Delightful Philippines – 25 Surprises on Our Way from El Nido (Palawan) to Hotel and Camera Store in Manila
Our last morning in El Nido on remote Palawan island. That bay view! But at 1 pm we'll fly to Manila where on the same afternoon I want to change a bulk of money, then buy a certain compact camera. I've already called Kameraworld in Robinsons,
Manila-Malate, and they promised to keep one desired unit for me. That had been…
Surprise 1: US online stores advertise this camera model for 300 USD (without tax?), in Euroland it's 260 Euro (385 USD). But Kameraworld needs 25,000 pesos – 625 USD.
On our last morning in El Nido, we decide to try the new coffee shop at the end of Calle Hama. So from the El Nido Beach Hotel, we stroll down the village lane.
Surprise 2: All tables and chairs in the coffee shop are covered with sand, snorkels and fins.
We walk on to the El Nido Boutique & Art Café, the local traveler headquarters (see later write-up about El Nido). I decide to try their banana shake.
Surprise 3: The banana shake in this Swiss-run, foreigner-oriented place is done with liters of sweet milk. Yukk.
A lady from El Nido Boutique's ticket counter approaches us. The day before, we had bought our air tickets to Manila from her. Actually, she knows us very well because we had also booked three boating day trips with her. When she issued the air tickets she had written down our names from memory, and she had written down my phone number.
Surprise 4: The ticket lady says we should hurry to the airport early because this morning ITI would run several airplanes at the same time and might have some difficulties.
Why didn't she call us before? We rush to the hotel and Nahlee starts packing our stuff according to the difficult luggage regulations (see write-up about flying 19 seaters) and I fire up the laptop. The night before in the internet shop I had discovered new small camera stores and I still want to phone them if they have the desired model cheaper than Kameraworld. Like every morning, El Nido and our 82 USD hotel room have no electricity, so the shlepper runs on a half-empty battery. I open the htm file from the USB stick and phone down ten cheap camera shops around Manila's Hidalgo Street in the Quiapo market district.
Surprise 5: nine shops don't have the wanted model, but WhatsOn Cameras sells it – for only 20,000 pesos (500 USD).
They promise to keep me a box, but: "Today is Saturday, we close at 6.30 pm, and we are closed on Sundays, sir!" I have no urge to stay more than one night in Manila, but 6.30 pm seems doable, as we'd arrive in Manila airport around 2.15 pm. But we have to change money before going to the shop. At this time point my laptop battery is empty, and so is the deposit on my Smart Buddy SIM card.
No surprise 1: Nahlee has done a perfect packing job, so we check out.
Surprise 6: A tricycle (tuktuk) awaits us at the hotel door; the door boy had sold off our departure information.
Of course we stop down another tricycle. Immediately he shoves an old lady out of the cabin and agrees to the airport trip. The price is a high, fixed 150 pesos per vehicle (3,75 USD, 10 km).
Surprise 7: On its luggage board, our tricycle has an oily steel canister. We refuse to put our luggage there. "No problem", insists the driver, "it's very clean". Nahlee checks the canister with her finger.
No surprise 2: Nahlee's finger gets oily black.
Now the tricycle guy takes away the canister and shoves it in front of the old lady, who still stands on the street not knowing what to do. Rid of lady and canister, the tricycle driver cranks up the hip hop rhythm from his on-board ghettoblaster and off we bounce to the airport.
Surprise 8: We arrive early at the airport shack but still get on a plane that leaves at least half an hour later than promised, at 1.30. The cam shop closes at 6.30. I sense difficulties on the horizon.
As it's an ITI charter plane, mostly catering to customers of the hi-end El Nido Resorts, in Manila airport we don't get to the usual arrival area. Instead we walk out in a special El Nido Resorts corner. It's soothingly quiet, but there are only two car taxis waiting which get taken by other tourists. So we shlep 50 meters to the main road where another taxi is soon flagged down.
"We go to Ermita, City Garden Hotel."
"Oh yes, City Garden, ok."
No surprise 3: He refuses to use the meter, but the fixed price of 100 pesos (2,5 USD) is acceptable.
Surprise 9, no, actually, maybe not a surprise: The car makes very strange sounds and only proceeds with intermediate jumps and jolts.
Surprise 9 proper: In the Ermita district, the taxi slows down and the driver says, "please show me the way to the hotel".
"What? You told me you know the place!"
I have never been to this area or hotel, but can check the map in the guide book.
"You have to drive left here."
Surprise 10: "There is the Lotus Garden Hotel, sir, would you like to stop there?"
At a snail's pace and without much orientation we creep through trashy Ermita. At one point the driver enters a wrong road and then has to use the rear gear for a frightening 100 meters against the traffic of speeding jeepneys and taxis.
Surprise 11: The driver stops, leaves the car and asks dirty homeless street sleepers for City Garden Hotel. After which the slimy family gathers around the rear windows and demands cash from us. I don't find the knob to lock the door. The driver has to do a U-turn on the busy road whereupon other street people assist unasked.
No surprise 4: The grubby street people who motioned their hands while we U-turned now block the car, line up besides my rear window and demand money.
At 3.40 pm, guidebook in hand, I've finally barked the driver to City Garden Hotel. I had told this mid-midrange hotel that we would arrive at 4 pm, so maybe at the reception it really comes as no –
Surprise 12: "Your room will be ready in five or ten minutes."
No surprise 5: It takes 20 minutes until the room is done.
First I lean back in the lobby chair.
Surprise 13: Suddenly on the piano next to me a guy in white jacket starts playing.
No surprise 6: The piano is horribly out of tune.
No surprise 7: The piano guy plays horribly wrong to boot.
This drives me to the street to buy a phone card. I sense that finding the camera store in the busy market area of Hidalgo Street in bustling Quiapo district at rush hour time is too much now. The taxi might get stuck. We might get lost. And we still have to change money first. Sure the shop will bring the cam to the hotel lobby for a fee. But from the lobby, waiting for our room to be mopped, I can't call the camera store for hotel delivery because the store's number is only on the laptop with the empty battery.
Surprise 14: Parts of our hotel room's wood floor are covered with a glibbery liquid that has to be wiped away to prevent accidents.
Surprise 15: The only reachable power plug in this grotty "deluxe" room (80 USD) is in the bathroom. Between sink and tub I fire up the laptop and call WhatsOn Cameras.
Surprise 16: "We don't *deliver*, sir!" As if had asked something indecent. At least she gives me some vague ideas how to find the store. Their street is not on the EZ map.
Down to the street, we need heaps of pesos first. (El Nido had had no banking whatsoever).
Surprise 17: There's strings of money changers, but they are all closed.
Surprise 18: Upon closer inspection, one small money changer is open. His rates are reasonable.
With tons of paper money around my waist, I ask a cab to take us to the Hidalgo Street area, stopping at the SM Carriedo mall.
No surprise 8: He won't use the meter, but demands a flat 200 pesos (5 USD). Crazy.
I flag down another white Toyota. He agrees to take us to Quiapo.
"You use the meter", I ask?
Surprise 19: "Yes."
Surprise 20: After 20 meters the car stops. The driver turns around and angrily shouts at me in the back: "The roads are too full! Can't take you to Quiapo for meter fare. You'd need a JEEEEP!" We jump out in fear.
Surprise 21: The next taxi agrees to a flat 100 pesos fare (2,5 USD).
Surprise 22: The roads are empty all the way until –
Surprise 23: We stop 500 meters short of SM Carriedo mall, "because one-way street, can't go more, sir". At least by now we gather that we would reach the shop in time. Let's hope they keep the cam.
No surprise 9: Finding the store is quite difficult, especially as the directions they had given by phone are more confusing than helpful.
No surprise 10: The shop is crammed with people; attention gets only who slams himself in pole position and barks for attention.
Surprise 24: Hans slams himself in pole position and barks for attention. And there comes the cam! She opens the box for inspection without being asked for that. Test shots prove all's fine. On top of the cam I also buy a 2 GB memory card.
We walk to the door.
Surprise 25: The sales lady calls us back. We get a camera bag and a 1 GB memory card for free.
Until you mentioned it 2/3 of the way through the story I was thinking, "why don't you just get them to deliver it to the hotel". That's one good thing about Thailand – many stores and vendors will do all they can to make the purchase easy and if you are certain that you're going to buy something, they will deliver it at minimal cost!