I love driving in the Philippines.
When I was living in Cebu in the early years of the 21st Century I actually made a video with a friend of mine, Jim Sibbick, with him filming while I drove ‘The Red Terror’ around the busy streets of Cebu City. The video showcased the heavy traffic, ridiculous driver behaviour and numerous close calls you can experience any time you take to the streets. It is just as much fun in the province.
I have driven over a lot of Filipino roada, especially when I was employed by UTP, the people who make the tourist maps and street directories. My job was to drive everywhere and check the accuracy of the maps for the next edition. I learned that major roads are often what we would term a ‘driveway’, consisting of little more than concrete slabs. The turn-offs were often mistaken for someone’s driveway and rarely signed except for new highway developments.
Roadworks Are Often Unsigned
There are stretches of ‘motorway’ in the country, notably the North and South Luzon Expressways out of Manila. These get very crowded at peak hours and while they ban trikes, motorcycles under 400cc and several other familiar classes of slugmobile, they are often in need of repairs. Major highways are little more than one lane either way concrete or bitumen affairs and roadworks are often unsigned. It is common to come across large sections of the road ripped up and the traffic is now one way. The often feet deep excavation may be marked by as little as a row of stones across the lane, right next to the hole. No warning is given although at night, some do boast candles or similar standard lighting.
If the roadworks are controlled, too often it is by a sleepy ‘Dong’ with a red flag and a bamboo barrier, usually toe-operated as he sits in the shade and contemplates how he will spend his huge salary. In recent years things have improved nearer the bigger cities but roadworks are a major hazard and can lead to long lines of vehicles backed up for some distance. Once clear of the obstruction it is like Le Mans with massive trucks and buses overtaking each other three abreast on blind corners to make up the lost time.
The Trifecta of Stupid
Another hazard to be aware of are the trikes and pedicabs that will pull out onto a national highway and virtually stop in front of you. Others include oncoming traffic, traffic traveling in the same direction, traffic on side roads and the Trifecta of Stupid. This is the chickens, dogs and small kids who have little, it seems, concept of death by passing motorist. If they aren’t playing on the road, Mama has spread her corn or coconut husks to dry on the only patch of concrete in their barangay… the main road.
The trick is to not be in a hurry, but to know when to floor it and overtake if the opportunity presents itself. Be alert at all times and expect the unexpected. Like a carabao.