Saturday, February 25, 2017

Saturday, February 25, 2017

An abrupt stopover in Polillo











Ask a typical Filipino the last time he rode a jeepney and he'll probably react in bewilderment not knowing how to answer the question. It's a little silly for him because jeepneys can be seen almost anywhere in the Philippines and the last time he rode one was probably yesterday. Those who won't be able to relate either has a car or doesn't move around much. And they're not that many. The majority of the more than 100 million locals don't have access to a personal vehicle. Most of them commute.

In my four years of travel blogging wherein I scoped mostly the main thoroughfares and remote towns of mainland Luzon, I was on board such a passenger ride one too many times. A sight of it in a sleepy town in an ungodly hour is ultimately heaven sent, especially where NPA rebels and supernatural beings are buzzed about to exist. I even got to see different types of jeepneys in other provinces in Visayas and Mindanao.

The jeepney of Bacolod City
Inside the Bacolod City jeepney
Negros Island Pride

In the island of Negros, for example, being a jeepney driver is considered a dignified profession unlike in Metro Manila. This is all based on perception of course. I've personally seen the difference between jeepneys in the National Capital Region (NCR) and those plying the roads of Bacolod City, Silay City and Talisay City in Negros Occidental. The latter look sleek and robust in the form of enlarged Ford Fiera models that have been pimped with various truck components as promulgated by local fabricators in the late '90s. And the ones at the helm are cheerful drivers which is, perhaps, one of the many reasons why it's known as the city of smiles. It's a different story, though, in Metro Manila where traffic is insane, pollution is severe, and drivers are always complaining.

A typical Itogon jeepney has doors for the purpose of delivering vegetables
How It Came To Be

A portmanteau of the American army jeep and the word "jitney", a jeepney is both a tourist attraction for foreign travelers and a daily lifeline for locals. Some historians also allude to the passenger experience of having one's knees touching another passenger's set of knees, giving meaning to the "ney"  in the word. What's clear, though, is that the vehicle is a useful remnant of World War II. If that period in mankind's history brought nothing but despair to a lot of people, it's one of a few things that clever Filipinos have managed to reuse for survival's sake. These days, it has remained as a source of a family's survival what with a lot of local jeepney drivers still relying on designated routes for their living.


"A portmanteau of the American army jeep and the word "jitney", a jeepney is both a tourist attraction for foreign travelers and a daily lifeline for locals."

Aboard a jeepney in La Trinidad, Benguet
Flamboyant Design

The experience of riding one is a mix of joy, disgust, and trauma. There's no indifference in between. It's much like the flamboyant design of the average Pinoy jeepney. The expressive colors range from rage red to fantasy blue. Some even explode in frenetic hues and enhanced by graphics and on-board music that shock the senses. A passenger can't truly be rid of emotions when on board one.

On-Board "Bayanihan"

The passenger culture inside such a commute is also quite unique to the country because it doesn't use an e-card payment service. Instead, one has to exert the effort of saying "bayad po" or "this is my payment" in loose English just to settle one's fare with the driver. The act even gets complicated when the commuter is seated at the farthest space because the rest of the passengers have to pass around the payment until it reaches the driver's side of the vehicle. If anything, it's another form of "bayanihan" or neighborhood cooperation among the locals which a lot of well-meaning tourists seem to be fond of seeing.

"...it's another form of bayanihan or neighborhood cooperation among the locals..."


Disgusted Passenger

Riding a jeepney is not a totally exciting experience as I've mentioned. Sometimes, it's disgusting. As a teen passenger, I remember having to deal with misbehaving seatmates. They were a couple who needed to get a room but couldn't, so they opted to be obscene where they were which was next to me. I was seated next to a girl wearing short shorts and on her side was a guy who I assumed was her boyfriend because his hand was already on her waist when they boarded the vehicle. I was also wearing a pair of shorts and feeling awkward as an adolescent, so you can just imagine how I almost freaked out when he tried to caress his girlfriend's thigh all the way down to her leg which meant his hand also had to touch a side of my body, including my exposed leg! 

Traumatized Passenger

One traumatizing experience was being inside a jeepney at night with just two more passengers. When the vehicle reached a spot at a dark intersection, one of the two passengers turned out to be a pickpocket who began looting from the other passenger who was totally passed out drunk and it all happened across from where I was seated. Worse, the pickpocket motioned for me to keep quiet as he robbed the poor drunkard. I couldn't decide whether to stop him or get the driver's attention. I was afraid that he could be carrying a bladed weapon. Call me a coward, but I simply froze in fear. I was still in college, so you can assume how naive I still was.

Plying the vomit-worthy Polillo-Burdeos Road in Quezon Province
Another traumatizing experience was being on board a Burdeos-bound jeepney in Polillo. The ride was supposed to be for an hour only. Unfortunately, the Polillo-Burdeos Road is one carved up dirt road that seems to be a long and winding mud wrestling pit during the rainy season that it takes three hours to be done. When I toured the island where the route is located, I personally endured the insane vomit-worthy ride that made all passengers sick in the stomach from intense headache. Apparently, it can happen. It was similar to being on a carnival's pirate ship ride where a passenger has to be subjected to various levels of angular momentum.

One of two jeepney trips per day in General Nakar's Masanga bound for Infanta in Quezon Province
Awestruck Passenger

What I consider as the best experience I've had on board a jeepney is that one ride in General Nakar where my commute had to traverse more than three shallow rivers en route from Masanga to Infanta. It was surprising to see how the vehicle tackled such route more than once like it was an amphibian utility model. It was sturdy and definitely reflected the sensibility of the local scene in that side of Quezon Province. 

The next time you see a Filipino in the Philippines, don't ask whether he has experienced riding a jeepney or not. Simply inquire about the last time he did. You will surely get an answer even if it meant telling another fellow Filipino's story.


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