Adventures With Dick – Boracay Toga
The ATR turbo-prop of Cebu Air slowly drifted down towards the airport at Boracay. Just as I was expecting the final nose-up flare of the plane, both engines spooled up to what I am guessing was full power and we pulled sharply upwards again …TOGA – Take Off and Go Around Filipino style! The little aircraft struggled to get a grip on the hot, humid air, a mere few feet above the ground. Finally the pilot seemed to have gotten control over the small bucking craft – thank God that there were very few passengers on board. I shudder to think what would have happened had we had a maximum payload. We then climbed back up into the Asian blue sky once again, providing the opportunity to view the impossibly white beaches of this Boracay paradise all over again.
I checked out to the window to see if I could ascertain what had caused this sudden and frightening experience, but could see none. A moment later I heard the whine and thud of the undercarriage descending, accompanied by the sound of the wind rushing through the gear – something I had not heard on our first approach!
We had been just a few feet away from making a spectacular gear-up belly flop landing on the small, but I am assuming rock-hard Caticlan runway, the airport for Boracay on an adjoining island. As I clung white-knuckled to the armrest, I recalled everybody telling me that Cebu Air as a very safe airline – after all nobody could remember them having a crash this year! As we taxied to a stop at the small terminal building, I made a mental note to myself, to never fly with them again – a vow that I could come to regret later … be careful what you wish for, you might just get it! A few minutes before this thrilling introduction to this tropical island paradise, I had been treated to an amazing aerial view of the famously white Boracay beaches and the incredibly warm cyan blue Subu Sea, images of which were now somewhat subdued by my thundering heart.
I looked back at my buddy Dick, a couple of rows back on the starboard side, but realised that he had not really taken this latest experience of, " … just another day in Paradise" on board. Spilling out over his lap was the bobbing head of long black hair of his conquest of the week – Marissa, who was now studiously practicing for the entrance exam to the Mile High Club with her hungry lips around his prop shaft. There were only a few other passengers, mostly seated up front and fortunately Dick and his eager pupil were seated furthest back.
As we disembarked from the plane and walked towards the terminal building, “Why the emergency TOGA?” I asked the Filipina co-pilot who was maybe 15. She was interrupted by the Pinay Captain, "a warning light, sir. Don’t worry, we will get it serviced".
"Bullshit" was my response, "you forgot to lower the landing gear"… all three wheels down – three green lights, right there on the dashboard. Probably the tower saw us coming in and warned you of no gear, Right?"
As he walked away, Captain Careful, turned and smiled back at me. I knew that stupid smile. That was the stupid smile of a happy guy who had managed to walk away from a potentially very serious accident. I had been on enough planes over the years to know when the gear is down!
The day had started early – too early, with the beeping of the alarm at 5:00am. Rousing a sleeping Filipina from her slumbers is not a task to be embarked on lightly, nor quickly, but finally Jules, a recent addition to my holiday horizontal athletics team, did eventually move, slowly becoming semi-comatose. Just then my phone rang – WTF its 5:00am? But it was Dick my buddy calling to make sure I was awake.
We all piled downstairs to the reception area of The Wild Orchid Resort in Angeles City, where our pre-booked mini-bus was waiting to take us to Clark airport. Our flight on Cebu Air from there to Caticlan (Boracay) was scheduled to take off at 8am, with the check-in commencing at 6am, where we arrived bang on time. The security guards laughed and told us to take a seat outside, as the terminal would not even open until 7:00am, which in the vent was closer to 7:30.
Well, the extra hour of sleep and some sort of breakfast would have been nice too, but the price of this early morning flight was right. Dick, ever out to save a few Peso's had booked it based purely on price, which I have to admit was right, only about P5,500 per person, round-trip. After 3 days in Angeles City (AC) I was keen to get out of the place for a change of scenery. Also it was a mere 75 minutes away from one of the top-ten beaches in the world, plus I now had a female companion to share it with.
This great idea had come to Dick on the first day of our arrival in AC. In typical Dick fashion, after what I seem to vaguely recall were several thousand SML beers, spread across the many Fields Avenue bars, he had announced that we would "all go to Boracay". "We'll find some scenery to take with us and have a few days on the beach, drink, hang out and shoot the breeze – I think it's a great idea" he said, leaving no room for argument. What could I say … and knowing Dicks powers of organisation, what could possibly go wrong!
The sleepy, but sexy young Filipina Cebu Air Check-in clerk, finally opened up at 7,30 am. When I enquired why the tickets and their website all confirmed 6am, her answer was, “Sorry, sir, that time is meant for Manila." I responded with the onset of my old-farts voice, “But we’re not in Manila are we? We’re in Clark"
Diosdado Macapagal Airport, yes sir.” "You don't think perhaps that it might be a good idea to tell passengers the difference" I encouraged. Our alarm went off at 5am and now we have this problem" the old fart continued. “Sir? I’m sorry.”
Closing my eyes in frustration, I started to hear the “remember where you are” voice inside my head! This is my way of balancing my old farts dual personality voice with some degree of rationality.
This trip quickly introduced me to the unabashed and intimate nature of our Filipina companions. It also introduced both Dick and I to our wet-behind-the-ears, estrogen-fueled athletic friends to the confusing mechanical puzzle of the metal airplane seatbelt buckle. I grinned. First time in a plane. All of us were destined to learn a few things on this trip!
The week had started harmlessly as ever – well harmless in Dick's mind at least! I had arrived from Bangkok a few days previously on a tired Airbus A310 of Thai Air. Arriving at the hellhole that is Manila International Airport to be greeted by the smell of rotting vegetation, raw sewage and traffic smog, all wetly damp with typical Manila humidity. Ask any pilot and they will tell you that you can smell Manila from 20,000ft!
Looking back now, it couldn't have been that bad, as I was smiling at the horrific north-bound Manila traffic from the back of my pre-booked and pre-paid 'Airport Limo' pick-up car. Although more Toyota Corolla than Mercedes, it had an industrial strength air conditioner that would freeze the balls off a brass money and did the job which was to take me out to meet my chum Dick in Angeles City (AC) that afternoon. The smile was in anticipation of meeting up with him after a gap of some 12 months odd. I also knew that the few days we were planning to enjoy would be fueled with far too much of everything that was bad for you, but definitely fun-filled.
The dull brown morning haze of Manila could not hide the familiar visual chaos of Jeepneys, motorcycles, buses, and pedestrians playing that curiously casual traffic game, where the loser forfeits by death in an intimate meeting with the front of a very hard vehicle. Finally, reaching the Highway, the hooting snarled traffic chaos gradually gave way to the much quieter rich green rice fields populated with bored looking water buffalo in the morning haze. I had to remind myself once again, that water buffalo's do not typically get sick, despite what us poor farangs are told. The putrid, polluted rotting city smells gave way to less-offensive rotting country smells.
But back to Caticlan airport, the adjacent gateway island to the ridiculous paradise that is Boracay. Our small sweaty group was cheerfully met at the terminal by the carefully rehearsed 5-star resort smiles from our driver and porter. A 30 minute van-banana boat-van sequence led us to the starkly beautiful resort that Dick had booked and paid for. No need for discussion he said, "you'll love it" and he was indeed right, I did love it. I was also in love with the anticipation of what was inevitably in-store for the next few days. Imagine the scene if you will: Two old farts, who should by now know better, plus two poor young girls get dragged from the slums, and then sent straight to the palace – Cinderella will go to the ball! I would remember Dicks mantra of, "We could all die tomorrow; therefore we should all live like hell today, give the finger to life, but make sure to include beautiful girls along the way". It would indeed be a few days to remember!
“Sir, I’m here to wash your feet” blurted the pretty pony-tailed white-clad Pinay who slipped in behind us as the bellhop dropped the luggage upon first entry to the hotel room.
“Umm … what?”
“Your feet, sir. Please sit down,” she nodded at the huge wooden foot-laundering bowl on the floor next to several pairs of white cotton slippers. Whilst Dick was over the moon at this greeting and enthusiastically offered his feet for washing, the rest of us all arrived at the same conclusion at the same time, “No thank you” we all chorused.
We all splashed into the salty cyan blue bathwater of the sunny Sulu Sea with all the eagerness of a freshly tagged game fish with oxygen-starved gills. It only seemed only natural to hug Jules and give her a salty kiss. It also only seemed natural for her legs to wrap around me, as I slipped her bikini to the side and made face-to-face boom-boom in front of the others and the 50 or so assembled tourists that were already on the beach.
Just over her shoulder, I locked onto Dick's companion, Marissa whose eyelids widened slightly in recognition of what was happening before her very eyes. She quickly broke our stare and started checking left and right for voyeurs amongst the tourists. Fortunately the water safely hid our connection from any beachgoers some way off, but Marissa was much nearer. I did think this inhibition a tad strange given her performance on the plane. Dick had subsequently assured me that she was well on the way to obtaining her flying colours in the gentle art of BJ's. He had magnanimously offered her additional private lessons, so that she would be returning to AC as a fully qualified practitioner in such matters.
The rest of that first day passed in a blur of sea, white beaches, showers, naps, couch, snacks and a sunset that only the tropics can offer, all washed down with a few thousand SML beers.
That evening we eventually ventured forth from the hotel in search of some dinner, preferably not Filipino food, which is just dire. We found a small beach bar grill, there was music playing and it looked as if some sort of disco was in the potential offering – but best of all they had what looked semi-decent western food. The thump-thump bass led us in, the tequila body shots held us captive, the food sated our stomachs and the laughter sustained us.
We danced, we drank, we flirted, we told too many, "do you remember…" tales, we laughed. Not being a tequila drinker left me much confused as to what happened on that evening; but I had this problem of that little TOGA-sporting devil on my shoulder who's avatar had already made an appearance once that day. Boy, does he like tequila and after the first two or three – clearly the lad had no sense of fear left. Mind you after having been at the mercy of Captain Careful, earlier, I'm not surprised.
The other tequila monster that night was Marissa, who proudly matched us shot for shot. Completely trashed we eventually left the bar to stumble back to the hotel along the beach. Marissa descended the steps first and promptly collapsed into an untidy comatose heap. Had we bothered to have done the math's (or even count the number of tequila's) we would have known that a small girl of half our weight, simply cannot drink the same amount of alcohol and still expect to be compos-mentis.
Dick slung the limp Marissa over his shoulder as we made our very circuitous and slow path back to the hotel. I was beginning to wonder how we would explain to the hotel reception that we were in desperate need of a stomach pump for a limp rag doll. A few hundred metres down the beach, the now huffing and puffing Dick dropped to the sand for a rest, whereupon the lovely Marissa, decided it was the ideal place to park more of her supper. Jules very kindly held her hair back – this is indeed what friends are for!
On waking the next morning, I ran a brief health check without moving. The body seemed sound enough though gritty with hangover. I rose slowly, so as not to disturb my head. Jules, however had other ideas and quickly found what she was looking for beneath the bed sheet. Recalling another of Dick's mantra's, "Just another day in paradise", I just lay back and smiled!
Whilst this was not a particularly bad ‘morning after’, some mornings one feels as if one’s brain is located in some gelatinous fluid as it bumps gently against the inside of one’s skull. However, this morning it merely felt shrouded in the fumbling gauze of inaccuracy. One quickly runs through the events of the previous evening, checking for silly, regrettable and always in retrospect, avoidable words or deeds. Seems that all was well in the character assassination department, as I could still amazingly recall several brief glimpses of the previous evening with varying degrees of clarity.
Jules and I eventually dragged ourselves downstairs to the hotel restaurant on the terrace overlooking that stupidly cyan blue sea. We were greeted by Dick and Marissa, the latter who was already tucking into what looked to be a ridiculously large stack of pancakes, bacon and syrup. Seems that during the night she had decided that further deposits of last night's super would look good in the huge wooden foot-laundering bowl. I'm pretty sure that the foot-washers would grimace in shame.
That day, we swam, lounged on beach chairs on that impossibly white sandy beach. In addition to footer washers, the hotel also thoughtfully provided our very own personal Pinay manservant who fetched drinks, folded crumpled shirts, supply clean towels and cleaned sunglasses.
Carefully avoiding the beach bar grill (and tequila) of the previous night, the night was filled with another thousand SML's for me and Vodka and Cokes for Dick; sufficient to finish off an entire Russian army on the march. We watched a Filipino band – why is it that every Filipina can hold a tune? We sang karaoke, played some pool, eventually retiring at a far-too-late an hour to the Jacuzzi where further athletics were performed.
The next and last day was spent in much the same fashion. During those few short days, I remembered Dicks old adage of, "We could all die tomorrow; therefore we should all live like hell today, give the finger to life, but make sure to include beautiful girls along the way". These last few days, I had totally bought that philosophy and was for once able to totally switch-off and surrender myself to the moment. There were many Kodak moments in those few days!
Departing the luxury of the resort, we reversed the Boracay van-banana boat-van sequence and found ourselves back at the tiny Caticlan airport for a really convenient one-hour flight back to Clark. What could possibly go wrong … until I remembered the warning voice in my head announcing like some dreadful airport announcement, "remember where you are".
On presenting our tickets to the Cebu Air check-in girl – not so young or sexy this one! She blinked at the laser-printed paper. She blinked at us. The paper again. Us again. Before we could ask, she ran across the check-in area where several other check-in clerks were trying not to be noticed. They all in their own time started grabbing at the ticket print outs. This grabbing frenzy suddenly ended. All four heads slowly lifted to look at us with the same concern that a group of nurses might share while trying decide which one of them will tell the concerned relatives that their dearest was about to pass away before their very eyes. I could feel my old-fart voice spontaneously warming up.
“Sir, your flight is canceled,” blurted the girl who must have drawn the short straw to impart the death blow. “But it's okay, we put you on a later SEAIR flight to Manila instead.”
“How is that okay? Have you ever been to Manila – we need to go to Angeles City, not Manila?” I overheard my old fart voice say.
“How do we get back to Angeles?" the old fart questioned.
“A van sir. We will provide a van at no charge to you.”
“No charge, Wow that's amazing, only 2 hours sitting in the Mania traffic" – that's fantastic, said the old fart.
She just smiled, totally devoid of all sarcasm-perception skills.
I guessed that the plane coming from Clark that afternoon had had no passengers, so they just didn’t fly it … or maybe Captain Careful had forgotten to lower the gear once too often. Hell, there were only half a dozen or so passengers coming down. At this point, Dick who had been amazingly quiet thus far chirped up, "Welcome to another day in Paradise" and grabbing Marissa, went off to find some more Vodka and Coke. Now that's giving life the finger I thought as I stared at his departing back.
I do have to say that I was not looking forward to this lengthy diversion, but did catch myself recalling the "remember where you are" idiosyncratic that The Phils is famous for.
The old fart addressed the short straw girl, “Your company is useless. You have all our email address and mobile phone numbers, yet you failed to get any sort of message to any of us about the cancellation. A text maybe – do you know what a text is, it only costs 1 Peso".
“Yes sir, the system didn’t have your information,” she replied.
“The same system that printed out all of that information onto the paper I just gave you – that system?” asked the old fart.
“It seems it forgot your information, sir.”
“It forgot …”
“Yes, sir.” The old fart said Incredulously, “The computer forgot?”
By now we were all laughing way too much for the old fart voice to continue. The rocket surgeon girl would just have to discover the mysteries of forgetful computers all by herself.
So eventually it was back to AC again where presumably Dick had more plans for us.
Jules and I left Boracay as very intimate friends – ready for another island adventure, and we all vowed that Dick would set it up for us …