At 5 pm we’re on a Jeepney bound for Baguio City when four men jump aboard. One sits rather close to me, almost in my lap. He’s smiling and laughing with his friends and turns to me to begin making conversation. I’m really still not sure what he was asking me in English, but I know if I’ve been drinking with my friends on a Friday afternoon, no one can understand me either. So I forgive him and join in the conversation. Sherry, sitting across from me, just laughs . . . this is a regular experience I suppose.
Now, you might be asking, what exactly is a Jeepney? Jeepneys are one of the most unique elements of the Philippines. I’m not exactly sure where they came from, or who invented them, or why I’ve never seen them anywhere else in the world . . . they are just plain cool. Jeepneys are the main form of public transportation around here . . . convenient, frequent and funky. They have the hood and the front body of a large jeep with a military-truck bed for a personnel carrier, only with a lower ceiling. Passengers sit in two rows facing one another, sometimes quite snugly during rush hour. Rumor has it that they evolved from U.S. and Japanese surplus after the wars around here in the 20th century.
That might explain the vehicle style, but certainly not the paint jobs. Each Jeepney’s exterior is adorned in bright, colorful paint, (imagine a 1970s VW bus bound for Burning Man) sometimes depicting Christmas snow scenes or local landscapes or the ever famous Cordillera Cowboy. And the hood decor almost always shouts praises to Jesus or the Virgin Mary, or announces the name of that particular Jeepney: “Daddy’s Ride,” “JaMan,” and my favorite, “Out of Control.”
We are not out of control on this particular ride, but at the next stop my new friend climbs out of the Jeepney laughing and asking me to join his crew. Their aroma of fried fish and fermented alcohol (an undistinguished character . . . maybe gin? maybe a local grain alcohol?) and tobacco, I think, lures me for a moment, but I decline respectfully. Instead, I sit back on my Jeepney bench, chuckling of course, as the mountainous countryside rolls by out the window, and the aroma of cocoa-coffee and port-a-pottie infused diesel exhaust replaces the scent of the Filipino happy hour.
This is the way to travel.