Friday, January 20, 2006

Kuya's Philippine Journals: Like a Bat Into Hell

The driver of the van had eaten lunch with the host family as per custom but then had retired to sit in the van until we were ready to head back. Though it was cool in the mountains around Baguio, here in a lower province, it was very warm and inside the van it was oven. Have you ever seen a dog that is chained to the side of the house all day every day even as the summer days grow longer and the sunshine makes it hotter? The dog is friendly at first, allowing all those children who pass by to pet it, but gradually the hot sun makes the dog a little meaner every day until one day the dog goes mad and bites a child like one did to my younger brother so many years ago. Like that dog, this driver had gone mad sitting in the heat of that van waiting and when we climbed in to head back to Baguio, I could see it in his eyes.

Lessons learned from the morning puke session were evidently tossed out the window and immediately we found ourselves violently weaving back and forth as the driver tried to make his way through the heavy town traffic, occasionally violently being thrown forward in our seats to the sound of screeching brakes. Unfortunately, my self-dosing of Dramamine was already worn off and my senses were now firing on all cylinders. As we drove off, the driving wasn't the same as the way down, it was worse. Where as on our way down the driver had cut in front and followed to closely to people, this time he savagely ran them off the road. Where as before he had looked for gaps in the oncoming traffic, this time he merely swung out when he chose to almost daring those oncoming vehicles to a game of chicken. I stopped counting the near head-on collisions after six because I figured it really didn't matter since I was going to die anyway.

If one could find humor in the whole situation, there were some ironic instances. Several times going up into the mountains, the driver would swing into the other lane when going around hairpin corners to carry more speed only to nearly collide with a driver coming the other way. Once when tables were turned and we came around a corner in our own (outside) lane and found it occupied by an oncoming jeepney, our driver honked his horn and shook his hand out the window in rage. I saw all this from my seat and as I clung to the armrest for dear life I remember thinking, hah, serves your right you crazy old fool. How do you like a taste of your own medicine? Oh Lord, I'm going to DIE!

On another hairpin corner to the right as our driver raced around with the right tires off the pavement kicking up rocks and sending them flying over the guardrail into the gorge below, I was horrified to see a young girl and a toddler right in our path. I closed my eyes and involuntarily ducked at the last second and waited for the sickening thump that I knew was going to happen but never did. When it never came I looked back but we were already around the corner and out of sight. If we did hit the girl, she made no sound and if we missed her, it had to have been by less than an inch. I corrected my thoughts; SOMEBODY is going to die!

I am what I would consider a religious man but I am not one of those people who feel the need to publicly pray. My prayers are usually reserved for inside the church or in the privacy of my home and are mostly prayers of thanks or asking for guidance. But right after the incident with the girl, I closed my eyes and began to pray for all that I was worth. I prayed for something catastrophic to happen to the engine or transmission of that van and I prayed for it to happen as soon as possible. I prayed that the catastrophic event wouldn't come in the form of a blown tire for that would have crashed us either into the cliff to one side or plunged us to our deaths in the gorge below on the other side. I suppose we could have hit the cliff and then plunged off into the gorge but I digress.

A few miles downhill from Baguio as we were tearing through an inhabited portion of the road at 120 km/hr even though at the edge of the area I had seen a 40 km/hr speed limit, the driver started into another blind hairpin corner. There in the middle of the road was a broken down flatbed truck and there was no time to stop. The driver slammed on the brakes sending me once again into the seat in front of me as the back wheels of the van broke loose. We hit the road shoulder fishtailing before shooting over into oncoming traffic now beside the broken down truck. The oncoming vehicle swerved off onto their shoulder and our driver eventually regained control and hit the gas, squirting around the front fender of the truck with inches to spare.

Without missing a beat, the driver continued to accelerate as we headed into the next blind hairpin turn just 100 feet down the road. Too late he realized that he was going too fast and once again I found myself in a van sliding partly sideways on the shoulder of the road. But once again he managed to pull the van out of the spin and regain control. As he once again punched the accelerator to the floor, he looked back in the rear view mirror with those mad eyes and laughed. I wanted so much to just punch him in the face making sure that I could escort him to the gates of hell as we plunged off the cliff but instead I just gave him the meanest look I could muster while concentrating on remaining in control of all my other bodily functions.

Then like a switch has been thrown, we reached the Baguio City limits and he slowed down for a leisurely drive through town to our house. When the van pulled up in front of the house, I jumped out and went immediately inside to eliminate the possibility of the driver saying something to me in English, as most natives want to do when they have done a service for an American. I was really afraid of what I might say or do should he speak one word to me and I really didn't want to embarrass my hosts. All of the riders in the van that day thought the driver had driven way to fast and dangerously and my brother-in-law, like me, was furious. But nobody had said a word. I didn't say a word because I was a guest and didn't feel as if it was my place to do so, but in hindsight that seems very stupid considering I had thought my life to be in jeopardy. Because my mother-in-law was the senior member of the van and Filipinos are very respectful of their elders, I think that is mainly why the othe passengers kept silent. I think my mother-in-law didn't say anything because in a way, she wanted to test me and see how much I would put up with.

In the end, this story has a happy ending because we all made it home safely and I got a chance to meet many of my wife's relatives on her father's side of the family whom I had never met before. So after giving my thanks in a quick prayer, I told them that if we ever get that driver again, I'm walking!

No comments: