Friday, April 17, 2015

The long way to Boracay

Boracay Island, Philippines - our destination for Spring Break 2015!!! Ever since Boracay was voted to be the Numero Uno beach vacation spot a couple of years ago, its popularity has soared! Almost all our expat friends here in Suzhou have been, and many of them had said that Boracay was their favorite vacation place of all time!! The drawback - getting to Boracay is not as simple as hopping on a plane - the way to this tropical paradise is anything but easy!! So ever since Ajey booked our vacation - way back in July - I have been a little anxious about the travel!!

All roads to Boracay lead through the Filipino capital, Manila. Cebu Pacific Airlines has a direct flight from Shanghai to Manila - at least the first leg of this journey seems straightforward, doesn't it?? Also, we were to break journey in Manila - we had 2 days before the next travel phase - not bad at all!! And then 2 days before we were to leave, a tinny news flash passed across the TV screen - "Super-typhoon Maysak heads to the Philippines"!! Wait - what??!! And of course, the typhoon is expected to hit Manila on Friday or Saturday - the 2 days we were planning to be there!!! I for one, was all for just canceling the whole thing - seriously, do you remember the last time a super-typhoon hit the Philippines!!

So I spent the next 2 days sick with anxiety - Ajey's insouciance left me completely baffled - at one point he went as far as to say - Well, when will we ever get to see a typhoon up close - this will be awesome!! Umm...not!!! The Weather Channel, of course, didn't update as fast as I would have liked - and the Internet wasn't much help either!! The latest news before we left for the airport was that the typhoon would hit Manila a day later - Sunday! So we would definitely make it as far as Manila - our flight on Sunday - no idea!! In any case, even if we did get to Boracay, the forecast was dismal - rain, rain and more rain!! So much for the perfect beach vacation!!

In all this obsessing about Maysak, its route, its gale force wind speeds - I completely forgot to check the weather in Shanghai!! So it came as a complete surprise at checkin to be told that our midnight flight had been rescheduled to leave at 6:30 in the morning!! Well, at least they told us right away - instead of having us wait forever in the terminal!! We contemplated just camping out in the airport - bringing back memories of traveling from US to India with huge layovers in Europe - but good sense prevailed, and we decided to get a room in the hotel at the airport - very imaginatively named Airport Hotel!!

We weren't really expecting much - but the hotel was surprisingly decent!! Clean, with a fancy lobby - and after much amused giggling, the housekeeping staff even brought us the extra sheets and pillow we requested. The best part? No worry about getting a shuttle or a taxi in the morning - just wake up and walk to the gate!! Our bags were checked in - so we didn't have a change of clothes or even a toothbrush - but getting a few hours of sleep was definitely better than a cramped seat in the airport!! Our flight was delayed a little further - but by 9am, we were on our way to Manila!! Woohoo!!!

There are 2 options to get from Manila to Boracay - fly to Caticlan and then a ferry to Boracay, or fly to Kalibo, catch a bus to Caticlan and then get a ferry. The flight to Caticlan, however, is not only super-expensive, but being a small airport, the only planes that can get there are turbo-props!! We were to fly to Kalibo instead - and unbelievably, still no sign of the typhoon!! The absolutely perfect way to get from Kalibo to Boracay is Southwest Travels - extremely, extremely organized and well-run - right from the airport to the bus, then the ferry, and then the car to actually get to the hotel - I'm impressed!! Finally, we're in Boracay - and the sun is still shining!!

On the way back, we were to reverse the journey - and we realized what a difference the halt in Manila had made!! We were picked up at our hotel by Southwest at 7am - quite an early start. Southwest service was once again flawless, and we were at the Kalibo airport at 10:30am - well in time for our 12:30 flight. And then started the waiting - delay, delay and a further delay. Our flight from Manila wasn't till 8pm that night - so we weren't really worried about missing our connection - it's just that the waiting is so exhausting, not to mention boring!!

In Manila, we made a quick dash to a nearby mall to grab dinner before our flight - wasn't nearly as close as we had thought - and we did have to hustle a bit to get back to the airport! All 3 flights so far had been delayed quite a bit, surprisingly, this one was to depart on schedule!! Pudong airport at midnight - stumbling with fatigue climbed into our car, for the last leg of the journey - back home to Suzhou! It was almost 3am by the time we reached home - we had been traveling for 20 exhausting hours!!! Whew!! Was it worth it - was Boracay worth these long hours of travel?? Wait for the next post - coming soon!! Oh, by the way, the super typhoon never came - we didn't have even a single drop of rain the entire time in the Philippines!!