Missing the Philippines

My 10,000-mile marathon trip from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Cebu, Philippines

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Journey from Chattanooga to Cebu, Philippines

Marilyn and I at her cousin's place in Zamboanguita, PhilippinesLast year I had the privilege of visiting a wonderful woman in the Philippines. This trip represented my first journey outside of the U.S., save for a week-long family vacation to Toronto back in the early 90's. Anyway, I wanted to share with you an abridged timeline of events as they occurred on my incredible journey to Cebu City, Philippines. Please note that all times indicated in bold are Eastern Time Zone. This way, it is easier to measure the actual lapsed time. On occasion I will mention the local time just so you understand the alienating time differences my mind and body had to contend with. Also, please understand that I had one 15-minute nap during this entire 10,000-mile trip.

>> April 12th, 2005

  • 3:00pm - My good friend from church arrives at my house in Chattanooga, TN to take me to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. What a nice friend, huh? Of course, prior to this I had offered to cover the gas expense. This is at a time when gas is still somewhat cheap.
  • 6:30pm - After stopping off for McDonald's my friend and I share a time of prayer. The anxiety/excitement begin to well up as I step into the airport terminal and arrive at my gate.
  • 7:40pm - My flight departs from Atlanta en route to Los Angeles on what will be the longest flight of my life. Though fatigue begins to set in I'm only 150 miles from home now with 9,850 more to go. How will I pull this off?

>> April 13th, 2005

  • 12:40am - My flight arrives in Los Angeles and I proceed to the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) for my marathon flight to Hong Kong. Even though it is 9:40pm local time my body knows it is way past bedtime already. The TBIT feels like a busy marketplace in a distant country. I've never been this far from home: 2,400 miles down with 7,600 to go.
  • 3:00am - Before boarding the gigantic 747-400 plane we receive the announcement that our itinerary will now involve a stop in Incheon, South Korea to refuel. This unscheduled stop will effectively wipe out my 3-hour layover in Hong Kong and cause me to miss my flight into Cebu. Admittedly, I am frightened to death at this point. Missing a domestic flight is nothing, but being stranded in Hong Kong by myself is something quite different to ponder, especially for a first-tie traveler like myself. I almost turn back, thinking perhaps the Lord is trying to tell me this is not His desire after all. A text message from Marilyn renews my determination to press onward, and God surely goes with me into the darkness covering the Pacific Ocean (a literal and figurative darkness).
  • 3:15am - I will soon depart on Cathay Pacific Airways en route to Incheon on what will soon become my new longest flight ever. It has been just over twelve hours since I left my house in Tennessee and I have yet to sleep. I have just met a Filipino-American man and his son who are sitting in my row. They are also flying to Cebu. Sent by God perhaps to accompany me? A peace that passes all understanding fills me. Remember what I said not long ago about God going with me on this journey? My eyes fill with tears as I experience His grace. I'm about to leave my comfort zone behind and fly to a country on the other side of the world to meet a woman I have been communicating with for 1.5 years who could potentially become my wife. Yet, the anxiety and fear from 15 minutes ago are already long gone. My God provides more than I could ever ask...and He has done it yet again in a way that I didn't see coming. I love when He surprises me like this :)
  • 8:15am - We are flying over Anchorage, Alaska around this time. I am surprised that after 5 hours in the air we are still flying over land. Even though it is early morning rush hour back home it is still very early in Alaska and I have not seen daylight since an hour into my flight from Atlanta to LAX.
  • 12:00pm - It is lunch time back home in Tennessee and we are now in the vicinity of extreme eastern Russia (near Vladivostok), according to the flight tracker on my personal screen. It is very early in this part of the world as we continue to fly away from the sun, which has recently risen over the West Coast. I have not seen daylight in about 17 hours.
  • 4:00pm - My mind shifts to thoughts of my parents as they are preparing to return home from work within the next hour. Our plane begins its descent into Incheon and I am quite amazed at the reality of it all. I see lights below, but they appear almost alien, as if I am surprised that there is life outside of the U.S.A.
  • 4:15pm - Our plane lands in Incheon, South Korea (if you're keeping track we have just endured a 13-hour flight). It is 4:15am local time and I have not slept since the morning of the 12th, except for a 15-minute nap, which did nothing to energize me. My coach seating assignment has not been very conducive to much of anything except watching movies and episodes of Friends. As I gaze out the window at this early hour Incheon International Airport appears quite desolate. I'm now about 7,000 miles from home with 3,000 more to go. (Please note that local time in this part of the world is 12 hours ahead of Tennessee time. So, when I give you the Eastern time in bold you can simply switch the am and pm's around).
  • 5:45pm - After sitting on the plane for a re-fueling and crew change our plane departs for its original intended destination: Hong Kong! For the first time in almost 23 hours my eyes see daylight. The sun has finally caught up with us.
  • 8:45pm - My parents are likely watching their favorite Wednesday night line-up now. Our plane touches down at Hong Kong International Airport around 8:30am local time. It resembles Seattle here...kind of gray and misty. I like it! Oh, but we have missed our connecting flight to Cebu, Philippines because of our stop in South Korea. My aforementioned Filipino-American friends and I are directed to an alternative flight to Cebu that connects in Manila. Interesting...I wanted to avoid Manila at all costs. Yet, I will soon be going there and I have peace. I am actually excited. I have since met other members of this wonderful Filipino-American family from Los Angeles. One of them has an international cell phone. I need to call Marilyn so I can update her on my new arrival time in Cebu. So nice to hear her voice, knowing that I am now only a few hours from her.
  • 10:45pm - We depart from Hong Kong on Cebu Pacific Air (which has some really colorful planes) en route to Manila. My parents should be sleeping now. I should be sleeping as well, but the closer I get to my destination the more my adrenaline keeps me awake. This airline known as Cebu Pacific is quite unique. About 30 minutes into take-off the flight attendants begin to lead the passengers in a round of games. There are even prizes as well.

>> April 14th, 2005

  • 12:30am - Our plane lands in Manila at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and the real adventure begins. Customs is a breeze, amazingly. I show the robot-like official my passport and declarations slip, and that's the end of it. She hands them back without so much as a word. That went too smoothly. However, the heat is heavy and I realize just how far from home I am. This city is another world. My new Filipino friends from America now become my security blanket...well, and the Lord, too ;) I stick out like a very sore thumb.
  • 12:58am - I have lost sight of my entourage! Where did they go? I am a lone foreigner who is obviously lost now. This is my worst nightmare. I even shoo away a few airport workers, suspicious that these are scammers or worse. Actually, they are indeed airport personnel and they ask if I need help. They direct me to the proper shuttle bus and I spot someone from my group. Whew!
  • 1:00am - If only my parents could see me now. I board the bus that will take us to the domestic terminal, a whole 1/4-mile away. The heat is even heavier, the humidity unbearable, the exhaust fumes dizzying, and the traffic beyond even a metro New Yorker's wildest imagination. The epitome of my uneasiness has been reached.
  • 1:30am - We finally arrive at Manila's domestic terminal. We cleared the 1/4-mile jaunt in 30 minutes...not bad by Manila standards! Outside I spot more than a few military-clad guards with huge weaponry. I guess it's okay since they are there to stop the bad guys. I'm not a bad guy, right? American people aren't known to carry bombs. Yet, I don't even make it through the first security checkpoint without being taken aside for a manual bag search. Oh, my gosh...what if she sees my prescription for Zyrtec and my anti-malarial pills and has me held on suspicion of drug possession and orders an investigation? These are the types of thoughts that are going through my head. I am at the mercy of these people. Oh, good...she zips up my bag and lets me continue on my way. Further up, we each have to pay a terminal fee before we can leave the airport. What in the world is this about? Granted, it's only 100 pesos (about $1.90 or so), but in America we don't have to pay to leave the airport (they just add it to the ticket price ;)). Next stop is another security checkpoint and I proceed on pins and needles. No manual search this time. Finally, I'm in the departure area. However, the "gates" don't even resemble normal airport gates. They are just doors leading outside. I look out and see a few planes scattered over a large concrete area. I guess that is the tarmac. Our flight is being called now. I guess I just follow the line out the door onto the concrete area. There's a plane just sitting out there a bit. That is our plane. Why won't they let me take my small bag on board? They want me to check my carry-on? Are they going to rummage through my stuff?
  • 3:00am - We are now on our way to Cebu via Cebu Pacific Air. The flight will take just over an hour. My lack of sleep has little effect on me now. I have come this far to meet a woman named Marilyn. She has been a wonderful pen pal for 18 months and I will soon see her beautiful face. The butterflies in my stomach are multiplying. Oh, my goodness....I'm almost there!
  • 4:15am - Our plane lands at Mactan-Cebu International Airport and I retrieve my bag at the primitive baggage claim area. All of my stuff is still intact, despite my worries about it for the past hour. Anyway, this is it. As I look out the doors to the "welcoming area" I see a substantial crowd of people who do not look like me one bit. One of them should be Marilyn, though how in the world will I spot her? Thank the Lord for my new Filipino-American friends who have offered to help me meet up with Marilyn. They have been blessings this whole trip.
  • 4:45am - Despite having to wait on my late friend, the face-to-face meeting takes place. I hug Marilyn. It has been 1.5 days and 10,000 miles since I left my house in Chattanooga. This is the moment I have been praying about and dreaming of and it is now here. The local time is 4:45pm. The early evening air is not quite as stifling, but the air-conditioned taxi is a relief. My journey halfway around the world has ended, but my 12-day adventure in the Philippines has begun!