Monday, April 07, 2008

Quick Takes On A Slow Journey

Quick because of time constraints and slow because a journey that lasts for three months is never fast.

But make the trip I had to do so here I am on the second week of a globe-trotting trip that stretched over 7,000 miles from the temperate comfortable climate of Northern California to the hot and humid cauldron that is the tropics, the Philippine Islands in particular. Where the sun beats mercilessly as early as seven o’clock in the morning until its waning moments in the afternoon. Where anything enclosed, a car or a room, or your clothes on your body, unwittingly serves as your toaster oven when Mr. Sol is involved.

But please bear with the whining, since I am simply and unrepentantly your formerly born and raised in the tropics native who after a long absence will now have to re-acclimatize like the rest of the fair-skinned foreigners. Pretty soon I should be back to my normally squinting self and at home with my elements.

This trip started with me solo sitting by Gate No.7 at SFO listlessly waiting for a 10pm Philippine Airlines plane to depart. Listless, because I had already perused and re-read all the pertinent notes about the urgent tasks that needed doing when I get to my destination. Arriving very early at the airport to avoid commute traffic made for the very ample time from check-in to flight time. The fact that the plane to be used was squatting silently by within sight did not help in my listlessness, with the metallic bird’s imposing hulk immobile and waiting at the tarmac with no obvious further needs of preparation for the 16 hours to destination.

Oh, should I mention the hills of “balikbayan” boxes I had to negotiate at the check-in line as a highlight of the trip? Nah. Too common and trite. It happens during every trip of PAL to the old homeland. Proud Filipino returnees declaring to all and sundry that they are going back home, loaded and burdened to the limit (the airline’s baggage limitations) by those bloated boxes taped and tied like a badly-beaten boxer ready to go down.

To say that the 16 hours of flight was uneventful would be an understatement, especially sitting cramped and stiff in coach class, but uneventful it was, blessed only by a few hours of languid stupor called sleep during a flight.

Speaking of stupor, is that how one feels when one’s plane arrives at about 5:30am and the connecting flight is for 7:20am on the same day, and it takes about the same time to claim one’s sole piece of luggage from the baggage carousel? Because that was what actually happened. And I am happy to report that I reacted better than an Aussie who deplaned in a latter flight but shared the same carousel who was starting to feel beside himself impatiently eyeing for his luggage. Anyway, being on time for the connecting flight was enough petty consolation for me to forget all the earlier hazards. I was only too glad to be sitting on the plane that would be the last leg of that long trip. So I did not mind the woman who I found was sitting on the seat assigned to me, and who curtly retorted that she was sitting there only because another passenger wanted to put his hand-carried luggage on the overhead rack above the seat assigned to her.

After the short ride from the local airport to the house, I was ready to be greeted with familiar surroundings from a house owned for so many years and which appears frozen in time from the last visit, and a lot more time when looking at the very vintage books that date back to my school years. Shedding travel clothes down to what would be considered decent based on local custom, I was ready to hit the ground running, or more like walking slowly given the almost unbearable heat of the late morning sun.

First visit went to the local credit union to do some updating work. Déjà vu! Again, the scene was almost frozen in time much like the last visit – crowded with clients waiting and hugging dearly to small pieces of paper showing their number in the waiting line. I immediately bolted out promising to return at some later time, unable to gather enough patience to go through the ordeal. It was a little better after returning at an unholy hour, like a few minutes past lunch time.

The first day ended with early bedtime, though with the difference in time I had been without sleep for more like 40 hours.

To be continued.