On those really hot, sticky, humid days the thought of crowding into a public utility vehicle (PUV), commonly called a jeepney, does not fill the average overweight foreigner with glee. As a large (read that obese) bloke I am hyper aware of my size and my ability to sweat profusely. I do not like the idea of sitting next to me in a sardine can simulator so I presume others share that feeling.
As Small As I Get
When I worked in the city of Cebu I usually rode my motorcycle or drove The Red Terror to and from on the daily commute. I especially enjoyed leaving early, say 6am, and beating the traffic, the crowds and the smog downtown to my office. Coming home was in the heat of the afternoon and the traffic was always heavy, too often stationary but at least I had the aircon in the car, when it was working, or I was on the bike and alone with my sweat glands. Then for a while, with the bike sold and the car off the road, I had to take public transport.
Jeepneys and other forms of public transport in the Philippines are, not surprisingly, Filipino sized. The seats are designed for smaller bums than mine, as is available headroom, doorway width and so forth. Squeezing into a jeepney is literally that, a squeeze. In peak hour traffic when everyone wants to get home you don’t have the luxury of waiting for the next one as it should have more room, it won’t. Get in when you can and while you can because even if an empty one rocked up, within a few blocks it would be chockers in there anyway. You just have to grit your teeth and make yourself as small as possible.
Worse Than A Hot Day Is…
The worst weather to catch a crowded jeepney in, some say, is the stinking hot days of what Filipinos consider their summer. April to June, usually. After that it gets into the rainy season, mostly during the ‘Bers’; September, October, November etc. January and February are the cooler, dryer months. But there are worse days than the really hot ones, believe me. These are the rainy ones. For me, there is nothing to match the discomfort of the hot, sticky humidity before the rain arrives except perhaps when it is pouring with rain. Sitting there jammed between two Filipinas trying to politely ignore the fact you are sweating like a pig in the heat is bad, worse is doing it with the rain belting down and the jeepney closed up. Plastic roll down curtains seem to turn the inside of the tin box jeepney full of CO2 exhaling humans into some kind of evil solar still on wheels.
You can’t move, you can barely breathe and you are hyper aware of your body’s cooling system leaking out all over, leaving dark, damp patches under your arms, on your back, the creases of your gut… everywhere. I sit there in abject misery, avoiding the eyes of my fellow passengers who studiously avoid mine. Everyone knows I take up the same space as 2.3 average locals and am adding considerably more to the humidity and discomfort within the vehicle. But there is nothing I can do until it is time to get off. Then I have to squeeze past, people politely moving their knees to one side hoping not to be smeared by the kano as he slips out of the jeepney onto the road and into the rain, disappearing into the dark night with sighs of relief all round. Ah yes, the romance of travel by jeepney… not!
Perry Gamsby, D.Lit., MA(Writing), Dip. Bus, Dip. Mktg is a writer and lecturer who lives with his Cebuana wife and five Aus-Fil daughters in Western Sydney. The author of a series of best-selling ‘self-help’ books for expats and those married to Filipinas, he is also a Master of Filipino Martial Arts and a former World Stickfighting Champion who has lived, worked and vacationed in the Philippines since 1988. Perry and his family return to the Philippines on a yearly basis. You can read more of his writing on Philippines topics at www.streetwisephilippines.biz