Favorite Things | No passport, will travel

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AirAsia Chair Marianne B. Hontiveros recalls the time she flew from Frankfurt to Manila sans documents.


INTERVIEW CATHY ROSE A. GARCIA

Working for an airline sounds like a dream job for anyone who loves to travel. For Philippines AirAsia Chairperson Marianne “Maan” B. Hontiveros, her busy schedule keeps her from fully enjoying the perks.

“Yes, we have all our privileges of taking off. But it’s also such a busy, hectic kind of life that it’s hard to find the time to do it. Before, we had all the time but no resources. Now, we have all the resources but we don’t have the time,” she says.

A sports buff when she was younger, Ms. Hontiveros used to go on skiing trips for vacation.  “I learned to ski at the ripe old age of 40. I would go with my friends in the spring. We have been to Colorado, Whistler in Canada, and St. Moritz. That used to be my vacation thing—skiing. Now the knees are not as good,” she says, with a laugh.

These days, the former journalist prefers to visit places where she has friends, and discover new destinations with old friends. She also travels for work: High Life caught up with her when she accompanied a group of journalists and bloggers on a four-day tour of Kuta and Ubud in Bali—the newest destination of Philippines AirAsia.

“Traveling like this for three days, it’s nice but I would prefer to go to a place and stay there for a week and get to know the place,” Ms. Hontiveros said.

What’s your favorite place to visit?

Bali, I keep going back to Bali. This is where I celebrated my 50th birthday and my 60th birthday at Tandjung Sari in Sanur. I like to go to places that are heritage places, that are part of a city’s story and Tandjung Sari is one of the oldest Balinese resorts that’s built in the Balinese style and run by a family. Anaïs Nin and a lot of other writers used to go there. It’s in Sanur, a quieter part of Bali. It’s a very different scene from Kuta. That’s why it was interesting for me to stay in Kuta because I would have never stayed in Kuta on my own. It’s a different scene, it’s a party scene. I usually avoid the touristy areas.

How did you discover Tandjung Sari?

My sister-in-law does a lot of work in Indonesia and she knew that place. So we held my 50th and 60th birthday parties there… Friends from all over came. Everybody loved that place. The thing about Tandjung Sari is that even their staff has been there forever. After my 60th birthday, we left two cases of wine there that we didn’t consume. Two years later, we went back for another event and had to stay at a different hotel in Sanur. I walked back to Tandjung Sari and the people still recognized me. They asked me, “Do you want your wine?” They served us the wine. It’s that kind of place, the service and personalized thing.

What is it about Tandjung Sari that makes it so special?

First of all, the architecture. All the units are standalone units and the gardens and hedges have built around them. Even if they’re close, you think you’re alone and you have your privacy. They have indoor and outdoor showers, it’s very quiet. The staff really caters to every need you have. You can actually do your shopping there because you can tell them you need batik and they call somebody, and the batik people will come. The staff are treated like family because they stay on and on and on. You see the same staff when you come back.

How many times have you been there?

Maybe six or seven times.

What do you usually do on vacation?

I’m a beach person. I live on the beach. Normally on vacation, I would not go on the beach. I want to do something different. Normally, I would go up to Ubud, and I hardly even go to the beach. The sound of the waves. It’s like a home away from home. The food is really good. They have cultural shows in the evening. They bring in the Legong dancers.

In Bali, the art and culture is so much a part of the everyday life of the people. Every Balinese is also an artist. Even their religious practices are really a part of them, it’s not just being done for the tourists. They do their little offerings every single day. If you’re lucky, you can stumble into some Balinese funeral procession or a temple offering procession, you can go in and blend.

Do you have any travel tips?

Never leave your bag behind. Always have your travel documents with you. I once got pickpocketed at Frankfurt airport. My passport and all my documents were stolen from me. I was just very lucky I was able to go home because the (Philippine honorary) Consul General at that time in Dusseldorf was a really good friend of mine, Karl-Heinz Stockheim. He also happened to be the owner of the restaurant outlets in the airports, so he was well known to the Lufthansa people. I was flying Lufthansa, so the Lufthansa people, the immigration and airport people allowed me to travel without my passport.

How did that happen?

Another reason why I was allowed to travel without my passport was because I was carrying a book that Stockheim had written on the Philippines. I was carrying a copy for President Fidel V. Ramos that was autographed by him and I was delivering it in time for Philippine Independence Day, when I was arriving in Manila. I was in the book. I had my name and photo in the book. If I didn’t have the book, I would not have come home. That was quite a story. Nobody believes me when I tell that story that I flew from Frankfurt to Manila without travel documents.

I can’t imagine that happening now.

It probably won’t happen now. Because he (Stockheim) guaranteed to Lufthansa and (German) immigration that if I were to be turned back, he would pay all the penalties.

I had already checked in so my documents were already seen. Just before entering the immigration area I was holding my boarding pass and I stopped by a Harrod’s outlet. I was looking there and someone was beside me, distracted me and another person took my bag. It was gone. I had no passport, no money, no ID, nothing. It was a good thing my boarding pass was still in my hand. That was a harrowing experience.

It’s a good thing I memorized Karl’s number and he was at home. Stockheim calls back and he tells me, ‘Maan, I have pulled every string in that airport. I have guaranteed to Lufthansa that if you are turned back, I will pay all the fines. They have endorsed you to Immigration and you just have to show the book. You did not check in the book, right? I told them you were on page 150 or 160, and I also told them you’re so important, I put you before President Ramos.’

So I go to immigration without a passport, and he brings me to the office. The supervisor comes to me and he says, ‘Do you have the book?’ I said, ‘yes.’

So I bring out the book and he opens it to the page and he starts reading it. The English translation says: Marianne Hontiveros was born on Nov. 30, 1948 in the Philippines. All my information is there. It was like a biography. There are pictures. So at that time I was Ballet Philippines president, surrounded by ballerinas. Then they said, ‘yes, you may go now to your gate.’

The book was my passport.