Transit in MNL was actually a lot less painful than I had been expecting, we exited the international terminal and made our way over to the domestic terminal where our itineraries were checked before access to the check-in area was granted.
MNL has a policy of only allowing people with valid itineraries to enter the airport and this is primarily down to security concerns. There is a lot to be said for the resulting reduction in footfall within the terminals, given how busy the domestic terminal was, I doubt it could have handled a doubling in the number of people, assuming conservatively that every departing passenger has a single well-wisher alongside them.
Our flight with PR was really enjoyable, in as far as that can be said for flying on a proper plane. We were driven to a bus gate and given a chance to experience the warmth of the Philippine sun as well as our first breath of fresh air in nearly a day.
The crew was outrageously polite and friendly, insisting on helping us with our carry ons and asking us all about our trip and our impressions of the Philippines so far. There was even a brief snack run where we were all offered bootleg Oreos and water.
I’d be lying if I said I wished this flight would never end but I definitely enjoyed it, particularly given the fact that nobody on that flight was there for business. Everyone was upbeat and ready to travel to paradise.
Our flight was blocked for one hour but ended up arriving half an hour early at USU.
Despite our early arrival, the driver from Busuanga Bay Lodge (BBL) was there waiting for us. He said that the flights usually arrive early and only arrive on time if they’re late!
We drove for around one and a half hours along some seriously bumpy roads and even avoided one particular turn as it appeared that an armed militia was manning a makeshift barricade at the end. As you can imagine I was not overly inclined to take pictures.
The Philippines is a poor country with certain areas in the South of the country classified as being as dangerous as Syria, in the eyes of the British home office.
The island region of Palawan with its hubs in Puerto Princesa and Coron is one of the more tourist friendly in the country and has been put on the map by the El Nido resorts (which we briefly considered visiting). However, we wanted to try something different. Chain hotels don’t exist here, I felt wonderfully liberated, picking a resort on its merits rather than a complex web of external ramifications relating to bonus points, upgrades, qualifying stays etc.
As soon as we arrived we were warmly greeted by a cohort of staff wearing khaki shorts and bright blue polo shirts. The initial impression from the lobby was striking almost as impressive as Alila Villas Uluwatu!
There are several room options at BBL, none of which break the bank. We opted for the best available room: a Clubhouse Suite. Whilst the standalone casitas also looked appealing we liked the idea of the the sweeping views, unobstructed by foliage and being close to the pool.
Our package also included 7 dives each, which entitled us to packed 3 course lunches that came in a variety of tupperware containers with all manner of condiments and cute banana leaf wrapped proteins. Dinner was served a la carte in restaurant, there really wasn’t much choice of dining options given the remote location of the hotel.
The food was all pretty decent although we did get some severely undercooked prawn spring rolls one day.
Also, there was a band who would come around towards the end of the evening, serenading tables. Singing is a big deal in the Philippines. If you don’t believe me, Google the My Way karaoke murders.
On our first night we absolutely dreaded the band coming over to us; inevitably they made their way to our table as we were waiting to sign the cheque.
I have learned in life that when faced with an inevitable horror, you have two choices, meekly submit or take the bull by the horns like Colonel Kurtz and embrace it. Getting serenaded is part of the experience of going on holiday in the Philippines (except for maybe at Amanpulo).
I quickly racked my brain for requests and knew immediately what it had to be; it seems that all singers on cruise ships and hotels are permanently stuck in the 70s. It’s as if some Amish stop button was hit before Culture Club and Wham! could enter their vernacular. Actually, thinking about it, that’s probably not so bad.
I set my challenge: America’s classic – Horse with No Name. They totally nailed it. By the end Kamara and I were both smiling and nodding our heads along. After that first night we made sure to arrive with requests ready and waiting, for the inevitable moment to creep up on us again!
Continue on to Busuanga Bay Lodge : Palawan, Philippines – Part 2