Saturday, May 30, 2009
The Philippines (Part 2)
After the most intensive six weeks of work since I started with Opportunity, I was looking forward to a week of relaxation and reflection on the beach, and some exceptional scuba diving. But it didn’t quite work out as I’d expected.
The day after the conference I had a 9am flight to Manila to catch another flight to Coron, a large town in the north of the Palawan archipelago, a chain of islands in the west of the Philippines best known for their undeveloped tropical environment – fine white sandy beaches and perfectly clear blue waters.
I had a particular fixation on these islands because, in 1944, just off the island of Busuanga, American navy launched a surprise attack on the Japanese fleet, sinking 14 large ships in a raid which at that time was the longest-range aerial attack in history (many of the attacking planes ran out of fuel before they could return to their carriers). Today, these wrecks lie well-preserved in the very shallow water they sank in, teaming with marine life. In short, a divers dream!
The flight to Manila was routine and as the connecting flight took off in clear blue skies, I had no reason to think that we wouldn’t make it to Coron…
About ten minutes from our destination, while gazing out of the window at the pure blue waters of the South China Sea, I noticed a column of cloud, storm-clouds in fact, which looked not a little like a typhoon. While I was still puzzling over this aberration in the middle of otherwise clear blue skies, the pilot (or it could have been the copilot or anyone that can do that voice I suppose) announced that we would be in a holding pattern for a while due to what he euphemistically called ‘bad weather’. After 20 minutes of lazy circling (blue skies, blue skies, blue skies, typhoon, blue skies) which fooled no-one, the pilot came on to regret that we had been ordered (by air-controllers, or by God, I’m not sure to which he was referring) to return to Manila.
What I day. I spent several (yes, several) weary hours at Manila airport booking flights to Boracay for the next day. Boracay is the most famous, and (over) developed resort in the Philippines, a pretty decent place to spend some relaxing days, and - more importantly – in a group of islands well clear of the typhoon. So it was the perfect location potentially. And I did feel like I was recharging my batteries there, though by the end of the week I was pretty bored. Beach resorts are not often a great place to be on your own, and this was a particularly couple-y place. I enjoyed the diving, it was pretty decent, if not out of this world.
Somehow I found myself happy to be back in Manila though. Maybe the hotel helped – the global economic crisis has made some hotels ridiculously cheap, and the discounted price of five-star luxury has crept into even my budget. Hostels are fine by me, but I’ll take luxury when I can get it.
So obviously I prolonged checking out of the Mandarin as long as possible, but eventually they had to kick me out on the streets. I had a few hours to kill before my flight back to Sydney and no appetite for further shopping, so I decided to take-in the new Star Trek movie.
I can't say I'm a fan, at least I'm definitely not a trekkie. I have seen most of the movies though and there seemed to be a fair amount of buzz about this one. And for once it's justified. This is a fantastic action movie. No better way of describing it in my opinion. Just really sharply put together. The story is very nicely together of where all the main characters came from
What this is not though - and this will sound odd - is a sci-fi movie. For me sci-fi is the art of presenting something different and other-wordly. Superficially, this is just that. But its just too slick and though there are plenty of surprises, they are all 'knowing'. In every other Star Trek movie i've seen, there was something off-the-wall which suggested the writers were smoking something at some point in the production. On screen these moments could seem wobbly or kitsch, but they at least got you thinking. This is missing from the new Trek movie. By being slick, it's the perfect action movie, not the perfect sci-fi movie.
And that was the Philippines. It was a funny trip. Nothing went quite as planned. And at the same time I can see the place has amazing potential and I hope to go back soon, and often. But not to fancy resorts. And not on my own. And definitely not during typhoons.