Devan Pillay and his wife, Maria Teresa Varag, have a real modern-day love story. Pillay, an admin clerk at the SAPS Chatsworth, KwaZulu-Natal, travelled to the Philippines to marry Varag. Here he shares how he approached his solo travels:
I met my wife, Maria Teresa Varag, on FilipinoCupid, a dating site, in December 2018. We chatted via video call as she was working in Saudi Arabia at the time. In May, she finished her contract and moved back to her home in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Maria Teresa is the eldest in her family and was working overseas to support her family.
I was motivated to go to the Philippines after watching the television series 90 Days to Wed on the United States television network TLC. In one episode, an American man went to the Philippines to meet his prospective wife for the first time.
I travelled from Durban to Johannesburg, and from there I departed to the Philippine city of Cebu via Hong Kong, China. I flew with the airline Cathay Pacific. The flight from Johannesburg to Hong Kong takes more than 12 hours, while the flight to Cebu from Hong Kong is three hours. This is one of several times I travelled alone. I’ve been to Malaysia, Singapore and Mauritius on my own.
Tips for travelling wheelchair users
I had the misfortune of getting a puncture 30 minutes before I had to board the Johannesburg flight to Hong Kong. A waiter broke a glass tumbler at a restaurant I was at and a shard of glass cut my tyre. I’d advise wheelchair users to put solid tyres on all four wheels to prevent punctures.
This will also prevent having to get the tyres fixed overseas. To find a repair shop in a foreign country can be difficult, and expensive when considering the exchange rate. Alternatively, ensure you have a repair kit and a spare tube handy.
During the long flights, I used a urine bag and never had to get up to use the airplane toilets. I also limited my liquid intake for the duration of the flight.
Please speak to a medical professional before limiting your liquid intake to prevent dehydration.
I only use my credit card and no foreign currency. I find it less of a hassle to get money from an ATM at the airport of the country I am visiting. I never change rands to the currency of the country I’m visiting before leaving South Africa.
Travelling great distances for love
I landed in Hong Kong in the early morning and made use of the airport lounge to relax and eat. The airport staff were efficient in their assistance of passengers with disabilities. I had to wait ten hours before my flight to Cebu.
When I finally arrived in the Philippines, I stayed in an apartment I rented through Airbnb for four days. I opted for Airbnb as it is challenging to find a budget wheelchair-accessible hotel. Most are expensive. Part of the challenge is the lack of a standardised understanding of a wheelchair-accessible room overseas.
I used Grab, the top ride-hailing app in Southeast Asia, to book a taxi from the Cebu airport to the apartment. The traffic in the Philippines is crazy. It took two hours to drive ten kilometres!
After the short stay in Cebu, I flew to Manila on an hour-long flight to meet Maria Teresa. We stayed at the Azure Beach Resort, a short drive from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The resort is ideal for wheelchair users as the area is flat. It also has, among other things, a man-made wave pool, a gym, a basketball court and shops.
After meeting up, we flew to the city of Zamboanga and took a taxi to Ipil, an area within the province of Zamboanga Sibugay, close to Maria Teresa’s home town. Her family travelled an hour to meet us at the hotel in Ipil. The road to her house is not accessible for a wheelchair because it is in a rural area.
We registered our marriage at a local municipality. We returned to Manila to get the papers at the South African embassy to apply for a visa for Maria Teresa.
I found that the Filipinos are genuinely loving and caring in nature. They don’t care about age, disability, money or material possessions. They value family the most.