We’ve been in the Philippines for a week, I think, since we’re still jet lagged and I’m not sure what day it is. But here is my report.
The flight went well. For months I fretted about whether to check in my handmade guitar (made by my own hands that is) or to try to get it onboard. I literally made the final decision at the airport to check it threw.
21 hours later we arrived in Cebu. We had the fastest processing through immigration I have ever experienced in the Philippines or anywhere else; about 5 minutes. No problems for Janet and I getting the famed Balikbayan privilege (essentially a year’s Visa with no fee) for those lucky foreigners married to a Filipina.
After processing we went to baggage and amazingly the guitar already was waiting for me. Opened the case and all was right with the world. But now we had 4 suitcases, a guitar, a small amp, and 2 backpacks to somehow navigate. We exchanged some of our USD in the airport, got a SIM card for my phone and went outside to find a taxi large enough to accommodate all our crap. Cebu Airport is like Manila now with fixed rates (aka price fixing for taxis). If you want a real cab you have to walk about a block to metered taxis. Janet was furious when we were quoted a high price and wanted to walk to the metered taxis. Schlepping so much stuff was impossible, so cooler voices (mine) prevailed and we paid the blood suckers, got all our stuff into the spacious Innova and spent the next hour traversing Cebu City toward the South Bus Terminal. A three hour bus ride later we arrived in Janet’s hometown of Alcoy and our fave spot, the BBB, a small German-run resort, with a nice restaurant.
Janet arranged for her family to meet us at the restaurant for dinner. This was more of a big deal than you can imagine since her parents were always reticent to meet us at a fancy restaurant and never had. Around 5:00 small groups of kids and adults began arriving via trike. In total we were about a dozen. My inlaws stared at the menu and the prices and were in shock. No one wanted to order much or at least any of the expensive items; this is typical in my experience with the Pillazos. In the end with plenty of food, drinks, San Miguel for the men, and a modest tip, I was out the equivalent of about $75 – for 12 people. Well worth it!
The next morning we were off to Dumaguete. Janet realized we would have a tough time with all the luggage, so her dad and brother volunteered to join us. An hour bus ride and we were at the Fast Ferry in Lilo-An. Traversing the gang planks to the boat with our bags was impossible without the help of the porters. Janet was furious that each one wanted a tip; my wife is very fond of protecting our money! I tried to explain that this was a one time deal; we’d never have to travel with this much crap ever again. Still it galled her!
We arrived at our temporary home, the Hermogina Apartments, and happily they were ready for us. Showed us the apartment, checked every item in the apartment, and even made it clear that since we arrived August 2nd, not the 1st as originally planned, we would have month to month starting the 2nd. Very impressive service. The apartment is exactly as advertised, neither more nor less. Both upstairs bedrooms have decent aircon units, but the downstairs living room, kitchen, dining area don’t. “We need a fan,” I said quickly. So off to Robinson’s Dept. Store we went, and picked up the essentials: Fan, coffee maker and rice cooker, the main necessities for life in the Philippines.
The fan needed to be assembled and the box was missing any instructions. As a former technical writer I was at a loss as to how to proceed without documentation. Fortunately Janet and her brother had no such need and managed to screw the thing together with a kitchen knife. Filipinos are nothing if not resourceful and the fan hasn’t flown apart, killing us yet!
That night we settled into our rooms, my BIL and FIL in the 2nd bedroom. I don’t believe they had ever had aircon to sleep by before and I heard later that my FIL had not liked sleeping with it on. For that matter, Janet does not sleep well with the aircon on either; she prefers just the fan.
The next day we took the gang to Dumaguete’s famous boulevard and stopped for lunch. There was general shock that the restaurant charged extra for rice. No one could understand how in the Philippines you could get a Filipino meal without rice included. After lunch we dropped my FIL and BIL off at the ferry for the trip back to Cebu. I had asked my FIL if he had ever been off the island of Cebu and he said he’d been to Bohol and Dumaguete but of course the Dumaguete trip was now.
The next day there was another trip to Robinsons, and another the next day; we might as well move in there. But it’s close and we virtually need everything. Our personal 9 boxes that were shipped included many household goods but won’t arrive for at least another month.
The following day we returned to Alcoy via the ferry and bus and spent two nice days with the family, including an afternoon of beach and swimming at Tinkyo Beach. This helped me quickly remember why I love it here. The ocean seemed to melt years of stress from my body!
Of course it would not be the Philippines if there weren’t a posse of kids that joined us at the beach. My FIL had roasted sweet potatoes and corn, which everyone ate heartily after lots of water play. At an opportune time (I think he was checking us out) an ice cream guy passed by. I thought “wouldn’t it be nice” but there were over 30 kids and I am not that generous lol. “How much?” we asked. 5 pesos each (about ten cents). At that rate I figured I could be the rich kano. 35 kids lined up quietly and respectfully. It was like a fire drill in school when I was a kid. Never had I spent $4 that created so much happiness.
As the weekend ended we went back to our new home in Dumaguete. Other things accomplished? We opened a joint back account. This was a big deal not only for the obvious reasons but because I was questioning how easy it would be for me to get an account. Typically bank’s require a foreigner to have an ACR card, a government ID card, and I certainly did not have one yet. But it was recommended that if we walked into the bank like well-heeled Americans it might work out. Janet took this advise to heart and dressed up a bit and put on heels. I put on a clean t-shirt! The banker asked if I had an ACR card and when I replied not yet, she looked at the rich kano and the subject went away; we filled out voluminous paperwork, pulled out those magical USDs – and we had an account.
The next thing on the list to get done was to settle our cell phone load issue. The Philippines has several major carriers and they do not communicate very well with each other. But all of Janet’s family uses SUN, so Janet wanted SUN so she could make unlimited calls to her mom. We proceeded again to Robinsons and the SUN Store there. I told them the plan we wanted. “No problem selling you the plan, Sir. But we are out of SIM cards.” “So the SUN Store does not have any SIM cards for SUN service?” I asked incredulous. “Yes but upstairs you can buy the cards.” So, she actually sent us to a retailer to get their own SIM cards. We did just that. The retailer installed the cards but unfortunately did not have the load plans available that we wanted. So they sent us to another store in the mall and actually walked us there to make sure we were taken care of.
So a week’s gone by and much has been accomplished. Too much maybe. We’re supposed to be retired and lazy. On a positive note we both got a fantastic $5 massage and I have been drinking the appropriate amount of San Miguel.