There is only one thing more dangerous than driving in the Philippines: crossing the road as a pedestrian. This is one country where the green man DOES NOT necessarily mean ‘go’.
Traffic here is like nothing I have ever experienced before. If Sydney traffic is 3D, traffic in metro-Manila is closer to 67D. Everyone here is a rally-car driver, from my Uncle John in his tarago to my Aunty Yvone whose hand is permanently poised over the horn. To drive in Manila you have to have lightning-fast reflexes and nerves of steel. And two extra hours up your sleeve when there is nothing to do but wait it out.
The thing about Manila is that there ARE road rules, but if you choose to follow them, you will probably be the only one and you will still be stuck at the same intersection twenty-three years from now.
Lane lines might as well not be painted (and in some places, they haven’t bothered) because nobody pays them any mind. People weave in and out as the opportunity presents itself or just on a whim. They don’t signal either because, as my Uncle John explained, if you warn people before-hand, they won’t give way to you.
Tail-gating is a necessity if you want to get anywhere today; leaving a 1 m gap between you and the arse of the car in front is just daring a jeepny driver to try and squeeze through it. Queuing across intersections is mandatory and squeezing around those queued cars is expected.
Seat belts are still just a suggestion and a car is allowed to carry as many people as you can fit in it (our record so far is 11). Being a very fair people, Philos don’t give ambulances any preferential treatment and they are expected to wait their turn like everyone else. I’m not criticising, I’m just saying you should probably try not to have a coronary during peak hour. Throw in some more jeepnys, taxis, a handful of pedi-cabs (bicycle/motorcycle driven ‘taxi’) and calesas (small carriage pulled by seriously tiny horse) and you have a bit of a gridlock problem.
Now go ahead and add children and beggars who weave in and out tapping on car windows, hawkers selling everything from peanuts to towels and pedestrians who take their lives into their own hands every time they step off the curb. Fill the air with the exhaust of thousands of un-roadworthy vehicles and a symphony of honking horns and you have Manila traffic at its finest.
That being said, the sixty-seventh dimension has its high points. As it is a given to everyone who lives here that traffic will ALWAYS be bad and no one will EVER follow the rules, I am yet to see a single case of road rage. Even when it takes close to two hours to travel 14 km, Philos manage to keep their cool. I suppose when you don’t expect courtesy from other drivers, you’re never taken by surprise when someone cuts you off.
Then again, any country that has a term for driving straight into oncoming traffic (it’s called counter-flow) could probably do with a little more structure.
Like a friend said yesterday, Life’s more fun in the Philippines.