Manila to Hong Kong on $1 (1 of 2)

Peaceful-looking, isn't it?

A banca floats in the water near Puerto Galera, where Nick spent a relaxing holiday and his travel cash supply.

Here I was again, out there having an adventure in a far-off land and not paying attention to my cashflow. I had worked for a year in Hong Kong, and after several weeks of scuba diving and relaxing in the Philippines, I was heading back to return to work.

I caught the early morning banco (small boat) from Puerto Galera on the island of Mindoro (named by the Spanish “Mina de Oro” – mine of gold, even though there is no gold on Mindoro) back to Batangas. The boat left at 6am as the sun was rising over a placid sea; cost for me, 100 pesos ($2). Fishermen untied their boats and readied for work; their hustle bustle on the beach was a sight I wasn’t used to, our schedules opposites.

The ride took an hour, and I felt an upsurge of excitement in my chest as the small motor boat sped across the strait to the island of Luzon. I once again felt I was having an adventure, I was a traveller. I knew my money was going to be tight, for I had paid my full rent the day before. I had my plane ticket back to Hong Kong, but had to get to Manila airport first. To make the whole experience a little more exciting, I wasn’t booked on the Gulf Air flight, which was full. Schedule wasn’t really a worry at all, as the flight left Manila at 7am, meaning for me to catch the flight I had to leave Mindoro the day before. I’d have a long wait at the airport, but that’s all part of travelling, isn’t it?

Arriving in Batangas I wasted no time in finding a bus heading for downtown Manila. This part of the journey would probably take about 3 hours, traffic and other unexpected events notwithstanding.

After an uneventful ride the bus finally rolled into the BNTB bus station on Taft Avenue in downtown Manila. I remember this bus station as having one of the nastiest toilets – funny what sticks in your mind!

Taft Avenue is a bustling thoroughfare complete with food vendors, heavy traffic and an elevated light railway, something I found to be totally out of place here in one of the most disorganised cities.

I called a cab and sped off towards NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport).

Arriving 20 minutes later I paid the driver, acutely aware that my Filipino money was down to $1. Without a credit card or any other kind of currency, I was down to a single dollar!

“Never mind,” I remember thinking to myself. “It doesn’t matter. I made it; all I have to do is get on this plane and I’m out of here.” Entering the busy airport a sense of finality hit me: after 2 months and many good times, I was leaving the Philippines. The air-conditioned coolness was a refreshing change to the muggy atmosphere to which I had become accustomed. The airport’s marble floor was cleaner than any hotel I’d stayed in during my trip.

Realising I had what amounted to a 17-hour wait, I decided to dump my backpack in the airline check-in and get comfortable. I strolled confidently up to the counter, presented my ticket and hauled my pack onto the conveyer. “Okay Mr O’Neill, that’s $20 please,” said the lady.

“What?” I said.

“You have to pay $20 airport tax,” said the lady.

“I don’t have it, sorry,” I replied.

“You can’t get on the plane without paying the airport tax.,” said the lady.

“Oh my God,” I thought, “What the heck am I going to do? How am I going to get $20?” I found a row of seats and sat down to contemplate my situation. At least I had plenty of time.

I thought I might do a “yard sale” right there in the terminal. You know, lay out all my gear and give the highest bidder the sale of the century. After watching groups of steely-eyed Korean businessmen board planes and leave in robotic fashion, I began to wonder if this was the right environment for a yard sale. But as if drawn together by magnetism, a Dutch traveller and myself wound up sitting next to each other and started talking. I really hadn’t planned on trying the yard sale on him yet, I just wanted some counsel to advise me on strategy.

Anyway, after a while I figured this was my best option, so I started pitching my stuff to him. Turns out he was a university lecturer from Amsterdam. I offered a couple of new t-shirts plus other stuff I had. He wasn’t buying. But I had a pair of yellow fins, and after trying those on he took them – for $20! Hooray for the good guys!

With my new $20 bill I took my pack to the counter, confident in the knowledge there was only one more hurdle to meet: getting on the plane. I wasn’t booked on the flight, which was totally full, but the next flight wasn’t for 4 days, a fact that I was trying not to focus on too much .

I had brought with me some Filipino toffee nut candy, I mean I had about 2lbs of this stuff. It was real cheap in Mindoro and for some reason I got a bag of it. As the hours rolled on I picked at it and wished I had a couple of bucks to venture upstairs and sample the second-rate food they were serving.

Read Part 2

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