Sunday, January 19, 2020

Dis-Enchanted About Enchanted Kingdom (1/12/2020)

I really wish this could have been just another travel blog, but it's not -- as you will find out.

I personally HAD some very fond memories about Enchanted Kingdom, a theme park located in Santa Rosa Laguna, Philippines, which is accessible via a 40-minute bus or car ride from Manila. We first set foot there when I was just in grade school and a second time when I was in High School (technically, it would be Jr. High nowadays.) 

My favorite attraction had always been the Rialto rumble seat/movie ride and hanging out at the arcade. Unfortunately, I am not here today to reminisce about those... more pristine times.

Last January 12, 2020 would mark my third trip to Enchanted Kingdom together with my sister and her family. The trip was especially for my 11 year-old niece from Canada, who had actually been through her fair share of theme parks including a few Disneylands and Universal Studios. Still, she doesn't discriminate and enjoys thrilling rides anyway -- and EK had quite a few to offer.

We booked a grabcar ride (our answer to UBER) to get there, but we had to use the booth at the hotel because there were no six-seater cars available via the Phone app.

When we arrived at about 1:00 AM, something immediately felt off for me. I was a bit lightheaded and I'd concluded that it might be due to the searing heat or that it might be from high blood pressure. 

I was fine during the bumper car ride. (I let my niece drive and we didn't really get anywhere. Also, her mom bumped into us several times on purpose lol).

She wanted to ride a small roller coaster as well. I wasn't feeling quite up to it, so I skipped that ride.

Also, some kids from a local high school overheard my sister talking to us in English and started mocking her for it in typical non-confrontational Pinoy style. My mother saw this and well... my sister wouldn't stand up for it and took pics of them and got up close and personal right in their faces. The kids were like shoulder level next to her and about chest level next to me. Still, the one who actually initiated the heckling stood his ground and looked like he was ready to "put em up."

I just took a bladed stance with my hands down and nonchalant -- ready to put a kid in a hospital if he tried anything funny. Eventually, one of them walked off... and then returned to the same spot again with four other friends around the same size as him. (Really, kid? Bring your whole class next time.)

With that said, it seems the group was just there to bail him out and give him an excuse to move away. They went on their way and we went on ours with no actual confrontation.

Unfortunately, as the day wore on, I felt more and more nauseous to the point that I was on the verge of throwing up just as we were lining up for the Rialto.

I chose to back out of the ride and my sister suggested that I eat some ice cream. We went into an ice cream parlor within the theme park and waited for my niece and her dad to finish the Rialto ride and join up with us in there. Inside, my mother started massaging my head and I immediately started feeling better. This is when she asked me to take off my socks so she could massage my feet -- when I discovered that my socks were all wet. I felt better almost instantly after taking them off.

After this, we wanted to try out the go-karts, but you actually had to pay extra to use those -- we thought that was a total rip-off and decided to go for the Rio Grande Rapids ride instead. I forgot to mention this, but the lines for the rides were super long on that day. 

When it was our turn, we found the ride to be pretty enjoyable, except there was some kind of muck that was piling up and getting into our clothes and hair. After the ride, we were informed by some people who were there too that it was due to the ashfall, Mt. Taal, an active Philippine volcano that was just an island away had erupted mildly.

We decided to call it a day after that and leave the place to get back to our hotel in Manila and prepare for a meeting with my aunt at SM Megamall. Unfortunately, when we were outside the park grounds, we soon realized that no Grab Cars/Taxis were taking any bookings nearby. Also, all the buses were going to provinces outside of Manila.

We were out of the theme park by 6:00 PM. They made an announcement that it would close at 6:30. Having no means of transportation away from the place, we were forced to call for help from my aunt. She informed us that she'd booked a taxi and was on the way over to help.

As the sky grew darker and darker on that day, we soon realized that this was a real crisis and were in real danger of being stranded in this place. Reports via internet sources showed the true extent of the ashfall and we were experiencing it first-hand. It was like the sky was spraying brownish-black powder everywhere. Our only shelter were the small tents in the waiting area of Enchanted Kingdom with a few seats and tables. Not really sufficient when the wind was blowing ashes every which way. The ash would get on our skin, into our clothes and our bags and personal belongings. 

All around us, people were doing there best to take shelter from the ashes, but they were better off than us because they had friends and family come to fetch them -- we were still waiting. 

We also saw that inside of EK, the employees were each messaging people via phone to come and pick them up. People were leaving the park in droves as we sat there helplessly waiting for rescue. The amusing part is that many individuals there were just casually walking through the ashfall and treating it as though it was rain.

At some point, a security guard came by and started asking people with cars and motorcycles  who were there to fetch their friends and family for their parking tickets. Many had to fumble around because they'd forgotten all about their parking tickets in the middle of the crisis. Apparently, to the authorities of Enchanted Kingdom, parking tickets are still important even though the entire area was literally getting covered with volcanic ash.

By 8:30 PM, we were definitely the only ones left in the park except for the guards on duty. My niece was just playing with her phone  to pass the time while the adults (that's us) kept occupied trying to shield the ashes with an umbrella and using the comfort rooms every now and then to wash off the ashes from our skin and faces. It was getting so bad, that you could see the ash flying through the air and into your eyes.

In any case, the guards and other employees still on duty had it much better than us. We were almost fully exposed to the ashes while the EK employees were inside their little glass enclosed buildings all nice and snug while waiting for rescue. Also, they had EK-issued raincoats to protect themselves and of course, they couldn't be bothered to invite us inside the buildings because the park was closed and protocol and security is of UTMOST importance in a crisis.

After all, we had already paid our entrance fees and exited the park. It's not like we were Enchanted Kingdom's responsibility at this point. Thanks, EK!

Oh, and there was one person still selling pies amidst all the ash flying all around us. There was one group on a table right behind us who actually had dinner (from plastic pouches that they'd brought along) before leaving in their car.

My aunt finally arrived at 9:00 PM in the taxi. There were five of us (seven including my aunt and the taxi driver) so we had to squeeze into a five-seater Toyota Vios.

The long drive took us until midnight to get to our hotel since the car could only move at up to 50 kph it seems. The driver claimed it was overloaded, which it was, but I suspect it's also because he had no idea how to use the clutch and accelerator together in first gear in a manual vehicle. I could tell from the way the car was coughing and lurching forward every time he had to switch to first gear.

There was almost zero visibility the whole time because of the thickness of the ashes. It was like driving through brownish, black smoke and we were the slowest vehicle on the road to the point that ordinary jeepneys also rushing to escape the ashfall were overtaking us left and right.

We had to refuel once and unbelievably, there were still people at the Jollibee, Max's and KFC that we passed by -- ordering and casually enjoying their meals inside the premises -- with ash flying all around outside.

Still, we did get to our destination eventually... no thanks to Enchanted Kingdom and its conscientious staff.

Of course, some may argue that when you go to Enchanted Kingdom, you are expected to have a car or some other means of transportation ready for when you exit because it's a "far-flung location," and to these people I say: "thank you for your victim-blaming ways. Society thanks you."

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