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9 - To Leyte

Journey 8


Light and shadow, equally,
Can show how much I feel for thee -
Love's just begun,
But there is pain -
One brings the sun,
The other, rain,
Yet both allow my heart to see
How precious you've become to me.

A busy day - I'll keep it all brief. Breakfast - taxi driver doesn't show up, despite Mayen texting him the night before, so we hail one from the kerbside. Tata - the beginning of quite a morning with Tata - we have to be at the Cebu Pacific office before ten o'clock to collect and pay for the tickets.

Queue - we are number 19 - the counter is showing No 82 a long wait ahead - a kind man holding a young child gives us his ticket that he no longer needs for some reason - No 6 - aha - things are looking up. Later on Mayen gives our old ticket to a latecomer in the queue. Mayen is besotted by a beautiful little girl sitting astride her father's shoulders - maternal instincts coming right to the surface - we keep seeing this couple for the rest of the day. Collect the ticket - rejoin Tata who takes us to the duty free shopping mall.
Quite a lot of security - we buy some Fundador brandy for Mayen's father - I get some tobacco - the brand is called Domingo - and it's Sunday today - we look at some rings - I said I'd buy Mayen a ring - a token - there are not too many to choose from but we both like one depicting two intertwining hearts - but I've not enough cash and can't draw any more - so that idea gets put aside for a while.

Tata drives us back to the hotel - we check out [I've already booked the room again for Thursday night - our last night together - I don't want to think about that] - load our bags.
The other taxi driver shows up out of the shadows and really annoys Mayen by insisting on being paid for waiting for us - cheek - to get rid of him Mayen pays him - she is really upset to observe again her fellow countrymen trying their hardest to squeeze every peso out of her when they see her with me, presuming that I am rich - well it's only the exchange rate that makes me rich over here - I am not rich, only lucky - so lucky - in that sense I'm rich beyond imagination.

Tata drives us to the Festival Shopping Mall, in the same compound as the duty free shop - but first we drive via Mayen's room - deposit all we don't need for the trip - take some clothes to the laundry right alongside - and deposit Mayen's keys back at homebase for the other girls to be able to use the room. Tata crawls along back to the main road as we are still looking for a jewellery shop. No luck - we head off for lunch.
Tata joins us - noodles, banana shake - Masarap! - then off to the airport.

The experience of Manila Airport - the domestic terminal - it's hot and crowded - queue to get inside - first security check - queue to check in - queue to pay terminal fee - queue for second security check - the brandy is not allowed in our hand luggage - Argh!
What do we do? Sell it to one of the staff? No, we head back to the check in going straight to the front of the queue - they take it in the hold with all the chocolates - I hope they survive the journey - back for another security check with "Haven't I seen you before?" looks from the guards and into the waiting lounge. A chance to cool off in the only area so far with adequate air-con.
Great teams of airline support girls chat away behind their desks - again - overstaffing - but it's still a gentle chaos. The flight is twenty minutes late - but eventually we land in the relative peace on the Island of Leyte at Tacloban airport.
Very small scale compared to Manila. The chocolate and brandy have survived.

We are greeted by an airport taxi driver, employed by Cathay Pacific airline - there are no cabs in the city - only tricycles and jeepneys. The girl sitting next to Mayen on the flight suggested we try the Manhattan Hotel in Tacloban so we ask the driver, Ado, to take us there. All across the Philippines there are 3 main dialects as well as Tagalog, the language that is trying to establish itself from Manila outwards as a national language. Here of course, on the Island where Mayen was born, Ado speaks the same dialect - to her delight. The city outskirts are more open than Manila - there are some green spaces evident and it is generally more tranquil.

The Manhattan dates from around the 1930's and has not been kept in good condition. There are no lifts and the marble staircase contains a trick step, which gets you going both up or down if you forget that it is larger than any of the other steps. Funny how we quickly adapt to the rhythm of climbing equally spaced steps.

Our room 316 is a very odd shape - and seems to be occupied already - by a large family of ants. The room is on the corner of the hotel building and overlooks a busy crossroad. The shower works - but is more of a gush than a sprinkle - it reminded me of a female elephant having a piss. One of the lights doesn't work - the shaving socket and sink are in the shower cubicle when the curtain is drawn - the towels are thread bare and a dismal grey colour - but once they were white. We take it all in our stride - the other hotels in town are fully booked - the same reason that the flights were all booked - there is a big Fiesta in the area and many people have headed home from their places of work to attend it next weekend. I draw the curtain back to peer through the dirty window - dirty glass in iron framed sections - stained glass - by many years of grime.
Just about to take a photo of the busy street scene outside and the curtain rail topples down, smothering Mayen and me in the curtain. The room boy, still in attendance procures a quick fix and I get to take my photo as he turns on the ancient air-con unit.

Two single beds - we will only use the one. We shower in turn behind the elephant and emerge into the street in search of some food stuffs to take with us to the province - Mayen is very concerned about what I will eat - I'm still very vague as to what I shall find down there - I know it is very remote and Mayen has warned me that it will be different from anything I expect.

We hail a tricycle. You never have to wait long at all for a motor-tricycle. Sitting in the covered side-car, either forward facing - or sometimes there are extra seats at the rear, facing backwards - or sat side-saddle behind the rider - or sometimes all occupied at once - it is quite thrilling - the engine rasping away alongside - it's very snug - and you're at just the correct height above the ground to help clean up some of the traffic fumes - by breathing them in.
It starts to rain and we wander into what must be a first generation department store - no way could you really call it a mall, although it passes as such here in Tacloban. There is a strange smell that bites at the back of the throat.
The cause soon becomes apparent - again - overstaffing at work. In an effort to keep the linoleum floors clean for their customers - 3 boys are shuffling around the narrow aisles between the tightly packed shelves, sprinkling bleached water - from a pail each is carrying - onto the floors using their hands - it's all highly rhythmic and choreographed - followed by another three boys - swooshing along with mops - to join the dance - followed by another three boys wafting it dry with great sheets of cardboard.
This procession gradually snakes its way around the store as we decide to leave and go for something to eat.

Mayen really misses the food of her province and now she has arrived here on the island of Leyte is determined to make up for lost time.

She orders a stunning array of local food - a seashell soup, seaweed salad, crab, mangos, buko shakes - masarap!
Unfortunately this all gives me a very dodgy tummy in the night - some Imodium needed first thing in the morning - but the food is delicious and leaves you feeling good - as if you've just done your body a favour - all be it a brief one in my case.

Back to the hotel - another shower and sleep.
Both of us high on the spirit of adventure - somehow - we are entering the old Philippines now - and it is so irrepressible - so intoxicating. We decide on the bed near to the window. It's a noisy night - tricycles, jeepneys - a procession band in the early hours of the morning waking us up. Passion follows in the din, the air-con droning away - quite ineffectually - and we just lie there listening to the world waking up - so happy, laughing at the oddity of the hotel compared to the luxury we were used to at the Grami, back in Manila.

Click the flags to read about all the alarm bells.


Tim Cumperhttp://www.bebo.com/Ellumbra

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