Getting Around

So why couldn’t I just head out the shop to get some grub when I was hungry here my first week?

It turns out that the office (where I live) isn’t really in the most convenient of locations. If you check on Google maps you can see it is about 4km from the centre of town, but it’s quite a small town and 3 km away is pretty much the sticks. In fact, it is literally the sticks. We’re surrounded by sugar cane plantations, which is about the only thing they grow here. Bar rice. And public transport is not really their forte here.

There are buses, but I see them going by and they’re always packed out the windows. Again, literally. The roof is a realistic spill over area. It actually looks like a lot of fun, I’m eager to try it. And they’re really for inter-town travel rather than around the town.

For getting around the town they have jeepneys. Also just called a “jeep”. Said really fast in a Filipino accent. “Jip”. A jip is basically a small flatbed truck with benches along the sides and a roof. They are privately run, as far as I can tell, but they have defined routes, the start and end of which are painted on it somewhere. Along with any number of random designs. Some have Disney characters, some have the sacred heart of jesus, other’s like a death metal tour bus. They’re actually amazing looking. On the outside. Inside they’re falling apart — wires all over the floor, dashboard just there for decoration, broken-off broom handle for a gear stick. The first one I got in had no wipers and it was pissing down rain. They’re generally driven by an entire family which usually includes a breastfeeding mother and a hyperactive toddler bouncing around the cab.

I’m not totally down with it but I’m starting to get the hang of how it works. A random jip comes along, stops wherever it likes, you hand 10 pesos to the driver or the guy you’re sitting beside, sometimes, I don’t know if he’s checking, then when you want him to stop you hiss at him or start blowing loud kisses very rapidly. That’s how I’ve seen it happen anyway. I get on, look confused and get out wherever I can.

If there is no jip you can get a tricycle. It’s called a tricycle because it’s basically a bike, push or motor, with a sidecar attached. There are a variety of types of bikes and sidecars but the general rule is that they’re all shite. Battered up bikes welded to a rattly, two-wheeled wheelbarrow, held together by years old rust, wire, and the good will of the baby Jesus.

A tricycle is more like a taxi, in that you hire it to bring you to your destination, but unlike a taxi, which can only take a maximum of 5, there is no limit to what a tricycle can carry. Back of the bike, standing on the back of the wheelbarrow, sitting on the roof — it looks like a mobile game of people buckaroo. They also transport sugar cane, water containers, pigs, whatever you want.

And the roads are fucking lawless. Absolute chaos. They’re mostly your standard two-way, one lane carriageway, but they’ve managed to manufacture an extra lane each way by constantly undertaking each other. And why undertake one, person if you can undertake all the rest? They overtake the standard way too, so you basically have a system where everybody weaves in and out of everybody else, beeping away to each other to let them know that they’re coming.

And there are no traffic lights. I’ve seen one set of traffic lights so far in my month here, and they act more like a guideline rather than a hard and fast rule. Red means ‘we suggest you stop if you want to’. Their rules of right of way is basically a game of chicken. Coming up to a cross-roads you just drive straight into it. If you are going to cause a crash then you are obliged to stop, right there in the middle of the junction, while the other guy drives around you and the guy behind you slips up your inside and everyone continues along like it’s nothing.

No traffic lights means no pedestrian crossings. So although the roads resemble the blades of a combine harvester, people just wander across aimlessly, checking their phone, dragging their kids, seemingly oblivious to the articulated truck barrelling towards them while overtaking the tricycle. Footpaths are an afterthought. They exist in places, but often they just disappear for no reason, or have some structure built into them that completely block access, or they function as the forecourt for one of the shops at the side of the road. Walking along the road is actually a more convenient option a lot of the time.

So that’s why I didn’t just pop down to the shops. It was way too fucking intimidating. I’ve got a better handle on it now. I have an app to order a taxi, I’ve braved the jips on my own a couple of times and the tricycles are handy enough too. Now all I need is somewhere decent to go.

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