Subic Bay


As long as I could remember I was a “summer person” on Cape Cod. My parents fell in love with the place before I was born, and I was one of those kids that turned up around Memorial day, and left  as part of the  annual labor day gridlock to begin the school year the next morning.  The day after my high school graduation I moved to the Cape year round and have been there ever since.  For the past 4 years now I have visited Subic Bay, Philippines in November.  It is a much longer commute than the hour drive we used to make reach Cape Cod, but I’m now one of those people that turns up once a year for a few weeks. I have learned, too,  some short cuts in traveling here, such as flying into Clark International Airport, the former Clark Air force base in Angeles City, instead of Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.  Flights are harder to find for Clark, but the advantages of arriving there are substantial. Clark is much closer to Subic, a clean one hour drive with little real traffic compared to a three hour adventure in Manila gridlock which can easily become five, and maybe six with traffic. Traffic in Manila starts early, and goes late, and the traffic chaos there makes Boston rush hour look like Cape Cod in the winter.

My second trip to Subic I was surprised people remembered me, recognized me. That was probably what triggered the Cape summer person memories. I stopped at the Arizona resort to inquire about rooms,  and the girl at the desk welcomed me back. Mark Walton who ran the Arizona dive shop my first trip here, pulled up beside me as I walked down the street and greeted me.  I too, recognized some familiar faces as I walked around, and Chris, a local I had met the year before, popped up to shake my hand and ask to borrow 20 peso. It is always a nice feeling to be recognized and remembered, even if it costs 20 peso.

This trip back, my first stop is another summertime memory flashback. After settling in, and after being on the road 29 hours, I’m going to the Fiesta Carnival in Subic. I met Irene on my first trip to Subic in 2013. In the three years since we have spoken in person, on the phone, or Skype  every day since, and we have pieced together a non-traditional long distance relationship that has come to include her family, and daughter Ivy Joy,  who calls me Dad. This has been my welcoming group  each of my last  three trips here.

I have promised Ivy Joy a first night trip to the carnival, and after having a good sleep on the plane, and a good nap at the apartment, we load up a cab and head to the carnival.  Our goal is the mausoleum, the horror house that is a step up from our usual haunted ride, the horror train. Unfortunately, the Mausoleum is no more, replaced by a much less terrifying flying Jolly Bee ride.  We ride the flying bee’s, revisit the horror train, and then drive the only three functional bumper cars, before having  dinner outdoors on rickety plastic chairs  with matching tables and ladyboy waitresses, while watching a Christmas dance /talent show on the big outdoor stage at the back of the carnival.  After this, it is home to sleep, as the kids have school in the morning, and I have a proper night’s sleep in a bed waiting for me before taking Ivy Joy to school in the morning.


On The Road To Subic

There is that moment when you transition from preparing for the trip, to traveling.  For me, it usually  means chasing loose ends and watching the clock until it is time to walk out the door. Hopefully walking out without leaving something undone, or behind.  For this trip it starts with a one hour bus ride and a  7PM flight  from Boston to Liberty International in New Jersey, a 1 AM flight from Liberty to Hong Kong , and finally a 2 hour hop to Clark Field in Angeles City, Philippines. The plan is to arrive at Liberty from Boston at 8 PM, and then wait around 5 hours for the departure to Hong Kong.  I arrive at Logan by bus at 5 PM, and head to the gate. The wait for departure drags past 7 PM, then 8PM as a low cloud ceiling at Liberty is causing long delays. After 9 PM  goes by worry begins to creep into my thought process that the delays might put me in jeopardy of missing  my international flight. Waiting around one airport is as good as waiting around another, except that waiting around Logan too long means missing my flight to Hong Kong.  Finally, after 10:00 PM,we board. A further delay awaits us once boarded, but thankfully it is brief. We arrive at Liberty around 11:30, and my bag is one of the first on the carousel. Some helpful guidance from a couple of the ladies from the airport security staff  leads to a quick trip on the AirTrain and I am at the Cathay Pacific gate comfortably before boarding.   I signed up for Cathay Pacific’s frequent Flyer program, the Marco Polo club for the miles, but I am pleasantly surprised with an early boarding call as an added perk. Better still, as  I wait in my seat as boarding completes I realize I am the only one in my row.  Not a bad way to start an 18 hour international flight.  My plan is movies, movies, sleep. I never watch movies normally, so there are lots to chose from. Ghost Busters, the new version, is good to start. The latest Rocky movie, “Creed”, is excellent, and about a third of the way into James Bond’s “Specter”  the action can’t keep my attention and I’m falling asleep. I pull the blanket up  over my head, and doze. I wake up to breakfast being served three hours out of Hong Kong. The international airport at Hong Kong is clean, beautiful, and easy to navigate.  After a two hour lay-over, I’m boarding for the final flight to Clark Field, and somehow when selecting my economy seat, I missed that row 11 is actually be the second seating  row in on the plane. I guess they start at 10. Nice to have the extra leg room and be one of the first people off the flight. We  sail smoothly in sunny skies with the ocean blue and inviting bellow, landing at Clark 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Despite the initial delay leaving Logan, it has been an incredibly smooth trip. Waiting around one airport was just as good as waiting around the other, except maybe I think the food was better at Logan. After a somewhat uncomfortable wait at the baggage carousel  my checked bag appears  and I grab it, clearing customs in no time at all. Life is good. Outside I wait for my greeting party, but they are no where to be seen. After 20 minutes I am thinking my trip is about to hit that bump, but then as I move back towards the terminal exit, there they are, waiting, and this is now officially a smooth trip.




One Day Until Panic

Tomorrow is the day. The day and night before leaving for an extended dive trip to the Philippines, and usually the time I realize something important was overlooked or left undone, and there is no time to fix it now. So far, all is well, and I am getting ready for packing.  From a packing standpoint,  I feel confident I will be able to pack tomorrow night without too much trouble.  Anyone who travels at all will tell you it is  best to pack, check, and double check.  I will do that, except it will all be mostly tomorrow night.  The bulk of my dive gear is already there in the Philippines, so lesser things like clothes, toiletries, small accessories, and more important stuff, like camera gear, passport, and plane tickets. I have learned from the mistakes of past trips. My best/worst head slappers in recent memory was using the laptop in my living room just prior to leaving for the airport.  With everything else packed, I  tossed the laptop into the backpack, as my ride arrived to catch the airport bus. I was in the departure lounge at Logan Airport when I fired up the laptop, saw the low battery warning, and began searching for the power cord, which was still plugged in back home in the living room.  Now I have double checked that the cord is packed, but I am wary of creating a new mistake. Packing aside,  I always have a building anxiety in the days before I leave on a long distance trip. A fear of the unknown, perhaps, a fear of distance, the feeling of being uprooted, even for a short time. There is a subtle pressure that builds like the gasses accumulating behind the bullet in a gun barrel, until the pressure overwhelms the resistance of the lead and the bullet is expelled at high speed in the direction it was aimed. So anxiety aside, I find myself  at some point, bags in hand, hoping to hit my target successfully.



Coral Catfish

Coral Catfish

I shot this video this past December in Subic Bay. I have always loved watching these critters feed from the first time I saw them at Anilao, Batangas, Philippines in 2013. They are graceful, hectic in some ways, but more graceful and orderly, feeding across the bottom, forming and re-forming ranks, flustered momentarily by the bubbles from my regulator, then right back in the rhythm of feeding. The video was shot with my Canon S95 without lighting, and then converted from the Canon original MVI video format with Quicktime to an MOV format so it could be posted. The quality  suffered a little in the conversion.