Friday, July 18, 2008

Day 159. Al borde del colapso nervioso

After saying goodbye to my gracious hostess and her “family” I took the toll expressway north. My driving experience was a little marred by the fact that there was construction going on all the way to Manila. I was happy, however, because the map showed the expressway going through Manila and further 50 km to the north. Alas, it was all fibs. The expressway delivered me right unto a maze of Manila streets, chockfull with traffic. To add to my toils, the streets are not straight, and they figure street names are superfluous. So I had to navigate by compass, slowly working my way through the craziest city on a northwesterly heading.

Two hours later I finally reached the starting point of the northern expressway, or NLZX (this tendency to use codes for freeways is pervasive throughout Malaysia, Singapore, and Philippines, to the despair of the foreigner). It was a driving dream after my struggle through the city, but the fun only lasted for 50 km. At the town called Mexico I took to the smaller roads, and it was here that my Calvary was to start. First, there are practically no road signs telling you where to go, and when there is one it either directs you only to the next small hamlet (rather than major towns that may appear on a map), or it sends you in the wrong direction.
But the real evil of the Philippine roads are the slow moving vehicles. The main offender is a thing that looks like a jeep but has the engine of a lawnmower; this enables it to reach a top speed of 25 km/hour. The second is the ubiquitous tricycles, which are used as taxis and have a top speed of 30 km/hour. Of course there are very few people reckless enough to travel at top speed. Rather, they move in and out of the highway as a cloud of slow drones, so you can be certain that as soon as you pass one another one will s-l-o-w-l-y pull out of nowhere in front of you.
I have always considered myself a considerate driver, respectful of bicycles and motorcycles, but I was not ready to see the way in which cyclists make full use of their rights. None of this nonsense of squeezing themselves along the right side of the road. Oh no. Cyclists here have a force field that defends them from fast moving vehicles, and they pedal s-l-o-w-l-y smack in the middle of the highway, and will not give an inch to a car overtaking an equally slow tricycle in the opposite direction.

Surprisingly, I only saw one minor accident along the way. But then again, I had to overtake at least four funerary processions (moving at snail pace on the highway).

By the time I left the flat lands, after grueling six hours of slow driving, I was at the brink of nervous collapse!

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