Davao report: in which I explain traffic & vehicles

ah…. back in Davao…. only problem is I’m having a little stomach issue. Don’t know if it’s the major lack of sleep because of the competition stuff, the flu that’s hit both Arvin and my aunt, or drinking some non-bottled water in Manila (water in Davao is fine, Manila is not). The combination of the three is not great, regardless, and so I spent last night mostly hiding out in my room. This morning, started to get a little stir crazy so I headed out and ended up here writing to you all.

a word about traffic

I haven’t been to Bankok or Calcutta, but I’m told that the traffic there is worse or at least similar to Manila. Manila is a crazy place. It’s a big city, but it’s not “organized” (Arvin’s apt expression). It’s very hard to get around without a car or without spending a huge amount on taxis, but I wouldn’t want to drive there if I had a car. I would be scared, really, just remarkably annoyed. Snora should never come here. They do have some traffic lights, but they’re not always followed. Traffic cops are at some major intersections which really help, but again, they aren’t timed to each other like lights can be so there’s no such thing as traffic “flow.” On the other hand, everyone assumes that no-one is following the rules, so they’re all pretty cautious. The rate of traffic-related fatalities is far lower here than in the states, I believe.

Davao is not much better about rules, but at least there are fewer cars. It’s hard to describe really what it’s like on these roads. Crossing the street is a test of will, but you soon learn that drivers will stop or at least slow down so that you can cross. Additionally, there aren’t really sidewalks to speak of in some areas so there’s a feeling of general chaos. What you’d see if you were here:


private cars — mostly darkened windows so there’s no way to see if the driver sees you or not.

jeepneys — open air public transportation cars who will slow down if you need to cross, but who will also try to get you to hop on for a ride making for a bizarre experience where you’re trying to both ignore them and pay close attention to what the heck they’re going to do while you’re trying to cross in front of them. The farther away from the city you get, the more likely you are to see people riding on the roof and hood of a jeepney, along with all kinds of baskets, bags, and construction materials, maximizing the use of all vehicles in areas where they are scarce. Riding on jeepneys here makes me laugh when I get back to the states and people say “there’s no where to sit” when riding the F trains if they can’t sit without touching someone.

taxis — everpresent, these little white cars are divided into air-con and non-air-con (with and without air conditioning). For pedestrian purposes, this only means that the windows would be open or not which might affect their ability to hear you yell (which no one does. This is not NYC). Generally, the taxi drivers are good, albeit scarily aggressive, drivers. I remain fascinated by the decor on the inside of the taxis. The current trend seems towards fist-sized stuffed animals suspended on strings and hanging from suction cups in the front window. Last time I was here, everyone was sporting the seven dwarves from snow white — sometimes, however, 7 of the same dwarf. I’m sad that they’ve been replaced by pokemons and the powerpuff girls.

pedi-cabs — dirtbikes (motorized) with a sidecar attached. The side car is originally designed for two people (making three with the motorcycle driver), but I’ve seen as many as 5-6 on one. This renders the already non-agile vehicle nearly totally unmaneuverable, although it is slow and easy to dodge as a pedestrian. These vehicles are not in the very center of the city, but exist primarily on the slightly less trafficked outer areas.

tricycles — bicycles with a sidecar attached. These are mostly seen on the side of major roads, and they provide a way into all the housing areas after people transfer from jeepneys. They are slow and cumbersome and I mostly feel really badly for the young boys who are pedaling so hard in this tropical heat so that people carrying groceries or returning schoolchildren don’t have to walk. Their main impact on traffic is in becoming objects which cause private cars and jeepneys to suddenly swerve across lane lines (providing they were in a lane in the first place).

motorcycles/motocross bikes — lots of these. They’re small and easy to walk around.

skylabs — everywhere in rural areas, not in the cities, skylabs are usually 250cc motorcycles/dirtbikes with a board strapped perpendicular to the seat, enabling additional riders to sit on the ends of the board, increasing the maximum load from 3 or 4 to 5 or even 7 riders. Riders are on the handlebars, behind the driver, on the tank, and on the ends of the board. Riding on one is an amazing experience. You should try it. They earn their name from the cross shape created by the board, a shape reminiscent of the sky-lab.

Adding to the foreign pedestrian’s panic is the incessant blaring of horns from cars and jeepneys. Some jeepney horns are very musical, designed to get your attention so you jump on. Mostly, though, you hear 2-3 toots from all vehicles every 10-30 feet warning someone (another vehicle, a pedestrian, a potential anything that might possibly be entering the road at an intersection) that a vehicle is coming and it intends to take the right of way. I ended up taping some of this if you are interested in hearing it. It’s like nothing else. Perhaps the greatest oddity is that I get used to it.

Mass for Fr. Finster

In a very different vein, tonight I speak at a mass for a priest who was a great friend to our family and who just passed away. It’s odd, in my California life, to think about haivng something like a “family priest,” or even a priest who is a friend of the family. But there are two or more parts to my life. In the future, I’ll talk about catholism and all that. Tonight I must get ready for mass.


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