Travails of travel, Part 2 –

September 17, 2021 | 12:00am

Leaving Tokyo wasn’t as difficult as entering. When I landed last July 28, it took over two hours to clear safety protocols and immigration checks. I was told the clearance time was more than four hours when thousands of athletes, officials and media descended on the city the week before the Olympics. I arrived five days after the Olympics started.

POC general manager Dinah Remolacio provided extra taxi vouchers to cover the ride from the hotel to the airport for the exit last Aug. 9. Conrad Tokyo Hotel assistant front office manager Yohei George Asano took care of booking taxis and other necessities during our 13-day visit. Because of safety precautions, journalists weren’t allowed to enter the Olympic or Athletes Village and could only access venues via on-line requests for coverage. In addition, for high-demand night events, you had to line up for media tickets at the Main Press Center starting 8 a.m. on the day of the competition. I was advised by the IOC staff that in Paris in 2024, no hard-copy tickets will be issued and all requests will be handled on-line.

From Tokyo, my PlayItRightTV co-host Dyan Castillejo and I took a Singapore Airlines flight to Los Angeles. We were assigned to broadcast the Manny Pacquiao-Yordenis Ugas fight in Las Vegas on Aug. 21 so it didn’t make sense for us to go back to Manila, do a 10-day hotel and four-day home quarantine then leave for the US. Besides, WBO bantamweight champion JohnRiel Casimero was set to take on Guillermo Rigondeaux in Carson City, Los Angeles County, on Aug. 14 so we could catch that fight, too, with a straight flight to the US.

I was issued a negative certificate after an RT-PCR saliva test a day before departing Tokyo in case it was required at the airport. To my surprise, the exit clearance was a quick breeze as authorities only checked my passport, plane ticket, boarding pass and US visa. By then, I had done a total of six COVID-19 tests. On board the plane to L. A., I couldn’t sleep off the hours because of my excitement. I wound up watching three movies.

Upon landing in L. A., I was surprised that the visa check booths were gone. Every foreign incoming passenger now had to go through an immigration officer to show his or her passport and visa. I was ready to submit my negative certificate but it wasn’t asked for when it was my turn at the counter. There was also no temperature reader at the terminal. The immigration officer asked for the purpose of travel, how long I planned to stay and checked my passport and I-visa for journalists. It was over in five minutes. Boxing coach Ting Ariosa picked us up at the airport and drove us to our hotel in downtown L. A. We did a self-imposed, three-day hotel quarantine then Freddie Roach’s assistant Marvin Somodio brought us to an RT-PCR testing facility. Since Dyan and I were exposed to unknown elements at the Tokyo and L. A. airports and during the flight, we wanted to make sure we were virus-free before meeting up with Pacquiao, Casimero and their teams. The next day, the negative results were emailed so we were good to go.

At the Wild Card Gym where Pacquiao trained, a doctor and nurse were on standby to test every visitor. I did another test before I could enter the gym. The day after the Casimero fight, PlayItRightTV producer Vince Rodriguez and I drove from L A. to Las Vegas. It was a limited audience for the Casimero fight at the Dignity Health Sports Park but I made sure I wore my face mask as there was little space in between journalists at the coverage ringside table.

In Las Vegas, masks were required in the hotel premises but there were many who disregarded the rule. A few days before Pacquiao’s fight, we were advised to take another RT-PCR test provided by the promoter. Pacquiao brought along his health team from L. A. to test his close-in staff every day. My result was emailed after an hour but I couldn’t access it at first. I got seriously worried that it was a signal to contact the testing team. I eventually found out that the reason I couldn’t access the result was the birthdate used in my password was wrong. When I made the correction, I was relieved to find my negative result.

Then it was time to come home. There were apps that needed to be downloaded on my cellphone before boarding the Philippine Airlines flight from L. A. to Manila. The PAL staff at the counter was efficient and helpful in making sure every app, every form and every protocol were in order. It was also required to show your hotel quarantine reservation. The flight was heavenly – nobody beats PAL when it comes to comfort in your seat and service. After landing, passengers were told to wait in a sitting area then called one by one to submit their health forms and arrange their RT-PCR tests while in hotel quarantine. The 10-day stay at Sofitel was restful and I was cleared to go home after receiving my negative result from my ninth test in over a month.

The experience of covering the Olympics and two world title fights overseas in this pandemic was unforgettable. After every virus test, I felt anxiety and couldn’t be calmed until the negative results came out. I kept imagining what would happen if I tested positive. Being far from home was not a consoling situation. But I left it all to the Lord, prayed hard for His protection and did my best on the job. My thanks to the POC, PSC, Sonak Corp., Tap Digital Media Ventures, Sen. Pacquiao and The Philippine Star for making it all possible.