Rings the lyrics of the great Beachboys song in my head as i climb into a classic Filipino Jeepney. The Philippines are unique in many ways, culture, history religion, but none so much as the varied ways they “get around”. I am on a land trip to Dona’s village, in a remote part of Luzon Island coming from Davao, the southernmost city via Manila, a city of ten million people, so i am seeing most of the country this week.
The legacy started at the bottom, albeit my favorite, mode of transportation; the motorbike. Here there are millions of small often patched together motorbikes buzzing about constantly. I rented one and lucked out with a brand new 150cc Chinese “automatic” i.e. not clutch. This is a bit of a Cadillac in the motorbike world, electric start and everything works. Later i will drop down a few notches to ride Donna’s family bike: no brakes, no lights, kick start and so far from street legal we cannot leave the village in fear of a check point. i find buzzing around country roads at night with no headlight exhilarating, haha. You know you are in Asia when you see a family of four or five and maybe a pig or bundle of produce on a small motorbike. One of my favorite things where we are now, is the early morning trip to school, Dad and up to five beautiful brown smiling faces all in brightly colored school uniforms and proudly caring new backpacks, buzzing down the road to school all wave at you. This is one of those moments when one’s heart skips a beat and you look up, teary eyed and say “thank you”.
When first here my curiosity was aroused repeatedly as i saw hand painted sings on old tires that read, “VULCANIZING”. The term rang of high technology, was this some sort of health treatment, or was it preparation for a visit from the good folks on Vulcan, home of the immortal Mr. Spock? Investigation proved none of my high minded sources, it is simply a place where they take old motorbikes and rob the parts to get yours running again. Sorry Spock, you visit will have to wait.
Next mode of getting around was the short ferry off Samal Island, this is a barge sort of thing that makes the ten minute crossing continually. the Philippines are well served by a massive fleet of ferry boats, kind of a necessity in a country with thousands of islands. Off the ferry we got into a modern air conditioned taxi, thinking we were back in modern world until the driver abruptly stopped in daylight on a major urban street to take a pee! The peeing driver was not the only reminder of where we were, the fourteen minute taxi ride to the airport was two bucks, we are not in Kansas (or Seattle) anymore Toto.
Now, solidly back in the 21st century, we hopped on an Airbus A320 and off to Manila. The Philippines are served by several small airlines, the rates are amazingly cheap, two hour flight to a major city for forty-five bucks. Another quick flight to Legazpi, this one about thirty bucks, and we land in a jungle airport, climb down the steps and walk into the terminal. Here there are several options, most expensive is a private van, $35 for a two hour ride, i took it. On our way back it gets more complicated, we will go from a tricycle to a Jeepney to a van to the airport.. for about $5.
That brings me to the most unique of all Filipino vehicles, the tricycle. This is a morphed combination of motorbike and cab. There are millions of them here, travel in herds it seems. Each area has its unique signature tricycle as the cabins differ in each region. We have seen the deluxe version in Puerto Gallera, chromed all the way, large cabin often decorated. The cabins in Coron are much larger and hold up to five people. Many a time i have taken friends to the hot springs there, four at a time over the roughest road for half an hour. The driver then waits while we soak for an hour or two and returns us, all for just over $6. Here in Bihol, the tricycles, never called trikes, are crude and rusty, hold only two people, average ride is fifty cents.
Up the evolutionary ladder is another creature morphed from history, the Jeepney. The front of a jeep is descended from jeeps left here after WWII, the back extends enough to carry twenty or so people in the low overhead crude seats the run fore and aft, duck as you enter. Folks pack in as the Jeepney does its route, and bang on the floor when they want to hop, and i mean hop off the moving bus. Today we did a half hour ride for 30pp..(sixty cents). The owners take great pride in the privately owned Jeepneys, decorating them in ways reminiscent of the dear original Furthur Bus. One can feel safe as they are always adorned with Crucifixes and other religious statues and decor. The way they drive, this is appreciated. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeepney
With a few hundred million people all moving all the time and this array of modes of transportation one would think traffic would be atrocious, but it is not. The Filipino mind seems to know that they need to keep moving, that they are just responsible for themselves and no amount of rage will move things faster. This keeps things moving. I marvel at the one major intersection at Samal island. As i approach the crossroads i will see mammoth double decker tour busses, a few cars, crude dump trucks,dozens of tricycles and herds of motorbikes as converging at one tiny, unregulated intersection. With no stoplight, sign of indication of who has the right away, this cornucopia of metal and rubber mesh in what would seem total chaos and inevitable disaster, yet they all just get through it unscathed. I rarely even stop, just weave my motorbike through the labyrinth of steal and buzz away, as do thousands of others constantly. i have yet to see traffic stop or a collision or any sign of road rage at what would certainly be a colossal destruction derby in the US.
One of the primary reasons things just move along here is the almost Zen thinking of all drivers. There is no “this is my lane” or “get the Hell out of my way”. Horns are used in a friendly manner and mean, “here i am” not “what the $#&* are you doing”. There seems to be no regard for what the other guy is doing, they just mind their own business. Combine this with the survivalist mode one must be in, no one is looking out for you so pay attention and you get free flowing movement, often found terrifying by the new comer.
Yes the Filipinos keep moving, constantly, and without much fuss, nor, interestingly enough, government involvement. All the land and sea travel is privately owned and operated, there is no “public transportation” as we know it. The prices are ridiculously low and service pretty good. Few people own cars, many in rural areas own motorbikes for short travel, but most rely on one of the above commercial services. Safety regulations are lax at best and no one seems to monitor omissions, as the black smoke belching out of the antique jeetney diesel engine testifies, but is all seems to work. I find this the Asian and particularly Filipino way: easy to criticize, shocking to visitors and potentially disastrous but it all just seems to just work out. Another valuable lesson in life from the Zen masters and the Beachboys!