The Unplanned Trip to Manila / by Olivia Penero

April 17 was the most unexpected event in my life - ever.

That morning was the first day of my driving lessons and I had my mom with me for that. I was given a small owner-type jeep to master, and though I was scared at first since it wasn't an automatic, I eventually got the hang of it. My instructor told me I was an incredibly fast learner compared to the other three students there with us. Flattered, I did my best to live up to that statement.


This was my 'playground' for the morning. Those upright bamboo sticks served as my guides when driving forward, reversing, and parking. Of course, my first try wasn't perfect, and if I had counted, I'm sure it was a little under 10 minutes before I eventually got to start the car. Under the heat and glare of the sun, I'm pretty certain my instructor thought it was a twenty.

Before anything else, here's a little background. The evening before (16th), my aunt who had arrived just days before from Germany chatted me on Facebook and talked about the possibility of me and/or my brother travelling to Manila the next day for my cousin's wedding. Thrilled at the thought of travelling without 'adult supervision' for the first time, I told her that it was a shame we couldn't make it because we had no budget for it. There were five of us if ever we decided to go and 10,000 would be just a cut above the reasonable spending money in total. A few exchanges later, my aunt sent a screenshot of a flight schedule for the next day. It was a blur afterwards, but I ended up assuring my aunt I'd ask mom if she'd go with this sudden plan or not.

The following morning (the 17th), I told my mom about our conversation and after a few calls and texts between her and folks in Manila, I thought we had finally settled for a 'no'. So, it was business as usual for us and we travelled to Goa Central School (photos above) for my driving lesson. It was around that time that my mom started receiving calls and texts from my aunts persuading her to allow even just me to represent our family at the wedding. My mom ended up agreeing with them and as I continued my lesson, she left to go to the other side of town to get me a plane ticket for that afternoon. Using her 'powers' (haha) and contacts in Lagonoy, she secured a seat. It must've been a 'go' sign from God because I learned that my seat was the last one available on the last flight that day.

Around 11:30, we got a ride home and since my flight was still for 3pm, I figured I had heaps more time to prepare. It was a problem that I couldn't drop by our apartment in Naga to get clothes and toiletries, but my aunt had assured us she would buy me what I needed when I arrived in Manila. It didn't help that I was on my cycle and that I was already feeling weak from the heat and stress of the situation. After a quick shower, I grabbed my laptop bag, stuffed what I could in there and said my goodbye to everybody. A cousin would be accompanying me on the ride to Pili Airport, a solid one hour from San Jose.

The agonizing wait

We weren't able to find a ride to Goa as soon as I thought. We spent 20 minutes by the side of the road waiting for a van or a quality bus to travel by and at 1 pm, my chances of getting to the airport on time were becoming thinner every minute. Thankfully, at around 1:15, a bus arrived and we boarded, planning to get off at the terminal and switch to a van which would take us to our destination much faster. When we got there though, the van was less than 2/3 full and we knew it would take longer to wait for other passengers. My cousin suggested we get on an air-conditioned bus instead and at that moment, one arrived. We eagerly boarded and sat on the second row. Thus started my hour-long agony.

Every 10 or so minutes, I'd check my phone for the time. My stress worsened when I got a whiff of something fishy near our seats. I investigated and found that the smell was coming from one of the windows nearby. All I could do was cover my nose and close my eyes.

It was a little past two when we finally got to the airport. It was very hot and I was surprised to find out my cousin couldn't enter the facilities and wait for the flight with me. I'm telling you, I never thought my first time would go as smooth as it did. The guard was kind enough and the helpers were just as accommodating. I paid the terminal fee of Php 75 (another surprise I wasn't informed of) and went through the scanner. It was safe to say I didn't look like a total idiot during the process and once I found my seat in the waiting area, I calmed down.

Unfortunately, my seat was beside a girl and her mom. That wasn't really a bad thing, but this girl had no manners at all. Her elbow always got on my side of the seat and her feet kept grazing my jeans. It was immature of me, but I actually gave the kid a few cold stares (oops). That seemed to keep her in check for a few minutes before it started all over again. *Sigh. She looked 12 with the manners of a 6 year old brat.

The airport had free Wi-fi so I took the opportunity to go online and chat with friends and my mom. I eventually called them through Messenger too but avoided using my phone too much since its power was already below 50% (iPhone batteries are not great). It was then that I observed the partition for each waiting area. It turned out I was sitting in the Cebu Pacific waiting area. Mentally, I slapped my hand against my forehead. I was a dunce. It took me another 15 minutes to transfer to the PAL waiting area, mostly because I felt like standing up and sitting on another seat would make me look like a fool. It also took me another hit from the girl's elbow before I realized I had every right to get away from her to a better seat.

As if that experience wasn't enough, someone from PAL announced that our flight was going to be delayed. A few minutes before, I had been checking my ticket repeatedly just to make sure I hadn't missed my flight by accident. The boarding time was supposed to be at 2:40 pm, but it was already 3 pm and there was still no updates. I sort of relaxed when my flight was announced late, knowing that I hadn't missed it at all. It turned out that the plane still hadn't left Manila due to a runway problem. The plane eventually came at 4:30 pm. I'm telling you, my bum was more than sore from sitting that there's no word to describe it.

Flying solo

As we walked towards the small plane, I wondered how its inventors came to estimate that 40 people (excluding the pilots and cabin crew) could fit into such a tiny thing. It was a full plane, and I can tell you that because I was at the second to the last seat and was very close to the exit door. I was seated beside a man with a bag made from straw (really fascinating) and thankfully, I got a window seat. That meant I could take photos (which I did) and shoot a video (yes, that too). I only wish I was able to take a video of the actual lift off, but we were instructed to do otherwise (I'm such an obedient citizen, haha).




It was a purely magical experience. I watched as the ground became smaller and smaller and the clouds got bigger and less out of reach. The Philippine islands were indeed something to look at from above. The skies were open and the sea was very blue. I even saw small boats out on the sea a couple times too. Here's a short video of the flight (it's quite shaky, but watch-able).


During the flight, the man beside me continually kept dozing off and there was a point where I though he had fainted. At lift off, he was clutching the sides of the chair with his life and as soon as the seatbelt sign turned off, he yanked his off and closed his eyes. He even missed the stewardess as she handed out biscuits and water to the passengers. I didn't really want to eat it, but I realized I hadn't eaten anything for four hours already and I didn't want to complain about being hungry once I landed. I took my time eating and drinking and before I knew it, we were less than ten minutes from NAIA.


It was a bumpy landing (based on my experience riding other planes) but we arrived around 5:15 pm. We got onto a transporter bus and I followed the other passengers to the exit (I told you, I didn't want to look like a first-timer). There were a few minutes of waiting time and trying-to-find-each-other-moment, but eventually, I saw my aunt and uncle in the crowd. I remember thinking: No turning back now. Be a mature, responsible woman during your stay and try not to make things complicated for everyone. I've always been aware of my awkward tendencies around relatives who I haven't seen in a long time (and strangers too, of course), so I made a mental note to not screw things up. Now that I think about it, I might have tried a bit too hard.

The longest route

We ate dinner at Shakey's inside the airport and had small talk while eating. I got updated and my uncle (the father of the groom) seemed really excited and happy for his son. I was just really thankful to God that I had arrived safely. (My dad's always been afraid of riding small planes because due to its size, you can really 'feel the wind' from the inside. I wanted to prove that I could travel solo in small and big planes alike, so if I ever needed to travel alone to another country, they wouldn't have a hard time letting me go.)

After dinner, my aunt and uncle began talking about the quickest way to get to Trinoma, a mall near my cousins' place and also our shopping location (hee hee). It was smart of them not to bring a car since we'd have definitely been stuck in traffic for hours. It was fortunate that I brought just one bag.

We first decided to get into a taxi just so we could get out of the airport area. The line was incredibly, horribly long, and it was already dark. I think it was a little over 7 pm that we managed to get into a taxi, but we didn't have to get in line. Thankfully, I didn't look like I had just arrived from a flight given my minimal luggage and when we saw a taxi parked by a small group of policemen (they were holding inspections for vehicle registration and license validation), my uncle asked if we could get a ride out. It paid off that my uncle was a senior citizen, I'll give you that.

It was heavy traffic, and we got off a little way from the MRT fly-over. Ascending a long flight of stairs wasn't really a problem since I was used to those, but going on an MRT car with heaps and heaps of people squeezing themselves in was going to be a problem. Again, my uncle's senior citizenship worked like a charm. We got our tickets quicker than the others and we got to ride on the first car meant for disabled, pregnant, and old people. I don't remember the number of stops before we got to ours, but it was more or less seven stations we passed. Remember, I already had an aching bottom from the long wait at Pili earlier.

The first order of business at the mall was to get some heels. It had to be wearable, fashionable, classical and can transition from formal to casual with the right clothes. We found one after 30 minutes or so and we proceeded to find clothes. I'm not a dress person, so it had to be dark pants and a formal blouse. At just 8:40 pm, we finished the haul. The mall closes at 9 pm, so we had no time to get some contacts for me. I had to deal with the fact that I was going to look older than I was in the wedding. But then again, I won't be the center of attention. I'm not sure of the time, but it was pretty late when we got to my cousin's house in Frisco.

The evening drags to a close

I wanted to go online immediately after washing up and preparing for bed so I took out my mac and settled in the living room where my cousins, aunts, and grandmother were applying polish on one another's nails. I wasn't digging getting my nails done, so I left them to it. A little while later, I went to bed. One of my cousins and I had to share a bed and admittedly, I couldn't sleep properly. I was charging my phone on the batteries of my mac so it was settled at the foot of the bed. My other cousins who were on a mattress on the floor were busy with their phone and tablet. It was well past 3 am that I got a fair amount of sleep. Around 6 am, I woke up. The day had come to put on my best self.


This post is already long enough as it is. Thanks for reading through! I hope I didn't bore you too much. See you tomorrow!