“La bici es un gestor de cambios tanto personales como colectivos” [“The bike is a generator of change, both personal and collective”] – Interview with Natalia Eudocia Olivares, Moksha Journal
One of the things I most miss about my life in Colombia is my bike.
Every time I see a bike now I get a jolt of yearning deep down inside me and I want to get back to those streets. Winding through the traffic at 9 a.m. or gliding smoothly down the wet roads at 9 p.m., I always felt like I owned the city.
As if I was flying through and over it, completley free from time.
So I now realise how important this feeling is for me and why cycling has profound consequences on my general happiness. Being part of ConcienBiciate was a particularly important part of getting this experience and discovering this feeling, if you ever want to try it out.
Cycling is a way of experiencing the city. The relationship you have with the city changes once you get on a bike and ride it. You are not only riding your bike, you are riding your city. That is a beautiful thing.
Thinking about this got me thinking about mobility in the city more generally. How your experience shifts and changes radically according to the different ways you move through it. In fact, cities are so fluid that I feel that restricting myself from embracing this fluidity and being mindful about it would be a lost opportunity.
So I’ve decided to start a new series in this blog about the different forms of riding through the cities I discover and how my experience of these wonderful places shifts according to how I chose to move through them.
…with the Jeepney
The streets of Manila are chaotic, steaming, overheated and densely populated by cars, motorbikes, tricycles, buses, bikers, pedestrians, dogs and all forms of floating waste remnants.
I recently passed my driving test and I can assure you it is a rare thing to find a driver that follows any version of the ‘MSM’ (mirrors, signal & move off) routine we are drilled on in the UK. Most drivers move on and assume whatever is coming will move out the way and if they don’t, honking somehow magically solves the problem.
From this chaos, mainly coloured with different shades of grey either from the concrete or the colouring that the smog has left on the cars and buildings along the street, emerge the jeepneys or ‘jeeps’ as they are more commonly referred to.
Brightly coloured with shiny lights and loud honks, jeepneys are a legacy from WWII. They have been re-designed from their original function as American army jeeps. Thousands of them roam the city, as they have become the main form of public transport and are constantly filled with passengers.
If you are travelling for a distance of less than 4 km you have to pay 7 pesos (which is about USD $0.15 or £0.10).
Jeepneys line up by the side of the road at specific key locations and wait to be filled. So forget about schedules. Their drivers will shout or honk at you, in the hope that you will be their next customer. If you are, and there is still space, the drivers will stick around optimistically hoping that the next passengers are just around the corner.
Dive in through the backdoor, crouch down as you walk down the middle and slide in the furthest forward possible to squeeze in to a seat. By a seat I mean a tiny space on a side-like bench.
The best view of the city when on a jeepney is through the back. Try looking through any other side or front window and you’ll find yourself getting neck ache within about 20 seconds. Add this to the fact that you will be squeezed in to a very tight space in 35*C and it can be a very uncomfortable experience.
Instead, try and sneak your seat by the back door where you can get a little more breeze, entertain yourself by observing what is happening on the street behind the jeep and enjoy being able to see the person sitting across from you. You could even strike up a conversation with them as Philippinoes are some of the friendliest people in the world (according to every guidebook and based on personal experience) and in Manila they mostly speak a good level of English to fit your attempted Tagalogish.