We arrive at the airport a little three hours before our flight. LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) was where we'd be. Our airline of choice was PAL (Philippine Airlines). That's the only way I travel to and from the Philippines. There are other airlines that travel there.
It's around 6:15 as we enter the international terminal. There are already many passengers waiting to check in with their luggage and "balikbayan" boxes. One thing Filipinos traveling back home are known for are the many box we bring back. Filled with goodies to give family members and friends. Think of it as giant care packages times however many there are. So we check in and head towards the gate. We were early, so we relaxed by the gate, where I took advantage of the wifi. It was one of those T-mobile hotspot, pay as you go things. Hmph! :-/ Anyway...Let's just way I made use of the two and a half hours before boarding.
Our flight wouldn't really leave until 10:30pm. I've been please with the service I've gotten from PAL before. We settle into our seats. I'm next to the window. *Sweet!* I was surprised to discover that they had updated their planes since I last travel with them. The seats now had personal entertainment systems and a little more leg room. Not that I needed any, but for those who were taller than I. The only bummer was that the remote control in my seat didn't really work. Meaning I couldn't turn on my overhead light for when I wanted to read my book. The screens were touchscreens, that was no problem, but I was only able to watch movies.
After the ma datory safety video, which looked like something from the early to mid 90s, we take off. LA looks really neat at night from the sky. Like I was in space as I was surrounded by stars all around me. An hour into the flight and dinner is served. There were two choices. My mom gets one and I the other we share both.
My mom gets the sweet and sour fish. Served with some vegetables and rice. Also accompanied by some corn as a side dish , a dinner roller with a pat of butter and for dessert chocolate pudding.
I get the beef stew. Served with come veggies and rice as well as some corn, a dinner roll with butter and the chocolate pudding for dessert.
I actually enjoyed both of them. It was either that or I was really hungry. The beef stew reminded me very much of beef caldereta, a similar Filipino dish. The meat and fish were both tender and good size portion. We ate it all up including the corn and bread. Savored the pudding for last. Mmm...chocolate.
I tried to read a couple pages of my book, but had to stop when the cabin lights were turned off. So I watched Shutter Island instead, which I enjoyed. For the middle chunk of the flight I tried to sleep it off to no avail. It was just a constant tossing and turning and a numb butt. I wake up shortly before breakfast is served. Hot towels are given to sort of clean up as the flight attendants prepare to serve breakfast.
Our stopover in Guam. So we've basically been in the plane for a good 11-12 hours by this point. Another 4 hours to go.
Slowly and surely the sun crept up the horizon.
Manila from above
And slowly we reached our destination. We arrive shortly after 6:30am. Finally getting to stretch my legs and walk around feels great. Upon exiting the plane you're immediately engulfed in the humid air. We walk for the terminal gate down to immigration and customs. Get that stamp in my passport and gather up our luggage. The downside of checking in early is that your luggage will usually be a few of the last to appear. It took me nearly an hour to get my stuff. It was a packed flight.
We meet my aunt and a couple of my cousins outside. Our driver helps in stacking up the luggage in the back. I think the weather in Manila at that time was around 90˚F. By this time it was 8am. Meaning it was time for breakfast. We ventured into the first thing that popped into my mind. Jollibee.
I order the beef tapa (cured beef) breakfast, which included an egg over easy and garlic fried rice. Washed it down with an ice tea. I was about to order a chicken joy meal, but fried chicken for breakfast wasn't something I wanted to start out my day. Jollibee is pretty much the #1 fast food chain the country. We do have many familiar American chains McDonald's (McDo), Burger King, Pizza Hut, etc. Not to mention the hundred of 7-11's in the city, so there's no short of American foods when I want. But I was set at have only Philippine cuisine on this trip.
Before heading out into the province we pick up my other cousin, who was also flying in from Dubai.
She arrives and we hit the local supermarket at the SM Mall of Asia (MOA) in Pasay City...or should I say hypermarket. Btw, Mall of Asia has ranked #3 in the top 10 largest malls in the world since it opened. It's that big. We make our currency exchange and purchase any necessary items. The hypermarket is really a one stop shopping place. It doesn't compare to the Ralph's or Vons in the States.
I think it would be the size of maybe 3, maybe 4, US supermarkets combine into one floor. It was huge. You have to see it for yourself to see the size of it. Shelves fully stocked. Aisle and aisle of goods, fresh produce, home care needs. You name it, it's probably there. We brave through the mid day traffic through Manila by the EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue aka highway 54). Half hour into the ride we notice it was nearing lunch. We stop at a nearby Shell gas station car stop. Next to it are various eateries. Greenwich, Chow King, I think there was a KFC, too. The answer was simple for me. We hit up the Jollibee once again. Twice in one day in the span of a few hours apart. hahaha...
Of course, I get the chicken joy. Two piece meal no less. Nice crispy tender chicken. Served with a ball of rice and gravy. Oh, yeah...majority of eateries here will serve rice with whatever you may order depending what it is. The Jollibee in the US doesn't do that as well as not having some of the menu items found in the Philippines. Like the burger steak, which is are burger patties with gravy served with rice.
The Philippines after all is a rice, noodle, meat eating country. Not to mention beer, soda and ice tea are in abundance of consumption. I love it!! :) We go have out veggies and fish, too. After lunch we continue the 1 1/2 hour long trip left until we get into the province.
Passing by places and sights I'm familiar with. Jeepneys, tricycles, traffic, people walking the streets. Jeepneys are the the small version to the metro buses that take you from city to city. There are buses, but there used more for longer trips within the country. Driving through small towns and lush green forests. It's a mix where old meets new, rundown meets remodeled, and simply those that have been unchanged. We are late in the afternoon into Nagcarlan, Laguna to the house of my aunt. This is the town where my mom grew up. To see the familiar buildings I've seen during my last trip look the same as before. We greet some our relatives aunts, uncles, cousins as they stop by. Settle in into the guest room. I was still in California time then.
Later into the evening, we attend the novena prayers for San Rafael, who's fiesta we would celebrate a couple days later. I had forgotten to take a picture of the little sandwiches served. But it was tasty. Just enough to keep the hunger down. We were invited to one of my cousin's house to have a little bite to eat, but my stomach could handle any more food by that point. I just took little bites from my mom. I did have really delicious Maja blanca, which is coconut pudding with grated corn. I'll be making this in the weeks to come.
By that point all I really wanted to do was get some sleep. The plane ride really took its toll on me and I needed some rest. The rest of the night was pretty much a small blur. I knew it would be a busy couple days ahead.
Tomorrow: Part 2 - San Rafael Fiesta