We made it to the Philipines! After 31 hours of travel, including two planes, a van and a boat, we arrived at the Atlantis Resort in Puerto Galera, Philipines. Our journey started on Saturday afternoon when we left our apartment at 3:00 in the afternoon and arrived at the resort at noon, local time (7 AM on Monday German time).
The first leg of our journey was actually making it to the airport (could have been dicey since the Deutsche Bahn is on strike, again) and getting the car situated. We booked a reservation with a park and ride, which we thought would be straight forward. After driving to the location identified on their website, we discovered (after conversing in my incredibly broken German), that we were supposed to meet at the airport, not where we were. So we went back to the airport and waited for the driver to show up and valet the car. Once that was done, we checked in and headed towards the gate and security.
It was was a 9 and a half hour flight from Frankfurt to Beijing. We flew Air China and I was pleasantly surprised by the plane, the seat comfort (although it doesn't compare to business class by any stretch of the imagination), the food, and the flight attendants. When we checked in, we had booked an aisle and a window seat, leaving the one in between us open. Our hope was that no one would sit there and we would have three seats to ourselves, and it worked! It was nice to have a little bit of extra room for such a long flight. We arrived in Beijing at 11:00 AM local time and then had the world's longest taxi to our gate. It took us over a half hour. It was crazy.
We had an 8 hour layover in Beijing where we had planned to try to go see the Forbidden City for a few hours to pass the time. From the internet, it seemed easy enough, especially since visas aren't necessary for visits less than 72 hours. You simply exit the airport, head to the right area (which is near the exit), and get on one of the multiple tours being offered. In reality, not so easy. First, we couldn't figure out exactly how to get out of the airport. There were three customs lines, one for entering the country, presumably with a visa (AKA, the normal line), a second line for passengers in the country less than 72 hours, and then a third line for those with connecting flights to another international location. We entered line 2, but then were told we needed to be in line 3. In retrospect, it was line 2 that we wanted, not line 3.
To get into the terminal our connection to Manila left from, we needed to go through security again (even though we had never left the secure area). For some reason, the Chinese were INTENSE about their screening. We are used to having to take our regulators out of our carry on's (most people don"t recognize them on the x-ray monitor), but here we had to take regs, the camera, the lights, all of our batteries, the computer, and liquids, pretty much everything we had brought, out of our carry on for further inspection. We had to demonstrate that our lights actually worked and try to explain the dive gear. A half hour later, we entered the terminal, only to realize there was not an exit...anywhere. By this point, it was just after 1 and our connection was at 8. We decided that there wasn't quite enough time to go to the Forbidden City. I guess we will just have to go back to see it :)
So, we had approximately 7 hours to kill in the Beijing airport. We walked around, watched a movie, took naps, ate Korean food, took some pictures, took some more naps, did some window shopping, found our gate, headed to the boarding area, waited to board, and finally got on a bus that was to take us to our plane. There was free internet in the airport, but since Chinese government blocks Facebook and Google, it was kind of pointless.
Our next flight was a 4:45 flight from Beijing to Manila. Unfortunately, this plane was not as comfortable, and my seat was broken so it wouldn't recline. I was able to sleep some, but not much. We ended up getting into Manila around 12:30 in the morning. After going through customs and claiming our baggage, we headed out to meet the resort representatives who were to take us from the airport to our hotel for the night and then from the hotel to the boat the next morning. The Manila airport has a very large police presence and they wouldn't even let us out of the airport until we knew EXACTLY where we were meeting our transportation. The airport was very well lit and there was nothing "sketchy" about it. Fun fact, the Filipino police force is the most highly educated police force in the world. A four year degree is required for all officers. Makes me feel safe :)
We finally got to the hotel around 1:30, ordered some room service and promptly feel asleep, only to be awoken 4 hours later to get back on the van to head to the city of Batangas, where we needed to catch the boat to get to Puerto Galera. It was a two hour ride from Manila to Batangas; I ended up sleeping for a portion of it because I was so exhausted. Since the Philipines has over 7,000 islands, and the most efficient way (and sometimes the only way) to get between them is by boat, the resort operates their own ferry service. It was an hour boat ride from Batangas to Puerto Galera. Finally, we arrived at the resort to probably the warmest welcome ever (welcome drink, hot towel, and pretty much everyone already knew our names). After checking in, we were led our room. We grabbed a quick lunch at the restaurant, got out dive gear set up and were in the water by 2. It was a long day and a half of travel, but three dives with nitrox helped to combat the jet lag. Nevertheless, we slept like rocks that first night.
So yea, that was the first part of our adventure. Still to come are recaps on the diving and a review of the resort we are staying at. And maybe anything else interesting that happens this week. Not sure if we will get a chance to post again this week since we are busy doing 5 dives a day and the internet is really slow. So, until next time! Tschuss!
- Meghan -