Tricycles are like little beetles that scatter around, breaking speed limits, winding in and out of traffic and on and off the sidewalks of Manila. Wherever you look, you will see them. They are the tiny, colourful bubble-like machines. If you don’t want to look, wherever you are, you will still hear them. They have those squeaky sounding motors that teenagers use on their mopeds… That’s the only way I know how to describe that musical sound…
In fact, in Philippine cities, they are the most popular form of public transport. Apparently, each city has its own version. Some form part of standard routes and others can be hired privately. They are designed for about four people in addition to the driver but there don’t seem to be any laws about a maximum number. It’s great to see how many ways people find to fit their whole family into one tricycle.
A breezy ride
There are two ways to ride a tricycle. Or at least, two conventional ways. Other options, I think, are limited to whether or not the driver trusts your balance on the ride.
My first choice has so far been to ride on the back of the bike. The heat of Manila is not easy to handle and I’d jump on anything that would give me a few seconds of breeze, even when its a warm one.
However, as I duly noted the other day, being a lady and riding on the back of a male driver can sometimes be seen as improper. So it’s possible the driver won’t actually let you do it, unless you are travelling with others. Luckily for me, I have only experienced this once, most other times I have been riding with other people. You can sometimes share a ride with another passenger too.
It should only cost you about $15 Philippine pesos per person as tricycles do not go for great distances. If this is what you want, it’s better to ride the Jeepney that I mentioned in my last post.
So the breezy ride offers a lovely view of the street as you observe whatever happens behind you. You also get a little adrenaline rush every time the tricycle overtakes anyone. Since you are sitting sideways with your legs hanging over the side of the bike, you feel the tip of your toes almost brush the wheels of the jeepney riding in the opposite direction as the tricycle squeezes in between the buses and cars.
The breezy ride is more about mind and body than about what you see. Yes you see a lot of things and take it all in very quickly. But you also hear things around you and are able to connect what you hear to what you see and smell. You can smile at people who look at you (I stand out a lot here, so mostly they look at me with curiosity, the same way I look at them). The breezy ride makes me feel more connected to the chaos of the street. I like chaos.
A hidden camera
Today I had to take the second option, that of riding inside the beetle (I am calling it that, it’s probably better referred to as the sidecar). This requires that you crouch down and slide into a rounded seat. It is low and you get the direct impact from the maneuvers that the driver makes. So if you drive on to the sidewalk, get ready to need a pillow to sit on for a couple of days.
As you are at the level of the sidewalk, you are up close to the road and if anything comes around or near the beetle you’ll probably hear it before you see it. This particular ride is usually full of surprises. It is particularly good for getting into a slightly intimate closeness with whomever is riding the beetle with you. Whether you like it or not.
Again, the heat of Manila never goes away, so enjoy the sticky-ness, the amusing awkward-ness and relish the experience.
Today, my friend riding with me revealed a great thing about riding the beetle. The hidden camera. In fact, your hidden camera, if you like that sort of thing.
One of the things that I most enjoy about cities is observing the richness of their diversity. There are moments that I see things as I walk along, that I wish I could capture in my memory forever. It’s difficult to capture them with your camera, especially when you enjoy genuine moments rather than posed pictures.
Riding in the beetle allows you to be a hidden observer, and in a way, an almost hidden photographer. Cameras tend to attract attention so i am not sure this is ever possible. Nevertheless, it is a rare advantage to be able to capture a genuine moment unaltered by your position as the observer.
Remember to feel the city
Having ridden both options, reflecting back, I have to say that the minute I took out the camera I forgot about taking in the smells, the bumps and swerves, the adrenaline and only thought about the picture I captured.
Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy photographs and love being able to capture those moments I mentioned earlier. But when given the choice, I’d chose the breezy ride over the hidden camera ride any day.
I realised that as much as I love my camera, it sets me apart from the city because the moment I take it out, I become the observer rather than the be-er.
A friend told me a great quote the other day (the same friend who showed me the hidden camera trick).
“Nadie te quita lo bailado” – Spanish expression
In other words, no one can take away that, which you have already danced.
I thought about this the other day when I was sitting on the back of the bike, feeling the breeze and suddenly noticing a pungent smell emanating from the noticeably flooded river. Will I remember this smell when I leave this city in a few months? I can take all the pictures I want, but once I leave this city and look through the snap shots again, will I remember how the breeze felt when it blew my sticky, sweaty hair away from my face (I forgot about elegance a long time ago)? How it felt to meander through the cars with nervous excitement?
Not unless I actually took the chance to build these memories, not unless I danced, or in this case rode the city, not as an observer but as a part of it.