I had to get a COVID test the day before I left Bali, so that I could enter The Philippines. I figured I would just find a local clinic, but in searching for one, was able to find a service that came directly to my hotel. They knocked on the door and two women came in. The nurse administering the test proceeded to dress herself in a full sterile suit before opening the kit. I was unmasked and waited patiently as they set up the testing environment. She advised she would be swabbing just one nostril. I was relieved. Some of the tests I’ve had have been the mouth, both nostrils, and have been quite invasive. This one was not so bad.
It was an antigen test, so the results would generate right there. Now I’ve done dozens of antigen tests and always have to wait at least 15 minutes. I assumed the same would be true in this case, but after about a minute and half, she looked at the testing kit and said, “Negative.” She handed me an envelope with two pieces of paper. One was a receipt and the other was a pre-printed paper showing my name, passport number, and test result. Right there, already printed in capital letters – NEGATIVE.
So perhaps the technology is different in Bali and results can be produced in less than 15 minutes. Perhaps there was a separate envelope to give me if the result had been positive. Or perhaps it was something else. I just know that the process was quick, painless, and only $9.19 USD (compared to something like $150 USD in The States). I was all set for my next destination.
I had an early flight out of Bali and was up before the sun. It was pouring rain, the first I’d seen rain in Bali, and it seemed so fitting. Like the sky crying, my heart was crying too. There will always be a special place inside of me for Bali, like a first love or a first kiss. Bali held so many firsts for me. It gave me so much good and took away so many things I needed to let go of.
But next up for me was The Philippines. I am embarrassed to tell you all that my time in The Philippines was too short. I let the fear get the best of me, and I wish I would have fought through it.
During the time that I was planning my short stint in The Philippines, they had just gone through an election that had the potential of creating some political unrest. This coupled with the news sources advising of kidnappings and terrorist events put me on edge. I had promised all of my loved ones back home that the one thing I would commit to on this solo trip is not ever putting my safety on the line. So…my time was very short in The Philippines.
I had a direct flight from Bali to Manila on Cebu Pacific airlines. At the time, it was the only direct flight available, and many others I had talked with told me it was rare to find direct flights between the two cities. It was about a third full and I had an entire row of three seats to myself. When I landed, I was asked to wait until the aircraft was empty before getting off. Knowing that other cultures have different rules and regulations, I always comply, so I waited patiently. When my turn came up, a young man pushed up a very large, hospital like wheelchair. I panicked for a bit and calmly asked where my wheelchair was. The flight attendant advised that it would be in baggage claim due to customs regulations. “Ok,” I thought. “This has happened before.” Of course, this is one of my absolute worst nightmares – being alone on this trip with a missing wheelchair that was left behind in the country I was visiting prior.
The young man proceeded to push me a very long ways through the airport, immigration, and passport control, all the while the left wheel was screeching and whining loudly. I was convinced that the wheelchairs they used for passengers were leftovers from who the heck knows where, and then started wondering if mine was the next wheelchair they’d ‘acquire’ for passenger use. God, I really hope not…
He parked me by the baggage claim terminal and I waited patiently – what else was I to do? – for about 45 minutes. So many bags passed by and I was getting pretty restless. Wouldn’t wheelchairs, strollers, and so on be first to come out? I think my ‘pusher friend’ sensed my frustration. He went back to the opening where the luggage was coming out and started yelling something. Lo and behold, he came back and told me my chair was just on the other side of the baggage claim terminal. Thank god! I transferred into it, and just like that, felt freedom again. I thanked him and we parted ways.
I have been saving airline and hotel points for as long as I can remember. I’ve never used any of my points, knowing that this dream trip would come true someday and it would be the perfect opportunity to use them. So in Manila, I did just that and stayed in a chain hotel that used very few of my stockpiled hotel points. It was painful to watch that ‘point balance’ drop, but well worth the very nice room and corresponding safety I felt. Plus, I was able to get free drinkable water and they provided a homemade loaf of banana bread for breakfast. It’s lasted me almost three days now, which is advantageous for someone who is limiting their spending.
There was a noticeable difference in the culture as soon as I landed. Please don’t interpret that as a good or a bad thing, it was just different. It’s what I love about experiencing the world. There are so many cultures, so many ways of living life, of interacting with other human beings, of embracing each other and the hardships and joys we each share.
Once I checked in and was able to put my backpack down, I was on the search for some food. It was mid-afternoon and I hadn’t had any food or water that day. I found an outside restaurant and ordered the local food – Adobo – which is a made with chicken or pork (I had chicken) that is marinated overnight in soy sauce, garlic, and many other spices. The meat is served in the sauce, almost like a soup, with a fried egg on top and a side of rice. It was fantastic and quite filling. I had to leave about half behind.
Immediately after I ordered, a Filipino man who was living in Canada at the time sat down and we had a few drinks together. He suggested I have San Miguel Pilsner, not Light. So I did, and it was great! He was a proud Filipino – like most people are with their countries – and was visiting his 89-year-old mother for the first time since the pandemic. We had a lovely conversation before he had to go to meet his brother.
Shortly thereafter, a man from New Zealand and a man from California (the first American I had met on this trip) started chatting with me. The waitress asked me when I was paying if I knew all of these people. I chuckled and said, “No, I’ve just met them!” She said, “Wow, you are so friendly.” I haven’t been told that in years, but surprising for many, myself included, meeting new people has been one of the most exciting parts of this trip.
The next morning at the airport, I got myself turned around and somehow faced a flight of cement steps to get to what I thought was the airport. I looked around at the busy street near me when a security officer came and helped me. He got me across the street to another flight of stairs but at least I was in the right place. He looked at me and my bag, and then at my wheelchair, befuddled on how he was going to get me down. I smiled, put my bag on the top step, and started climbing down. Another woman quickly grabbed my bag to help, the security guard grabbed my chair, and in 30 seconds we were at the bottom. Kindness. True kindness.
It’s no secret that I’ve been navigating through many fears on this trip, trying to fight them all. Hindsight is always 20/20, and if I had known more about the culture in The Philippines, I would have stayed at least a few days longer. But fear got the best of me, and I am embarrassed for that. I am sure I missed out on a wonderful group of people, but I will be back someday!
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