Brunei Excursion with Friends (Part One)

305146_4110444612835_1655233794_nFive of us fiftyish high school classmate-friends embarked on an adventurous trip to Brunei Darussalam in August last year to have a brief taste of opulence        226052_4155679144199_158607975_n621821_4110359050696_646219000_o– and almost did not make it!

We found ourselves banging the roll-up door in the departure platform where the airport tube ended, signalling that this junket was going to be one helluva hilarious trip, we could have died laughing right there, or died falling had we breached the security door connecting the plane – and missed the chance of shaking the hands of the Sultanate’s royal women.

With three jet set friends in tow, the prevailing mindset the night of our travel was that we were going on an excursion. Afterall, it only took more than a couple of hours to land in the famed sultanate, much like going on an out-of-town trip for the weekend. It was really an all-pleasure trip, anyway. Nary a thought that we were getting more than what we bargained for – and an overdose of laughter as the best medicine to keep disaster at bay.

With four to five hours’ lead time prior to departure flight, we left our home base, which was an hour or so away from the airport. Flying on a budget, we stopped by a gasoline station to fuel up the car and our grumbling stomachs, quickly changed mind for takeouts and sat down for dinner that stretched out too long.

A high-tech DSLR needed some tinkering with some help from the husband-operator who had to be called by phone to explain certain mechanisms in the camera. An incident in the restaurant held us off, too, where a waiter, out of his own oversight, got a little wounded from glass shards flying in midair. Even without speaking, some of us brooded over the incident superstitiously. Then there’s the ladies’ exigent trips to the comfort room.

Being caught in traffic was the next portentous hurdle on our way to the Manila international airport. We started getting fidgety. Our wristwatches seemed to tick a little more loud for our ears. Prayers were in order. A sixth member of the group who had paid to go, but eventually did not make it, was badly missed at that hour, knowing that if she had come, nothing of that sort would be happening at all. The girly women lumbered without their leader.

539472_4144204257334_455471169_nWe got to the departure area safely, thanked our God, but not without getting admonished by a lady flight attendant. We mumbled our apologies, realizing that we had jet set company, but were flying commercial on economy. An image of three of us in the same group during our first trip abroad together to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur years back was snatched from memory: we were catching our breath as we ran, like we never ran before, to our parked Tiger Airways plane at the Clark airport in Pampanga. Talk of deja vu or coming full circle made me really wonder.

Racing against the clock like rickety Cinderellas catching a midnight flight, we muttered a wish, but no fairy appeared in the Ninoy Aquino terminal to magically speed up the processing of our travel documents. Not even our collective charm could spell wonders as we went through the laborious departure process. At one point, we even got lost around the vast terminal when minutes were most crucial. What luck!

Lugging our bags clumsily (one filled with vanity boxes, the other overstuffed with water bottles, fully braced for pricey drinks in the land where petroleum products came unbelievably cheap), our frail bodies tottered with all their built-in excess baggages, sagging at the waistline where unburned fats got deposited over the years that slowed us further down. No four-wheeled shiny pumpkin coach in sight to rescue us from this race, we wished we had arranged for some mobility assistance, like a power wheelchair or a two-wheeled Segway, in moving around the airport, which would have been so cool!

And so at the last stretch, we ran and ran for our dear flight, until we could hardly run.

I lagged behind to prop a friend up, while the other three ran ahead, hoping that their collective heights and weights would be enough to ground the plane some more.

In my mind, I had collaged the scenes before me as I ran. Five “Brunei Beauties turned Bruneiyuckies,” who raced toward their plane, missed it by inches,  and missed their chance to grace the palace ball for the Hariraya.549739_4132157396170_1155129547_n393953_4119612402553_648763162_n   A rerun from the scene from Cinderella, the fairy tale in our mind, who at the stroke of midnight, with no prince in sight for our two singletons in the group, had to slip back hurriedly away, leaving a slipper behind her trail. As my friend and I ran in catching up with the rest of them ahead, we both saw beads that we had seen stitched on someone’s slippers scattered around like golden marbles for picking. Cinderella would miss those beads on her slipper for sure. It turned out one of our companions lost them in the running for some token gesture of this unforgettable experience.

With no other passenger in sight, but just us, we gathered our last remaining strength to beat the odds. It was way past the time to check in and we were still running. At the last curb up the tube, we faced a dead end. A bolted door. Our eyes frantically wide open at this point, they illumined our stupefied faces in that dark enclosure. For a moment there was nothing to do but to stare at one another. I pressed my back against the wall in frustration. Behind that closed door was a blank space because our plane was gone and up in the air was my thought. Someone posed the question which hotel in the city we would be checking in for the duration of our trip before our supposed return to our homes. We burst out laughing. The others kept on banging.

Out of nowhere, a guy came out of the corner and told us to take the stairs. And lo and behold, after running down the steep flight of stairs as fast as our beaten legs still could, stunned faces of airport crew pointed to us our plane, beautiful against the splendor of the lighted tarmac, like a proud overweight swallow pinned down by its own heaviness. Thank goodness for fat airbuses. 

Another steep flight of stairs to board the plane fazed us no more. Our lungs were bursting. We were overjoyed to be seated so closely together in two rows. Fishing out my rosary beads right after my seatmate did with hers, we both quietly began to say our thanksgiving prayers when someone let out the laughing virus after glancing back at the direction we came from.616765_4110407051896_237884633_o

259202_4110406611885_930791440_oShe saw the enclosed portion where the tube ended and how high it went. The banging force that we exerted on that protective door had more than enough decibel power to alert the airport police. Either they deemed there was no need for that as the security cameras would have enough information anyway, to tell them who was/were breaking down that door, or they took pity on this group of what would be regarded as Brunei beauty-wannabes in the heydays of the Brunei ‘exploration’ at the bidding of the flamboyant playboy prince of this oil-rich state.  Airport security in Manila would probably have thought that we were embarking on a swan-trip to the kingdom where Ayen Munji once was princess.  223951_4147505499863_125033740_n

The laughing virus was so contagious with many not-too-surprised passengers widely smiling at us, looking on the verge of  joining the fun. We felt they knew. What they did not probably realize was the thought running in our mind – that had we actually breached that door-wall and fell, and even cheated death in the free fall, the last laugh would still be on us making Philippine headlines of that alleged incursion. Crimson-faced and tearfully laughing, we knew what the omen was all night: our Brunei adventure had just begun.  207130_4144590706995_739630528_n


Genesis 21:6 English Standard Version (ESV) 

6 And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.”


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