We are here. It seems impossible, but it’s true. After 27 hours of traveling with absolutely no issues (!), we are…home. Although I am too jet-lagged and all-around exhausted to go into much detail now, I would like to get down the basics.
We flew from Minneapolis to Detroit (1 hr, 15 mins), Detroit to Nagoya, Japan (12 hrs), and Nagoya to Manila (4 hrs). Then we hopped in a van and drove another 2 1/2 hrs to Subic. Ringo shocked the world by being so perfectly well behaved it seemed like a dream. He didn’t like taking off or landing, but who does? He laid at my feet, quiet as a mouse, and slept most of the time. My greatest fear was that he would pee on the plane or in an airpot and it would stink up the whole place or get on someone’s bag under the plane seat. He didn’t pee once! This, of course, had me concerned about his hydration. I gave him small amounts of water intermittently and fed him pretzels. He seemed fine with it. The plane personnel surprised me by being receptive to a dog on the plane, going so far as to ask what he needed and even making arrangements on a flight that wasn’t full so we could have an open seat in our row. Even with cramped quarters, lengthy flights, strange situations and noises, he was perfectly behaved.
My biggest worries, aside from his behavior on the planes, was getting him accepted as an ESA and dealing with customs in Manila. At the Minneapolis airport, I handed over my letter, but as I did so, I skimmed it and realized Dr. Garner had given me an old letter, not the new one. When I went to her office, I had asked her to print the letter on official letterhead. She had done so and handed me the new letter. Without looking at it, I put it in the envelope and threw the one not on letterhead away. In the airport, I noticed this difference – specifically that the letter was more of a note than an official-sounding letter – and began to panic. I handed it over, heart racing and expecting the worse. The woman read it quickly, handed it back, and asked for Ringo’s papers. She commented on how organized I was (used an accordian folder for documents), and handed it all back. That was it. So when that went well and Ringo behaved like an angel on the plane, I figured it must be customs in Manila that would ruin our track record. Not so!
Much like customs in the DR, customs in Manila was, well, a joke. I showed Ringo’s papers to the 70-something quarantine officer, he looked it over, filled out a form and charged us 350 pesos (8 dollars). We turned in our customs form to the officer, and we were done. I kept expecting someone to chase us down and start interrogating us, but it never happened. We simply got our luggage to our meeting point, searched a couple of minutes for a sign with our name, then loaded our luggage and selves into the van.
The road trip portion of our travels began at about 11 pm. After a full day of traveling and very little sleep in two consecutive nights, I was looking forward to sleeping. My brain had different plans and refused to shut off for the entirety of the trip. I was wired and excited and took in as much as a could of Manila’s night life (wildly busy at 11 pm on a Thursday!) and the dark landscapes outside the city. So many of the landmarks in Manila were familiar, which produced a sense of ironic comfort. We would pass a McDonald’s (home) as a tricycle (motorcycle with side car use as taxi) loaded with 5 or more people zoomed by and cut us off to cross 3 of the five lanes of traffic traveling down a 2 lane road. Children in western fashion would sprint across busy roads. Horns honked constantly, not in anger at wrong doings, but to remind others or one’s presence. Friendly chaos is the only way to describe traffic in Manila.
I dozed of briefly after we left the stop-and-go traffic of the city and began a smooth drive north. When I awoke, I could only make out the shadowy outlines of trees and mountains. Streetlights on the highways were minimal and dimmer than ours. I began to get excited when I saw a sign for Subic Bay: 18 km. I turned around to check on Jeff, who manage to sleep 90% of the drive, and saw the whites of his eyes and teeth – awake and smiling. We would be “home” very soon.
The ONLY hiccup in all of this traveling was the rest stop on our way to Subic. No toilet seats and toilet paper on request only. Of course there was no attendant, so I could not request toilet paper even if I wanted to. I was reminded of several excursions Wendi and I made in Italy and Egypt, where toilet paper is not a necessity but a luxury. I’ve done my fair share of camping, so I wasn’t too bothered by this less-than-sanitary method, but it wasn’t ideal, of course.
Mr. Higgins and Xiamena (pronounce Himena) Silva, the two principals, and Xiamena’s husband met us at our home to give us a briefing for the next couple of days. P. Higgs, true to his awesomeness from our interview, brought beers and we did a quick cheers to our new adventure. Our fridge is stocked with meals and beverages and our dining room table is covered in snack foods. We are well taken care of to say the least. Our house is no palace, but it is plenty big enough. It as 3 bedrooms and a joined living room/dining room/kitchen. Things are not perfect – there are no outlets in the bathroom, the front door is see through – but these are things I expected. It’s ridiculous to assume things will be perfect in a foreign country when they aren’t perfect at home. But we are here, we are safe, and we are excited. That’s what matters.