Monday, October 27, 2008

I Want To Ride a Jeepney

What do you get when you cross a Jeep with a mini bus? Although that question had never entered my mind, I discovered the answer while in the Philippines. What you get is called a Jeepney. The front end has the same grill, lights and shape of a Jeep but with wide flared fenders and the back end looks similar to a mini bus. They are everywhere in the Philippines and are a widely used source of public transportation.

Most Jeepneys had routes that they followed with a sign listing both end points. Once you found the vehicle going your way you just climbed in and gave them your money. The climbing in part is really harder than it looks. The entrance to these vehicles is located where an emergency exit door would be on a school bus. Once inside, the distance between the roof and the floor was about four feet with one bench seat running along each wall from the driver to the door. Filipinos, being of small stature, could just hop right up and take a seat. Me being six foot two inches tall, had to scrunch down to get through the door and do a odd sort of duck walk to make it to my seat much to the amusement of everyone else. Once seated on the low benches, my knees would end up being near my ears because I had to fold my long legs nearly doubled just to keep my legs from taking up the entire narrow aisle.

Natural Lover

You would pass your money (usually around $0.05 or $0.10 US dollars) to the driver and away you would go. There were two bars bolted to the roof that provided handholds for each of the bench seats. I soon learned that if you didn’t grab on to these especially when heading up and down the mountain, you would end up sliding down the seats and possibly squishing a whole row of Filipinos. I’m sure this wouldn’t be looked upon kindly by their culture.

Quite often, there wouldn’t be enough room in the Jeepney for all the passengers and so the last people would grab a railing and hang off the back end. If they were going for quite a ways they might just climb up on the roof until their stop. If you knew where you were going, (which I never did) you could just yell when you wanted to stop, otherwise, the customary way to signal the driver was to beat on the roof. This worked whether you were inside or on top of the Jeepney.

Jeepney drivers took great pride in the aestetics of their vehichle which they also owned. Without fail, their jeepney would be brightly painted, adorned with lots and lots of chrome, and festooned with about any ornament or decoration that was humanly possible. Each Jeepney had some unique name but generally fell in one of three categories; religious, luck, or sexual. Some of my favorites in these categories were Hail Mary, Two Guys a Girl, and Last Chance.

Jeepney Benz

Chance was always something I felt I was taking when riding a Jeepney. On one four-hour ride to see the rice terraces, the driver appeared to have just made puberty the day before. When I mentioned this to my hosts, they said he probably had been driving since he could see over the wheel, which didn’t help to reassure me because that couldn’t have been more than a week ago. Never the less, he skillfully sped us to our destination over some of the bumpiest roads and paths that I can imagine.

Overall, my Jeepney experience was pleasant merely for the fact that I never plunged over a cliff in one. If I had, I’m sure I would have been riding in the one that was named Last Chance and not the one named Hail Mary.

Religious Experience

Gilbert is that you?


sage said...

Great photos and stories! Was the one with a Mercedes emblem on the front grill really a Mercedes? Are these manufactured in the Philippines on some imported body.

Ed Abbey said...

Jeepney's started out as leftover Jeep parts from the U.S. stay in World War II. When you see those, they definitely have a jeep appearance to them. The newer ones are made in the Philippines and according to Wikipedia, are mostly made from imported surplus Japanese trucks these days though there are some manufacturers that still make them completely in country. I'm guessing the Jeepney-Benz one was just a decorative grill and emblem put over top the standard grill. As I said, they LOVE to decorate them up.

Ed Abbey said...

One thing I forgot to mention is that because Jeepney licenses are regulated by the government, the prices are controlled and foreigners are less likely to get taken advantage of. When foreigners take taxicabs, negotiate prices ahead of time and beware, you can easily be scammed. I always take a native with me when riding in a taxicab.

The Real Mother Hen said...

Interesting piece. I think your Jeepney-Benz is a real Mercedes - well, simply because Mercedes trucks are very common in many parts of Asia, except only one country India where TATA rules. So yes, having seen so many Mercedes trucks (which we call LORRY) from China to Cambodia, I think it's a real thing.

geri said...

There's a joke in the Philippines that if you're confused about directions when riding in a private car the driver would ask "would it help if you turn sideways?" :)

I enjoyed reading your account in riding a jeepney. During Tom's first ride, the other passengers were amused to see that seated across my husband was a dog passenger.

R. Sherman said...

Very cool. I'm reminded of a memorable eight hour bus ride on a public bus in Jordan, from Amman to the ruins in Petra. There I learned the two rules of public transportation in the third world: Never run out of smokes and Never run out of whiskey.


Beau said...

Jeepneys are very cool! Great post and pictures. A cultural phenomenon to be sure, but so creative.