Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam.
And we are off again! What was all that, you ask? We were in a public bus plying the streets of Manila. The conductor, who had stepped out of the bus, was banging on the side of the bus as passengers jumped out the exit door. He was also keeping an eye out for oncoming vehicles since the bus had stopped in the second of four lanes of traffic (and not at a bus stop). As soon as he and the new passengers had gotten onto the bus, his two thumps told the driver that it was safe to proceed.
We were heading back to the OMF guest house and office after riding the light rail across the city. Instead of hailing a taxicab, we decided to try the bus and joined the crowds on the sidewalk. There were no posted signs for bus routes so we watched the people and the incoming buses. Several different companies operated the buses so the paint jobs were all different. Some had only one door while others had two, both serving as entrances and exits. All were crowded with folks standing up and down the aisles. We waited and watched.
We knew our destination and soon discovered that dozens of other people wanted the same bus. One bus pulled in and six people squeezed on. We could see from the placard on the front on the bus that the next three were not for us but the same sort of behavior occurred. People generally surged up or down the sidewalk depending on where they were standing and where the bus stopped, and then attempted to board as soon as passengers alighted.
The next bus was ours but it pulled up behind us. As we made our move, several people who were closer made it up the steps and the bus started to pull away. The door was still wide open since the last passenger was standing on the bottom step and hanging onto the railing. We spotted the next “correct” bus and figured that we had to start moving in that direction. It wasn’t too difficult since many others had the same notion, so we surged along.
Eunice managed to climb onboard and started shouting for me to hurry (I had the money and her phone and she did not want to be stranded). The bus was already moving when I scrambled onto the steps and hung on to the railing with both hands. The door could not close because two more passengers jumped on and hemmed me in. Eventually, the door did close as we all rearranged our bodies and bags around us. Throughout this whole boarding process, no one complained or said a bad word. Everyone just took it all in stride (pun intended).
The conductor began collecting fares and we struggled to give him room to move in our midst. Money exchanged hands as we approached the first stop. One man quickly paid his fare and alighted; the conductor then gave his two-thump signal on the ceiling of the bus. The next time the bus stopped, the side exit door opened and stayed open for the remainder of our journey. Three people got off but four got on. We continued our journey and the conductor managed to collect all his fares before ending up at the front next to the driver. The total number of passengers did not vary much each time we stopped so for the whole 45 minutes of our ride, Eunice and I just stood and clung onto the overhead rail and tried (unsuccessfully) not to intrude into the personal space of the passengers seated next to us.
Eventually, Eunice noticed some local landmarks along the road and knew we were nearing our stop. However, the jeepneys which had congregated at that point forced the bus to drive past and the driver eventually pulled up one block further. We were very glad to alight. I threaded my way past the three people who were standing on the steps and jumped onto the road. Behind me, Eunice slipped on the steps but another passenger helped her not fall out. Even before we reached the sidewalk, the bus was already back in the flow of traffic.
We appreciated the comparatively cool air as we walked back to the OMF guest house after our adventure with yet one more form of public transportation in the Philippines.
Written by Au
Below are photos from the overpass near to where we exited the bus: