There was a goat on the road, and people sleeping in our lane. There were cross-country buses going eighty miles an hour on the wrong side of the road and motorbikes with side cars going ten miles an hour in the middle of the street.
My husband and I were driving from Manila to Donsol on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, and he needed a whole new set of skills not taught in Australian driving schools. He had to learn to negotiate pedestrians and even parades walking down the centre of the road, pass overloaded motorbikes without knocking off any protruding limbs, creep through intersections filled with cars going in all directions, and overtake any sort of vehicle with limited line of sight and often no idea what was coming the other way.
It was only our second day in the Philippines, and our first day driving the rental car. Google maps said our trip was about five hundred kilometres and would take eight hours. It took us fourteen.
The main highway out of Manila was wide and clear and lulled us into a false sense of relaxed expectation. We set a cracking pace. Even the toll booths were a minor annoyance, and the hardest part was choosing which coins to hand over in an unfamiliar currency.
When I found out what sort of road was waiting for us, I would gladly have handed over all my money in loose change for another highway.
After the first hour, the road was like being on a moving obstacle course.
First there were the other vehicles. My husband was still getting used to driving on the right side of the road (not our usual practice) when he would find cars, jeeps, and even buses coming at him on his side.
Everybody overtook with great confidence no matter how small the gap and size dictated who had right of way. Buses roared past in the wrong lane, confident in the knowledge that all other vehicles would move aside. Motorbikes often had to leave the road to avoid a head on collision.
It didn’t take us long to realise that there was a reason for all the overtaking. We would come up behind a motorbike with a side car and sometimes people hanging off the back and legs everywhere and be stuck at funeral speed unless we found a way to get past.
|Note; Truck and car overtaking|
Sometimes there simply was no way to get past. We took this epic journey on the Day of Souls when it seemed the whole country was out on the road on their way to pay respects to the dead. Driving through town often meant driving through crowds of people ambling along the road in no particular hurry or taking a detour down a long narrow back alley along with hundreds of other vehicles.
It also meant every single motorbike and pushbike, with or without sidecars had been pressed into service and was busy delivering people to the cemeteries.
People took what they could get, even if it meant hanging off the luggage carrier or sitting on the roof of a sidecar. We were often slowed to pushbike speed, and Phil soon learned to pass in the smallest window of opportunity. To add to the degree of difficulty, most of the only road was narrow and winding, with buildings, dogs, chickens, or even toddlers, often right up against the edge of the driving lane.
After ten gruelling hours, night fell and my long-suffering husband had a new challenge. He would peer through the dark and slow for a dark shape that turned out to be five people on a motorbike without lights, or a pedal bike with a cow in the side car.
It was hard work driving under those conditions but it got worse.
First we were accosted by children begging for money, and then we blew a tyre.
More on that next time.