This photo (Tricycle) was taken and uploaded by Mon Solo
This afternoon, I rode on the back of a tricycle for the first time in my life and saw my life flash before my eyes.
Those who have "commuted" in the Philippines know that it is quite an adventure. Anyone who wants to get from Point A to Point B anywhere in the country can choose from a dizzying array of public transport vehicles - from the conventional buses, taxi cabs, and trains to the distinctly Filipino flavored jeepneys and tricycles and horse-drawn kalesas that add to the chaotic and exasperating Manila traffic.
I've posted a picture of a tricycle in order to give the uninitiated an idea of what I'm talking about. (And, no, none of the above people is me. The busy street in front of the Libertad station is not the place for a photo-op.) This surprisingly useful little vehicle is a marriage between a motorcycle and a makeshift passenger cab attached to it. A standard sized tricycle is meant to carry three to four people - the driver and two to three passengers in the cab. But in some instances, the capacity can be stretched to six or seven - or more! - depending on the size and willingness of one's passengers.
The tricycle (aka "trike") is the favored public utility vehicle in many of the smaller cities and rural areas around the Philippines. Because of its small size, it can access roads that conventional rides cannot. In the rural areas, it is the bane of long-distance car drivers. As a primary mode of transportation, these perky little trikes are allowed to run with the big boys even on our national highways. In the heart of the city, the tricycles' use is often limited to carrying passengers in Manila's crowded side-streets.
Don't get me wrong, I've been a veteran Manila commuter since I was in college. I've been riding tricycles since I was a kid. I've even ridden tricycles on a highway during my many visits to different provinces. However, my experience with tricycles has always been limited to being inside the cab - and relatively empty roads.
Sitting behind the driver as you ride through a street where you can see vehicles that are a lot bigger and sturdier are darting around yours gives the tricycle ride a good dash of... flair. That vantage point, with no protective cab to serve as blinders, definitely forces a semi-newbie to view the trip from a very different perspective.
And in this case, ignorance is definitely bliss.
Why did I subject myself to this? I would like to say it was my highly-developed sense of adventure. But to be honest, it was really the punishing heat of the noon-time sun and the thick smell of exhaust fumes that made the decision easier. A trike ride was hardly a new experience for me, after all.
Or so I thought.
It was one of those trike hires that waited to be filled to capacity and charged the same fare for all passengers. There were already three people inside the cab and one passenger sitting behind the driver and riding sidesaddle, so to speak. The last vacant seat - see where the pair of legs behind the driver are dangling from in the photo above? - was mine.
Being a fool in a hurry, I climbed on anyway, all the while trying to push visions of the trauma patients from tricycle crashes that I've seen brought to our ER during my short medical career.
We are off after the driver gives us gruff instructions to hold on - not an easy feat for a passenger also trying to hold on to a long manila envelope full of important papers and keeping her unzippable handbag from slipping and scattering her stuff all over the street. For another thing, there weren't any actual hand-holds I could hang on to. However, in true Filipino fashion, desperation was the mother of invention. The fear of sure death helped my creativity along and had me clinging to the awning's thin metal frame during the whole trip and praying to God it wouldn't give way.
It didn't help things any that our driver seemed to have a motocross fantasy going - despite having five other hapless passengers at his mercy. The trike darted with astonishing agility among jeepneys, cars, SUVs and trucks as it weaved through the busy afternoon traffic. The sight of car doors and giant tires so close to my feet was not a comfort. Our driver illustrated the physical property of inertia several times with his sudden brake stops that literally pushed me to edge of my seat with frightening regularity.
The ride may have lasted a mere five minutes, but it was one of the longest five minutes of my life. Miraculously, I had gotten there in one piece.
Would I ride a trike again? Yes. Would I ride outside the cab again? Probably not. I may have a new anecdote to add to my archive of street adventures, and it may have been a strangely exciting experience - but I really would rather not know what my little trike is up against on the road next time around.
However, any seasoned Pinoy commuter worth his salt must try riding a trike this way at least once in their lives.
(Postscript: given my reaction to this experience, it's safe to say that my riding a motorcycle is completely out of the question. No. Way. Ever.)