A Philippine Comedy of Errors: Part Four

A sleepy carriage driver and horse at midday in Manila's Rizal Park

A sleepy carriage driver and horse at midday in Manila’s Rizal Park

Continued from
A Philippine Comedy of Errors: Part Three

I easily found JD, my travel companion, in our Manila hotel lobby: he looked just like his social media photos, minus a hat or a dolphin.

Within moments of meeting him, I was relieved to find that he was a bonafide grown-up with a sense of humorSince he and I would be together almost constantly for the next seven days, it was nice to feel right from the start that we’d stand a chance of not causing each other bodily harm.

The trip itself, though? That still remained to be seen.

After a calamansi juice at the hotel’s deli, we shook our heads in disbelief over our abandonment, lamented our mutual failure to question our Manila itinerary, and agreed to make the best of the day

It was by now 1:45 in the afternoon. A three-hour city tour was available within the next 15 minutes, but I’d soon discover that there was just one (more) wrinkle: I would first need to pack up my things and check out of my room. 

Not only had our trip’s planners arranged to save themselves the cost of a night’s hotel room for each us by sending us overnight into the mountains, but they’d also stiffed us on a private resting/dressing area at the hotel for nine hours. But we were assured by the front desk that we could store our bags there, then later on, schlep them downstairs to “the little locker room in the basement.”

“Oh, dear,” I said, genuinely surprised. “Um, since we have to wait here at the hotel until 11pm tonight to meet a ride to our next destination, would it be possible instead to use the locker rooms in the spa?” 

“Oh no, ma’am — use of the spa is just for guests.”

Well. All righty, then. 

By the time I returned to the front desk with my luggage, our tour van had arrived. Already aboard were two pairs of American white people on holiday, all of them staying at a civilized-looking Marriott: a charming 30-something gay couple from New York, and from Pittsburgh, a Catholic mother in her 60s with her 40-something son. Everyone initially assumed JD and I were married, but thought it much more fun that we were travel bloggers; JD and I, who had just met within the hour, heartily agreed.

Call me soft, but it was a lovely experience to learn actual facts about Manila while hopping in and out of a deliciously air-conditioned van. We peered at the gated homes of Manila’s approximately 37 wealthy people; learned that the Ayala family, one of the richest families in the world, is the main landholder of Makati City and at the helm of one of Asia’s largest manufacturing corporations; and we visited the emotionally moving white-marble sprawl of the World War II-commemorative Manila American Cemetery. We explored the faded, garden-rimmed beauty of Fort Santiagothe main tourist highlight of the (otherwise shabby, as I had discovered earlier) walled city of Intramuros; took a brief, shade-free stroll around the city’s largest green space, Rizal Park; gawked at the Mall of Asia, the third-largest shopping mall on Earth; and from the doorway at afternoon mass, peeked into the chandelier-hung splendor of the 1571 San Augustin Church.  

Scenes from a Manila day tour: the American Cemetery, Rizal Park,  Fort Santiago and the Pasig River, and San Augustin Church

Scenes from a 3-hour tour of Manila: the American Cemetery, Rizal Park, Fort Santiago, the Pasig River, and San Augustin Church

But all good things must end, and we eventually returned to the cozy, welcoming glow of the Mandarin Oriental.

In desperate need of a shower after our midday sojourns outside the van, we schlepped our stuff to the basement with little fanfare, shoe-horning ourselves into the narrow locker rooms at what turned out to be the gym. Post-shower, I slipped on the wet tile floor, banged my head on my open locker door, and summarily decided I was clean enough. Too tired to do any more exploring in a neighborhood where a single block is many blocks long, JD and I headed upstairs to the hotel’s Chinese restaurant for what turned out to be a strange combination of foods. (For instance, should Mandarin duck crepes really be spread with mayonnaise?) 

And then it was 7pm. My $25 worth of Wi-Fi access was up (while lucky JD still had hours’ worth), so I pulled a novel out of my suitcase. Only four more hours to sit in the lobby and wait for our ride. 

Surrounded by middle-aged businessmen in golf shirts and prostitutes in shiny shoes, I stuck out like an REI salesgirl in my hiking pants and hoodie. My book barely held my attention, JD was engrossed by his iPhone, and I steadily drifted down onto the lobby couch until I was curled in a fetal position, snoozing away. Soon after, apparently, a manager came over to point at me and ask JD if he was with me; the poor thing chose to say yes. The manager informed JD that I wasn’t welcome to sleep there, and left him to rustle me awake.

So there I sat on a faux-velvet sofa, upright, groggy and staring for hours, plugged into podcasts in order to block out the sounds of working girls laughing at the (unnecessary) jokes of men they’d rather not get to know. 

And then, as if a mirage on two legs, the van driver finally appeared. A paunchy man in his fifties with a small smile, a splay-footed walk and a thick thatch of still-black hair, Noni set about gathering both us and our luggage. At last, our “luxury van” had arrived: our semi-salvation, our rolling room for the night.

Out at the curb, Noni pointed out a van — white, unmarked and nondescript. It looked not unlike the one in which we’d toured the city just a few hours before. But when the side door opened, the difference was clear: these seats weren’t well-padded, didn’t recline, were barely wide enough for us to lie on sideways, and didn’t give us the option of tucking in the seatbelts.

And my favorite detail? No one had thought to pack blankets or pillows for our 10-hour overnight journey to Banaue (bahn-OW-way), way up in the remote Cordillera Mountains…where we’d be expected to go hiking the very next day.

It turns out, Virginia, there is no such thing as a “luxury van.”

My bedroom for a 10-hour overnight drive into the Cordillera Mountains - photo by JD Andrews/earthXplorer

My bedroom for a 10-hour overnight drive to the mountains – photo by JD Andrews/earthXplorer

We’d have spluttered with indignation if only we’d been more awake. In that moment I pictured the young marketing/what have you rep relaxing at a seaside beach bar, laughing at the (unnecessary) jokes of strong, healthy young women who would require no assistance with their coral-reef floating and whatnot. And then I pictured making him ride in the van, while I grabbed my bags and went home to Los Angeles.

But I did my best to stuff down my hostility and climbed onboard, spurred by my strong desire to see ancient rice terraces and find a great storyBut pulling away from the hotel and hitting the streets, we’d soon realize the van didn’t have much of one other important thing:


And so began the night’s adventure.


To be continued in
A Philippine Comedy of Errors: Part Five


  1. Please tell me you are sending these dispatches to the PR rep who arranged this trip.
    And please message me her name and agency so I make sure never to work with her and her firm.

  2. The VP of the company has already contacted me, asked me for my feedback and is presently arranging to get to me the information I’ll need to tell someone how to *actually* take this trip. I also look forward to having some concept of what the heck is happening in the now-expanding tourism infrastructure there.

    In the meantime, the company is linked under “an advertising and marketing agency” in the very first installment of this saga: http://www.travelswithtwo.com/2013/04/29/a-philippine-comedy-of-errors-part-one/

    The rep who didn’t accompany me and JD to the mountains? A guy in his early 20s.

  3. Found you via Kara and can’t stop reading about this
    catastrophe. Quel. Nightmare.

  4. I am still outraged you couldn’t change in the spa! I mean, this is common sense and good PR for travel writers 101. Arrange a few courtesies for visiting media!

  5. @Amber: Welcome! You’d never believe it, but I have 600+ accounts of largely positive travel experiences on this site; if you find you need a palate cleanser, please feel free to explore the archives, and let me know if you have any questions!

    @Kara: It was a bummer, sure — but I’m pretty sure that the hotel staff had no idea we were visiting media. I think this was just how they’ve been trained to handle former-and-yet-lingering guests.


  1. […] To be continued in A Philippine Comedy of Errors: Part Four […]

  2. […] Continued from A Philippine Comedy of Errors: Part Four […]

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