So far in the trip the weather was beautiful. Everyday everywhere you looked the view looked like a postcard: tall palm trees, turquoise waters, soft white sand beaches. There was a gentle breeze at all times and while it was definitely warm, I wouldn’t say it ever really became sweltering. However, we were visiting during the rainy season and reminders of that were along the beach. During the rainy season it can get very windy and there are occasional typhoons. To combat this, many of the establishments along the beach construct bamboo scaffolding to protect their shops and restaurants from the wind and rain of the storms.
Towards the end of our trip we ran into some rain and got to experience the storms firsthand. They weren’t too bad as long as you could duck into a bar or cafe and ride out the many short rainstorms throughout the day. On our last day there was some concern even that we wouldn’t be able to leave or that the boats would stop running, leaving us stranded on the island. Fortunately for us, despite the weather, the boats off the island kept running and we were able to leave our last day.
During the week the weather had been nice for us, but the main island where Kalibo Airport was didn’t fare so well. It rained a bunch and we were nearly stuck in a flood on the road. That night we stayed at our original hotel where we’d stayed the first night. The next morning we hailed a cab to the airport loaded with all of our stuff. I travelled to Manila > Abu Dhabi > JFK. Nicole flew to Kuala Lumpur > Melbourne Australia where she planned to work as an au pair.
This was close to midnight in Abu Dhabi and it was 100 degrees out.
Ahh Boracay. Normally on our vacations, Nicole and I put together a giant Google Doc with all kinds of info on weather, exchange rates, places to go, things to do. However, when it came down to planning for this trip, I was busy with Flatiron School prework so Nicole did all the planning. It was fun for me to visit Boracay going in blind. Honestly, I couldn’t even find Boracay on a map until halfway through our trip, but enough about me, let’s dive right into the trip.
Getting to Boracay
For Nicole and I, our last day of work was Wednesday and we left Korea on Thursday. By the time Thursday rolled around we’d already shipped a few boxes to the states and packed our things. We had coffee and shaved ice near the bus station then took an afternoon bus to Busan and a flight out that night.
Our plane was delayed an hour at the airport so we arrived around midnight, local time, instead of 11. It was weird flying into Kalibo at night. There were almost no lights. It looked almost uninhabited from the air. There was a patch of dirt and grass before the runway started and for a minute I thought the airport didn’t have a runway, and we’d be landing on a dirt road. That was not the case. However, the airport was only slightly larger than what you would expect from an airport with a dirt runway. There was one building, half was departures, the other half arrivals and no real security. We walked from the plane into the terminal, past several luggage carts from other flights. Once we got our bags, we had to pay a fee to enter the Philippines. Outside the airport a van from our guesthouse was waiting to take us to our guesthouse for the night.
To visit Boracay you have to either fly into Katiclan or Kalibo airport. Katiclan is right next to the ferry port to Boracay so it’s geographically very convenient. However, the runway is too short for most aircraft so you can only get there from Manila or other regional flights. There’s also a very strict weight limit on baggage. Since Nicole and I were moving after this vacation, there was no way we were going to be traveling light. Kalibo it was. From Kalibo you can take a bus, van, or taxi to the Katiclan jetty port. They’re listed by price and time to destination with bus being cheapest and slowest and taxi being most expensive and fastest.
RB Lodge Kalibo
Since we got in so late, we stayed the night at RB Lodge Kalibo. It’s a guesthouse that seems to exist for the sole purpose of providing lodging for late night airport arrivals. The accomodations were nice. Our room had an A/C wall unit and there was wifi. Bizarrely, our room had two twin beds.
In the morning we had breakfast downstairs. I love Philipino breakfast. It consists of some type of cured marinated meet, a fried egg, and white rice. I had that every day for our entire time in the Philippines and sitting in New York writing this now, I miss it dearly and remember it fondly.
After breakfast we took a trike to the airport. The main form of transportation in Kalibo and Boracay, and I suspect most of rural Phillipines is a trike, a small cc motorcycle (dirtbike?) welded to a little sidecar with a roof and room for up to 7 people. Nicole and I squeezed in to one, but we passed several trikes that appeared to be hosting family reunions inside. Some people even rode on the back of the motorcycle with the driver while their entire friend group and closest family members rode in the sidecar part.
Kalibo Airport Again
At the airport I had 500 pesos, about $10. The ride was 100 pesos, about $2 and no one had change. I finally found a woman selling chips who was able to give me some change. I bought a bag of conceited sour cream & onion potato chips that promised to revolutionize the world of snacking forever. Despite the bold claim, I think the chips delivered on their promise. They tasted like a more flavorful Baked Lays.
Finally, change in hand, I paid our trike cabbie. Nicole and I tried to find a van or bus to take us to Boracay, but they were waiting for more people to arrive at the airport. We had the option to either wait for a flight to land, possibly in an hour or two, or take a taxi straight there. We were excited and the difference between a taxi or bus was only about $2, so we opted for the cab and headed out posthaste. The ride took us through rice paddies, forested mountains, past Catholic churches and schools. The weather was rainy but not terribly so.
Riding to Katiclan Ferryport
We got to the ferry port and boarded a tiny wooden boat with outriggers on either side. A porter helped to latch our bags to the roof of the boat. The trip from the ferry port to Boracay is no more than a 15 minute journey. On a speedboat it’s even shorter than that.
The Stations of Boracay
When we arrived at the port a golf cart was waiting to take us to our hotel. Boracay is split amongst three “stations”, or sections of the beach: Station 1, Station 2, and Station 3. Station 1 is quiet. It’s where a lot of the more expensive resorts are. Station 2 is right in the middle. There are plenty of bars and shops and activities on the beach. Station 3 is quiet, a bit older and tends to have more budget accomadations. All three are a short walk from one to another along a beautiful white sand beach.
Welcome to Agos
We stayed at a place called Agos Boracay. It was across the main road and up a set of stairs from Station 2. Because we were going in the low season, July to November, the hotel was practically empty and so our room was upgraded free of charge. We dropped our bags off and ventured down to the beach to explore. Station 2 has a big outdoor mall/shopping area called D’Mall, pronounced Deemall, not Duhmall as Nicole thought. We got some barbecue chicken and drinks on the water and sat by the beach.
That night we did a pubcrawl and met a ton of people from all over the world. I chatted about Disney theme parks with some guys from Saudi Arabia, met a former marine and his girlfriend who’s the number 1 pole dancer in Thailand, and a number of Germans on holiday.
Overall, not a bad first night and day. We got the lay of the land, saw two cities in the Philippines and met a bunch of characters.
Last year I wrote a blog post about my life working, teaching, and living in Gwangju, South Korea. I taught in a Hagwon, an after school English academy. My hours were 1-10 and I taught small classes of very gifted students. If you’re interested in more information, I encourage you to read “A Day in the Life”. This year, I thought I would share a day in my new town of Gwangyang.
The Morning Routine
Nicole and I get up around 7 or 7:30 and prepare for the day. We leave a little after 8 and walk to our elementary school. The trip only takes about 10 minutes. It’s an easy walk. We’ll usually arrive at quarter to nine and start preparing for the day.
Nicole and I share a small office on the first floor with our 3 Korean coworkers. We each have a cubicle and a computer. It’s no different than an office in the US. There’s an electric kettle we can use to boil water for tea or instant coffee, a laminator, 3 printers, a coffee maker, a table and couch and a giant paper shredder labelled “Spy Killer”. After our coffee and/or tea, Nicole and I are tasked with turning on all the lights on our floor and opening every window on our floor. We’ve gotten pretty good at it. Nicole and I can blow through this in about 5 minutes. [divider_flat]
I should mention, Nicole and I don’t work specifically for the elementary school. Technically Nicole and I, and our 3 other coworkers, work for the Gwangyang Foreign Language Experience Center, also known as, Gwangyang English Town. English Town is a field trip center where students from all over Gwangyang County come to practice English in a hands-on Environment. The field trip center is divided into 5 different sections. These sections vary by semester but currently they are: airport, supermarket, broadcasting, bank, and sports. Students from 3 and 4th grade come one day out of the semester in Fall and in Spring, 5th and 6th graders come. Each day we see about 60 kids split 5 ways so classes are about 12 students apiece. All in all, Nicole and I end up seeing every 3-6th grader from our county over the course of the year.
We Run This English Town
After coffee and window opening, Nicole and I start English town. I help the Korean teachers seat the students in the auditorium then we give a short welcome presentation. We go over the different corners and introduce some vocabulary that the students might need for the day.
After the presentation, the students are divided into 5 groups. The groups cycle around English Town visiting the different corners and doing different activities. In the airport corner, students role play as passengers and security guards. In the supermarket, the students must find all of the ingredients on their shopping list. In the bank, students practice opening an account as a teller and as a customer. In the broadcast area, students report on the weather as an anchor and as a reporter.
The five groups visit each corner for 20 minutes an practice the role play a few times as well as some key vocabulary and maybe one or two games. It’s a lot of fun and the students get to use English in real world situations. Between each class students have 10 minutes of break time to get some water, talk with friends, or use the bathroom. At noon, the students gather in the auditorium for a game of Jeopardy. Each of the five groups takes turns answering questions from a Jeopardy powerpoint. At the end of the game, the group with the most points gets small chocolate biscuit.
The Weekly Haps
English Town is everyday except for Wednesday. On Wednesdays we teach first and second grade students at the elementary school connected to English town. We teach 4 classes; two first grade and two second grade, 40 minutes each. We swap classes so I’ll teach one class with my Korean coteacher then switch to Nicole’s class. At the same time, Nicole and her coteacher will teach a class then swap and teach the class I just taught. Sometimes these classes are cancelled if we have a lot of students and need to schedule a Wednesday English Town or if there is a school function like a performance or an exam.
Whether we have English Town or first and second grade classes, they all finish around 12:30pm. This gives us time to plan for first and second grade classes, plan winter or summer camps, or just catch up on reading. It’s a nice schedule and it’s allowed me time to work on personal projects such as this blog, learning HTML/CSS (more to come soon), and planning awesome vacations (also coming soon).
At around 5pm we go home each day. If it’s Monday, Wednesday, or Friday I go to the gym with my friend Brendan and work out for about an hour. If it’s any other day I go home with Nicole and work on my blog or try to teach myself something new before we make dinner and settle in for the evening.
Life in Gwangyang
Teaching in Gwangyang this year is a very different experience. However, I much prefer it. My classes are shorter. I get to teach a wide variety of students. Each day and each class is different because my students are different. I also have a lot more vacation time, fewer classes, higher pay, and a larger apartment.
On our last day in Berlin, we headed over to Museum Island, Berlin’s island …of museums. We got passes and walked through a few of the museums including a painting gallery, a sculpture gallery, and a history museum. Just like the Deutsch Museum in Munich, they were really informative. The history museum even went into the history of the museum itself. Apparently a bunch of artifacts were taken to Moscow by the soviets during their occupation of East Germany and Russia still has them. There were several exhibits that brought that fact up. I found it ironic considering the Germans were holding literally hundreds of Egyptian artifacts, but they never mentioned that in the museum.
Pizza and Packing
After an afternoon of hanging out in the museums, Nicole and I got a pizza to share and headed back to the AirBnB to pack. We loaded up our bags and took a tram to a bus to the airport. The whole trip took about an hour and reached the airport right at the 2 hour mark for our international flight. Nicole got us some food while I waited in line to check us in.
Flying to Iceland
The flight to Iceland was no problem. We took off on time and arrived a few hours later in Iceland. I actually slept most of the way. The new travel Austin was finally becoming accustomed to sleeping on long flights. It made the time go by much faster, but at the expense of missing airplane snacks. I made up for it by eating the rest of Nicole’s airplane sandwich when she fell asleep. [divider_flat]
Landing in Keflavik
Landing in Keflavik, Iceland’s largest airport, was a breeze, even at 1am. There was absolutely no security or anything, we just picked up our bags from the luggage carousel and walked out. No customs, no declaration forms, Iceland was just happy to have us. I loaded up my trusty yellow backpack into a tiny shopping cart and headed over to the car rental place. The guy I chatted with was really nice. He ended up giving us a free audio CD of the Golden Circle (more on that later) and another CD of Icelandic Folktales. [divider_flat]
Finding our AirBnB
We got our keys and hopped into our rental car. I used the airport wifi to look up directions to our residence and then we departed. The trip was supposed to take only 45 minutes, but we ended up getting lost in Reykjavik. The trip took about twice as long and involved us stopping at a random house at 2am and almost knocking on the door before we realized we were in the wrong place. Luckily we figured it out and didn’t scare a random Icelandic couple with out late night intrusion. Eventually we found our AirBnB and our room inside the AirBnB. We got inside and brought our bags up to our room before passing out from an exceedingly long day.
Nicole and I woke up early Tuesday morning eager to begin our adventure to India. We hailed a cab from in front of our hotel. I’ve never been offered a price different than the meter in Korea, and aside from occasionally being confused, I’ve found Korean cab drivers to be very honest and helpful. This cab driver was the exception. He quoted us at $15 for a trip that we knew would be less. I told him “anneyo”, or no. He said “ok,ok,ok” and we used the meter.
A few minutes, and $10, later we got out of the cab and tried to check in. We arrived 2 hours and 45 minutes early, only to find that we couldn’t check in until exactly 2 hours before our flight. We passed the time playing games on Nicole’s iPad and checking Instagram.
I posted a hilarious picture of a cheese sign and I wanted to gauge public sentiment. The cheese picture’s reaction soured, one might even say it curdled. Cheese picture below.
After we checked in, we got some coffee and egg and cheese sandwiches at a Peanuts-themes restaurant (not the legume but the Charlie Brown comic). The sandwiches were like the peanuts comic, not great, just alright.[divider_flat]
West Wing and Chinese Beer
We boarded our plane around 11 headed for Guangzhou airport in China where we would have a 4.5 hour layover. On the plane I enjoyed Chinese beer and watched season 2 of the west wing. We were slowly working our way through the series for the first time. We were ten years late to the party, but we were still enjoying ourselves.
Landing at Guangzhou Airport
We landed in Guangzhou at 2pm. The plane wouldn’t take us to the gate. Instead the plane just sort of stopped and we hopped out. There was a light rain as we walked towards a bus waiting to carry us from the runway to the terminal. Nicole got a great candid shot of the whole experience.
We wandered around the airport for several hours. The airport was pretty small, there was AC, but it didn’t appear to work. There were a few random restaurants that appeared to be independently owned selling a variety of foods. One restaurant sold pizza, one sold wine by the bottle, and one sold traditional Chinese food. The latter was also the only place in the airport with free Wifi so we went there.
The Guangzhou Terminal
The food was pretty cheap upon a cursory glance at the menu. We ordered some noodles and beef curry. The waitress asked us if
we would like egg on our meal. We said sure…big mistake. The food was delicious and so was the egg. However, when the check came it appeared we were each charged another $7 a person for the egg. Considering our meals were about $7 on their own, doubling the cost of the meal for a single additional egg seemed crazy. I will say this though, the egg was a nice addition.
The rest of the terminal was filled with odd Chinese curio shops selling everything from questionable Red Bull bottles to Hannah Montana drinks.
The only other thing of note was the smoking lounge and the bathrooms were the same place, meaning any time you wanted to go to the bathroom you had to walk through a smoke filled room. Ironically, inside the bathroom were several signs saying no smoking despite the bathroom reeking of smoke from the lounge immediately outside the door.
Onward to Delhi, India
After our long strange layover we flew on to Delhi from Guangzhou. This was our second flight of the day and while there were no TVs in the backs of the seats, the airline did serve us food. Nicole and I had the seafood entree and watched some more West Wing.
When we finally arrived in New Delhi, India, it was a little after 10 when we landed. We grabbed our bags and walked through immigration. The customs officer hardly looked at my passport or my visa. Outside of customs was a nice typical airport arrivals area. There were places to rent cars or rent phones, a few ATMs. Everything was normal. Immediately outside the airport was a whole other story. It looked more like the apocalypse. There were dozens of Indian porters with piercing dead eyes. They saw Nicole and I and moved in for the kill. Suddenly we were surrounded by Indians asking us where we needed to go and quoting us different prices without even knowing our destination.
We walked past the porters and up to the police sanctioned taxi stand to book our taxi to Golcha Cinema, the nearest landmark to Mini Punjab, our AirBnB residence for the next week. The old man in the taxi stand scribbled on a purple piece of paper and told us the trip would be 450INR, about $7.50. I took the paper to the nearest taxi and we embarked on our journey.
Driving in India is insane, absolutely insane. I rag on Korean driving and I previously ragged on Italian drivers, but Indian drivers stand above the rest as far as shear insanity behind the wheel. There are maybe 3 lanes on the road and 4 or 5 cars occupying those 3 lanes. Everyone merges everywhere all the time without any warning. I thought about the car rental stand in the airport and shuddered at the thought of driving anywhere in India ever. Luckily, our taxi driver was very skilled. He expertly maneuvered us between trucks, around rickshaws, elephants, and camels…and yes, all of those vehicles and creatures occupied the road.
Finally, we reached our destination in Old Delhi. Our AirBnB was between several construction sites and up a long narrow staircase to an apartment above a curry shop. More about the apartment tomorrow.