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With the rollercoaster to Roxas
Boracay (Philippines), December 15th 2008

At 05.30 in the morning we are walking with our backpacks to the place where the only daily bus leaves from the town of San Jose to Roxas (both on the Filipino island of Mindoro). We informed yesterday already to the departure time, but as you would expect in the Philippines, one was not able to give us an unambiguous answer. It should departure somewhere between 06.00 am and 07.00 am. To be sure that the bus didn’t already leave at the moment we would arrive, we went early. With the exception of the driver and the bus assistants, nobody was there. We took our time to find a good place in the bus. That means a seat with some leg space. The bus is made on the chassis of an old truck, although that is what is seems. It is old and damaged. The front bumper is already gone and everywhere around the bus is oxidation. It also has no windows, but in case of rain, they can roll downs some plastic to protect the passengers against the rain.

More and more passengers arrive at the bus. Everybody hurries to the bus to find a good place for themselves and their luggage. Some luggage is too fragile to put it in the isle of the bus. A small little girl keeps a bag with her baby duck tightly against her body, while a beefy young man wouldn’t think a second about the option of hanging his fighting cock upside down at the side of the bus. The cock travels first class on the lap of his boss. Cock fighting is very popular in the Philippines and the profits or losses can be substantial. A talented fighting cock is worth a lot of money and is cosseted by his master. But eventually, every cock ends in the pan. There will be a day that even a good fighting cock will meet a superior cock, and has to fight till the bitterly end. And then, the value of the once so mighty cock is reduced to the price of a soup chicken.

The blue bus is our bus to Roxas

At around 07.00 am the bus is ready to leave. The bus’ electric starting device is broken, so the bus has to be pushed to start. That is a good start of this budding ride. The road from San Jose to Roxas is as bad as you can get. During the wet season the road is impassable, and the passengers must travel a part of this stretch by boat. But it is the dry season now, so the ride seems to be possible. Just after we left San Jose, we know what local people mean with a bad road. It is a bumpy and sandy path and sometimes very steep. We can imagine that this road is impassable if it has changed to a muddy piste after rainfall. But the bus, and also the driver, seems to like this kind of environment. With snoring engine the bus parries the road while the passengers are giving a shaking. Because of the lack of windows, the bus fills once in a while with dust. Most passengers took precautionary measures, by tying fabrics around their head. It looks like we are sharing the bus with a bunch of robbers.

The ride looks a little bit like a ride with a rollercoaster. Halfway the ride, an extra element of excitement is added. A jeepney is driving in front of us, causing an immense amount of dust in our bus. A jeepney is a crossing between a jeep and a truck, also carrying passengers. In the linear direction of the back are benches constructed, on where the passengers take a seat. And as usual, as many people as possible are stuffed in it. Of course, the roof is also used to accommodate passengers and luggage. But because the jeepney is smaller than a bus, it is often also less comfortable. The funny looking jeepney is often painted in bright colours and is unique for the Philippines. Our driver is determined to pass the jeepney, just to make our ride more bearable; after all, the dust is immense. Bus as you would expect, the jeepney driver isn’t fancy either on eating dust. A race for the first position is ready to start. When new passengers along the road want to ride with the bus, they really have to jump on the bus in a second of time. The bus assistants work as hard as possible to reach the first position. New passengers, also the old ones, are pushed on the bus and their luggage is slung on the roof. But also the jeepney has to stop once in a while to load up new passengers. And during one of these moments, our bus is able to pass the jeepney. A cheering sound fills the bus. But soon after, the bus assistants are having a dilemma. On the side of the road stands a man and an engine. He likes to go with the bus, but the bus assistants know that it takes a lot of time to load the engine on the bus. The jeepney is still close behind us, so the bus assistants decide, after a short deliberation, to let this passenger go. The first position is more important than one additional passenger.

A jeepney somewhere on a stop along the San Jose - Roxas road
There is not one moment on this ride that we are bored. It is like driving in a big race, and then through a fantastic landscape. The island of Mindoro is characterised by beautiful green rice and corn fields, white bounty-like beaches and forested hills. The area that we are crossing is very photogenic, but making photos from this bumpy bus is impossible. The ride from San Jose to Roxas is an extreme version of the bus rides that you can find on Mindoro. The landscape is terrific but the roads are bad. We have a lot of respect for the drivers and bus assistants on these busses, who stuff the busses as fuller as full, in the shortest time possible and with the most acrobatic exercises. They swing around the outside of the bus like monkeys and use the big toe of their foot to adapt the mirrors of the bus. With the jeepney still on our heels, they reach the helping hand to old men and women besides the road who want to join this spectacular ride. The cheerfulness with how they practice their job is almost infectious. It is almost a pity when we reach after three and a half hours our destination. This ride on the rollercoaster was almost too funny to end.

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