School’s out, and so is the sun. These are the two critical ingredients for a long family road trip. Aside from stocking up on the family’s travel essentials, studying the maps (or in this generation-now that means looking that up on Waze), and making the reservations, the designated drivers need to adopt a whole new set of driving skills and attitudes.
Yes, that’s true. Driving for 12 to 18 hours on open roads out in the country is different from the stop-and-go city driving which would torment you for just about two, maybe three hours and not take you beyond 60 kph.
If you’re particularly proud of being able to outmaneuver, using your zippy sedan, the slowpoke trucks and buses crawling their way in the urban jungle, wait until you see them barreling at you at over 80 kph in a two-lane provincial road, and you have no idea whether the man or woman behind the wheel has his or her eyes peeled, and on both sides of the road you see nothing but a hundred-meter-deep ravine.
So with that harrowing image in mind, here are other “jack-in-the-box” moments you will—or may—encounter when you drive to the provinces.
1) To continue with that harrowing image, that bus or truck just may abruptly veer from its designated lane, and worse, play “chicken” with you. The author has seen the aftermath of a number of highway accidents caused by tires suddenly bursting, brakes abruptly failing, or just about anything breaking, causing the driver to lose control.
The image you see here was taken 11 a.m. of March 22, 2015, along the national road in Pasuquin town in Ilocos Norte. The bus just lost control and went for the railing.
2) Feel like passing slower vehicles in the outer lanes? Think twice, (or let an eagle-eyed spotter ride up front). Philippine provincial roads, though paved with good intentions, are often not built on solid, even soil. Worse, four-lane provincial highways end up only with two usable lanes, because the outer lanes have been converted to grain-drying pads, parking for trikes and residents’ cars, and pedestrian walkways and kids’ playgrounds. Remember, overtake at the left, but if a slowpoke tricycle or the farm tractor (called “kuliglig” in these parts) won’t make way for you at the inner lane of a four-lane highway, pass on the right as quickly as you can and get back to the inner lane. And, by the way, don’t just pull up at any shoulder outside of the cemented or paved highway. Look what awaits hapless victims who may fall for this—a deep shoulder in Ilocos Norte that doesn’t have a warning sign.
3) These aren’t all bad accidents waiting to happen. Sometimes, happy accidents occur. When this happens, grab the opportunity to stop and appreciate the view. Take, for example, the breathtaking view offered at the Patapat viaduct in Ilocos Norte—the so-called “Europe of Ilocos”. Photo ops are also chances for the driver to rest and stretch, and that goes the same for the passengers.
4) Just because you’re cruising happily along on a newly minted road doesn’t mean the entire road is already built. Always be ready to slow down (or even go on a total stop) for road repairs and diggings, especially during summer when local governments take the opportunity of less traffic because of the school break.
5) They say the sign of a well-kept house is a clean bathroom. It’s the same for public toilets and restrooms in gas stations. Many restrooms will stress you out more than they’ll relieve you. But if you do encounter that clean, dry, fresh-smelling CR that you’d want to spend more time than what is necessary, do send a message and share where and what time you had a happy encounter with the CR.
6) Expect pleasant surprises when you find yourself purposely (or inadvertently) lost and off the beaten track. When this happens, do #3 (assuming you have time to kill). It takes about 10 minutes of driving on an unpaved road off the highway to stand beside an intimidating windmill in Bangui, Ilocos Norte. The pics are priceless.
7) Expect to encounter lots and lots of the country’s natural “speed barriers”—tricycles and pedicabs, and even cattle-drawn carts with all kinds of household items for sale dangling from the carriage. There are literally hundreds of thousands of these types of vehicles plying their trade anywhere in the Philippines. There’s no use to floor it, you will be slowed down by the commercial kings of the road.
8) Just as in the cities, jeeps and buses have that irritating capacity to abruptly stop anywhere they please on country roads. Keep your distance from them, amigos and amigas.
9) We’re a mountainous country, and our highway system can’t afford to tunnel their way through mountains to give you a “daang matuwid” straight path. The result: endless zigzags and blind curves. Take tons of patience with you when you drive out to the provinces. You’ll need it when you tail a slow 18-wheeler up a mountain pass. Needless to say, attempting to overtake on a blind curve is a death wish for you, and a homicide-to-be for the vehicle you’ll be smashing head-on with.
10) Though there are designated crossing zones for students and children, these do not mean there’ll be no other humans crossing at any part of the highway at any time. Moral of the story: Always slow down in populated areas, especially on Sundays when the entire town is off to church.
11) Road signs indicating an “accident prone area” are there because it really means what they say. Historically, there have been more accidents occurring there than in any other place in the area. So, expect to take those signs seriously, and be extra alert when you pass by the area.
12) Expect to share the road with non-motorized vehicles, such as pedicabs and bicycles. Give them ample space.
13) Close your windows and lock your doors. Though sometimes the travel experience is better when you smell the fresh, cool country winds, it is a hassle when unwelcome visitors literally drop in—insects, tree branches, and sometimes objects thrown by naughty kids. When you’re running along at 80 kph, even the smallest bug can sting you red when it smashes your skin.
14) This is from my own experience. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian on a road trip, expect to find next-to-nothing food suitable for you in provincial canteens and eateries. Of course, fast food fare is a no-no for you, even if you’re hungry like the wolf. That leaves you with two solutions: either prepare your own food, or patiently explain to the food attendants of the restaurant your dietary requirements (and that isn’t easy to do in this meat-loving country). In my case, I have successfully squeezed out some mushroom salpicao, tokwa sisig, coconut milk or soy milk as replacement to cow’s milk from the cooks, chefs and managers of these restaurants.
15) No matter how well-maintained your car is, when it blows a tire, you have no choice but to have a spare one ready and change it yourself. So, hope for the best, but expect a flat somewhere along the way. And if you’ve really maintained your car well, hopefully the warning sign on your dashboard “check engine” won’t appear anytime during your trip.
16) Expect more weird stuff to happen during your long trip. Some encounters will leave you scratching your head in disbelief (like this lone tree hogging the middle of the road in Benguet Province), confuse you (like this fork in the road that just happens to “materialize” from nowhere), or just outright drive you to near-panic (like this road sign on Panay, on the way to Iloilo City warning motorists of extremely forceful jet thrusts from nearby planes taking off). In all cases, keep your wits by you at all times, and hold that wheel steady, and your brakes on the ready. There never is a dull moment driving around this country!