2 came and I stopped playing nice...
As we exited the terminal we saw a sign for our hotel Being waved by one of the dozen drivers that were there waiting for guests. We identified ourselves and were quickly whisked to the parking lot where we were loaded into an air- conditioned mini van where we were asked to wait while he collected other guests. No problemo. When we got into the van there were at least 20 other vans in the lot. Slowly they loaded up and departed including at least 1 other van that was logoed with our hotels logo. Eventually we found ourselves sitting in the literal last van in the lot and only then did we see our driver mosey casually back into the parking lot and back to the van...by himself.
On the way to the hotel we took a brief detour to "make a quick stop to pick up some newspapers" from a dilapidated building on a dirt alleyway behind some warehouse type buildings. So random.
Finally we got to the nice hotel we'd sprung for as treat for Christmas and got settled in, had some lunch and hit the nice pool for a little swim and sunshine. Unfortunately it was the last of the sun we were to see during our time in Puerto Pricessa. We had one awful 'sushi' dinner, one really good fresh grilled fish dinner and saw a pretty funny cover band play at the main bar in town. Otherwise the crappy weather prevented us from doing much more then just laying low and counting the hours till the rest of the gang showed up and the real holiday shenanigans began...