10.01.2009 - 17.01.2009 27 °C
We booked a air conditioned mini van back to Puerto for 7am on the 10th. We got up to grab an early breakfast and got accosted by a chap at the front desk offering us a ride for the same price in his van...why not, we hadn't paid anything for the one we booked yet and it would save us a hike to the bus station.
We jumped onboard and he drove off to go looking for another few passengers to spread the cost. He gave us a pitch about how we could just rent the whole bus and have it all to ourselves and go where we want....we said no at first but after 5 minutes of looking for more people I got bored and told him to just go and we'd pay for the whole thing....it really wasn't that much...but I had no doubt at the time that the bus would be full of people by the time we got to Puerto 7 hours later (needless to say I wasn't disappointed!).
We headed off on a very bumpy ride....there is very little tarmac between Puerto and El Nido....mostly dirt tracks. It soon became evident that the seats in his van were bloody uncomfortable and that there definitely wasn't any A/C as the windows were down and the dust was blowing in. Oh well.
He went at a pace and before we new it we were past Taytay after about an hour and half and heading into Roxos about 3 and half hours after leaving. Surprisingly we were still the only two in the van, but when we pulled in for petrol/gas and he asked me for the fare "to pay for the gas"...I knew that was about to change. Sure enough it wasn't long before we picked up "his cousins daughter" and not long after that his "cousins cousins cousin and his daughter" all who I saw later paid him full fare...obviously he didn't offer us a refund.
When we hit the tarmac road out of Roxas, I saw the driver, in the rear view mirror, start to look sleepy and whilst I didn't actually see him nod off, it was obvious he was struggling. That was probably what prompted him to stick his head out the window, put his foot to the floor, and drive at about 100 miles an hour (ok the van was in no state to go that fast, but it felt like it on the windy roads) while singing Filipino karaoke songs at full pelt.
I started to feel a little green after a while, but then not as green as the cousins cousins cousins daughter who promptly vomited all over the floor in the row behind us...unfortunately that was where I'd see fit to store Kim's bag...oops.
Anyway, annoying as the driver was, he got us to Puerto in record time, covered in dust. We booked back into the Hibiscus Garden Inn.
We didn't do much at all in Puerto other than get over the last few weeks. We did however find the best food in the Philippines. This would be at "Haim Chicken Inato". I have no idea what the name means (and am hoping that Haim doesn't mean "tastes like" and Inato doesn't mean "cat or dog or lizard or something"), but basically they serve BBQ chicken and rice....and it's really good. When you sit down the waitress will hand you a menu and then look at you as if you're stupid if you actually read the thing. There really is only one option...BBQ chicken and rice....the menu also has a fish dish or two on it, but I suspect if you ever ordered it, there would be a real problem in the kitchen. I lie, there is a choice, spicy or not spicy. Obviously you should choose the spicy!
It really is good....and all for the pricely sum of $1.50. We went every day for the 5 days we were there!
Yesterday we flew from Puerto back to Manila...the flight on Air Philippines (not to be confused with Philippine Air...a different airline!) was fine except I was a little disappointed not to receive any snack as I was starving....not even peanuts.
Arriving in Manila (kite bags back in tow) we piled into a cab and set off for Malate, an area of Manila on the edge of the bay that supposedly has some nice restaurants and bars. We had reserved a room at the Malata Pensionne having read some decent reviews on line. On pulling up outside I was encouraged to see that it was fronted by a Starbucks...and on getting inside, the reception looked pretty nice, if a little low (I would have had to remove my head if I wanted to stand up straight).
We checked in and I dragged our kite bags up 2 flights of stairs to our room. Well...I started to smell the cigarette smoke a good few feet from the door and when I opened the door to the room I noticed that I couldn't actually see the bed through the haze. It was really disgusting...not the room, just the smoke and the smell. Someone had obviously just made their way through a pack of cigarettes in there. Kim turned on the fan but there really wasn't anywhere to blow the smoke anyway. I got a headache just standing there and realized there was no way I could sleep in the room....Kim agreed. We went downstairs to ask for another one, but the girl behind the desk told us they were full.
So not for the first time on our travels we trotted off to find an alternative. 50 yards down the street we came across the Pearl Garden Hotel. Clearly more upscale, but surprisingly not a whole lot more expensive and still within our budget. We were both starving so decided to go into their restaurant and order some (pretty bad) lunch. Whilst my lunch was being cooked (I mean, warmed up in the microwave), I went out to reception to see if they had a room...they did, so I reserved it and said we'd be back with our bags later.
After lunch we went back to the Malate Pensionne to check out and get our money back (we'd already had to pay cash upfront for one nights stay). I left Kim at the front desk to do that whilst I once again hauled our bags down the 2 flights of stairs. When I got back, she told me that they wouldn't give us our money back.
I think Kim will vouch for me here...in 8 months of traveling I think I've only lost my temper once up to this point....(for those interested go back and read the entry on getting a cab from the airport in Bali!)....well that changed yesterday.
I worked out my strategy, and went up to the desk with the key. There were two girls behind the desk and some woman standing on the same side as me. I asked why we weren't getting a refund. One of the girls behind the desk said that they couldn't give us a refund but that they could move us into another room.
...HANG ON!...this was the same girl that an hour ago had said they were full and didn't have any other rooms!
...she decided now that there were more rooms, but was adamant that we weren't getting our money back. The woman next to me, who was obviously listening to our exchange finally turned to me and asked what the problem was. She was clearly "management" in the place so I calmly (if maybe a little loudly) told her that we'd been checked into a disgusting room, that when we'd asked to be moved were told there were no rooms available, and therefore we'd gone to another place and wanted our money back.
She also said that we could change rooms but not get our money back. She too couldn't explain why it wasn't possible to change rooms an hour ago. I told them we were moving to another hotel anyway and moved onto stage 2 of my plan...
...I asked them what time check out was the next day...they replied 12 o'clock...so I replied "thanks, I'll be back with the key tomorrow at 12", picked up the bags and headed for the door.
That caused a commotion...."wait, wait!"...."ok we'll give you half your money back if you let us have the key now"! I replied "so you're going to give me half my money back and then give the room to someone else for the full amount?"....the manager woman replied straight away "Yes!"
Well I had to admire the honesty at that point! Weighing up my options I decided to take the offer as we were both exhausted and just wanted to lie down. So in true Asian style I had to sign 2 bits of paper to get my 50% refund (there is a paper trail for everything here!...and I'll admit I didn't sign my name, I just scribbled a wiggly line in my last act of defiance...petty I know, but it made me feel good)...and then the woman asked for the receipt we'd initially been given when we paid for the room. I didn't even know we had one, so looked at Kim, who shrugged her shoulders in an "I don't know where it is" kind of way (I would later find out that this was her final act of defiance as it was in her purse!)...so I just told them we'd left it on the side in the room...at which point we both stormed out the door (ok, more stumbled and tripped whilst trying to drag 2 kite bags, 2 backpacks, a guitar and yoga map....but I'm sure it sort of looked purposeful!).
We are now settled in the extremely nice Pearl Garden Hotel...I would recommend it if you ever have the misfortune to be in Manilla!