Driving Me Hazy in the Philippines

By Jerry F. Smith, Guest Globejotter
Cavite, Philippines

Editor’s Note: Jerry F. Smith is a student in Dave’s online humor writing class. This is his first article for Globejotting.

Whoa! Did you see that!? Yep, that’s exactly what it looked like: A big ol’ ox pulling an overloaded vendor’s carriage filled with straw products – in your lane, waiting to sell you something at first impact. Welcome to driving on public roads in rural Philippines.

My first taste of Philippine driving was when I tasted it – literally. Thick, black smoke bellowing from a locally made jeep. You’ve heard of farm-to-table? This was tailpipe-to-nose. Delicious.

The original jeepneys were made from US military jeeps left in the Philippines after World War 2. (Photo: Lawrence Ruiz / Wikipedia / Creative Commons)

These jeeps are not the jeeps your mother told you about. Known as “jeepneys,” they are supersized, jeep-like public transportation vehicles that swerve from one lane to the other, picking up and dropping off passengers. Jeepneys are colorful, with lengthened casing. They often have chromed bodies. They are a sight to see, tempting to distract your attention, but please, keep your eyes on the road.

No driver’s ed course in the USA will prepare you for the obstacles you’ll encounter while driving a motorcycle in the Philippines. There are unwritten rules you should follow if you want to live. Buses own the roads. You are only borrowing time on their routes. Whenever they choose, buses will trap you as they pull to the side to pick up or drop off passengers. Think you can outrun a bus on a bike? I used to think so but it was a figment of my imagination. As it turns out, buses can overtake motorcycles.

The smoke screens jeepneys and buses use serve an important purpose. The thick, black blasts prevent them from being seen by local environmental agencies. All vehicles must undergo emission control testing, but that is simply to ensure they are able to spew the maximum amount of filth into your face as they pass you.

So-called “tricycles,” which can be flagged down like taxis, are another popular form of public transport in the Philippines. (Photo: John Christian Fjellestad / flickr)

“Tricycles”– motorcycles with sidecars attached – are your counterargument to safe driving. They can turn on a dime, and indeed they do – right in front of you.

In addition to the jeepneys and buses, there are broken-down cars, flooded streets, and potholes the size of football fields. There are also times when the streets become zoos, and you’d swear you have crossed over into the Dr. Doolittle Zone. Horses, cows, oxen, snakes, roosters, birds, bats, goats, dogs, cats, and all other animals indigenous to the Philippines use the same roadways.

I have learned the secret to why the chicken crossed the road. It really did want to get to the other side. Problem: the path to the other side is often in front of my bike at 50 miles per hour. And hey, was that a gazelle that just  jumped over me as I zoomed past? Oops … no. It was a just a skinny dog testing out the spring in his step as he leapt across in the same instant I turned the curve.

Then, there are the people who cross the road. They are more hazardous than the chickens. As a pedestrian in the Philippines, if you’re walking and you realize you forgot something, no worries. You have unofficial, culturally sanctioned permission to do an about face in the middle of traffic and wander back the way you came. The Mack Truck speeding toward you probably won’t hit you if you look the other way. And that guy on the motorcycle? Don’t worry about him either. Local custom requires him to swerve to avoid your unpredictable meandering – in front of the Mack Truck if necessary.

If I knew how to make phone apps, I’d create a game about driving in the Philippines. The goal would be to avoid the pitfalls and obstacles. Bonus points if you don’t get your white suit black. It could also be used to train NASA astronauts to navigate around meteor storms. I’m sure it would be a best-seller.

Jerry F. Smith
 is a native of Stockton, California. He currently resides in in Cavite, Philippines, where he works as an online English language teacher. After a run-in with Dave Fox on Udemy, he decided to give humor writing a try.


Published on Wednesday, September 20, 2017

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