e were running late in the morning (actually, Emelda was lingering in the magnificent bathroom). We had to check in at the airport by 5:10 a.m. and it was around 4:15 a.m. when our golf cart (along with the porter and security guard) arrived. I knocked on the bathroom door over and over to try and get her to emerge, but she was enjoying the facilities too much to rush. Around 4:30 a.m., we loaded ourselves into the golf cart and headed for the check-out counter. Driving through the dark, silent compound, we were sad to be leaving the beautiful resort, but happy to be on our way to Ozamiz (assuming we didn't miss our flight). I wondered if our genial taxi driver would prove to be honorable and show up when he said he would.

At the check-out counter, I paid the bill. It was approximately 4,400 pesos ($169.23). Emelda gasped at the price. I said that it was money well-spent. The romantic memories we would share would be priceless.

Since the taxi driver turned out to be as dishonorable as I had feared and was nowhere in sight, I asked the hotel to call us a cab. Since the resort was off the beaten path, it would take around ten to fifteen minutes for our car to arrive. It was around 4:40 a.m. The airport was ten to fifteen minutes away, so there was a real danger of us missing our check-in cut off time of 5:10 a.m.

We piled into the taxi (after I tipped the porter and security guard 50 pesos each) and headed toward the airport at 4:55 a.m. I told the new driver about our time pressure and he put the pedal to the metal. We zoomed toward the airport at high speed, swerving to miss pedestrians and various animals in the road. It was not a leisurely drive.

We arrived at the airport at 5:05 a.m. The fare was 150 pesos, but I gave him 300 ($11.54) for making the extra effort to get us there in time. We checked in a few minutes later (just before check-in was closed). We had barely made it in time. We headed for the departure gate area. To enter, I had to pay a small 'airport usage' fee of 40 pesos ($1.54) for each of us.

We now had an hour until our flight left and we were hungry. We eyed the small cadre of snack shops, deciding to dine at Dunkin' Donuts. Emelda asked if I would buy her family a dozen 'donut midgets' (what they call doughnut holes). Since I knew that it's a Filipino tradition to bring back something after a trip, I readily agreed. After the clerk packaged the treats, Emelda said, "How about another box?" I answered in the affirmative and paid for the 24 little guys along with our nutritious doughnut breakfast (well, I did have pineapple juice, so there was some nutrition).

Eventually, we were allowed into the boarding lounge. At 5:50 a.m. or so, we were allowed to head toward our plane. At Cebu, if you're heading for Ozamiz, you walk through a jetway, then down a flight of stairs where you board a bus which takes you onto the tarmac. We exited the bus and climbed the stairs of the small twin propeller Fokker 50 aircraft. My carry on bag doesn't fit in the overhead compartment of the Fokker 50 (I discovered this the last time I flew from Cebu to Ozamiz), so I asked a flight attendant to stow it elsewhere which she was happy to do.

Emelda and I found our seats and strapped ourselves in. I asked Emelda if she was nervous. "No," she lied. Since the air conditioning in the Fokker 50 cannot be turned on until the plane is airborne, the temperature was rising with every passenger that boarded. I utilized the emergency procedures card to fan myself as sweat broke out on my big American frame.

In a short time, we were in the air on our way to Emelda's town. We enjoyed the view as the 50-minute flight flew by (no pun intended). When we landed at the tiny Ozamiz airport, we had to wait for every passenger behind us to exit before I could get at my huge carry on bag. We were two of the last passengers to descend the stairs to the tarmac. We headed toward the small terminal (not much more than a large shed) on foot as I heard someone yell, "Hi Jeff!" from behind the chain link fence next to the terminal. I waved and I knew that I had reached my second home again.

Emelda's parents were waiting for us along with several relatives and friends. They gladly took charge of my carry on bag while I waited for my suitcase to be transported from the plane to the terminal. In Ozamiz, the baggage handlers take the bags from the plane's cargo hold and load them onto a rickety wooden cart which they push and pull across the tarmac, up a small ramp and into the terminal. There, I paid the 5 peso ($0.19) portage fee which would allow me to be reunited with my suitcase. Actually, I handed the man a ten peso note and he never gave me any change, but I wasn't about to argue over an extra nineteen cents.

When I exited the terminal and joined Emelda's welcoming committee, they would not allow me to carry my own bags (they're the ultimate hosts) and they were as affectionate to me as ever. I performed the traditional 'mano' with Emelda's parents. This tradition involves taking an older person's right hand and touching it to your forehead as a sign of respect. Whenever I performed this Filipino custom for the first time on someone, they were always quite surprised. Emelda's parents had seen me do it before so they weren't surprised, but were appreciative nonetheless. Emelda's nephew Mark (all of two years old) was uncharacteristically shy with me, but I kissed him and tried to make him laugh anyway.
The sign that welcomes visitors to Ozamiz

The gang piled into a rented truck. Emelda and I sat up front with the driver while everyone else sat in back, enjoying the doughnut holes enthusiastically. They were eating them carefully, enjoying every bite. When they offered me one, I grabbed one and threw the thing into my mouth, eating it whole. This tickled the gang who offered me another. Since I wanted them to be the ones to enjoy the treats, I declined. We headed down the bumpy road toward Emelda's house. On the way, we stopped briefly at a relatives house to share the doughnut holes with them.

In The Philippines, the cities and towns are divided into smaller sections called barangays (barrios). Emelda lives in the barangay called Bangkal. To get to Emelda's part of Bangkal, you take the paved road to a certain point. Then, you have to get on a small dirt path which goes through constant structural changes during the rainy seasons (thankfully, this trip was not during a rainy period). This creates a bumpy, unpredictable path. On top of that, it's barely wide enough to support a small car or truck. At the end of the long path (about a half mile) is where Emelda's house sits.

The driver turned onto the dirt path and the real fun began. We were all tossed around as he tried to stay on the narrow path. I shouted, "Yee-haw!" (always a crowd-pleaser). We bounced our way past the houses in the barangay, waving to the people who were outside (people I had met on my previous Philippine trip). Emelda's house was only minutes away!

A shot of the rice field behind Emelda's house on my 1st trip (it was drier and greener on the 2nd trip)
The truck went as far as it could. We exited and I said hello to Emelda's neighbors (most of them relatives) who were old friends of mine from before. On my first trip to Bangkal, I had thoroughly enjoyed dancing with one of Emelda's aunts. In fact, I had so much fun watching her cool moves on the dance floor that I referred to her only as 'The Dancer.' In fact, to this day, I cannot even remember her real name. As we exited the truck, I spotted The Dancer. I pointedly thrust my index finger in her direction as a big smile came to my face. She copied my move and joined me in laughter.

It was so nice to be reunited with Emelda's friends and family. These people are the salt of the earth. They're all deeply caring, generous, hospitable people whom I am proud to know. As I saw the familiar faces, I was reminded of great memories from the past and I looked forward to the new memories to be made. We were the center of attention as we made the short walk to Emelda's house. My bags were whisked up to Emelda's room and Emelda's mom dashed into the kitchen to whip us up some lunch. The driver turned out to be a friend of the family who would join us. I asked how much I would owe him, but I was told not to worry about it.

Lunch was a feast. There were several courses (along with the inevitable plain white rice) and every one was delightful. Emelda's family made every meal special when I visited and this was no exception. I ate more than I should've and thanked my generous hosts. After lunch, Emelda reminded me to brush my teeth (as she would continue to do after every subsequent meal on my trip, getting me into a good habit).