Indiana Tones on the bus to El Nido

7 Jun
The things that happen on Pilipino roads

The things that happen on Pilipino roads

After seeing what I wanted to see (the world’s longest Underground River) – and getting fed up with dorm style guesthouse – I wanted to spend my last few days on my travels in El Nido – supposedly a quiet relaxed village in a gorgeous landscape. But getting there was a bit of an adventure: dodging mudslides, crossing rivers, rescuing school children and even toppling over into the ditch. The foreseen 6 to 8 hours turned into 11, but all the excitement came at no extra cost (oh yes, and no one got injured).

Taking a tricycle in the rain

Taking a tricycle in the rain

Traveling in the Philippines (or should I say Palawan, the island called the Western Frontier – because there’s nothing beyond) is a bit of a challenge (read & see also my wobbly flight experience), especially in the rainy season. The unsealed roads (and there’s quite some of them) turn into mud. The rainstorms create rivers down the slopes and neatly carve gutters across the roads – besides the customary potholes which fill up with water so you don’t see how deep they are.

And then imagine a bus, with 80cm seats on the right hand side, and 100cm seat on the left. They would fit 2 people on the right and 3 persons on the left, and with a wooden plank suspended across the isle there’s even space for a 6th. Space underneath the seats is filled up with cardboard boxes carrying fans, pumps, etc; with plastic bags stuffed with groceries from the city; and here and there a basket with chicken. On top of the bus is space for the bigger luggage (such as backpacks, motorbikes, bags of rice or poultry food) – and of course for everyone that doesn’t fit in the bus.

Our (in)famous bus for the day

Our (in)famous bus for the day

 6h30am – we take a tricycle from the guesthouse to the ‘central’ bus station located 6km out of the city. Being 3 (2 American travelers I befriended), we were luckily to have Tetris skills to pile ourselves and the backpacks on one tricycle, and even stay relatively dry. Rainy season had started – or should I say ‘pouring season’.

7am – no sooner we arrive we are whisked onto the bus which is about to depart, without breakfast or any snacks. To ease my stomach I quickly buy some popcorn from a sales-boy doing the buses (shouldn’t you be in school? Well, it’s Sunday…) and to be on the safe side I add a travel sickness pill to this healthy breakfast.

Pilipino roads in rainy season - challenging

Pilipino roads in rainy season - challenging

The first part of the road is very acceptable, we race on, braking and accelerating like Michael Schumacher to pick up people along the road. Rain is pouring down and makes the bus look more like a submarine than a bus. And it’s then that I realize that there no windshield wipers on the windows. So basically the driver is steering his bus with blurry aquarium view. I thought this would be something sensational to put on my blog – but that was before the main events of the day happened…

10am – we arrive in Roxas where we have a break – to run to the toilet and have some breakfast (finally) and a second car sickness pill (those roads are really windy). We want to start the bus, but alas, the engines in Philippines do not seem to like rainy weather (like the boat at the underground river) so we had to get out and push… After Roxas they seem to have something against roads – so from here there are only mud tracks. The abundant water ate big grooves in the road, in between the potholes, which of course the driver tries to avoid, swerving from left to right and back. Thank Mother Mary for travel sickness pills!

Bus rallye through rivers

Bus rallye through rivers


1pm
– There were a few rivers (streams) we needed to cross along the road. But the bridges that were being built were not ready yet ;-) so there was no other solution than to go through the water (see youtube clip). The first one was OK, but the second river was a lot deeper, so deep that the engine would go under water and probably stall (drown). No worries, there have been rainy seasons before in the Philippines – so the bus guys ask around who has some plastic. Next he dives into the mud to secure the plastic around the spot where the water would most likely attack the engine. Half an hour later, the bus backs up and then leaps forward to make it through the water in one go… I was too busy filming to notice that the water actually came higher than the doors and flooded the bus – and my backpack that was on the floor for that matter… Great.

Evacuation from the bus

Evacuation from the bus


2h30pm
– I was already imagining the story about amphibious buses for my blog – listening to my mp3 player and gently cuddling up to my neighbour, when IT happened. The bus got into a muddy patch (as if there were non-muddy patches…) and the bus started skidding. The engine roared (or maybe it was the driver) attempting violently to go in the desired direction, but to no avail.

The bus, with 6 passengers a row (where there’s only space for 5 really) slid into the ditch and toppled over on its side. All passengers were neatly piled on top of each other like sardines in a can on the right hand windows, which all of a sudden had become the floor of the bus.

Everybody got out - nobody got hurt

Everybody got out - nobody got hurt

I was sitting at the left side of the bus, so evolved to being the top of the pile. I tried as good and as bad as I could to climb up to the left side windows (which were not the roof) to open it and get out of the bus. Then women passed their babies through the windows who were passed from arm to arm till they reached the ground (mud, I should say). When most of the evacuation was done I thought to make some space of the top of the bus, and elegantly jumped down… in the mud… and no sooner had I reached the ground I slid onto my arse

I was shaking at first (maybe it was the cold or the rain?) – but then I started giggling when seeing the surreality of the whole happening. There I was, a few days from going back home, in some god-forsaken corner of the Philippines, just evacuated from a bus that was lying on its side and with my shorts, hands and feet covered in mud,… Was this really happening?

Nothing a bulldozer can't fix

Nothing a bulldozer can't fix

People seemed to be quite ‘used’ to the whole situation. They simply went to cut some banana leafs to keep above their heads to stay somehow dry (even though that was far too late). A bulldozer from a nearby construction site came to pull the bus out of the ditch – and only about half an hour later we were ushered back on the bus which continued its trip as if that was the most normal thing in life – no insurance, no police, no technical check if all was ok – just one side of the bus covered in mud (but that was soon washed away by the rain).

And we continue as normal just with a bit mud on the side

And we continue as normal just with a bit mud on the side

5pm – thank Jesus, we were nearing our destination of El Nido. Not long anymore. But then we pass a bus with schoolchildren that broke down. The Pinoy are very helpful people, because the driver offered to take
the children in our mud-clad bus. So where there were 6 people in a space for 5 we now added a few on top of our laps, and the rest just went on the roof next to the motorcycles and bags of rice. You can’t imagine how I clutched onto the seat in front of me when the bus started swaying again… but as far as I could tell we didn’t loose any motorbikes or schoolkids.

6pm – Thank Saint-Christopher for a safe travel. After 11 hours of adventure, we arrive in our guesthouse in El Nido. The bus wasn’t wrecked, but my nerves were. Give me a beer! Or something stronger…

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2 Responses to “Indiana Tones on the bus to El Nido”

  1. eric 9 June 2009 at 16:06 #

    being in that situation is a real nerve wrecking one! OMG! I was lucky to have a good 4×4 jeepney to cross the Palawan island from east to west.. I’d say that that jeepney was far better than the bus you had..
    but then again, after some time you’d just laugh on this experience and say to yourself that you were lucky to have experienced this! ;-)

  2. travelony 25 July 2009 at 12:20 #

    yep – that’s something to tell the grandchildren…. (someone else’s grandchildren – of course ;-)

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