We had one more night left in the Philippines before flying to South Korea for an evening of neon metropolitan enchantment. On our last afternoon in Puerto Princesa we arrived at the tiny airport, waiting to board what was supposed to be a brief Cebu Pacific flight back to Manila.
The weather wasn’t cooperating that day. We wound up having to wait an additional three hours before finally boarding our plane, well after the sun had set. After sitting on the runway for some time, we took off into the dreary skies above, heading east towards our destination.
After leveling out in the sky, we ordered some instant noodles from a flight attendant.
About a minute after we’d finished, our plane jolted downwards and emitted the most violent noise I’ve ever heard on the scores and scores of flights I’ve taken throughout my short twenty nine years of life.
I won’t go into details about how Teresa and I reacted other than it was calm and absolute. We were both very scared. The pilot never turned on the seatbelt sign, presumably because he had to react so suddenly that there wasn’t a single moment to spare.
After the feeling of plunging subsided about forty-five seconds later, the plane leveled out again. The pilot got on the intercom and quickly apologized for the inconvenience. He also alerted us to the fact that the storm building outside, whose constant flashes of lightning were increasingly visible out of the window, would cause us to have to divert the flight from its normal course and circle around Manila until it was safe to land. Essentially, we were doing laps around the capital as flight control down on the surface decided when it was safe for planes to land. It caused us to be in the air for an extra hour before finally landing safely on the ground.
When we landed, I felt two competing sensations. The first one was complete nausea, which I’ve never felt on a plane before and hit me the instant I realized I didn’t die on this flight. The second was pure enjoyment for the cheesy pop music now playing on the intercom, like it was the first time I’d ever heard music before. It was a surreal feeling. The other passengers looked either uncomfortable or sick while the plane was going haywire in the air. Now that we’d landed, and everyone was gravely marching off of the plane, the flight attendants didn’t give any of us the usual “thank you for flying with us, have a wonderful evening”. They couldn’t even look at us in the face. They just stared at the ground and didn’t say a word. That’s when I truly realized my feelings weren’t melodrama, that things could have been really bad.
Besides not dying, the day didn’t get any better at baggage claim. I’ve had flights delayed before. I’ve never had a flight delayed as long as this one was in tropical weather where passengers are transporting boxes of frozen seafood and numerous other commodities. Apparently, a box of fish melted all over several other passengers’ bags while sitting on the plane in Palawan. My bag, and especially Teresa’s bag, were two of those unfortunates. Teresa’s backpack was saturated with a disgusting fish smell that, despite the efforts from the ladies working at the Cebu Pacific booth, continued to permeate from every nook and cranny. Mine suffered a little as well, but not nearly as badly. It was such an off day all around, I didn’t know how to react to anything. By the time we checked into our hotel near the airport and went out for dinner by the casino next door, I felt like there was an anvil hanging precariously over my head. It was, hands down, one of the weirdest days of my life.
The hotel was fairly standard, unlike anything we’d stayed in while in the Philippines. It was also heavily guarded by police, several of whom held onto the leashes of drug-sniffing dogs.
We had a random sushi dinner that night and retired to bed early, ready to leave this day in the past. The next morning, after a brief breakfast right in the casino next to hundreds of slot machines, we hopped on a shuttle bus back to the airport and took off for Seoul. Teresa and I were both wary of the plane ride after what had happened the night before, but still a little more reassured at the fact that it was a massive Boeing 777. I feel a whole lot safer the larger the plane is.
The way things ended in the Philippines is in no way representative of the vast majority of our experience there. I love this country; the people are beautiful and the land and sea are beautiful. We made a lot of good friends and were treated like family by almost everyone we met. That’s what I’ll remember about our trip and that’s what will have me returning when I get the opportunity. Until then, it is, as always, on to the next one.
And for Teresa and I, that next one happened the same day as we immersed ourselves in Seoul’s Hongdae district for one unforgettably vibrant night on the town.