Driving in Manila is not for the faint hearted. This place is the most densely populated city in the world. The traffic congestion is also considered one of the worst with a blend of overpopulation and corruption. Just going to the LTO to get my license, I was able to pay a ‘fixer’ to ‘organise’ everything for me. When you are on the roads a lot of the traffic enforcers are corrupt. My two experiences being a passenger and being pulled up ended in us handing over money to ‘pay the fine’.
In addition to this, as a white person, I am at risk. As a white woman, I am even more at risk. A lot of Filipinos view white people as being rich. Traffic enforcers feel they can intimidate and get more money out of the white women. Even with blackened windows, they have lights they flash that show your face through the glass and then they give chase.
The decision to get my license was not done lightly. There have been many occasions I have felt, as I was being driven along, that I could do this. Then there have been many occasions I have felt overwhelmed and thought there was no way. It can be scary. There are the official road rules, then there are the ‘road rules’ and you need to figure it out.
I remember our first visit here, watching the traffic trying to understand it and feeling totally lost. I remember saying to friends and family that there would be no way on this earth that I would ever drive here.
Well, I guess I have acclimatized to this place more than expected. In my previous post I wrote that the tipping point was not having a day out of the city as our driver was sick. So I did it, I got my license. The next step is to actually drive the car…
After seeking advice, it was agreed that Sundays are the best day to start driving. There is a lot less traffic on the roads.
During the week I had tracked down two books on the road rules. They turned out to be not much more than the basics of normal driving with key advice such as ‘don’t sleep while you drive’. Really? Good thing I read that. However considering a virtually blind man was given a license the day we were getting ours, you can never be too prepared.
I decided I would drive Noodles to his Puppy Training in Makati. This area of the city is traditionally one you would stay out of if you are driving, however the school is on the outskirts and I had found a very direct route that avoided any dramas.
Sunday morning came and I woke up feeling sick to my stomach. I could barely speak. I was on autopilot.
The seconds ticked over and the time to leave came closer and closer. I could hear my breath in my ears – when I remembered to breath. I felt the keys in my hand, and visualised a clean drive. I visualised feeling confident, aware and totally in control. The opposite to how I was feeling standing in my kitchen in that moment.
It was time. I strapped Noodles in. I got comfortable in my seat and tried to bring up maps on my phone for the directions. There was no reception. Then I looked and there was no petrol. The car was virtually on empty after a long drive the day before. I panicked and took Noodles back inside the house and started to order a taxi. SB suggested there was no reception in the carpark so I checked and he was right. Then he said it was not difficult to get petrol and reassured me.
I tried again. As I pulled out of our car bay I felt good. As I drove down the driveway I felt more confident. I parked at Starbucks which is at our entrance and got myself a Latte and drank in that lovely friendly service who filled me with confidence when I told them of this latest adventure. I was fueled up. Now for the car.
I pulled onto the road with ease and I felt my confidence grow as I navigated the u-turn to change direction on the C5. I pulled into the service station and the attendant asked me what sort of gas the car took. What? How the f*ck am I supposed to know that? I start to panic a little but the young man helped me out and between us with his Tagalog and my English I learned the car took Diesel and to drive to the next bowser. OK sorted, now for the long drive to Makati.
The further I drove the more confident I became and I realised that I could do this, and that I would be ok. Yes the traffic was excellent. Sunday is indeed a good day to start. I found my way to Puppy School with ease and I felt so proud.
The drive home was a little more scary. The route was different and I found myself on an expressway filled with angry buses and fast moving cars. I missed my turnoff which kept me on this road for longer and I found myself taking the ‘scenic route’ home. This was okay because I was driving through areas we frequent.
I got home, I even reverse parked our SUV! I got inside and was jubilant. Whether it was the adrenalin or the knowledge that I have this courage and this determination to fight the fear I don’t know, but I felt on top of the world. SB suggests we go out for lunch. No thanks. I need to come down from these very unnatural stress levels. I busy myself that afternoon finishing FB’s shorts for school and getting on top of a few things that need organising.
The whole day long I had that lovely feeling inside. You know the one you feel when you achieve something and feel really proud. I conquered a fear by facing it head on. I fought the voices in my head telling me ‘no’. Instead I told myself that I was more than capable, that I was more than competent to navigate these roads. I took it slowly and set myself small goals. Getting out of our carpark, getting to the end of the driveway to Starbucks, getting to the u-turn, getting to the petrol station. I remembered to breath and found the sound of silence deafening so sang softly to the love ballads playing on the radio instead.
Monday morning comes and I am so glad we have a driver for the school run so I can spend longer getting ready in the morning and I will be able to take the kids into the garden for photos in their uniforms before we have to go. FB looks so adorable in the shorts I made her.
Our driver messages me early, his bike has broken down on his way to us, he cannot make it.
I tried for twenty minutes to get a taxi without success. Time was running out and I did not want the children late for school on their first official day. This was a big occasion for my babes, and for me! So I did it. I made sure the kids booster seats were strapped in tight, I made sure my babes were strapped in tight. Off we went. As we pulled out of the carpark I told the children they would need to keep quiet so I could concentrate as I was still learning. As we drove down the road the children were brilliant. As I was cursing at the traffic under my breath for not letting me change lanes my BB pipes up. ‘Why won’t the cars let you move across mummy?’ ‘Well it is busy and everyone has places to go, so there isn’t a lot of room sweetheart’.
‘Just honk the horn a bit more mummy, that’s what you need to do’…Well, who knew we had a backseat driver in our midst…