Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Joe Philippines Part 1

The air went from a controlled stale cold to heavy dampness that instantly clung to my entire body like a dirty fir coat two sizes too small as I stepped outside the airport doors. A smell not entirely different from that of a roomful of wet dogs assaulted my nose. A crowd of people speaking in a different language all jostled to get near me first and sell me a service or trinket that I did not understand or want. "Hey Joe," they would say before they rambled into a broken thickly accented English sales pitch of some sort. In my tired jet lagged state, it might as well have been Arabic for all that I could understand. Welcome to the Philippines I said to myself as I worked my way out of the crowd and started looking for my fiance.

My first trip down the sidewalk was unsuccessful in finding her so I turned around and worked my way through the crowd of Filipino drivers and trinket sales people who had followed me still trying their best to part me from my money. Back at the doors, I turned around and again worked my way through the crowd of people and finally spotted my fiance back at the other end of the sidewalk. I quickly made my way to her and as soon as I gave her a hug, the crowd around me parted. They knew that being in the presence of another Filipino automatically ensured that they weren't going to part any money from me so they made off for other targets walking out the airport doors.

Introductions were quickly made and I was ushered into a modified minivan with about ten of her closest relatives. All the seats behind the drivers had been stripped out and replaced with two button like benches that faced each other and had about a twelve inch aisle between them. Everyone sat facing each other and due to the lack of foot room, your feet were placed on the facing bench between two people whose feet were on either side of you. The thin mattress soon let the hardness of the wood through until my butt felt like it was composed of bricks. Off we sped onto the streets of Manila and into the night.

Looking out the window, I quickly realized that rules of driving were very different here than back in America. For example, road signs or lane markings, if you can find any, are more suggestions than rules. If there wasn't any on coming traffic, the entire road width was used up by cars, jeepneys, motor trikes, caribou, people, chickens, dogs, goats, or whatever happened to be heading in your general directions. When oncoming traffic appears, everyone jockeyed to more or less get back into the general vicinity of their half of the road. Meanwhile, the driver swerved around slower vehicles, caribou, people, potholes the size of houses, piles of dirt, rocks, abandoned vehicles, or people drying and threshing their crops on the road surface. The only real rule that seemed to be followed was that you the driver had to be the most aggressive of all the drivers.

In the Philippines, the most important part of a vehicle is not the steering wheels, the tires, or even a motor. If you are to drive in the Philippines, the only real thing that is a vehicle must have is a horn. You have to have a horn. Horns are used for passing a slower moving vehicle, person, animal, or inanimate object. Horns are to let people know they can pass you. Horns are used to warn oncoming traffic that you are passing on the outside of a blind curve. Horns are used in the Philippines as their second official language of communication and for awhile, I thought horns were used merely for the pleasure of having a horn. But I soon learned that when they honked in the middle of a deserted highway in the earliest hours of the morning, they were merely warding off evil spirits, not honking for the joy of it.

No comments: