The counter for Continental Airlines in the airport had in front of it a long line of people with heavy luggage towed or bulky bags on their backs. I patiently waited in line for my turn, fortunate to be carrying only one small backpack. I prepared for the ordeal that was ahead of me.
“Next please!” the pretty woman at the counter said, and I moved forward. I gave her my passport and ticket, and in return she handed me my boarding pass. She had a pretty smile, and I’m guessing she’s already got a special someone, judging from how happy her smile was. I don’t know, I just related the level of happiness of someone by how pretty that someone’s smile is, and that in turn is indicative of having a special someone or not. So sue me.
I paid the hefty amount for the terminal fee, for the betterment of the airport, so they say. It must be a very small amount, because of all the people paying that amount I have yet to see the betterment that the money is supposed to bring. It then struck me; I was still in the Philippines.
“Unsa man, magbinisaya ta, or mag-ininglish ta? (So what, are we going to speak in Bisaya, or in English?)”, the immigration officer on the next line to mine asked an obviously terrified passenger. His first time maybe, and he was lucky to get a joker for an immigration officer. “Aw, Bisaya di-ay ka sir?(oh! Are you Bisaya sir?) “ asked the poor fellow. “Kanina pa kita Binibisaya, tapos tatanungin mo ‘ko kung Bisaya ako? (I’ve been speaking to you in Bisaya, then you’re asking me if I’m Bisaya?)”
I haven’t really left the Philippines yet. Clowns still abound.
After a long while of going around and around the small Duty Free section of the airport, looking at the same things over and over, I finally decided to go to the pre-departure area. There, I was met with another clown. Well, not really. The final inspection was thorough, and the lady inspector found my Bench hair gel. She got it, and said it was over the allowed volume for gels and liquids. I protested, and showed her an almost empty plastic bottle. She pointed to the marking on the container. It said 4fl. Oz. (135ml). I still protested, claiming that the actual gel content was way less than the 100ml minimum required. She said it’s not the content that they’re looking for; it’s the actual container size for these products. I thought I saw her eyes twitch as if I’m the hundredth moron to ask her that tonight. The defense had no shot of winning, so I silently conceded and went to take my seat. Defeated, I planned my revenge. Secretly, I was looking for other passengers whose case was like mine, but I was too lazy to put into action my vengeance. I pity my gel; it was denied its chance to go abroad. Instead it lay in a heap of other confiscated items. Farewell my gel, you’ve served me well.
Upon boarding the plane, I found my seat to be in between two teenage girls. Lucky me! Then the one on my right, the one seating in the aisle seat, said to her friend on the window seat, “Ay, magkahiwalay tayo! (We’re separated!)” I offered her to exchange seats with me, so that she can be next to her girlfriend. She accepted with a wide grin of a girl who had just entered puberty. I got to sit in an aisle seat, which is what I wanted in the first place had the pretty girl in the check-in counter found me one. Now I have it. Luckier me!
“Daddy, it’s gonna blast off! We’re gonna blast off now daddy, see?!” a very cute voice of a small boy rang throughout the cabin, as the plane rolled down for its take-off run. And I could hear an ensemble of soft chuckles from the passengers who heard and gave a damn. I looked to my right, and the kid was excitedly going about his chair, as the plane took to the air. He had long hair at the back that looked like a head tail, if there was such a word for it. Then I remembered I hated takeoffs, so I closed my eyes and pretended I was still on the ground.
“Sir, would you like to have the Chicken Pochero or the Pork Adobo?” the stewardess softly asked me. I startled in my half sleeping mode, and wondered for a moment if I was in Max’s. No, this is a Continental Airlines flight, and I chose the pork adobo. The two teens next to me chose the pochero. I wondered if they’d like to share or trade.
I slept for most of the flight, occasionally waking up due to a hurting neck, or an arm, or the back or for any other body part. Long flights really aren’t times for good sleep. I wonder how the stewardesses do it. Maybe they don’t. I woke up once in time for Ashton Kutcher shout “She said YES!!!” after the very doable Jessica Alba accepted his proposal for marriage. If you’ve seen the film, write the title together with the complete cast and send it to me. You win a congratulatory pat on the back. Seriously.
The stopover in Guam was quite uneventful, which is a good thing. I heard some warning days before that customs in Guam would be very tight, now that they were on orange alert level. I didn’t know what that meant, and by the speed at which I reached the pre-departure area of my next flight, I may never know.
Then came the Island Hopper.
I had been on this flight twice before, and all times including now, I still can’t be patient as the plane lands at every major airport in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). It’s literally like a bus, stopping at every major bus stops, where people come off, and new ones come on. Only this bus is a Boeing 737-800 airplane, a huge monster compared to the very small islands it’s stopping at. There is the sea all around. All the sea I could see in my entire lifetime. The Pacific Ocean is truly one incredible flood!
I got to my stop. It’s a US Army base and a tiny dot in the map of the world. It’s called Kwajalein Atoll, in the RMI. For the trivia buffs out there reading, (why would you?), this is very near the famous Bikini Atoll, where America first did their nuclear tests. I can hear your “aahhhh”s and “oh-really”s . Yes, this is the same place where Uncle Sam still plays around with his ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles). In fact, this base is called the “Reagan Missile Test Site”, we all know what that means! Star Wars!
The people in the reception area are quite intimidating, what with their service pistols showing in their holsters, as if they’re ready to pull them out and shoot. And the one loudly speaking was a woman. I was really behaved. And it’s not my first time here. I was cleared at immigration, and was escorted by an armed police to the pier, to take the barge to my final destination: Ebeye Island, the slum of the Pacific. Nice.
I got to the pier after a slow drive. Apparently they’re only allowed to run at 15mph max in the base, and being Americans as they were, they never did try to violate such rule. I wondered if we could have the same rule in the Philippines and have it followed. Nah, never gonna happen!
I got to the port, in time to see the barge about 500meters away out into the sea. I just missed it. I had to take the alternative, what they call the Water Taxi. For 10 bucks, you get your own personal yacht. No, not really. It’s a rag tag beaten down boat powered by two engines, propelling you fast into the waves. And I mean fast! If you’re seasickness prone, I do not suggest you take this. The boat pounded the waves, literally, and I was expecting the other way around. I wanted to puke, but there was nowhere to go, and my hands were clinched tight onto the railings and refuse to budge, even if my stomach wanted to go over the edge of the boat to remove its contents. So I just stayed put through the whole ordeal. I almost kissed the ground when the boat finally docked in Ebeye Island, but I decided against it knowing what is on the ground there. You don’t want to know.
Ebeye Island. Where do I begin to tell you the story of this land? I don’t know, but maybe Google can help. Let’s start with the pier where I just claimed like a Spanish conquistador. It’s the only one in the island, where most of the people come and go on barges and water taxis. If you’re waiting for someone, this is the only place to meet that someone. It has only one structure - a six post roofing that’s being slowly eaten by saltwater. On the far side of the port, there are locals fishing, the only hobby that anyone can do here. After the port, I walk toward the town center. It’s like walking in the streets of Tondo, only add the Pacific Ocean one kilometer on each side. Can you picture it? Shanties here and there, children playing in the streets naked and without footwear. Dark skinned men sitting on corners as if ready to pounce on you. All the scary stuff. But not really.
From the pier you can see the two prominent, if not iconic, structures on the island. On the left is the Triple J department store, and to the right is the Payless Supermarket. These two establishments have saved my hungry self more than once on times when I’ve worked late in the hospital. They close at around 9pm, and they are the ONLY places to get edible food after 7pm. The staff there is mostly Filipinos, and that’s a major relief in an isolated island.
Turning to the right on the next street you can find Anrohasa Hotel, the only hotel in the island. And there isn’t much to celebrate. Once a three star class hotel, it has degenerated into a flicker of a star class hotel. No, not even, I would rate it as a black hole class hotel. But beggars can’t be choosers, and there’re no other places to stay. Thank goodness they have air-conditioning and water, two things scarce on the island.
After a long island hopping flight, I am writing this blog in my room at Anrohasa Hotel. I have no TV, no other amenities, and no choice. I’m thankful though I have clean sheets, and running water. That should be enough. Tomorrow, I will try to connect to the hospital Internet, and post this blog for those who care to read. Or those who would like to send their generous donations. I accept cash.
Wish me luck in borrowing some hospital Internet access. Goodnight!