Boracay Part 1: My Near Aneurysm
When I first arrived to Hong Kong it never occurred to me that I would be able to travel to different places throughout southeast Asia. Then again, it never occurred to me that eating whole jars of peanut butter as a child would make me fat, so what do I know? Within the first week or two, other exchange students began talking about how they wanted to visit Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, etc. I hadn’t been more excited since they made s’mores into cereal form… I was a chubby kid.
By mid-January, I had made official plans to go to Boracay in the Philippines from February 9th to the 14th with my friends Whitney, Manny, and Jeff. Boracay is famous for its white sand beaches, exquisite nightlife, and its sexually ambiguous prostitutes. In other words, we hit the jackpot. We also made plans to meet up with our French friends later on in Boracay, because they were leaving a few days earlier to spend time in Manila. So everything was booked. We knew where we were gonna stay, we had our flights, everything was paid for and so absolutely nothing could go wrong. Let me tell you how things went wrong. Apparently, I had overestimated the competency of my three traveling partners, so please allow me to give them a brief introduction.
Whitney was actually one of the first people I met when I arrived to Hong Kong. She was on the same flight as me going from Detroit to Hong Kong and so I met her in the airport shortly after we had landed. My first impression of Whitney was that she was one of the most boring people I had ever met in my life. She gave off the vibe of never having the desire to go out and have fun. I’ve never met an Amish person before, but I imagine they would be a lot like the first impression of Whitney. But in another rare occurrence of me being wrong, Whitney quickly blew away my preconceived notions about her. She turned out to be the most willing person to go out and have fun at any moment on any day of the week. I believe she comes from a pretty conservative background and so her exchange had become her Rumspringa.
Whitney has dark, shoulder length hair and a kind, innocent-looking face. She’s from Tennessee, but if you had to guess where she was from you would probably say she was from the Midwest (God’s country). As a child she spoke with a southern accent, but soon associated southern accents with being stupid, so she made a conscience effort to rid herself of it and now sounds like an American version of Hermione Granger. Growing up, her parents banned her from watching anything on Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network, as they believed the shows on those networks were a bit too racy for an impressionable child. She wasn’t even allowed to watch The Simpsons, which is difficult for me to comprehend because that made up like 70% of my childhood. The result of their parenting, however, was a strong, young woman who never misses an opportunity to point out the social inequality between men and women. “Why do women have to shave their legs? Men don’t have to do it, so why can’t we?”
Because it’s gross Whitney, that’s why. Here’s my razor.
But among the four of us, Whitney was the most responsible. She was our rock. Our brown-haired Goddess. The Queen of our trip. Indeed, the only thing keeping her from being the King of our trip… were balls.
Manny is kind of a happy-go-lucky guy. It takes quite a bit to get Manny’s spirits down. He’s been through some pretty rough situations in Hong Kong that I’m not really at liberty to talk about. But he’s handled them the same way he usually handles everything- by sleeping all day and not going to class. He goes to my same university back home
Another thing about Manny is that the laws of gravity don’t appear to apply to him. He’s like a human weather balloon. His body has no center of gravity and the bounce in his step makes it seem like he is constantly on the verge of floating away. If you tied strings to him, he would almost certainly qualify to be in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Jeff? Jeff is a bastard. A dumb, Peruvian bastard. You’ll see why soon enough.
The story of our trip to the Philippines actually begins before we ever set foot on an airplane, it began before we arrived to the airport, it even began before I ever woke up on the day we left. No, the story of our trip to Boracay began the night before, when a group of exchange students, including me, Jeff, and Whitney, (Manny stayed back) decided to go to a karaoke bar for a few drinks and to hopefully sing some Backstreet Boys. At the karaoke bar, I only drank about two or three beers, which I figured was enough to be sociable and yet not enough to make me send inappropriate text messages. It’s what someone does when they want to be sociable and still realizes that they need to wake up early the next morning to board a flight to a country they have never been to before. So we had a few drinks, a few laughs, cringed whenever a Justin Bieber song came on (yet secretly loved it), and at around 12:30 that night, I left with Whitney and some others to go back to the dorms. Jeff had left the karaoke bar earlier to get some more drinks from 7-Eleven (our favorite bar), but had been gone for more than two hours and we had no idea what he was doing. Naively, I thought to myself that he was a mature young adult and could take care of himself. I arrived back to my room and fell asleep, excited that in a few hours I would at last be on my way to Boracay.
The plan was to meet at 6:00am. Whitney, Jeff, Manny and I were going to meet Virginie and Omar (our French and Moroccan friends who were going to meet up with the other group which already there as we went on to Boracay) downstairs outside the dorms at 6:00am and then walk to the bus stop three blocks away where the bus to the airport would arrive at around 6:30. I woke up at 5:30, took a quick shower, wrote my roommate a goodbye note telling him not to party too hard, grabbed my bags and went downstairs where I found Virginie and Omar waiting. I asked where the others were.
"Whitney is waiting in the other lobby, but I haven’t seen Jeff or Manny," Omar said. I gave Manny a call and he answered saying that he was on his way down.
I called Jeff’s cell phone, but he didn’t answer. I called again… Still no answer.
That son of a bitch.
“I’ll be right back Omar, I’m gonna go check on Jeff,” I said. I put my bag down and went back inside to ride the elevator to the 18th floor. It was 6:15.
When I arrived at Jeff’s door I banged on it loudly. On the other side, I heard nothing - no movement whatsoever. I knocked on it again. Someone began to rustle around and then a dreary eyed Jeff opened the door as he turned on the light.
“What do you want?” he asked hoarsely. He was wearing the same clothes from the night before and was clearly still drunk.
“‘What do I want?!’” I said incredulously. “WHAT DO I WANT?! Jeff! We gotta go! We have to be at the bus stop in ten minutes!”
“Okay, okay” he said lazily, “let me just pack first.”
“YOU HAVEN’T PACKED YET?! SON OF A BITCH!” I burst into the room as Jeff pulled out a completely empty suitcase from his closet. His roommate, Charlie from England, woke up in his bed and started giggling as he pulled out his iPhone to record this fiasco. (Charlie can always be relied upon to record life’s worst moments.) I began to open Jeff’s drawers to help him pack, cursing under my breath the entire time.
“Jesus Christ, okay what do you need??” I spat at him. Without waiting for a reply, I opened his drawers and began to throw in shirts, shorts, headphones, iPods, and whatever else Jeff happened to mention. Meanwhile, Jeff lumbered into the bathroom to brush his teeth. “Are you kidding me?” I said to him, baffled by his lack of urgency.
“What?” he mumbled through a mouth full of toothpaste.
Charlie sat up in his bed - iPhone in hand. “Jeff, you do realize that you’re flying to the Philippines in like three hours, right? Why didn’t you pack last night?”
“Don’t give me shit,” Jeff said in his drunken, Peruvian accent, wiping his mouth and setting down his toothbrush. “I’m a busy guy.” He picked a beer bottle off the floor and finished the little bit that was left on the bottom. The vain in my forehead began to pulsate.
Once we had everything packed, I stood by the doorway next to Jeff’s luggage ready to go. Instead Jeff went to his desk and poured himself a glass of apple juice.
“I have a swelling urge to punch your rhino-like head right now,” I seethed. Jeff just winked at me and downed his drink.
By the time we arrived downstairs it was 6:35am and the others had already left for the bus stop. Jeff and I had to run in order to have a chance to make it. This was obviously no easy task for Jeff given the state that he was in (drunk). Plus, he had to roll his massive suitcase across the uneven bricks of the sidewalk. After a block, I was a good deal ahead of Jeff and I looked back to see how he was doing. He was struggling with his suitcase… and with running in a straight line. I ran back to him and swapped our pieces of luggage, giving him my smaller duffle bag and picked up his suitcase with both hands, held it in front of my chest, and began running awkwardly towards the stop.
I at last arrived at the bus stop and was relieved to see that Omar, Virginie, and Whitney were still waiting there, but no Manny… Jeff ran up at that point and was breathing like he had just given birth. “I think my heart’s gonna explode,” he panted.
“You’re fine,” I said to him without looking and addressed Whitney. “Where’s Manny?”
“He had to find Megan to give her back her key card or something. I’m not sure,” Whitney said.
“Wellllll shit. He better hurry up, otherwise he’s not gonna make the bus,” I said as the bus pulled up right behind me. Of course that just happened.
We all looked at each other, not sure what to do about Manny and then slowly, one by one, we stepped onto the bus taking as much time as possible. As the last person stepped onto the bus, the five of us looked forlornly out the window trying to imagine what the trip would be like with one of us missing… And then, from around the corner, Manny burst into view! It was incredible! It was as if Manny was running towards us in slow motion - like some sort of dramatic movie climax! But I looked closer and realized that it was simply Manny running normally. “Oh for Godsakes Manny! Run faster!” I exclaimed throwing my hands in the air.
Manny reached the bus and stepped on as the annoyed Asian bus driver muttered something in Chinese and forcefully closed the doors. “I made it,” Manny exasperated, sweat beading on his forehead. “I’m on.”
As we stood on the bus, barreling through the narrow streets of Hong Kong in the early morning sunlight, I looked around at my traveling partners. A human weather balloon, a drunken Peruvian, Hermione Granger ,and myself traveling to a foreign country that none of us had ever been to and with no one there to meet us when we got off the plane. So, I thought, this is the week I die.
And then I realized that this is what living is all about. Sometimes in life we need to throw ourselves into situations where we can’t predict what will happen- where we can’t see the final consequences of our actions or how it will affect us. All we can do is trust that, in the end, everything will work out the way it’s meant to. I laughed and smiled to myself as I tried to think of the million different factors that led to this group of people standing on this particular bus at this particular time in history. I looked up at Whitney, Jeff, and Manny. “I’m really excited for this trip you guys. And I’m glad that I get to go on it with you.” They all smiled and nodded their heads as we continued down the road to Hong Kong International Airport.
When we arrived at the airport I confidently walked towards the front desk to check in, grab my plane ticket and fly off to spend a blissful week in paradise in Boracay. “Hi, I’m David Stenson. I’d like my plane ticket please.”
A sense of serene calmness washed over me knowing that after a hectic, panic-inducing morning, we were nearly home free. And by “home free” I mean “in the clear”, not that we were homeless. The airport worker lady click-clacked away at the computer for a minute as a quizzical look consumed her features. She looked up at me. “I’m sorry sir, there is no ‘David Stenson’ listed for this flight.”
……and just like that, my soul pooped on my heart.
(to be continued)