Have you ever had one of those moments where you’re about 99.9% sure something very unfortunate and painful is about to happen to you and your mouth is flushed with a weird metallic taste?
On our way home from Manila a few days ago, we happened to take a taxi from Makati to Galleria where we were planning on getting an FX to Antipolo. Well, Galleria was supposed to be our destination, but we didn’t quite make it there.
Makati is one of those weird places in Manila where it’s hard to get a ride. I don’t mind using a Jeepney or an FX for transportation. It can be dangerous, but sometimes it’s fun and it’s definitely an affordable alternative until I can pick up a personal vehicle. However, none were available, at least not going the way we wanted them to. It has to do with the work shifts in Makati. FXs and Jeepney’s heading to residential areas don’t leave until certain times. Outside of those hours you’re mostly out of luck. The only option is to take a taxi or a bus and my wife isn’t too fond of the buses. The buses in the Philippines aren’t city owned and operated like in most places. Every bus is a private operator, or perhaps part of a small group of private operators. It can be really dangerous to get on those because it’s packed full of people, every one of which could potentially have a gun and bad intentions. At least on the smaller vehicles you can see everyone to size them up and you’ll notice it if they’re acting weird.
So, we flagged down a taxi and got in. We were immediately assaulted by an odor of stale sweat, mold and that weird smell that your car can get if you smoke in it while it’s raining. It was enough to dry my throat and make me want to sniff my armpit for relief. Then I noticed that the guy was texting while driving. That’s not the brightest idea in any situation, but doing it in Manila traffic is like playing Russian roulette. He also didn’t seem to care for what he was receiving in reply to his messages. He started to get irate, and his driving became worse than it already was.
Typical Manila traffic is ugly. People edge in and see if the car next to them will yield the lane. People ride the lines dividing lanes until they figure out which lane is moving faster. People will use the shoulder or the sidewalk. Sometimes there are people in the highway. Don’t know why. There just are. That can all lead to some seriously bad traffic and an upsetting experience, but our driver seemed to have a death wish.
What person in their right mind tries to take on a bus with a taxi? He didn’t do it once, or even twice, but probably 5 times. The last time, a bus was riding the line to our right and another bus was riding the line to the left. The bus on the left began to merge into the lane we were in, ahead of us, but the taxi driver decided he didn’t like that and gunned the engine and wedged the taxi in between the two buses. At the last moment the bus pulled back and started honking its horn.
That’s when I saw my own potential death and got that weird metallic taste in my mouth. We told the driver to take us to Megamall instead, since it was a lot closer and we didn’t want to be in the cab anymore. He started arguing that he couldn’t drop us off at Megamall, that it wasn’t allowed. I don’t know what he was thinking, that we were stupid or something probably, but after that, we just got out of the cab at the next red light, threw a few pesos at him and left him there yelling after us like an idiot. The driver was playing with our lives and then acted offended and tried to trick us into staying in the cab to get more money from us. Something I find quite often is that people in the Philippines will try to lie to you when money is involved, even if all they can come up with is a lie that a 10 year old could see through.
Riding a taxi can sometimes be the only way to get around in the Philippines, but unlike most countries, there seem to be no standards enforced in terms of safe driving. Or common sense in this case. We could and probably will call the number on the side of the cab, but I doubt anything will actually happen to the guy because of it. He’ll likely continue driving until he has either killed himself, or his passengers, or both. I’ve heard some bad stories about taxi drivers in New York City, but I don’t remember hearing any where the driver was trying to muscle buses out of their lanes or about drivers almost hitting barricades while trying to take an off ramp at the last moment.
Keep that in mind if you plan on taking a taxi in Manila. The only good ones I’ve found are the airport taxis, and even they try to rip you off if you’re from overseas, regardless of what the sign at the airport taxi queue says.
If you’re going to be in Manila for any length of time, it’s probably best to get your own vehicle. Used ones can be purchased at reasonable prices and then resold when (or if) you decide to leave.