Friday, February 8, 2008

Jeepney (ie, the last part of the Philippines story)

We reached Calipan. I knew that I would have to take a jeepney to Puerto Gallera from there. Jeepneys are based on vintage U.S. army Jeeps, and are essentially a jeep with a long wheelbase, somewhere between a jeep and a bus. Almost all of them are completely tricked out on the inside and the outside, as if designed by a Mexican gangster. The are airbrushed, colorful, and considered a if not the symbol of the Philippines. Jeepneys carry as many people as they can, often with people hanging off the back, and they are not air conditioned. Jeepneys, like the van I was in, run specific routes but have no specific stops, but will let people on and off wherever there is demand to do so.

We reached the Calipan jeepney transfer point, and the van driver told me it was my stop. A number of jeepneys were parked there. One looked pretty full, and it was going to Puerto Gallera, so I chose it. I gave my backpack to a man to tie it to the roof, and then I decided to buy a bottle of water. It was hot, and I was thirsty after my 3 hour trip. There was a snack stand next to my jeepney, so I bought a water there.

Upon receiving my water, I noticed my jeepney had started to roll forward. With my bag on it’s roof. I ran after the jeepney as it slowly gained speed and jumped onto the back bumper, which had a ladder leading to the roof. I held on to the ladder and roof rack and asked a guy who was also hanging on the back of the jeepney if there was a way to climb inside. He said no, the jeepney was too full. And so I hung on to the luggage rack on the roof, standing on the back bumper of the jeepney. We passed a sign, Puerto Gallara - 44 km. This should be interesting.

When I was a kid, my family used to go to Michigan for a week each summer. You could almost consider it “summering.” See, my great grandfather was crazy rich. A millionaire back in the times when that actually meant something. He owned a large estate in Michigan, and though he died decades before I was born, my mom’s family had use of the Michigan property for a week each summer. Every summer until 1990, we went there for a week. It was awesome. The absolute highlight for us kids was the golf cart that we used to tool around the property in. My cousin Adam and I considered ourselves “surfing kings,” due to our amazing prowess at hanging off the back of the golf cart while it was in motion. My cousin Jeff could get the golf cart onto two wheels, and still fail to rattle Adam’s and my brilliant surfing concentration.

I bring this up, of course, because of my innate talent to survive on the back of this jeepney. The word is overused these days (particularly in Omaha) but I did feel there was a certain bit of irony in the fact that skills I had obtained in perhaps the most glaringly patrician aspect of my life later helped my thrive in perhaps the most third world experience of my life.

Back to my original point. And by original, I mean the start of this story a few blogs ago. While on this ride, I saw, possibly for the first time, a chicken crossing the road. I couldn’t help but laugh. The guy hanging next to me looked at me inquisitively. For the first time, strangely. I mean, we passed a lot of water buffalo, and I don’t know what kind of sound water buffalo make, so I mooed at them. The guy hanging next to me thought nothing of my mooing at water buffalo. But, he seemed perplexed by my laughing at the chicken crossing the road. I began to explain it to him, and got a bit too caught up in the joke, and briefly forgot where I was. That is to say, I lost my concentration. So, I almost fell off of the jeepney, which would have been pretty bad from my perspective. Anyway, I got my bearings back and gripped onto the luggage rack with a newfound vigor for the remainder of the time I was hanging there.

And so I hung off the back of the jeepney, for some 42 kilometers. At one point, we reached a mountain pass and the road was no longer paved. At this point, one of the Filipinos hanging with my climbed to the roof of the jeepney, and motioned for me to go up there as well. So, we twisted along a dirt mountain path, passing jungles of palm trees and a surprisingly huge waterfall. I would have taken a picture, but I was already doing my best to impersonate Styles from Teen Wolf, though while seated. We sat on the roof until we reached another paved road, where apparently we had to go back to hanging off the back. However, this didn’t last long, as we soon reached Puerto Gallera.

The last portion of my trip would be a short one. A motorcycle rickshaw ride until we ran out of road, and then a 1 mile or so walk on the beach, to find a hotel. I was pretty sure I would be staying for longer than one night this time. After all, the next day was Christmas, and to leave town on Christmas day would have been uncouth.

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