I’ve been in the Philippines for about twelve hours now. To say the least, I survived the journey, and that can be the hardest part. Solo international travel. Landing in Narita, Japan and having to transfer, by bus, to another terminal, in a country you do not speak the main language, but everything is still in English. Traveling before I had always thought LAX was intimidating. But that was when I was with someone who did a lot of the legwork and my job was just to follow.
This time is was a greater scale. Getting off the plane. Wandering through the airport to customs and immigration. A communication barrier between an elderly airport assistant and myself, and thusly did not understand that my luggage had been forwarded to my next flight, and did not require me to collect my bags and re-check in. The heart pounding fear of staring at the customs and immigration agent and hoping that you filled out the forms correctly. Asking an someone else how to get to the next place and being relieved when their English sounds better to your American ear than the English you’re trying to string together as the nerves and excitement simmers over and you just want to be at the gate for the next flight so you can breathe. “Follow this hall way to the left and take Bus 6 to Terminal 2.” And repeating the directions over and over under your breath even though you just have to walk two hundred feet and threw a door. Terminal 2 asking an agent, Where do I go for Philippine Air? “Second floor.” Getting turned around after walking the length of all the different kiosks and not finding it. Hint: it was at the end where you didn’t see it because it was the only one and the sign was small. The look of relief I could feel flash across my face when a Philippine Air desk attendant helped me check in and got me situated with the right directions to get to the gate. Getting there more than an hour early and waiting and checking in with friends and family and the Internet saying I got here. I’m half way there.
Usually I’m all for wandering around until the answer is apparent. But when you’re running on some hours of sleep, without a sidekick to keep you on track, not sleeping on your ten hour flight except through the bulk of Mulan (Which is an hour and a half long, by the way), being hungry and dehydrated and anxious, it’s usually easier to sacrifice the wandering for the concreteness of being where you’re supposed to be. I was more relieved as the airport antics carried on because every step of the way my chances of getting lost, needing to back track, missing my flight, having to mentally prepare myself for whatever level of miscalculated instructions I had managed to end up in- everything I worried could go wrong, didn’t actually happen. But I knew my worrying wasn’t actually because I was worried, it was because I wanted to be prepared for the unexpected, which always manages to happen when you travel.
This case of unexpected could not have come at a better time in my travels. The inbound flight that would take me to my final destination was delayed by a half hour or so. And it didn’t matter. I was sitting outside my gate, relieved and exhausted, typing away at my computer as I connected with people in Cebu who would be getting me from the airport to my apartment when I landed, and with family and friends back home in the States who were excited and curious about my adventure.
Thankfully, after running on fumes for some seventeen hours or so and a couple time zones later, I managed to sleep on most of the second leg of my journey. I landed. Followed the mass of people through customs and immigration again, got some neat stamps for my passport, again hoping that nothing would go wrong as I angrily got stared at by a customs agent, collected my bags, and waited for my ride. It was about one in the morning at this point. Hot and humid, like standing in the bathroom after a hot shower having forgotten to turn on a fan to vent the steam. The dark city (and quiet in comparison) was nothing compared to what I’m now experiencing. But I made it. Keys, internet, water. Telling my parents I had made it. A shower to get some of the travel funk off. Bed. Each small part building to the point where I thought, Holy cow. I made. Solo international travel, and a lot else, seems easier.
Four hours of sleep later, figuring out how to lock up my apartment (both locks have character and little tricks to get them to actually lock), and an iced coffee later, I had at least made it out of my apartment and back with confidence. Later, I went for an adventure around the block, here it’s like two city blocks had been merged together in length, and went around again to the supermarket just up the street for rations (bananas and juice). I stopped at the 7/11 for a siopao, which is a rice flour steam bun with yummy filling (a staple from home that I knew would ease the rumbling stomach) and made it back, this time finding my way around was significantly easier.
About an hour ago it started raining. As a born and bred Oregonian, I had grown up with rain and despised its cold, wet, windy lingering it left for months at a time, but today it called for celebration. Today the rain was a sound of comfort. Which also meant the humidity dropped significantly and walking outside felt less like a steam room. The rain brought with it a sense of calm, invincibility, and a wonderful breeze. If all it takes for me to think I can take on the world, so be it. Adventure is mine for the taking.