Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Apulit Island, El Nido, and Manila (Philippines)

We left Apulit Island as we had arrived - to the dulcet tones of the staff serenade and waving. Our transfer this time was through the airport in El Nido, allowing us to get a glimpse of the town proper. With more options for accommodation and dining, it still didn't look terribly overdeveloped, though popular with backpackers, not unlike Ko Tao in Thailand. The airport, on the other hand, was awesome.

We drove down a dirt track, passed a military outpost with fierce-looking firepower, and rolled up to a single strip airfield. It totally looked like we were on location for a movie about drug running and smuggling operations. The terminal was an open thatched-roofed hut on the left. Check-in was a bar top with a few guys looking into your bags. Our boarding passes were tiny wooden boards with the seat numbers carved into them. While we waited, we opened up the sandwiches the resort had packed for us - roast chicken - and helped ourselves to the free refreshments in the hut. There was tea, coffee, fresh squeezed juice, fruit, and suman (sticky rice steamed inside palm leaves and drizzled with coco jam). Periodically, a tricked out bus would rock up unloading passengers, presumably from another one of the El Nido Resorts. Since they do weigh each passenger, we were a little nervous about what kind of plane we would be taking. These fears were unfounded though, as evidently, Palawan's popularity has meant an upgrade in aircraft in recent years. Instead of some kind of Cessna where you're practically sitting in the pilot's lap, ITI now operates a twin turbine 50-seater plane. No worries! To top it off, upon arrival in Manila, we were shown to a comfortable lounge where we were plied with more food and drinks until an airline agent told us, "Sir, ma'am, your bags are ready now. Please come this way."  I could get used to this kinda travel!

Back in Manila, we met up with family again at a restaurant that specializes in a sort of cosplay cabaret experience. To his mortification, Rich was hauled onstage to shake his groove thang with Spiderman, Freddie Kreuger, and V from V for Vendetta. He was a good sport about it, and there were plenty of embarrassing photos to prove it. The schedule streaming on the big screens indicated a different show every half hour - Star Wars, anyone? - and though we watched a tribute to an anime show we'd never heard of, we escaped any more invitations for table top dancing.

We wrapped up our trip, killing time before our flights home wandering around the Mall of Asia. This behemoth is one of the largest in the world, sporting an Olympic-sized ice skating rink, IMAX theaters, science museum, basketball arena, convention center, and Ferris wheel. Filipinos love to shop, as attested by the presence of every global apparel brand we could think of, and the fact that since the mall opened in 2006, it has been eclipsed in size by 2 others in Metro Manila alone! Probably the strangest sight for me - besides hosting an amateur boxing match in the middle of the mall - was the popularity of Cinnabon and North Carolina's own Krispy Kreme Donuts. Why, oh, why?!? The Philippine brands Goldilocks Bakeshop, and Red Ribbon are far, far superior!

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