As I am being sensible on the Helping Hands for Tacloban blog, I’m back to my usual more me approach to things here. A friend suggested this split in blogs as ‘nobody will give you donations if they see how daft you are.’ At the time I didn’t really see it. Now….well she was right. It’s pretty impressive I even got to Tacloban. Rather than just tell you stories as they happened, or as I remember them, I would write a few posts which together would cover the key aspects of travelling abroad; specifically to the Philippines. Pog style.
For some of this post it’s worth bearing in mind that I seem to get likened to Bridget Jones a lot. Mostly, I think, due to my almost permanent state of singledom. But didn’t she get arrested for drug smuggling at one point…? Anyway, I’ll start at the beginning and give you a few travelling pointers.
1) First, if you buy a new bag for your travels, remove the lock and key straight away. They are so flimsy I’d advise throwing them away and using a bit of string to tie your zips together with, making it more fiddly to undo and giving the impression the bag contains nothing of value. Do up your bag at least 30 minutes before you leave the house.
What I would not advise is removing all the labels emptying your bins, throwing the rubbish sack into your neighbours wheelie bin and leaving your bag open until the second you leave the house. That’s when you discover that the padlock is locked onto one zip, the key (which is about 3mm long) is mixed in with last night’s dinner in the bin next door, and the bag won’t close with the lock in the way. And actually, the padlock isn’t that flimsy and can’t be broken off with any sort of kitchen implement and can’t be picked with a paperclip.
That’s how I ended up on my hands and knees in my neighbour’s driveway, searching through all sorts of gloop when I was supposed to be starting a sedate and calming drive with my sister to Heathrow. I have to say though, the feeling of finding the key was quite a lovely one. The state of my hands however…
2) Try not to panic and avoid nice people. I thought I’d got over crying at every opportunity (the travel agents when I picked up my boarding pass, leaving my sister, checking in my luggage, paying for my additional luggage) and by security I’d managed to downgrade to just being very shaky. Then the lovely security guard asked if I was ok and my eyes started leaking again. It’s not terribly dignified, especially when the lovely security guard shouts to a colleague ‘Can you cover me? I’ve got a terrified one here’ and then walks you to the screens and explains how to check when the boarding gate appears. (I knew all that, but I listened like an eager child just in case anything had changed in the last month or so).
3) My most important piece of advice though (and this is the Bridget Jones bit), is to try not to be too English. After about 11 hours of being nestled between two people I’d never met (is it just me who finds it really odd to sleep so close to complete strangers?) I started chatting to the man on my left. He was a Filipino and was going as far as Manila via Hong Kong. He (let’s call him Manila Man) did the trip quite often as he works in the North Sea, so I thought I asked if there were any smoking rooms in Hong Kong airport, making some comment about really wanting a cigarette. And that is when Manila Man said he had something that might help, reached into his bag and pulled out a container of these:
He told me to put one between my gum and cheek and the craving would go away. And so I did, without really thinking it through. I’ve never seen these things before, but they were good… and gave a different sort of feeling to your usual nicotine replacement therapies. Kind of happy. Really quite happy. Manila Man assured me every one used them on the boats he worked on. In fact, his friend had given him the whole pot but he didn’t smoke, so would I like them? Now, I knew at this point I should say no, but I am English and worry about causing offence so I thanked him very much, put them in my bag and a few minutes later, just to check, asked if they were entirely legal. Manila Man confirmed that of course they were. So, um, that was ok then.
It did cross my mind that maybe he just wanted to get them through security and would take them off me at Manila, but my Englishness was going full steam ahead (and he would see if I left them on the plane) so I left them in my bag and completely forgot about them…
…Until 2 weeks later on my way home, just as I was about to have my bag searched at Tacloban airport. Luckily the search was more of a bag opening exercise and revealed nothing other than my baby wipe obsession and the fact that Mama Pat had given me three Pandasol (delicious sweet rolls) for the journey, just in case I faded without her constant feeding. There was nothing I could do about it there, but at Manila I feel I could have taught Bridget Jones a thing or two. As soon as I got off the plane I went to the nearest toilet and threw the pot in the bin. After removing just a few of the little sachets. Well, I knew I’d write about it and I needed a photo…. And I guess if they were dodgy, I might have got away with ‘personal use’…