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Violating Sanctions

An American Woman’s Listening Tour Through the Axis of Evil

Maneuvering Manila

The Author By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | February 26th, 2008 | Comments 1 Comment »

I paid for the bus ride – the spinal adjustment was free. For an hour and a half, my bus driver played out a staccato rhythm between the horn and the accelerator, whiplashing drowsy passengers in a choreographed wave.
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The public transport through Manila is not for the faint of heart – or spine. Jeepneys, tricycles, shared vans and air con and ordinary price buses all compete in one snarled sea of exhaust.

Buses feature impressive young fare collectors who surf the aisle, making change and small talk, dispensing tickets and directions, leaving the driver’s attention to bullying a path through the laneless traffic.

Vendors hop on for a few blocks, selling freshly roasted nuts bagged from an open bucket, corn-on-the-cob-on-a-stick steaming beneath its cellophane wraps and bottled water and sodas, filling the bus with warm, yummy smells. Earnest young preachers stand and ride backwards, reading bible passages to the passengers, while large TVs with fuzzy reception blare game shows and teenage soap operas.
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Jeepneys are the preferred mode of transport for in-town trips. They’re open-backed, elongated vans garishly decorated to reflect the driver’s personality. With names like “Virgin Mary,” “Godfather,” or a favorite girlfriend, daughter or astrological sign, the jeepneys seat 16 people on facing benches who climb in and out of the open back end, stooped in half to join fellow passengers. Fares and change are handed back and forth, passenger-to-passenger, over the driver’s shoulder. Uniquely Filipino, they look like playfully labeled tins cans on wheels.
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Tricycles are the cheap, quick, personal form of transport. These motorcycles with metal sidecars have no set routes, taking passengers wherever they wish for a negotiated fare. On popular routes, tricycle drivers will stop to pick up additional passengers, folding them into the cramped sidecar, straddling them on the motorcycle seat behind the driver, perching them on a metal stoop in the back where they can readily suck up the exhaust, or hanging from the sidecar dodging pedestrians. I’ve even seen passengers sprawled on the tricycle’s roof.

Like anywhere in the world, cabs come in two forms, honest and less-than-honest. At 1:00 am recently, I grabbed a ride from a driver whose windshield was as broken as his English. We shared political philosophies while working our way along the dark streets toward my hotel. He readily admitted he was unsure of the route, and we found our way together, bonding not just over our desire to transport me quickly and safely but our dislike for our respective presidents.

Usually a trip involves a complicated combo of all of the above. During a recent trip from Ermita, Manila’s tourist area, to suburb Quezon City, for example, I walked to the LRT (light rail transit: the elevated train that is quite modern and affordable, but not extensive) and boarded an overcrowded train, then took two jeepneys and a tricycle at the other end before reaching my destination – spine intact.
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Category: , Philippines
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One Response to “Maneuvering Manila”

  1. marie Says:

    Thank you for the description of the jeepneys, Kelly… that’s my favorite part ;)
    …Marie from Los Angeles

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