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There's Some New Zests Shining Through: MNL-CEB-MNL on Z2 (formerly 6K) and PR

There's Some New Zests Shining Through: MNL-CEB-MNL on Z2 (formerly 6K) and PR

Old Sep 6, 2009, 12:08 pm
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Join Date: May 2009
Programs: DL DM, PR, TG, UA, CX (Asia Miles), BT, AY, AA
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There's Some New Zests Shining Through: MNL-CEB-MNL on Z2 (formerly 6K) and PR

There’s a reason why I love holidays: they are the only sure-fire guarantee that all activities will simply cease and that you’re free to do something that you actually want to do. Despite the hectic schedule being thrown at you, at least you know that they give you time off to go on a break, or to catch up on school work. I decided to do both: enriching my mind while taking some time off school.

There's also a reason why I'm nostalgic: in a bid to remember my experiences, I need to relive them once in a while. Reliving my experiences helps keep their memories alive, since for some reason I'm becoming more and more of an amnesiac, and I have no idea why.

In doing so, I finally decided to pursue my current dream: not just to travel independently, but to finally ride the plane of all Philippine planes: a Philippine Airlines 747, which would lead me onto a day trip to the Philippines’ Queen City of the South: Cebu, and to finally ride an airline supposedly "reborn", Zest Airways, also known as the old Asian Spirit.


Not too long after booking tickets on Cebu Pacific to Singapore, I decided to take a good look at the Ateneo academic calendar to determine which days I’m free so that I can see whether or not I can travel cheaply (and within the same day). Though there are a lot, I decided to play it safe and settle on August 19, the founding day of Quezon City, where my university is based in, and that there would be no classes on that day. I began exhausting my options, considering hop, skip and jump itineraries until I decided not to pursue one in the absence of a PAL promo.

Then it hit me: I realized that when I booked my hop, skip and jump itinerary on June 22, I saw that PAL operated 747s on Wednesdays, all of which at the time had classes. Since August 19 was a Wednesday, I didn’t hesitate to take this opportunity to (finally) fly a refurbished 747, which I hope will be much better than the 747-200 I rode with them going to Cebu eight years ago. I then settled on going to Cebu on a daytrip, since I haven’t been there in the same span of time anyway, and based on what I saw, the city had radically transformed itself, so it was well worth the visit.

I attempted to mock-book MNL-CEB-MNL on PAL, but the ticket’s cost reached an astounding P3200 which immediately sent me searching elsewhere for the leg going to Cebu. Then it hit me again: I can finally try the new Asian Spirit, er, I mean, Zest Airways (which I have also not flown in a while)! When I tried mock-booking MNL-CEB on Z2, I was able to finally breathe a sigh of relief: the ticket was P788 all-in. “A definite bargain over Cebu Pacific anyday”, I told myself (5J was charging around P1160 for the exact same flight). Having computed the total cost of the itinerary, I called up PAL at around 11:00 pm on July 14 (Zest’s reservations hotline was already closed) to book, and after having a fairly fruitful discussion with the reservations agent over the type of equipment being used (she confirmed that PAL would use a 747, but whether or not it would be one of the refurbished ones would be a big question that would only be answered on the day of the flight), I finally proceeded to reserve a seat.

The following day, I re-checked Zest Airways’ website for the cost of my going leg since the ticket price jumped to P1149 the previous night, which led me to reconsider flying with them. Luckily for me though, the ticket price went down again to P788, which prompted me to book as soon as possible. After hunting through payphones that actually work within the Ateneo campus (two didn’t work, so I had to use the one near the cafeteria, where there was a lot of traffic), I finally gave Zest Airways a call. After what seemed to be a long hold period (I was on hold for around 4-5 minutes, which is not good when using a payphone), the reservations agent confirmed that the fare was still available, and despite the flight being wide open, I decided to book.

Classes ended at 1:30 pm due to a school event, so I was able to make my way to Makati where I would pay for the tickets. After exchanging some yen which would pay for this trip (I got P3100, which was more than enough) and depositing it in the bank (I make all my transactions through debit card), I went to the PAL office in Makati, home to horrible memories of the Real Deal fiasco. I was able though to breathe a sigh of relief when I discovered that upon my entry, the ticketing office was not full and, even better, I was next in line to be processed at the office’s domestic section. When my number was called, an older ticketing agent processed my itinerary. While she went to the cashier to ask for a receipt for me, a foreigner (presumably American) asked me if I was from Cebu. I said I wasn’t, but I did tell him that I was going there for a day trip. Soon the agent asks me to sit near the cashier and I receive my ticket and receipt not too long thereafter.

Though PAL was able to process efficiently, I was literally racing against time as I left the ticketing office by 3:40. I needed to be at the Zest Airways ticketing office before 5:00, so I hailed a taxi. Traffic in Makati was horrible, and it was also raining, so it felt like it took forever for me to get to the Zest office quite conveniently located in my neighborhood. I finally arrived at around 4:05.

The Zest Airways office in Makati is a new addition to their ticketing office network (they previously had ticketing offices only at the airport and Cubao, and relied on general sales agents everywhere else), so despite being all new and bearing opening day regalia (like the obligatory celebratory balloons), the office was virtually empty, with only one other person inside aside from the three ticketing agents and the guard. I did love the office though: located in a building complex housing a branch of a bank owned by Alfredo M. Yao, Zest Airways’ president, the office was spacious with plenty of chairs and lots of Zest promotional material. One featured new routes that they opened recently, with the exception of one: Cagayan de Oro, noted by the name being scratched out of the flier.

The friendly ticketing agent retrieved my booking and warned me again (I was warned about this earlier by the telephone agent) that the fare is non-refundable, non-rebookable and non-reroutable, so if for any reason something were to pop up on the 19th, I would have thrown P800 down the drain. Being aware of the risks, I paid for the ticket, and I received it in a simple envelope with the Zest Airways logo being printed on top. Unlike Cebu Pacific’s tickets though, Zest Airways at least keeps the color in their paper stock.

At a total cost of P2402, the final itinerary looks like this:

* Z2 839: MNL-CEB; departing 8:00 am, arriving 9:15 am
* PR 850: CEB-MNL; departing 5:15 pm, arriving 6:35 pm

Since it’s been eight years since I have last stepped into a PAL 747 and around 5-6 since flying Asian Spirit (on a Let L-410 to Marinduque), hopefully this will be a very fruitful experience, and perhaps, alongside all the unlimited juice that Zest Airways currently promises to all its passengers, a zesty one as well.

I. Pre-departure: MNL-CEB

I originally set my alarm clock to wake me up at 4:30 am, but since I slept at around midnight, I couldn’t wake up on time, and I settled for waking up at 5:20 am. By about 5:40, I was bathed, dressed and ready to go. I said goodbye to Ate Mimi (the maid/clinic employee of Tita Cathy) and walked down my empty, quiet neighborhood before reaching Kamagong Street, one of the main streets of both my village and the city of Makati.

Not wanting to test the very long commute to the airport at so early in the morning (and being my prompt traveler self), I took the safe option: a taxi. The first cab that I hailed was bringing a passenger to the Fort (Fort Bonifacio), and offered me the front seat, but I declined. He must think that I was headed to NAIA instead of the Domestic Airport (which, ironically in Manila, are considered separate despite being part of the same complex). Sometime later (around 5:50), another cab (luckily empty this time) approached me, and I was on my way to the Domestic Airport.

The quiet that characterized the drive to Terminal 2 on my first trip to Japan eerily extended into the wee hours of the morning, when traffic was beginning to pick up and rush hour slowly became a reality. Through my village, we took the South Luzon Expressway, turning right onto Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), then taking an off-ramp towards Aurora Boulevard (this is not the same Aurora Boulevard as the one in Quezon City).

Pasay City bills itself as “a healthier place to live”, but for some reason the situational irony precedes me: Aurora Boulevard, one of the more blighted areas of Pasay (actually, the running joke is that save for Bay City, where SM Mall of Asia is, all of Pasay is blighted), was lined up with pile upon pile of garbage. What saddened me even more was that these were not small piles of garbage, but huge ones. The urban poor throwing their garbage with reckless abandon does play a role, but garbage collection and street cleaning services should be able to rectify this.

We turn right onto Andrews Avenue, and then through the Domestic Airport roundabout (it’s too small to be called a “rotunda”, but the sign does call it the Domestic Airport Rotunda) onto Domestic Road, and then finally, the “Domestic Airport”, or officially, the Manila Domestic Passenger Terminal.

On the way to the airport, I noticed that this taxi issues receipts, following recent orders by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) for all taxis to issue receipts in a bid to be more “tourist-friendly”. If they do want to advertise it though, the company which distributes the meters should remember that the past-tense form of “equip” is “equipped”, NOT “equipt”. Philippine English appalls me sometimes.

We finally turn into the airport building, and when the guard was inspecting the cab, he noticed that my ticket jacket was from PAL. He thought I was going to take PAL, which necessitated me to take out the outbound ticket just to prove that I was taking Zest Airways and not PAL. After inspection, the taxi driver dropped me off at the section for those who want to take metered taxis going out of the airport. The cost: P85. Not bad for a cab, and with a receipt to boot.

Early morning proves to be the antithesis of the Domestic Terminal: it seems eerily empty.

After looking around, I finally enter the airport, quiet as the rest of Manila slumbers (or, in this case, prepares for the day).

II. Pre-flight: Z2 839, MNL-CEB

An empty security corridor greets me upon entering the airport terminal. Upon completing security, I enter the quiet, (thank goodness) not crowded check-in area. This was much different from when Cebu Pacific was here. In their expansion, the Domestic Terminal became extremely crowded, with passengers oftentimes forced to stand at the pre-departure area simply because the seats were all occupied. At least with their move to Terminal 3, only three airlines remain: Zest Airways, South East Asian Airlines (SEAIR) and Interisland Airlines.

Compared to the Zest counters, the SEAIR counters were virtually empty, catering only to two Caticlan-bound passengers at the time. The guy taking a picture must be writing a TR too. I don’t know though.

Even more so, the Interisland Airlines counter, the counter of a small airline which only flies to one scheduled destination: Vigan (they do however fly scheduled charters to Caticlan and Tablas Island in Romblon), was empty and unmanned.

Originally, Counter 13 was the counter designated for Cebu-bound passengers, but a Zest employee informed a bunch of people in the line (myself included) that they opened up Counter 12 in a bid to alleviate the long line. Three of us, the other two with baggage, moved to the other line, and as they were swiftly checked in with their baggage, I was finally in the front of the line.

Like at the rest of NAIA (though unlike Terminal 3), the check-in agents here were male. Since I had no baggage, check-in was swift and I was promptly issued a boarding pass. However, I noticed that I was given seat 26-D. Since I have an affection for window seats, I asked the check-in agent if I can have my seat changed, and after taking care of another passenger bound for Cebu, my boarding pass was reissued, this time with seat 26-F.

At least at this time, I can finally get a glimpse of Terminal 2 early in the morning.

Following check-in, I asked a security guard if there’s an ATM at the pre-departure area. He said there were none, which means that I will not have access to my bank account until I arrive in Cebu. After paying departure tax and a final security check (where I did not have to empty my pockets and remove my belt), I was finally at the pre-departure hall. Though it is finally less busy with the move of Cebu Pacific and PAL Express (Air Philippines moved to Terminal 2 in 2006 before moving to Terminal 3), it hasn’t changed one bit.

As I walked towards the front of the pre-departure hall, I noticed that the Domestic Terminal had a store selling jewelry and mobile phones. No other terminal at NAIA has this. Similarly, no other terminal at NAIA has a children’s lounge (I still call it a WorldKids Club since it was with Northwest that I got the experience of staying there, and I never got to have a similar experience on other airlines), although this one was very small.

I took a seat three rows from the gates proper and noticed that the terminal’s FIDS was off.

Later on, the FIDS screen (actually a computer monitor) flickered to life. This is similar to the FIDS employed at Terminals 2 and 3.

Unlike those monitors though, the Domestic Terminal monitor shows advertising as well.

I took out my laptop and began to write this TR. In the process, a couple bound for Caticlan walked past me, and I couldn’t help but notice the now-thermal SEAIR boarding pass.

As I was typing, it was announced that the Zest flight bound for Marinduque (incidentally the same flight my sister was supposed to be on, but didn’t continue due to conflicts with her school schedule) was delayed, departing at 8:00 am instead. At least it isn’t like the hours-long delays Cebu Pacific is known for.

I continued writing the TR until our flight was called to board at around 7:45. The line got quite long as people started coming to the counter in droves just so they could get on the plane.

Last edited by Akiestar; Sep 6, 2009 at 12:29 pm
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Old Sep 6, 2009, 12:08 pm
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Exiting Gate 1, RP-C8889 and RP-C4328, the (delayed) Zest MA-60 bound for Marinduque and the SEAIR Dornier Do 328 bound for Caticlan, were parked side-by-side.

Further away from the Domestic Terminal, right in front of its airline’s hangar, was RP-C3338, the lone Interisland Airlines YS-11 used for its flights to Vigan.

I finally reach the back stairs, the agent taking another piece of my boarding pass, and finally enter the plane, surprises waiting to unfold.

III. In-flight: Z2 839

Zest Airways Flight Z2 839
Manila (Ninoy Aquino International; MNL/RPLL)-Cebu City (Mactan-Cebu International; CEB/RPVM)
Airbus A320-200, RP-C8889
Seat 26-F (Window, back section)
ETD 0805 (originally 0820) / ETA 0905 (originally 0920; actual 0900)

I was greeted on board the aircraft by a young female flight attendant, who immediately led me to my seat. There were two things that I took notice as I entered the plane: first, Zest Airways’ uniforms are much better than their counterparts on Cebu Pacific (it looks like a mix of the Cebu Pacific and PAL uniforms), and second, this ex-JetBlue aircraft still kept all its Spanish-language signage, as exemplified by this lavatory sign.

The gray color may have been drab and tacky from my point of view, but at least the seat was comfortable. The legroom on this plane was also okay. It felt slightly wider than that of Cebu Pacific’s offering.

What surprises me is that Zest still uses two sets of safety information cards: the original JetBlue cards which came with the aircraft (though overlaid with Zest stickers) and new Zest Airways cards. It seems that until they produce enough cards, passengers will have to deal with “American” safety instruction cards for a while.

The hole where the PTV on this plane was located before has a plastic cover overlay installed. Hopefully, when Zest (or any other local LCC) begins to offer AVOD, they can remove the plastic covers and install the systems without much hassle.

Beside us meanwhile was RP-C8897, the sister A320 of Zest (and JetBlue) bound for Tagbilaran.

Though Zest puts on the air conditioning at a “visible” level, it isn’t as strong as that of Cebu Pacific. Compared to the gush Cebu Pacific pumps in terms of air conditioning, this one is a trickle.

The cabin doors were closed and the crew began a manual safety demonstration which for some odd reason sounded like the Cebu Pacific demonstration, only without the Filipino.

Apparently, in a bid to decongest the main runway (06/24), planes departing from the Domestic Terminal often use the secondary runway (13/31) to take off. However, we had to wait our turn to take off from the runway. For the next ten minutes, the plane was just sitting there idle, waiting for permission to take off.

We finally did get to take off, and as we did, Terminal 2, with all its widebodies in full view (well, it was actually two A330s and RP-C7472, one of the refurbished 747s), was visible.

Finally, I was able to get a bunch of aerial shots. Here’s the South Luzon Expressway…

…and Laguna de Bay.

The morning Zest flight must be popular, since the plane was almost full.

In due time the fasten seatbelt sign was switched off, and we were finally able to relax. The husband of the couple seated beside me moved up front, while another passenger (who I presume is a family member of the couple) sat beside the wife. Recline though on this aircraft is minimal at best. Expected from an LCC, I suppose.

Soon enough we left Luzon, and we began flying over the many islands which would lead us to Cebu. I think this one is Mindoro.

The in-flight service began with the distribution of water and Zest Airways’ most known drink, Zest-O juice. As Zest Airways is owned by the Philippines’ juice king, Alfredo M. Yao, it is only right that its namesake distribute its most famous product. However, they didn’t offer a variety of Zest-O flavors, only giving out orange juice. I miss mango Zest-O!

Meanwhile, I would proceed to my only source of in-flight entertainment: Para kay B (For B) by Ricardo Lee. I bought the book the other day just so I have something to read in-flight. Although the novel is in Filipino, it is a very interesting, if not unusual, read on love.

After the drink service, the buy-on-board meal service began. Unlike Cebu Pacific, Zest sells sandwiches, desserts and “wholesome” (not packaged) food. I bought a brownie for P50 and might I say it was delicious.

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Old Sep 6, 2009, 12:11 pm
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After the meal service, I decided to inspect, as always, the Zest lavatory. The toilet for one is clean, though the black-and-white tile print looks so retro.

The lavatory is so devoid of amenities not even barf bags were found inside. The signage, like so much outside in the cabin, also retained its original Spanish.

Meanwhile, this was another opportunity to camwhore inside a lavatory.

Soon we were flying over more islands. As we were exiting the southern tip of Marinduque, there was Romblon…

…a bunch of islands north of Bantayan Island…

…Bantayan Island proper…

…the chain of islands south of Bantayan which we flew over on the way to Tokyo last time…

…and, as we finally began to descend, northern Cebu.

The Cebuano hinterland is full of mountains and valleys which jut at the center of the island. Though Cebu reportedly lost most of its forest to logging, agriculture and human development, the interior still looks green and verdant.

The plane eventually flies over Metro Cebu, descending through Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu Cities as it finally lands at the airport.

RP-C8612, a PAL Airbus A320 with new Recaro seats, is parked outside waiting for passengers to be ferried back to Manila.

Meanwhile, RP-C3031, a PAL Express Bombardier Q400, is off for a short hop to some random city in either the Visayas or Mindanao.

Like in Manila, the jet bridges in Cebu are also wrapped in advertising. However, unlike in Manila, the jet bridges in Cebu come in four different colors: red, green, yellow and blue (seen below).

The plane soon parks and people begin exiting the aircraft. At least unlike United, Zest doesn’t break guitars, or throw luggage willy-nilly for that matter.

The recline button on this A320 is most unusual, resembling a light switch instead of a big, silver button.

I don’t think I’ll be seeing this A320 for a while. Though I wish the upholstery was better, thanks Zest for the enjoyable ride.

Last edited by Akiestar; Sep 6, 2009 at 1:45 pm
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Old Sep 6, 2009, 12:12 pm
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IV. Arrival in Cebu

Entering the terminal building, a Cebu Pacific Airbus A319 just arrived from somewhere in the Philippines. Meanwhile, as it taxied to its gate, RP-C8889 was being prepared for its return trip to Manila. Too bad though the picture was smothered with those annoying black dots, an apparent consequence of using wrap advertising on the windows of an airport terminal.

The brightly-illuminated gate corridor leads down a set of stairs into the arrivals level. Apparently, most passengers have already gone downstairs.

While other passengers on the flight were getting their bags, I went to the tourist information counter to get a map of Cebu City (which they have, free of charge, and I thought I was going to need to buy one in Manila). Apparently, it’s only in the Philippines where the new IATA code for Zest, Z2, is common knowledge, as the rest of the world still views Z2 as the now-defunct Styrian Airways.

I exit the terminal, proceeding back to the departures entry ramp through a set of stairs at the far end of what would normally be the entrance for domestic departures. The foliage at this airport, though not like the trees and plants that line NAIA, give the airport that very homey feel that a big city airport can’t give me.

I make my way up the stairs back to departures. I read on a website a few weeks before that multicabs (otherwise known as share taxis, which in this case are miniature versions of jeepneys) ply the route between the airport, Mactan Marina Mall and the Lapu-Lapu City Market. Since it was the cheapest form of transportation available, and since I am travelling on an ever-tighter budget, I decided to take that instead, referring to my map if I need help.

V. Cebu

The multicab went through the airport perimeter, picking up and dropping off passengers at various areas of the airport complex, before exiting the airport and entering Lapu-Lapu City. Because the multicab goes to the market, I went down at the Mactan Marina Mall to hail a jeep which would bring me to where I needed to go.

However, as I got down from the multicab and made my way to the other side of the Quezon Highway which traverses the northern shore of Mactan Island, I noticed that unlike in Manila (and I would know since my dad was the franchisee), Krua Thai is still going strong in Cebu.

It looks like the Mactan Marina Mall will be a hit for those either looking for last-minute souvenir shopping or transient shoppers looking to pass the time (like the role of SM City Cebu for transient shoppers from boats which dock at the Port of Cebu). Though in Manila there’s Newport City outside Terminal 3 and the Duty Free Fiesta Mall outside Terminal 1, Terminal 2 has nothing, and those who have connecting flights can use something to pass the time without needing to go too far into the “hell” which is Manila.

I board an orange jeep which I thought would cross the bridge to Mandaue and Cebu City proper, though I end up boarding the wrong bridge, and I board yet another jeep which crossed the Mactan-Mandaue Bridge into mainland Cebu. Jeeps though in Cebu are very different from their Manila counterparts: not only are they more modern (common among Visayas jeeps I suppose, since I also saw these in Iloilo back in 2006), but also more spacious.

My hesitance for some reason makes me feel as if I will get lost. For some reason though, I can’t seem to leave my Filipino at home in a province where Filipino is the language of much derision among Cebuanos, who think that Tagalog was unfairly chosen as the basis for the national language. However, after much help, I finally made it to the first stop of this trip, the Fuente Osmeña rotunda.

Grand roundabouts like this one are a rarity in Metro Manila: the only ones that I can think of which live to the name of Fuente (as it is informally called) are the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City, the Adriatico and Paco roundabouts in inner Manila and Monumento in Caloocan City. Though a relic of American rule, Fuente blends perfectly into its neighboring surroundings: a vibrant part of any average Cebuano’s daily life.

I was on Osmeña Boulevard when I took notice of the Visayas’ tallest building (and the tallest outside Metro Manila so far), the Crown Regency Hotel.

The crown of the hotel has a thrill ride for P500, though the name currently escapes me.

I board yet another jeep so that I can be brought to the Provincial Capitol, but I was informed by the jeepney driver that I was on the wrong side of Osmeña Boulevard, and that I needed to get down and go onto the other side. He lets me down without needing to pay. I walk down the boulevard, buying a bottle of water, before checking the map and realizing that this will lead me to Calle Colon and the heart of Cebu: Magellan’s Cross and the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño. I board yet another jeep, this time taking me southbound, finally going down at the Cebu City Hall, where the cross kiosk is located.

The Cebu City Hall, in all certainty, is very beautiful.

On the other side meanwhile was Magellan’s Cross. There were a bunch of tourists (Koreans, Japanese and Filipinos even) taking pictures of themselves with the cross, a permanent reminder of their visit to the oldest piece of Philippine colonial history. Standing on its own, the bamboo cross encased in a cross made of tindalo wood was very stately among depictions of the conversion of the Cebuanos to Christianity.

Meanwhile, I proceeded down a bunch of streets looking for the Malacañang sa Sugbo, otherwise known as the official residence of the Philippine president in the Visayas. On the way there, a statue of Ramon Magsaysay, who died in Cebu after a plane crash in 1957, stood in Plaza Independencia unperturbed from the busy stretch of A. Cuenco Avenue that it was facing.

Malacañang sa Sugbo was apparently off-limits due to construction activity in the immediate vicinity of the palace. Oh well.

Further down Plaza Independencia was the Philippines’ oldest fortification: Fort San Pedro.

Although Fort San Pedro once defended Cebu from Muslim pirates who usually attacked the city, today it stands as a garden and a branch of the National Museum. The garden provides a very tranquil place to relax, all for P21 per visit.

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Old Sep 6, 2009, 12:15 pm
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The upstairs areas were also full of gardens. The triangular fort on the second floor consisted of three “bastions” were the cannons were once placed. Here was Bastion La Concepcion…

…Bastion Ignacio de Loyola…

…and Bastion San Miguel.

This building inside the fort houses a regional branch of the National Museum of the Philippines. However, I was surprised to discover that it was closed. Oh well.

The tall buildings near Fuente were visible from this part of the city.

The three bastions in themselves were mini-gardens, lined with lots of native plants and trees which add on to the fort’s calming atmosphere. On the way down though, there were lots of bonsai trees, and I though Philippine trees were not bonsai material.

After looking around Fort San Pedro (which is not that big), it was time to leave and move northward. Near the entrance of the fort, this monument stands in the middle of Plaza Independencia, but I have no idea what it is. Meanwhile, Plaza Independencia, wide and open as it is, was full of squatters. What a pity.

Unlike in Manila, Metro Cebu sticks to one font for all road signage: Highway Gothic. Finally, more order in our street signage.

Moving northward brought me to the nearest, most famous landmark possible: the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño.

The old, if not dirty, church had its own fair share of visitors, and the main hall was full of devotees. I lit a candle inside before offering another candle (a practice where the priest will bless the candle and will offer it to the Lord) inside and finding a very long line leading to the Santo Niño.

After around 15 minutes, I was finally there at the booth where the Santo Niño stood, offering prayers. Meanwhile he stood there inside a glass booth, perhaps interceding on the behalf of man.

There was a fountain inside the church which caught my attention, so much that Cebu’s landscaping is at least a relief from the craziness of Manila.

There was also a wide open space in front of the church, probably used by the Colegio de Santo Niño beside it for school activities, with a Santo Niño looking down upon them.

I decided to go back to City Hall and visit a person I met at another forum who works as a planning and development coordinator for the Cebu City government (and one of the planners for a proposed bus rapid transit for Cebu City). Before that though, I just had to take a shot of the city from above.

Zidlakan, as he is known online, gladly accommodated me in his office, and we discussed a few things about the city (and how I’m going to prove to him that there is an afternoon flight using 747s from Cebu to Manila through this TR). Later on, he handed me a CD with videos about Cebu, and we went down the elevator to the first floor as he was about to leave for lunch.

I did take his advice though and proceeded to the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, which is not that far away from the City Hall. On my way there, I noticed schoolgirls from the Colegio de Santo Niño running around, wearing the quintessential skirt which girls back at CSA wear. “Is this like the universal Augustinian schoolgirl uniform skirt?” I asked myself.

After a while (passing through stores selling both food and religious paraphernalia), I make it to the less-crowded, cleaner and calmer Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral.

Although I wanted to take a picture of the altar, a Mass was going on inside. I wish I could understand it: the Mass was being celebrated in Cebuano, and only Cebuano and English Masses are offered in Cebu. In exchange for that, I returned to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño to get a picture of its altar.

Having worked up quite an appetite, I went back towards the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño to have lunch at the nearby Chowking. It isn’t Cebuano food, but I’ll leave that to when I have a bigger opportunity to visit the island.

After an uneventful lunch (though at least in Chowking the employees are not as hesitant to speak in Filipino than the jeepney drivers), I walked up the street, through sidewalks which remind me somewhat of Binondo in Manila, before finally reaching Colon Street, or more commonly known as Calle Colon, the oldest street in the Philippines.

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Old Sep 6, 2009, 12:18 pm
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Calle Colon is home to several malls and other retail establishments, among them being the flagship of the Gaisano chain of malls: Gaisano Metro Cebu.

Although this Gaisano is a department store, the place was jam-packed with busy shoppers. The first floor, home to men’s clothing and electronics, was particularly busy.

Outside, Colon is a very busy street, full of activity. The sidewalk in itself is vibrant and full of life.

Old, vintage cinemas also had their place in the Philippines’ oldest street, among them the New Cinema Theatre and the Oriente Cinema. You won’t find these in Manila anymore.

A stack of billboards defined one building down the street.

More colorful Cebuano jeepneys abut the monument commemorating Calle Colon as the oldest street in the Philippines: an obelisk lost in the dizzying traffic of the Philippines’ second-largest city, where, according to my friend, jaywalking is still tolerated.

Down the street where Colon ends is the Heritage of Cebu Monument in Parian. The monument, which commemorates Magellan’s landing in 1521 reminds me of the Bonifacio Monument beside Manila City Hall.

Walking down the same street, I hail another jeep to bring me back to the intersection of Colon and Osmeña Boulevard so I can catch another jeep which would bring me to arguably one of the greatest provincial capitol buildings in the Philippines: the Cebu provincial capitol.

Yes, the authority of the government emanates from the people.

Cebu is celebrating its founding anniversary, and the capitol seems to be in a very festive mood. Flags of all of Cebu’s municipalities and cities flank the grand entrance at both sides, standing beside gilded statues of both Lapu-Lapu and Jose Rizal.

Meanwhile, the Philippine flag was flying strong in the wind.

As I was running out of time, I leave the Provincial Capitol to board another jeep which would bring me to the last stop of this trip: Ayala Center Cebu, where a plant-lined circle greets visitors to a building seemingly reminiscent of Alabang Town Center back in Manila on the outside.

Ayala Center Cebu today was not particularly busy, but it had a lot of visitors, though seemingly less than SM City Cebu which preceded it by a month. The mall was divided into three paseos or halls, among them Paseo Ciudad and Paseo Verde.

Down the main paseo, which had no name, was an atrium reminiscent of both Trinoma and Market! Market!

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Old Sep 6, 2009, 12:20 pm
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My first stop here was the supermarket to buy souvenirs, so I went down to Rustan’s Supermarket to buy a bunch of dried mangoes for friends back home. After buying both that and another bottle of water, arguably the last on this trip, I went back up being greeted by an exhibit of paintings by local painter Joey Velasco, including his famous work Hapag ng Pag-asa (The Table of Hope), which he painted back in 2005.

After taking a peek at his other paintings, I exit the main building into the garden so reminiscent of Greenbelt back in Makati. At one point, I couldn’t tell the difference between the two. It just so happens that there’s more foliage in Greenbelt than in Ayala Center Cebu.

Walking across the garden, I notice that the wide open space in the center of the mall was very comforting, though I couldn’t take much comfort as I had to hail a taxi to get to the airport, this building overshadowing the mall.

VI. Pre-departure: CEB-MNL

Apparently, I have to learn a very important lesson: never hail a taxi on this side of Ayala Center, as I end up having no choice but to board unmetered taxis to bring me to the airport. The first one offered me a ride to the airport for P200, but it was way too expensive for me. Another taxi offered me P150, and seeing as I have no choice (and he says that’s how much a taxi costs anyway), I board.

On the way there, we went through a bunch of avenues I have never seen yet on this trip, until we finally exit Cebu City and enter its southern neighbor of Mandaue. Mandaue in itself has its own fair share of new buildings.

Mandaue is also lucky to be home to the recently-built, if not controversial, Cebu International Convention Center.

We cross the Marcelo Fernan Bridge, making our way through an overpass back to the Quezon Highway.

After re-tracing some steps (meaning back to the Mactan Marina Mall), we go through a minimal security check, after which we pass by the unfinished administrative building of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority, a subject of much controversy.

Just through a few airport access roads and into the airport’s main departures ramp, where cars, taxis and the quintessential yellow multicab were parked, I finally was.

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Old Sep 6, 2009, 12:20 pm
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VII. Pre-flight: PR 850, CEB-MNL

I was thinking of buying souvenirs when a man approached me and asked if I needed souvenirs. He led me down to a store at the Waterfront Hotel (the hotel immediately behind the airport), where souvenirs galore were being sold. I was quickly reminded of my friend, who wanted danggit (dried fish or squid, depending on your preference). When I asked how much it cost, he told me P200 for the dried type which does not stink and would be permissible to bring as carry-on luggage. As it was too much, I turned down the offer, and made my way back to the airport.

So far, it is only in this airport that I see an airport entrance arrangement like this one. I hope this one does have an observation deck.

Cebu Pacific check-in counters, full of passengers headed to Manila, Bacolod and Angeles City (a.k.a. Clark), greeted me upon my entry. I make my way to the PAL counters, which were not as busy, but still full of passengers trying to catch PR 850 going home.

This particular FIDS board reminds me of the FIDS used in Bacolod’s new airport.

Before falling in line, I approached a check-in agent if Tito Billy was there, hoping that I can secure a last-minute upgrade to Mabuhay Class. It turns out that Tito Billy is the morning supervisor, and that the guy I was talking to was the evening supervisor. I did confirm though if the plane was a 747, and he did. Finally, not only can I sigh relief, I can also tell Zidlakan back home that yes, PAL sends 747s twice a day (he did inform me earlier that the 11:00 am PAL flight to Cebu uses 747s, and that it was his favorite flight since the plane was large, giving him a sense of comfort).

I did fall in line and finally, when I was called, I went to counter B3. Boy, the line was long.

Check-in was swift as I had no checked luggage, and in no time I was issued my boarding pass, with seat 84A. The unusual seat number meant only one thing: PAL was sending RP-C7475, the oddball of PAL’s 747 fleet. At least it was a refurbished 747, so I can finally review the new AVOD installed in its new Recaro seats.

After paying the P200 terminal fee and security, I finally made it to the pre-departure area. The FIDS this time shows a long list of flights, the vast majority of them to Manila.

PR 850 was boarding again out of Gate 4, and an open door led me to the gate corridor where I got the chance to take a picture of RP-C3196, a Cebu Pacific A319.

The pre-departures hall was also busy, with people leaving for multiple flights converging into the limited number of silver seats. If those seats were cushioned, I’d love to try sleeping on them.

I bought myself a mango shake at Fruit Magic so I have something to consume while plugging in my computer to continue writing this TR. However, the charger did not respond when I plugged it in. Fearful that I may have broken the adaptor to the desktop back home (which is what the charger is) after bearing witness to my charger no longer willing to charge my laptop, I went into a frenzied panic until I asked the juice bar attendant if the outlets were broken. To my relief, she said they were. This meant that in order to use the Internet, I need to go to the Smart Bro-sponsored Internet café.

Sadly though, the Wi-Fi wasn’t working too well, so I struggled to find an empty socket where I can plug the computer in. I ended up only being able to find a socket in one location: near a set of stairs which would lead to the holding area for a hardstand gate below. That was where I plugged the computer in, eliciting stares from passengers bound for originally Bacolod, then Angeles City, when they came down.

In due time, RP-C7475 made a very majestic entrance to the apron, and I had to pack up and move to Gate 4. However, this plane was very late, having arrived at around 5:30 pm.

Gate 4, the very same gate I used to board PR 866 back home from the long trip to Tokyo in my first TR, was also very busy, full of passengers waiting to board. Among them included a very large Korean family, American businessmen (well, one businessman and one businesswoman), tourists and Filipinos going to the big city.

Through the sliding doors I slipped again into the gate corridor, where I just had to take a picture of the 747’s beautiful nose. Aesthetically, the 747 wins over the A380 hands-down.

Though I’d understand the context, this is no way an insurance company should be advertising their services and achievements. Air Philippines Flight 521, the deadliest aviation crash in the Philippines to date, was also where Tita Christy’s oldest son died, as she recounted to me back in Tokyo. Apparently, the reason why they won P7.2 billion for Air Philippines was because the aircraft was defective. Had the verdict not been in their favor, Air Philippines would have gone bust back in 2000, and it wouldn’t exist today. Perhaps in addition to that, the Philippines would have been downgraded to Category II, from Category I at the time.

The gate agent, incidentally the same one who called boarding for PR 866 nearly three months ago, issued the boarding call, where passengers lined up at the doors which I used to take plane pictures earlier. After being manually processed, I went down the gate, taking a picture of RP-C3197, another Cebu Pacific A319.

Last edited by Akiestar; Sep 6, 2009 at 8:23 pm
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Old Sep 6, 2009, 12:21 pm
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VIII: In-flight: PR 850

Philippine Airlines Flight PR 850
Cebu City (Mactan-Cebu International; CEB/RPVM)-Manila (Ninoy Aquino International; MNL/RPLL)
Boeing 747-400M, RP-C7475
Seat 84-A (Economy window, back section)
ETD 1715 (actual 1755) / ETA 1835 (actual 1840)

What I first took notice was the Arabic-language signage on this aircraft as exemplified by the instructions for door operation on this 747-400 Combi meant for Kuwait Airways.

After being greeted by the young flight crew on this flight, I make my way to the deep depths of Fiesta Class. However, being greeted by the new Recaro seats with upholstery seen on PAL’s A330s was a relieving sight. The seat was very comforting and calm, a very radical departure from the drab gray used on Zest Airways’ A320s.

Meanwhile, my seat was very comfortable indeed, both in form and function.

Though the seat beside me was empty, another man took the aisle seat, in a fashion similar to PR 866 three months ago, although unlike on the A320, the legroom on the 747 was much better, and was even better than the A330. This would pave the way for a very comfortable one-hour hop.

Meanwhile, the personal video monitors that form the hallmark of PAL’s new AVOD system greet passengers with a warm welcome screen. Comparing it to similar welcome screens on other AVOD systems on other airlines, I’d say I like this one a lot.

These new slim-line seats by Recaro have a very generous recline for economy seats. Upon pushing the button and going to full recline, I felt as if I was going to fall. However, for long-haul journeys, I’d take these seats anyday.

Passengers were eventually strapped to their seats and the cabin door was closed. In no time we pushed back, all the while other gates at the airport stood empty.

A passenger announcement was made welcoming passengers on our flight and prompting us to watch the safety demonstration. The passenger announcement prompt, though multilingual, did not have a prompt in Filipino. Weird, though not unusual for a country that prides itself in its English-language heritage.

The cabin lights were turned off as the safety video began to play (a departure from when safety demonstrations were still done manually on refurbished 747s). Unusually, the personal video monitors continued to display the passenger announcement prompt even after the announcement was made, which was a sure sign something would go wrong (or went wrong) with the AVOD. Nowhere did this manifest itself more than in the mischievous safety duo speaking without sound, and the purser had to cycle through three sets of in-flight safety videos (the first with English and Chinese subtitles, the last two with Chinese subtitles only) before requiring a manual safety demonstration.

The manual safety demonstration, though no longer an unusual occurrence to me, began to sound like a bore. All local airlines (PAL, Cebu Pacific and Zest) had demonstrations which ran more or less the same, and the safety video was supposed to break that monotony. Oh well. What can I do?

As we taxied towards the runway, another Cebu Pacific A319, RP-C3198, was sitting idle on a hardstand.

One bumpy take-off later, we were finally in the air, Metro Cebu in the distance.

The skies were very cloudy as we make our way back to Manila.

I did decide to take a chance to have a look around at the AVOD. The diminutive little remote used to control the AVOD (though the personal video monitor is a touch screen as well) feels very comfortable in the hand.

However, as the AVOD was still not working, I had to content myself again with Para kay B and my iPod.

Not too long thereafter, the in-flight service began, first with the distribution of newspapers which seem to not get to the back of the aircraft (along with only one choice: the Manila Bulletin. Later on, the food service began, and I had to content myself with water, peanuts and graham crackers.

Though the cabin crew was professional and prompt, they were not as spectacular as the crew on the flights to and from Japan. They came off as a bit too professional: not really giving themselves the chance to immerse in the experience of flying, which made them appear a bit too steely on my part, but definitely just as helpful.

Last edited by Akiestar; Sep 6, 2009 at 1:50 pm
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Old Sep 6, 2009, 12:23 pm
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We begin to fly over the chain of islands north of Cebu, though instead of flying over Bantayan as we did southbound, we flew this time over Romblon. Past a lot of cloud cover was an innocuous chain of islands, followed by Tablas Island, home to Romblon’s airport.

Expressing my frustration at the AVOD, I called for a flight attendant to get the problem fixed before the meal service started. Apparently up front, they had no idea how to do it. After the meal service, I called for another flight attendant, who called for the same flight attendant I called earlier. I suggested that the AVOD be reset. Though they complied, he came back later telling me that they tried to fix the AVOD “to no avail”. Well, let’s see if that excuse holds water as the personal video monitors turn black in the reset process.

We were flying this time over the southern tip of Marinduque, my home province, as the skies began to fall dark.

I decide to leave my seat and use the lavatory when I took notice at how there was a fairly strong, though not full, load factor on this flight. In addition, each personal video monitor was responding to the reset differently, though all of them were black.

At the lavatory, I find it odd that on an Arabic-language plane, there would be signage in Filipino.

There I am tinkering with the camera.

The seats at least on the 747 were kept very clean.

When I returned to my seat, the AVOD was slowly flickering back to life, and it began showing the welcome screen, then restarting again, then showing again the welcome screen, this time accepting input from passengers before an announcement was made indicating that we were on approach towards Manila. Great. So much for trying out the AVOD. At least this time though, the passenger announcement screen reverted to the welcome screen, a sign that things are back to normal, at least for now.

Soon we fly over the density of Manila, lights in tow, when we finally land at the main runway, passing by a Kuwait Airways A340 bound for Kuwait City via Bangkok parked at Terminal 1. Ironically, this is the same aircraft they didn’t take up back in 1996.

Inside the aircraft, I was surprised to found the box housing the AVOD.

Meanwhile, we began to approach Terminal 2, with Airbuses galore parked at the gates, while even more Airbuses were parked at Terminal 3.

Finally, we parked beside an Airbus A330.

Last edited by Akiestar; Sep 6, 2009 at 1:54 pm
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Old Sep 6, 2009, 12:24 pm
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As the aircraft parked and the door opened, passengers went out of the aircraft into Terminal 2. However, much to our surprise, the lights went off abruptly, three times at that, before things went back to normal, and people started getting off the plane.

Passing by the middle cabin I take notice at the adjustable headrest of the new seats. It appears that a tall gentleman was in this seat.

The “Lavatory Occupied” lights at the bulkhead were a first, as I’ve never seen this before on any 747.

I asked for permission from the flight attendants if I can take a picture of the Mabuhay Class cabin, which they agreed to, and my mind was left to wonder what would happen if I was in any of those seats. Not only did they have large monitors in front, they seemed to be very comfortable as well.

I finally leave the aircraft, the warmth of the flight attendants present in their tone.

IX. Arrival in Manila

Exiting the aircraft and peering through the glass jet bridge, I took notice of several Airbus planes parked at the North Wing, as well as the beautiful nose of the 747, accentuated by nightfall.

At least PAL doesn’t break guitars too, or throw luggage around, like certain other legacy carriers. Though they say Manila is notorious for having items stolen from luggage (something which has not happened to me yet), at least nothing is broken when brought down from the plane.

Arriving in Manila was like the usual, only this time with an even more unusual role reversal as the North Wing actually had people, compared to the deserted South Wing.

I was going to take this opportunity to take a candid shot of the guards at work, but they saw me with the camera, and they ended up posing instead. Well, at least they love the camera, though I wonder if the camera loves them. This one certainly does.

Walking towards the arrivals area, even more A319s and A320s lined up at the gates, while an A330 was taxiing towards the end of the main runway.

The baggage claim area tonight was jam-packed with passengers arriving from Iloilo and Davao in addition to PR 850. At least there’s some sense of crowd control.

I make my way outside to the arrivals hall, where people calling for passengers with bookings at various hotels were looking for those who may be staying with them tonight.

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Old Sep 6, 2009, 12:26 pm
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The arrivals garden can use a bit more illumination.

Though I was tired, I walked down the entire length of the South Wing arrivals area, past the lines of cars waiting outside, and proceeded to the bus stop where I boarded the bus which would bring me home (via the LRT, of course).

X. Epilogue

The original intention as to why I wanted to go to Cebu was for the sole reason of trying out the newly-fitted PAL 747s. Apparently, that as an end goal proved unachievable, and I have to concede that I will probably not be able to fly another 747 for a while. However, there is far more to a trip than the plane that you fly, and certainly Cebu, a very beautiful city, took this challenge quite well. It captures much of Manila’s spirit, though without the chaos, and seems to be saner than the dense jungle of the capital up north. However, if I ever get lost, either I rely on my map or, if my Internet connection didn’t conk out the night before, I would get a tour guide. Two people in the other forum offered me just before I was about to leave (as in the last few hours before departing), but apparently, the earthquake off Taiwan and the horrible Internet situation in Manila proved otherwise. Sorry Slerz and Jarenz, and hopefully you guys can tour me around next time! I’m glad you were able to understand my situation, and I can’t wait for someone to show me places beyond what I’ve already visited. Perhaps I’ll even stay longer.

Zest Airways is a very promising LCC: its offers of lower fares (where the price advertised is the price you pay, unlike Cebu Pacific), excellent buy-on-board offerings with unlimited water and juice, and friendly service would give tough competition to the country’s largest LCC. Though their jets are second-hand with a drab hard product, the value of the seat is rendered irrelevant when you get to fly with them, since they feel just so comfortable. As they say, there really is a new zest in the air, and that zest can be deadly if other airlines don’t shape up.

On the other hand, I can’t compare Zest to PAL. PAL in itself is much better than Zest from all measures of service, and as my favorite local airline, it does a lot of things Zest cannot. The new Recaro seats are arguably one of the most comfortable (if not the most comfortable) seats I’ve been on in all my years of travel, with very generous recline and legroom in Fiesta Class. Though the AVOD wasn’t working, hopefully I get to try it next time, although they say that the selections are anemic (8 movies), perhaps due to royalties, which PAL may not be able to afford, or copyright issues in the Philippines, where piracy is less of an exception and more of the norm. Hopefully PAL will introduce more choices not only for me, but for everyone who will get a chance to experience their refurbished seats.

Thinking of a title, I decided to merge two slogans together, and I got this: "There's Some New Zests Shining Through". The grammatical error is deliberate, to make it sound better (and so that the title can fit). Other times though I'm very grammatically correct. I hope you understand.

I hope you enjoyed this trip report (my third), and once again, thank you for reading. Do expect a trip report for my next trip: a hop through two major Philippine airports. As per custom, and once again as a brief closing, the following camera was used on this trip:

* Canon EOS 350D

Last edited by Akiestar; Sep 6, 2009 at 12:31 pm
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Old Sep 6, 2009, 11:00 pm
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Thanks for another interesting Trip report Akiestar.

I'm glad you found the 747 you were looking for. I would think being in that ratty old domestic terminal would be a bit of a competitive disadvantage for Zest.
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Old Sep 6, 2009, 11:10 pm
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Well, Zest in the long term plans to move to Terminal 3, if I'm not mistaken.

I wonder though how the new PR interior stacks up against the new GA interior. Hmm...
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Old Sep 7, 2009, 2:45 am
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I've only seen the interior of GA's new A330s in the ads, but they look like a huge leap forward. Their 'new' (to them at least) 737NGs are OK as well.

The problem with GA domestically is that they charge a very large premium over the other domestic carriers. It's not like in The Philippines were I found PR was often as cheap or cheaper than the competition. At least the Econo-Lite fares, anyway.

Internationally they are usaually at the cheaper end of the scale.
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