There’s an interesting and flavorful addition to the Philippines that is home to no other location on earth. What is this delectable, endemic treasure: the Jeepney.
Short is its history on this green earth, but fascinating is its time here. The Jeepney came about through an unexpected gap in the Philippines chilling and exciting past.
For only a short period of years, about (#) years or so, the United States occupied this small, island-speckled nation. But in those short years they peppered the countryside with the vehicle most appropriate for bouncing around its rugged terrain, the Jeep. So godlike is this amazing entity bestowed upon the Filipino people that they created many different Jeep-esque country crawlers in its honor.
Useful in hauling everything from livestock to construction materials up the slow-to-progress hinterland road system, these smoke-belching beasts are seen all over the country – especially in Luzon and the larger islands. The classic front end, the heavy steal construction and, of course, the diehard suspension system are all akin to their master. But Filipinos have added girth, length, an upper rack system that could rival the strength of boardwalk pilings. And that’s all in an effort to tote as much as possible (and therefore make as much money as possible) in one trip. But little else has changed about from the Jeep’s original design – including its not-so-environmentally-friendly miles-per-gallon ratio.
I was scammed and always charged the local rate on these mobile social clubs. And it was never a boring ride. People were crammed everywhere; in the nooks aboard the body, on the rack above, in the front seats and even clinging for dear life off the back.
I could have taken the big bus liners to the areas I wanted to go – mostly. The air condition going through the city would definitely have been nicer. But I would rather see the Philippines the way it’s seen from the inside – not the outside or looking down.
Once near Angeles, I could tell that getting the rest of the way would have to be done a little more discerningly. Angeles is a dirty, crowded town where little English is spoken. People are willing enough to help you get to where you need to be. But the drivers seem more to be out for the buck.
At the local depot, I was approached by lots of “tricycle” drivers asking to take me to my destination. But I have learned that generally, you don’t want to just jump into the first offered ride when you’re fresh off the boat, so to speak. So I haggled a little bit and met a few guys that were willing to discuss the idea.
The first price was offered. I turned it down, of course. Then I walked a little further and they sort of teamed up against me, saying that this was the regular price and that the distance was far away.
I knew that we were only about seven kilometers from the dropping point for what I had researched was the start of the hike for the mountain. So I eventually just moved on. They were not pleased that I had not fallen for their game.
Lesson from memory: be willing to walk away… a long way (in order to A, find out of the driver is serious and B, ensure that you’ve done as much as possible to help guarantee that you’re not the next white dupe to fall out of a bus and right into a scam).
Down the road a little bit, I hopped into the least formidable looking jeepney headed in my general direction and cut my lost time. On the trip I found just what I needed. A relative of the person in charge of the next leg of my trip.
Cindy, the cousin of Wendell, had told us that we were approaching O’Donnell Village and that we should stay at her relative’s place overnight and then, in the morning, take his jeep tour into the Pinatubo region for a quick day hike.
And just like that, I had a place to stay, a hookup into the trek up the mountain and the closest thing to a personal guarantee that I had secured the best price possible – the local price.
And what a hookup I had: Wendell turned out to be the president of the Four-Wheel Club in the entire area. And as a bonus, it was his birthday. So he was celebrating with a huge banquet of food, complete with servers and free beer. So, besides the all night bash that included seemingly endless karaoke until all hours of the morning, it was definitely a good night to stay at Wendell’s place.
The next morning I was overcharged for my room and headed toward the mountain. It was the first time I had been swindled, so I didn’t take it to heart. And since I’d been given plenty of food and beer the night before, I didn’t really waste much time debating it. But Wendell gave me a price the previous evening, 500 Pesos, which had somehow turned into a per-head price by morning. But nevermind that, it was off to see one of the world’s most famous mounds of dirt.
In 1991, Mount Pinatubo breathed its most recent breath (well, the lesser of the famous ones was actually in 1993), casting a billowing haze of smoke, ash and flying debris 40 kilometers into the air and combining its efforts with a tragically coincidental typhoon that had pummeled the west coast that same day, adding insult to injury. The resulting lahar flowed down the mountain and through the surrounding villages, killing scores of people in its path.
Once I reached the crater left behind by this destruction, I instantly felt the helplessness that must have been a part of the psyche of the victims of this massive sleeping goliath.
Below is a part one of the six-part documentary film, Travel Geek: Documentary Philippines (be sure to subscribe to my channel). It covers much more than this journal. But since I’ve already made the video, I might as well put part one of the six-part series in here to add some reference:
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