So what’s it like to travel through the countryside of the Philippines? The road quality varies from place to place, but otherwise the experience is much the same. Here are observations on the three hour journey from Puerto Princesa to Sabang via jeepney.
SENSE #1 – HEAR (SOUND)
I’m not going to lie. Diesel engines are loud! And when the jeepney’s windshield is permanently wedged open, the wind is loud, too. I could never trace the source of the forceful “cheep, cheeping” the vehicle made every time we slowed down or accelerated. And of course the horn goes off anytime the driver sights anything that can move on its own two/four legs (regardless of whether or not said creature is moving or just sitting). The sound seared into my memory, however, was a pig. Porcine creatures scream. Listen to a recording, and you will think it is a young child throwing a fit. Until the screaming bout continues longer than any human could sustain. Well, a hog-tied…hog was loaded on the top of the bus just above my head. (I know because the rope they were using to secure the animal flipped down through the window and narrowly missed my eye.) The pig reminded us she/he was there frequently throughout the journey.
SENSE #2 – SMELL
Diesel engines are also prone to thick, black exhaust. When parked or passing other vehicles, I held my breath until the fog passed. We also frequently passed through the heavy wood smoke of cooking fires. And although smoking is outlawed on public transport, tendrils of the conductor’s cigarette smoke still found their way to my nose. The fresh sea air and jungle breezes were welcome reprieves!
SENSE #3 – TASTE
The vendors that roam the bus stations and pit stops offer myriad things for sale. I usually leave the quail eggs, fried pig skin, and unidentifiable packages to the locals. I’m quite a fan of the garlic peanuts and plain (slightly burnt) popcorn, though!
SENSE #4 – FEEL
The cramped, barely-cushioned seat, with my knees pressing into the metal back of the bench in front of me… well, it’s all part of being a budget traveler. Really not much of a hardship in the grand scheme (i.e. this “trying” journey would be a real treat for many locals). The humidity was thick the whole day, from sea level, up over the mountains, and back down to the opposite coast. Thanks to the lack of windshield, I also felt lots of raindrops. Thank goodness it didn’t pour! Most of the time I just felt the wind in my face (it eventually went numb!), which brought me back to my childhood (not the numb part). Some of the best days of my youth were spent skimming along the waters of Keyhole Reservoir, blasting along a mountain road in the back of a four-wheeler, and riding down the highway in the back of a pickup truck…
SENSE #5 – SEE
This is the big one. With a windshield propped open using recycled tie rods (a steering component), I had a crystal clear view from my second row seat. Inside the vehicle, I saw rudimentary controls. The dash looked like a retired or fake equipment display at a children’s playground. Missing gauges, bright pastel colors, a pull cord for stopping the engine.
Just outside the window, greenery that could have been anywhere in northern Idaho flew past. Eventually it gave way to jungle, broken up by rice fields in various stages – home to egrets and water buffalo. The young rice paddocks are a green so bright it looks like it must be plugged in. As we got closer to our destination, the enormous, sharp limestone karst fingers exploding skyward made the scene even more impressive.
Rich and poor are neighbors, living in anything from shacks constructed of basic jungle materials to concrete palaces. Dogs are always in the road, un-phased by the traffic. Often times they’re just laying in the middle sleeping! Lots of locals cruised around three or four to a small motorcycle with the male driver’s head protected by a helmet while the women and children let the wind blow through their hair.
In many places, the road doubles as rice-drying platform with the grain spread on tarps taking up half the lane. In towns, roosters and hens run amok below flash new satellite T.V. dishes. Barefoot children come barreling down the streets and engage in a strange game: one child throws a bunch of cardboard pieces into the air and all the kids shriek and rush to collect them. They don’t seem to be Pokemon cards or anything. I appears to be a bizarre version of the cruel 52-card-pick-up game we inflicted on each other as children.
At one stop, I reflected on a lone boy dribbling on a basketball court while a water buffalo grazed the baseline – all against the backdrop of a majestic limestone cliff. This peaceful scene’s nemesis are the ubiquitous, loud, gaudy, cheap advertising signs that are plastered EVERYWHERE. Instead of being neat and tidy, every tiny storefront in every small town is covered in brightly colored, poorly designed, waterproof advertising banners. They’re used as awnings, siding, and of course there’s always the biggest sign with the store’s name painted on it. Usually creative things like “Lydia’s Store” or “Rodriguez Store.” I came to be grateful for this generally annoying trait upon arrival in Sabang. Architecture for blue-collar houses and stores varies not at all. Basic shacks. So, peering down alleyways looking for vendors to meet my needs, the screaming signs or lack thereof keep me headed in the right direction.
That’s it for the five senses! Other observations on my journey – our departure from Puerto Princesa is the classic example of how things are done here. We drove around the block, parked by a fireworks stand, waited for awhile, drove back through the station, went to get gas and fill up with air, and eventually actually left town. Jeez! Also… little things are cheaper in Palawan (small snack bags are p5 instead of p10), but bigger things (accommodation, bus rides, meals) are definitely not. Guess I’m eating on the streets! Wish me luck!
I finally got around to utilizing my new camera. But not in time for this post. No album, sorry!