I almost failed to fly out of Cebu when I encountered a roadblock on my way to the airport. I thought nothing could top that unfortunate incident but I should have known better. Turned out that was just a warm up for what was about to happen on my way to Clark Airport – the not-so funny ways to tease me before leaving the country. Pft!
Bus ride from Manila to Clark
My Clark to Bangkok flight via Tiger Airways was scheduled at 12:35pm on February 11th. I stayed at a friend’s condo in Makati the day before the flight to have ample travel time to Clark.
There are cheap buses that ply the Manila to Clark route via the DAU Terminal in Mabalacat, Pampanga for less than Php150. But because of the Hot Air Festival in Clark, I decided to go with the Philtranco bus company to avoid any hassle. At the rate of 400 pesos (450Php if coming from Pasay), Philtranco is the only bus company that enters the Clark International Airport (aka Diosdado Macapagal International Airport) nowadays. I checked to see their bus schedule online and thought of reserving a seat but didn’t push through with it. I tried calling the bus company but no one was answering the phone.
I didn’t get enough sleep when I flew in from Cebu the day before yet I decided not to sleep that night too since the friend who hosted me had visitors who were talking about tenerife holidays. I figured I’d just sleep on the bus trip. I learned that the bus companies in Pasay were in a state of chaos due to the number of passengers wanting to go to the Hot Air Balloon Festival. My eyes started rolling. It was a struggle to avoid imagining the worst thing that could happen to me. Before I left my friend’s house at 5am, I prayed that I would not have any problems on this trip and prayed for a safe journey too. 30 minutes later, I was at the bus terminal of Philtranco in SM Megamall. There were only 3 of us at that time. I learned the bus will arrive at 7am.
Photo Credits: John Marx of Maxtermind
A few minutes after, another passenger arrived. I smiled at the thought of hearing a familiar dialect when I overheard them conversing in Bicolano. That’s how I met the energetic and lively Ma’am Tess of Catanduanes I learned that she’s teaching Physics in Chiang Mai, a subject I almost flunked in high school
Soon, other passengers started arriving. All sorts of passengers were there including an international rock/punk band (Don’t ask me who they were since I’ve got no clue) who were on their way to the Clark Airport too. Then there were those who were there for the Hot Air Balloon Festival. The entire terminal was packed by 6:30am!
All those waiting time, I silently prayed hard that I would not have problems travelling to Clark. Ma’am Tess and I agreed to save a seat for the other if one gets in the bus first.
Photo Credits: beh_butinga on Flickr
The bus came at 7:15am. I hurriedly raced to get to it first. Luckily, we were quick enough and found ourselves standing in front of the bus’ door while the rest of the crowd patiently waited at our backs or sides. The thrill of who gets to enter the bus first was unbearable.
Then the bus door opened. The lady bus conductor immediately blocked the door and cried out “Puno na po ang bus. Yun lang pong may reservation ang pasasakayin. Yung iba po sa 9am trip na kayo.”
Uh-oh! I guess we were doomed! We didn’t have any online reservations and we can’t take the 9am trip! With the traffic and the festival happening in Clark, I calculated that it might be impossible to make it to the airport on time. I told myself I should have made that online reservation! Darn!
Ma’am Tess asked if they can still squeeze us in. The conductor said only those who have flights at 11am would be considered. I then whispered to Ma’am Tess to say to the bus conductor that our flight was at 11am. We also pleaded that we won’t mind sitting on the bus’ floor. The conductor told us to wait as she was still waiting for those passengers who made reservations to show up.
And just like the previous day, I silently chanted again “Please, please, please…” I was trying hard not to imagine rebooking for another flight to Bangkok. It even came to a point where I thought I’ll just wander around Luzon with my pocket money if I didn’t make it to Clark on time since I was not willing to rebook that flight as the plane fare might probably be ridiculously expensive by that time!
While trying hard to stay positive, the lady conductor turned to us and said “Laog na kamo duman. Sa 24-25 kamo magtukaw.”
Whoa! Pag sinuswerte ka nga naman! Upon hearing those words, I hurriedly told Ma’am Tess I’d get inside the bus to find our seats while she settled her luggage in the trunk. I was sooo happy! She must have heard Ma’am Tess and her brother conversing in Bicolano. I thanked the bus conductor and secured our seats inside Philtranco’s bus. I wanted to hug the kind conductor for her deed. I was so happy too and proud of my parent’s roots. I bet we would have still secured a spot inside the bus with the white lie we did but the Bicolano blood running in my tongue was an added bonus
It was a matter of time before we get a glimpse of the Clark Airport. I had not slept in the past 24 hours and my plan to sleep on the bus failed since I ended up listening to Ma’am Tess’ funny life stories. I didn’t mind. Her colourful life story kept me glued to my seat as I listened intently at how she ended up teaching in Chiang Mai after living in Norway and other European countries.
Photo credits: Christian Sangoyo of Lakad Pilipinas
Just as I predicted there was a heavy flow of traffic due to the Hot Air Balloon Festival. The good thing was that we arrived at the Clark International Airport at around 10:30 am. Then I saw a group of basketball players, which I believe, are members of the AirAsia Philippine Patriots team. Just saying
I booked my flight with Tiger Airways and SEAIR is Tiger Airways’ official airline partner in the Philippines. Finding a Tiger Airways check in counter would be pointless if you don’t know this. After paying the terminal fee, international travel tax, and getting our boarding pass at a SEAIR check in counter, there’s one more step I had to pass. The immigration check point!
My travel buddy didn’t have a smooth encounter with the immigration officers at the NAIA Terminal 3 Airport when he left a few days before me. I’ve also heard of stories that the immigration officers at Clark are very strict. Ma’am Tess was ahead of me and I saw that the immigration officer asked her for her papers. I gulped at the sight of that. To avoid the same ordeal, I cleared my thoughts and prepared myself for the worse.
When it was my turn, I handed my passport and boarding pass to the officer. I expected to be asked questions like “What will you do there?” “Who are you travelling with?” “What’s your job?/Where do you work?” The immigration officer looked at me and asked “When is your return flight?” I answered “February 20th” (as what was indicated in my return ticket). After that, he gave back my passport. Ma’am Tess was still at the immigration counter and I had to wait for her.
Whew! My brain was spitting a million “Thank you!” at that point. I guess that was it. That was really is it is it!
When it was boarding time, we looked for our designated seats. This time, we were 2 rows apart. I then started drifting off to lala land.
An hour after, I woke up with the sea of clouds on my window. Up until that point, I wasn’t sure what I was about to do with my life. I was just thankful that I was given this rare opportunity to live the dream I dreamt four years ago. Without my strong will and the drive to see the world, without an understanding family, without friends who share the same passion as I do and without the blessing from up above, I don’t know if I’d even make it passed that horrible traffic at the Marcelo Fernan bridge, the fully booked Philtranco bus or the strict immigration officers. But there I was, a thousand feet up in the air, still uncertain of the things to come. So I grabbed my pen and notebook, started going emo and wrote how it wasn’t too late growing up at 31.