After a week in other parts of the Philippines, a visit to the province of Ilocos Norte was a refreshing change. For the first time since my arrival in the Philippines I felt compelled to pause and stay a bit longer simply because my first day in Ilocos Norte was my first day in the Philippines during which no locals went out of their way to rip me off. There weren’t many other foreigners to see yet locals were always very friendly and respectful. More so than in any other part of South East Asia I have visited. And that made for a very comfortable and enjoyable stay. Needless to say – I was in no rush to move to a different part of the country.
What made instant impression was respect I received from tricycle drivers. They are as bountiful in Ilocos Norte as they are in other parts of the Philippines, yet even though I was the only foreigner around, none came jumping down my throat at any time of my multi week stay. Not after arrival, not before departure nor at any other time have I felt pressured by trike drivers or anyone else on mere premise of me being a foreigner as it is in other parts of SE Asia. As a result, I never felt hesitant to step outside of my hotel room to wander the area because I was always left alone to enjoy as I pleased and at a pace I chose.
This welcoming, no pressure environment which is basically impossible to come by elsewhere in SE Asia save Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei got even more tourist friendly when I went shopping in local marketplaces. I bought rambutan, bananas and mandarins from locally run stalls yet each time I was quoted the same price locals pay. I kept buying fruit all the time because at no time, no seller ever tried to overcharge me.
When I went to eat in local eateries, I was once again charged the same amounts locals pay. Coconut – staple of my diet was also quoted by each seller at a very attractive local price of 20 Pesos (less than $.50). And even when I went to have a few beers in a bar, my total bill always showed correct number, without artificial inflations like it kept happening in other parts of the Philippines.
The only downside to Ilocos Norte – which applies to whole of the Philippines – is crap accommodation for ridiculously high price. Philippines is the only country in the world I know of where you can find even crappier accommodation than in Laos but for more than twice the amount of money. This is completely out of proportion to the cost of everything else in the country and definitely out of what accommodation costs in other SE Asian countries.
Philippines simply offers Philippine quality for European prices. If I compare $30 worth of rooms I stayed in in Barcelona or Berlin to those for the same money in the Philippines, I see my wallet grow hands and beat me up for shelling out so much for such dumpholes.
Other than that, a visit to the province of Ilocos Norte was for the most part a pleasant experience. Although… this self proclaimed True North of the Philippines, which covers the north-west corner of Luzon doesn’t have any mega malls (something the rest of the country is full of). For some, this may be a deal breaker but for me it was a plus. If you take into an account the fact that locals don’t inherently rip foreigners off, you can get more bang for a buck dealing with them than any mega mall could possibly offer.
As I have mentioned, I love the atmosphere at the airports. When you’re at the airport, the change is imminent. I got off the Air Canada plane and followed the International Flights signs at the Vancouver International. I had a few hours to kill, so there was no need to rush, however I still needed to get boarding passes for my Korean Air flights so I wanted to get that off my hands as soon as possible in case it was necessary to go at the opposite side of the airport.
It took me good 20 minutes to get from one end of the airport to the other where international flights depart from. Information panel suggested that my flight takes off form gate 58, which I found, but there was nobody there yet. I simply got there too early. I had no other option but to wait until someone shows up as they would either issue my boarding pass, or tell me where to go to get it.
I have decided to kill the time getting on my laptop and checking emails. I have noticed signs all over Vancouver airport stating that YVR has free WiFi internet. They were advertising it big time everywhere so I found nearest power outlet, plugged my laptop in there and logged on. However after 20 minutes of desperate attempts to get connected to their unsecured network I had no luck at all. It was really frustrating.
I have eventually given up, packed up my laptop and started walking towards where I came from to track someone who looks like they might know what’s going on and ask them why they advertise free WiFi when it’s impossible to connect as system rejects all connection attempts.
And as I’m walking back, I see that cute girl sitting there on her pink Sony Vaio laptop, chattering to someone on a webcam. Since she was obviously on line, I stopped by her and asked if she had any troubles connecting. She said she had no troubles whatsoever so I sat opposite of her, plugged myself into the wall and made an attempt from this location. However, same lack of luck as before. I made no sense.
But I kept trying as that girl kept chatting and eventually I got to some window that was telling me that the host wants me to confirm something on their website and was asked if I wished to visit that website. I agreed and was taken to Vancouver International Airport site where I was asked to click on Agree button to agree with some of their TOS (quite likely confirming that I won’t be using this internet connection to download viruses or porn or what not).
The moment I got on, that girl asked me if I had any luck connecting. I said it just started to work for me and got down to doing my on line business. Being used to cold people from Edmonton, I ignored the girl believing she will be the same as regular Edmontonian, but was surprised after she repeatedly kept talking to me. She was cute and barefoot, so it was awesome. It was just something I am not used to, coming from the city where when you talk to a stranger, you get weird looks. Here I was a stranger to her and she talks to me.
Eventually, I put my work on hold and engaged in conversation with her. She told me her name was Irene and that she was from the Philippines. She lived in Calgary for 5 months but her contract didn’t get renewed or something like that so she had to return back home to the Philippines. I told her about my photography and it immediately increased her interest in my even more and asked me if I was on yahoo messenger, cause she wanted to add me. Seriously, I could already feel big time the difference it makes leaving Edmonton. There was no point for me to linger in the city that turns you into a chunk of stone.
Sadly, I don’t use Yahoo messenger. I once installed it, many years ago and it came with so much bloat ware and spyware and pop ups that it went off my computer before I first used it. Perhaps Yahoo got their act together in the meantime, but this initial experience was good enough for me to keep away. I have always used friendly and safe MSN messenger and have never had issues with it.
I explained that to Irene, but told her that I do have a yahoo email address and gave it to her. She made note of that and also took my Hotmail address in order to add me to her MSN messenger when she gets it installed so we can chat in the future. That’s how awesome people are outside of the corporate lifestyle world. I have just left Edmonton and I was back at living the life, instead of spending it.
Irene then came to sit next to me with her laptop and showed me some of the pictures her brother, who’s a photo enthusiast took. We talked about photography as she was actually well familiar with many aspects of it. I asked her to send me an email to the yahoo address I gave her so I could respond with links to my sites. I did not want to just give her the URL to my personal site which has a lot of nude photography, so I sent a link in an email with appropriate warning.
Right after that, I took a glance at the clock on my laptop and realized it was already 1.40pm and my flight departure was scheduled for 2.20pm. I didn’t have a breakfast so I wanted to go get something before boarding and I also wanted to pick up a bottle of mineral water so I don’t die thirsty on a plane. It was going to be a long, long flight so I had better taken care of myself or else I’d be looking at 10+ hours of pain.
I liked hanging out with Irene form the Philippines, but I really had to go. I still needed the boarding pass. So I said my Good Byes, Irene insisted that I visit Philippines on my travels and let her know so we can hang out in her country and then I took off. I quickly picked up a sandwich from Subway, went to just grab it and go to the place where they sell bottled water so I can dart off back towards my gate, when I noticed on the board that it was only 12.40 – my computer clock was still on Canadian Mountain Time so being in Vancouver put me back one hour.
This gave me an extra hour so I ate my sub in peace, picked up a bottle of water which is BTW extremely expensive within secure area of the airport (grrrr, cause you can’t take any liquids with you as security precautions don’t allow that, so you are forced to buy overpriced water or stay thirsty on the plane) and went back to gate 58 to get a boarding pass.
It was a pleasure to be served by absolutely gorgeous Korean girls. Beautiful, slender and tall, these girls are jaw dropping. I got my boarding pass and was told boarding would begin at 1.50, which gave me a bit over 5 minutes to spend on a computer again.
I knew I wouldn’t want to be the first one to board a plane, so I sat back, plugged myself in and started the laptop for the thirst time in Vancouver. Low and behold, after 15 minutes of trying, no luck getting connected. I was messing around hoping to click on a button that would open a message which prompts me to visit the website but it never happened. I don’t remember how I got there the first time. I tried everything but to no avail. Frustrated, I have eventually turned the computer off and boarded the plane. And it was a nice plane. Korean Air rules in more ways than just by having the most stunning flight attendants in the world.