I remember sitting in Cebu's colourful passenger jeepneys in 1981 and chuckling as I read the excerpt from the motorist's prayer; "Grant me, O Lord, a steady hand and a watchful eye, that no one shall be hurt as I pass by." It was routinely painted inside the jeepney. Rosary beads jangled from the mirror, and statues of Our Lady and Sto. Nino graced the dash. No doubt these prayers and relics were expected to bring comfort to passengers and reflected both the driver's solemn prayer and good intentions. However, the thumping disco music of Kool and the Gang or Donna Summer and the crazy driving antics seemed somewhat in conflict with the prayer.
I was a regular passenger, finding the jeepney a convenient, cheap and interesting mode of transport. As an avid people watcher it was a fun experience. Riding was simple; you waited along the side of the road until the correct jeepney came along, hailed it and jumped on board. If it looked full, there really was no issue, it just became slightly squeezier. Nothing like up close and comfortable (or uncomfortable) on a sticky, hot and humid day (everyday!) Not too many issues about breathing germs in that small space; most had their mouths and noses covered to avoid the fumes!
The fare payment worked on an honour system with passengers passing their fare along hand to hand until it reached the driver and change was returned in the same manner. Passengers included students, families, lots of shopping and occasionally a hessian bag carrying livestock. The roof was also home to other items when needed and additional passengers also rode on the footboard at the rear of the vehicle. Upfront was the driver and his sidekick. They alway had a long thumbnail (I wondered if that was to scratch the hand of anyone who tried to underpay.) The jeepneys travelled interesting routes alongside shopping centres, markets and schools and gave an insight into the life of the locals.
Exiting the jeep involved two personal challenges. Firstly, there was an estimation of when to knock on the roof to stop the jeep. This had to be carefully timed to ensure minimal walking. As the jeep progressed, I noted the brakes. If the driver's braking sent you flying out of your seat, only minimal 'knocking' time was required. However, as often the brakes were really slow, 'knocking' was required well in advance. This was a skill I proudly mastered in record time. The other skill....well, to be truthful I am still working on it; knowing when to exit. My next to useless sense of direction often saw me take the full circuit of the jeepney's route, ending up where I started and missing my destination altogether.
Today, I tried the jeepney, Manila style. Not much has changed although the disco music has gone, the driving style was more sedate and the pick up more orderly. Consistencies included the payment method, the fumes and the tinned sardine feeling; 26 on our jeep tonight! My butt just made the seat! I'm so glad I got to experience the jeepney once again. It's a must for an insight to the truly vibrant Filipino lifestyle both in and out of the jeepney.