Driving in the Philippines is completely different from anything else you’ve ever experienced. Imagine packing 15 sweaty bodies and our luggage into something slightly larger than a 7 person minivan. Next, imagine that same van cruising down the road at mach speed in the effort to get to who knows where...FAST!
After a very busy trip and a long day (24 hours) of driving ahead of us, I decided to catch a few extra minutes of sleep on Kai’s shoulder. The sleep was restless, as is any sleep that one catches packed tightly in between bodies, traversing rough roads, with the chatter of conversations around me. The driver had been up all night the previous night and was planning to continue to drive the rest of the day and all night until we reached our destination. We were all concerned he was working too hard, but the leader of our group assured us that he was fine and all would be well.
About 2 hours into the trip, I awoke to the strained and frantic voices of everyone around me. Groggily I opened my eyes and tried to recollect my surroundings and figure out what all the commotion was about. Ah yes. I was in a cramped van travelling to who knows where, heading down a highway going…THE WRONG WAY!?!?! I immediately snapped awake realizing that cars were zipping by us all heading in the wrong direction—opposite of us. In fact ALL the cars were heading straight toward us. We were the only car heading in our direction. WE were the ones going the wrong way!! We were driving the highway in the wrong direction. When I say highway, I don’t use this term lightly. This was no downtown boulevard or even 4 lane road. This was a divided 8 lane highway that was a main artery for the capital city of the Philippines. The sound of blaring horns could be heard as we weaved our way through the oncoming traffic. We looked to the driver who was unaffected. Pedal to the medal, hands firmly on the wheel, eyes locked straight ahead; determined. One look at the faces in the van and you could be sure we were uttering our last prayers—trying to make final peace with God because this was very obviously the end. Some were covering their faces. Others were staring straight ahead, not wanting to miss their last moments on earth. Then, just as quickly as it started, it ended. Our driver found an opening in the median, crossed over, and resumed driving on the correct side of the highway.
After having a chance to get my racing heart back to normal again I was filled in on what I had missed while sleeping. Apparently our driver was annoyed by the traffic jam we had been sitting in. Traffic was moving sluggishly, so he decided to try something different--the other side of the highway! Thankful to be alive, we uttered prayers of thanks, dismissed the incidence as an isolated moment of insanity due to lack of sleep, and resumed our conversations again.
A little further down the road, we were out of the city and the road had now narrowed significantly from 8 busy lanes to 2 very congested lanes of traffic heading in opposite directions. The only passing that was to be done was the kind of passing in which you waited for a break in the oncoming traffic and made an attempt to pass the car in front of you. Keep in mind that we were a fully loaded van with 15 people and our luggage. We were heavy and difficult to move. Our driver was unaware of either of those points, however. When an opportunity arose, he would floor the gas pedal, the engine would surge, and we would inch slowly by the car we were so determined to pass, all the while staring straight into the headlights of an oncoming car. Again, we prepared to meet our Maker. White knuckles, sweaty palms, racing hearts, breath held, minds lifted heavenward in prayer and supplication. Audible gasps rang out sporadically throughout the van. All lighthearted conversation had ceased. The only talk was that of if we were ever going to make it out of the Philippines alive. At the last second we would squeeze in ahead of the passed car just in time for the oncoming car to barrel past us. Several times, we obviously weren’t going to make it, so either the oncoming car or the car being passed (or both) would veer off the road at the last second and make 3 lanes from a 2 lane road to avoid a head-on collision.
We passengers in the van coined a phrase in those traumatic moments: DieInThePhiliMaDrivaMcPhoba. Plainly stated, this is the fear of dying in the Philippines from a maniac driver. Call it post traumatic stress disorder, but neither of us have ever forgotten that phrase in the 6 years since our trip.