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One of the first things that got my attention after I arrived here was the driving in the Philippines. I call it “Combat Driving.” It doesn’t seem so odd to me now but it really did when I first arrived.
Jessie hired a van to pick me up from the airport. So the driver and the landlords assistant along with a couple of the drivers helpers were in the van. I noticed a bumper sticker on one of the taxis that displayed “Hows my driving” and started to laugh. I said “Your driving is horrible just like everyone else’s.” I was the only one that found it funny but it wasn’t new to the Filipinos in the car with me, of course.
An Introduction to Driving In The Philippines
Soon we came upon Osmena Circle in Cebu City. It is a pretty famous place and they pointed it out to me. Several streets come together there and merge into the circle before taking which ever other street you need to get on. It looked like total chaos to me and I literally closed my eyes. I was scared!
Which reminds me of a friend from Davao that came to see me in Bogo City. He’s been living in the Philippines about 9 years at the time. Has been on many buses. He sent me a text when he was on his way up here saying he was scared to death of the bus driver. I think he said he closed his eyes. I told him “Sit back and don’t look there’s nothing you can do about it.” I had to do the same thing many times. The buses in Cebu don’t drive so crazy any more. They use to race each other, pass at the worst times and anything else that seemed crazy they did it. They have also slowed down quite a bit. They use to travel at 85 to 100Km per hour but now they are rarely above 65Km per hour.
And the horn blowing may drive you crazy at first. I came from Memphis, Tn. and if you blow your horn at someone, they might just get out of the car and blow you away. In the Philippines, people often blow their horns in an almost polite way. It is to say, “Hi friend, I’m here. Don’t run into me.” Of course, sometimes they are not being polite and then they give a long blast of the horn as opposed to the two quick short beeps they send to warn other drivers of their presence. I had noticed this when talking to Jessie on the Phone before I got here as I would hear the tricycle drivers passing by her home doing it constantly. Now, I don’t really even notice it. I’ve blocked most of the horn blowing out.
Then there is the passing. They pass on the right or they may also pass on the left. Especially the motor cycles. If there is oncoming traffic, no need to wait for it to pass, just pass the slower vehicle on the right instead of getting in the other lane of traffic.
The first time rode in a tricycle was to go to to Gaisano Mall in Talisay, a small city just outside of Cebu City. I was facing backwards, looking at the traffic behind me. A motor cycle kept getting about an inch away from my knees. I thought he was doing it to intentionally irritate me. I asked Jessie about that and she told me no but I didn’t really believe her. Now I do, they just bring a whole new realm to tailgating at times.
Oh and don’t worry about pulling out in front of someone and block their way. If you can’t get all the way through an intersection, it is quite normal to pull half way out, blocking the traffic coming into the intersection perpendicular to you. It is accepted because if you do not do that, you might be sitting at that intersection for the rest of your life!
When walking in the Philippines do not stand to close to the curb at an intersection. The drivers often cut across the edge of the street or use the wrong lane to turn in. Jessie use to constantly remind me of that when I first got here. Now it is second nature.
In fact, the driving style now seems totally normal to me. When I first got here, I didn’t see how there were not hundreds of wrecks every mile or two. The thing is, I see fewer wrecks in all this chaos than I did in the USA. I noticed that pretty early on. I’m still not quite sure how Filipinos manage that but they do.
In most of the Philippines, don’t expect wide divided highways. Instead, expect narrow two lane roads that pass as highways. Most of the back roads in Mississippi are wider and smoother than the one major highway that leads to most areas. From Cebu City to Bogo City, there is one narrow highway. It is called National Highway 1 but I’ve seen other highways named that too. Maybe it is considered all one highway even though you’d have to take a ferry to get from one to the other. That’s actually very likely.
You’re not in the USA now and don’t expect the same kind of driving condition in the Philippines, you’re not going to find that. There is a divided highway from Cebu City to Talisay City going south from Cebu City. It is called the SRP. I thought they kept saying SRV when I first got here and it made me recall Stevie Ray Vaughn. It was a couple of weeks before I realized they were saying “P.”
Should You Be Driving In The Philippines?
Unless you’re use to driving in lands were the driving is similar, I recommend you spend a little time here before you do it. Once you see how people drive in the Philippines enough that it doesn’t seem like total chaos, then you’re ready to risk your life.
One good thing is they drive on the same side of the road we do in the USA. When I went to Bangkok I realized how hard it would be for me to switch to the other side of the road. At least you don’t have to relearn that if you decide to drive in the Philippines.
If you are here for a short stay, your foreign drivers license is all you need to drive her. I don’t recall how long you can remain on that but it seems like it was a good deal of time. My US drivers license has expired so I will need to get one here if I want to drive.
Getting a drivers license here is not a pleasant task. I went to get mine and the line was snaking around the grounds. It would have taken hours. A “Fixer” came up to me and told me what all I had to do. Drug test and other stuff. Seems like I had to go at least three places before I got in the line to wait. I told her I didn’t need a license that bad and left. I was told if I saw the director of the Land Transportation Office he would help foreigners get around all the red tape. I’ll leave it up to you to guess what that means. I never could find him to find out.
For the first year, I thought I’d get a motor cycle. You can get one for around $1000 here. Then I kept reading about all the expats living in the Philippines getting hurt on them. One was airlifted out of here. I also kept thinking of Jessie’s pretty face hitting the pavement. When I told her that she said “Hey, I drive good.” I told her, “It is not your driving I’m worried about.”
I’ve seen her on a bike once, she did better than I did but she wasn’t doing that well. It had been more than 30 years or more since I had been on any kind of motor cycle. I was about 14 and after it climbed the fence in my friend backyard, I was done with them. The early morning dew caused the street tires to be unable to grab traction and when I turned it didn’t turn!
We rented two small motor cycles on our first visit to Bantayan. I was wobbling all over the place at first and I never mastered stopping when I wanted to stop. I had Filipinos running out of the street. haha After about five trips up and down the mostly deserted street, I was doing okay except for stopping where I wanted. I don’t know if it was the breaks or if it was me. I never ventured out onto the main road because of that. Jessie did but she shouldn’t have as she was having the same problem with stopping that I was.
With my having poor control of the bike and the combat driving, I figured it just was not a good idea for me to be facing traffic. That was two years ago and I’ve not been back on one. If I were to buy a motor cycle it would be a larger one, with a manual clutch and I’d attached a carriage to it and make it a tricycle. Most people that ride have told me, its not if you’re going to have a crash on a motor cycle but when. No thanks, I’ll wait until I can buy a multicab.
A multicab is like a small ford ranger that you could by in the 90’s. They usually don’t have air conditioning and they are not all that comfortable. They are not expensive, you could find a used one for as low as $1000 but probably closer to $1500. Sometimes you can find an old jeep and that wouldn’t be a bad idea. I’m not a good mechanic though and I don’t like buying used vehicles for that reason. I suspect that is what I’ll end up doing at some point in the future.
You can rent both motor cycles and cars in the bigger cities. There is nothing like that here in Bogo City. We use the tricycles to get around town and buses to go for longer distances. The buses run often and we usually don’t have to wait long for one when we need one. Usually there is one already at the bus terminal in both Bogo City and Cebu City when we arrive there.
There are normally no taxis in Bogo either. You’ll find them in the larger cities. In Cebu City, a taxi driver told me there are about 6000 taxis in the city. That number has probably grown as that was about a year ago. Taxis are not expensive but if you’re use to living cheap, like I am, the P200 a ride can add up quickly. I can take a two and half out taxi ride from Cebu City to Bogo City for P2000 or about $47.00
There is also the famous jeepneys of the Philippines. Often they are converted multicabs. They originally came from the jeeps that the US military left behind after WWII. Some of the jeepneys are very colorful and decorated. Jessie hates to ride in them. They are cramped and hot. They are also more prone to thieves and other trouble makers. Ive not had any problems on one but I’ve not been on them very often. They are very cheap to get around and you should take one at least once. Knowing their routes is the biggest problem in using them. They have a caller or conductor on them most of the time and they can help you if you can communicate with them. Don’t expect a lot of English to be spoken on a jeepney.
I don’t know what the fees are for getting your drivers license but they wont be a lot. I do know there is a lot of red tape and you may have to go to another City to get one. We don’t have a Land Transportation office in Bogo but there is one in a nearby town that is smaller than Bogo. I’m in no hurry to drive in the Philippines and after reading this, you can probably understand why. I do miss the freedom of not having my own transportation. Having to relay on a trike is no fun.
You do need to have a proper drivers license and a properly registered vehicle. In some areas they are lax on enforcing the drivers license laws but not on the registration. You should also know that drunk driving laws are generally not enforced. Jessie tells me they do exist but they are not enforced. I know the current president has an interest in changing that but he might have a revolt on his hands too. haha Like most things, driving in the Philippines is likely to be vastly different than what you are use to, so come ready for those differences.
Filed under: Living In The Philippines
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