Jill: I’ve mentioned my anxiety in another post about the Philippines. I think that one of the most terrifying moments of the trip – for me – was the process of flying to El Nido, Palawan, the western-most island in the Philippines. I typically have those paralyzing travel dreams prior to flights, the ones where you arrive at the airport with no passport or luggage, just a toothbrush and flip flops. My fear started there. We’ll call it Level Two. Maya and I would navigate a strange and busy city to catch a flight to our island. With traffic at a standstill, and our cab driver giving us two very different answers for how long the trip to the airport would take, I was mildly nervous about catching our flight.
Maya: My pre-trip state of mind is similar, but it’s rare that I sleep more than an hour or two the night before a big trip—I’d almost welcome a nightmare or two. Instead, I wake up in a state of panic every half hour or so, convinced I’ve overslept and missed my flight entirely. And once I’m en route, I’m nervous until I’m through the airport doors. Thanks to my poor time-management skills, I spend my transit time with heart in throat, checking my watch and trying not to snap at the cabbie (or shout obscenities at the MTA). For this particular transfer, our driver was happy to sit complacently in gridlock—he was used to it. It wasn’t until we mentioned that our flight departed in next to no time that he decided to change routes. A travel tip, free of charge: Don’t underestimate Manila’s traffic.
Jill: We got to the airport on time and after being both weighed and probed with a thermometer (they did not want us to bring our avian flu to Palawan), we were brought into an air-conditioned room and served brewed coffee and cookies. This waiting room was the nicest place we’d seen in the Philippines, which, naturally, brought me from Level Two to Level Six in anxiety, a rolling panic, we’ll call it. Why did these nice cookies and the only known air conditioning in Manila not calm me? Although we’d booked the charter flight verbally over the phone, we had not been told how much it was going to cost. And if the waiting room for this flight was so nice, it was clearly going to be thousands upon thousands of dollars. Clearly.
Maya: The cost was worrisome for me as well: I’d been working for a few months at this point, but I was coming off of a spate of unemployment before that. To say that my budget was tight would be an understatement—I had visions of my credit cards being declined, stranding me in Manila indefinitely. There’s nothing like a little bit of financial pressure to ratchet up the blood pressure a few notches.
Jill: Throw in another factor. We’d read that ATMs were few and far between at our destination, and that it was best to travel to El Nido with cash. This was a problem, as prior to heading to the airport, we were unable to find a guarded ATM in Manila that worked, leaving us with very little cash. After explaining our situation to the airline, we were told that one of us would have to be accompanied by an employee to an offsite ATM prior to the flight. It was decided that Maya would take both of our cards and head out for the machine. Level Seven achieved. Maya, in playing frogger through no fewer than six lanes of Manila traffic, was sure to die, with our credit cards in hand. Either that, or she’d miss the flight and we’d become separated, and I’d have no way to contact her.
Maya: For once, our anxiety levels were on par with each other. While Jill was sitting in that serene waiting area, I was pacing back and forth in a fluorescent-lit, linoleum-floored room, waiting (with several armed guards) for the proper person to come and fix the out-of-service ATM. The day was a lesson in the local approach toward getting things done: Much like our cab driver’s indifferent attitude toward the amount of time it took us to make our way through Manila’s infamous traffic, I was surrounded by people who didn’t mind waiting, no matter how long it took, for that machine to start spitting out bills again. If I hadn’t been with someone who was in constant phone contact with our airline’s customer service desk, my head might’ve exploded. As it was, the mission was futile—I returned to the terminal empty-handed.
Jill: Having Maya back, and knowing we were definitely going to make the flight (which was roughly $200 per person) temporarily brought my anxiety down to Level Four. Until we got on the propeller jet.This, friends, is how our pilots viewed their course to El Nido. Through the 15% of the windshield that remained uncovered. Level Ten achieved. How does fully panicked Jill act in public? And how does Maya deal with her irrational (yet maybe, in this case, 85% rational) friend’s panic? Watch below.
Maya: (Apologies to my mother.)