I Just Want To Get Home!

jeepneydayI’ve written occasionally about the various methods of travel here.  When moving around from island to island, there are the Ferries and Fast Boats.  For long distances on one island there are the V-Hire Van (GT Express) vehicles.  There are also Jeepneys, Taxis, motorized Tricycles (Sidecar), Hubble-Hubble (Motorcycle) and finally the pedal-powered bicycle with mini-sidecar for getting around the neighborhood.  I’ve ridden all of them and they each have their own.. ‘ambiance’.  They are all for the most part inexpensive and reliable.  But every once in a while things go kinda haywire.  This was one of those times.

It all started with changing to a less expensive Net provider that gave me a higher daily Mb threshold.  That was a good move.  But I’d gotten wind of a method to ‘open’ the line on the adapter which would allow me to have unlimited daily downloads.. and that intrigued me.  So a few days ago, while I was taking a break from my 2nd day of walking during the Sinulog festival in Cebu (one island away, this become relevant later).. I wandered into a tech area of the mall where several of the cell phone vendors advertised they could ‘open-line’ my adaptor for a fee.  Problem was, I didn’t have my adaptor with me so I made a mental note of it and returned the following day. To get to this E-Mall, located on the island of Cebu I needed to get from my island (Mactan) to there by way of a bridge.  Fortunately I was able to catch a ride there and was dropped off just across the street.  That was easy.  One by one I went to each vendor only to be repeatedly told that my 4G SmartBro net adaptor could -not- be open-lined.  I asked if any SmartBuddy adaptors were available for purchase.. but those were an obsolete item already, even though they are openline right out of the box.

So, with that project dead in the water I figured I’d catch a taxi to the pier, then catch a ferry to Lapu-Lapu across the bay.. and then a Tricycle from there to my place.  Altogether should cost about 145 pesos.  (about $3)  That was the plan and it usually works when I’m at the big SM Mall in Cebu or Ayala mall.  But this E-Mall was not so great a mall in a not-so-great area of town that I was totally unfamiliar with.  As I walked out to the street I saw lots of taxis passing by.  Now.. the thing about taxis, here or probably anywhere else in the world, is that there are prime-times to get one easily and then there are not-so-prime times when they are all being snatched up like chicken-feed in a hen-house.  This was that time of day, around 7pm.  It was dark and every taxi I saw was filled and already going somewhere. There was no point getting a Tricycle because none would take me the distance to the Pier and locally I had no clue where I was.

So I figured I’d get some distance from the mall to catch a taxi a few blocks away and started hoofing my way down the boulevard.  Now, I’m accustomed to shady areas of town at night and seem to end up there without fail on a consistent basis.  I watch everybody, especially any that I deem especially sketchy.  But most people are just bored or going about their daily routine and not a threat.  Even so, I remembered the last thing my ride told me when she dropped me off, which was, “Oh.. and watch out for the ladyboys at night.”  What?.. do they travel in packs or something?  No matter, the few I’d seen in the day were fairly short with the exception of the big-backed one with orange hair.  That one was downright scary.

So I walked.  And I walked and walked.  Already more than a mile away from the mall and not a single available taxi in sight.  I finally stopped at a corner intersection to reevaluate ‘the plan’.  One option was to stay put and wait for an available taxi to come to me.  I was dead-beat tired from two days of walking during the festival and now this.  Meanwhile, jeepneynightJeepneys passed by but the cities written on the side to tell you the route were cities I’d never heard of.  I live in Basak and none of them even said Mandaue which was the only other town in my home’s direction I could think of.  But then.. a Jeepney finally passed by that said in clear, bold letters; “Mez.. SM — Basak”.  Hot damn!  Finally, a ride home.  Only it was completely full and kept on going never even stopping as I hailed it with one arm over my head.  I’m pretty sure that’s the universal gesture for, “Stop and give me a ride, dammit.”  As for it being ‘full’.. I’ve yet to see a Jeepney ever be truly declared ‘full’.  The running joke here is, “How many people can you fit in a Jeepney?.. Always ‘One More.'” It did stop about a block down the road in a neighborhood, so I went there.. and it took off without me.  But other people were standing around so I figured that was the unofficial, unmarked ‘stop’ and waited around like I knew what I was doing.  So, there I was.. in a very urban side-street neighborhood, the only non-Filipino around and wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt.  Not exactly blending in. Another three Jeepneys came buy before another read that it was going to Basak.

When it stopped I went to the guy who hangs on the rear of the Jeepney to call out the destinations and take the fare.  “Is this Jeepney going to Basak?“, I asked.  “Yes!  Basak!!“, he yelled out for everyone to hear.  They were in a hurry to get going so with that confirmation I climbed aboard and had a seat figuring I was on my way home at last.  Not even close. We rode along through some dark streets, short-cuts I suppose, and picked up people in random places stopping every time someone inside would rap a coin on the vehicle to let the driver know to stop.  Every time someone boarded they looked at me, had a puzzled look and sat at a distance.  People were squeezing in with each other while I had about a two foot space along the bench.  I guess my shirt frightened them in some way. Eventually some pretty girls got on board and I lost interest in watching the scenery.  None seemed interested in conversation.

Another woman climbed aboard, at least that’s what I thought.  Despite careful observation for about ten minutes, I never did decide whether I thought that person was a ‘real’ woman or ladyboy.  This one was kinda hard to tell since he/she was in their 30’s.  Everything seemed ‘female’ except for the fact that all the ‘real’ women in that neighborhood were wearing sandals or flats.  This person in question was the only one wearing heels despite the badly broken pavement in the area.  That seems like something a ladyboy would do.  He (or she?) finally exited the vehicle and as we pulled away I had to call it ‘draw’.  Just couldn’t figure it out one way or the other.  Here in the Philippines you’ll see maybe five to twenty ladyboys (even though here they call them ‘gays’) just going about town in the space of a few days.  It’s par for the course here.  I make a game of trying to determine what it is that most gives them away.  You never know when such skills of discernment might be needed, especially around here.

Onward we went into the night for another 20 minutes or so.  As I looked around the scenery ‘seemed’ like it ‘might’ be familiar, but I really couldn’t nail down any landmark that I recognized.  We made another stop and this time everybody got off the Jeepney.  I didn’t know where we were, but I knew it was nowhere near Basak, where my place is.  TheCebu-graffiti kid in back said, “Sir.. we are going to back to city.  No more.”  “What do you mean, ‘no more’?  I’m going all the way to Basak.“, I responded.  “Yes, we are in Basak.” I climbed out and the Jeepney rolled on to disappear down the street.  I went over to the sidewalk to get my bearings.  Then it hit me, “WHERE THE HELL AM I?” But I didn’t panic.  I was on some main road, but no large businesses anywhere.  I figured I’d start walking down the road until I found some area of town where I could get a taxi.  It was getting to be after 9pm already so I tried to send a text out to get some info on where I might be.  Bad signal.  Figures.  So I kept walking.

After about 30 minutes of walking, despite being dead-tired, I finally got a phone call from my close-friend, Delia.  I told her what happened and she asked where I was.  I looked around and saw a sign that said, ‘Agua City’.  When I told her she said, “What?!  How did you end up there?  You are a long way from home.  Now you have to take a taxi even further.”  Great.  It turns out I ended up somewhere on the south end of Cebu City. “But the Jeepney said very clearly, ‘Basak’.. and that’s where I live, Basak.  So what went haywire here?“, I asked.  “Oh.. there are three ‘Basaks’ in the area.  Most people know that.”  Fantastic. “Well.. the sign on the side of the Jeepney is for people who DON’T know.. so why don’t they be a little more specific WHICH Basak they are going to?  I mean, if you’re going to give three different communities the SAME name.. wouldn’t some clarification be helpful to avoid this kind of thing?”  Logic was my only refuge at this point.

But.. everybody there knows which Basak it’s going to.”, she repeated.  “Well, I guess that’s a pretty good system.. for them.  So, how far do I have to walk to get to the nearest town?  It’s late and this is not a busy street.”  I figured, forget how I got here, I just wanted to get home at this point.  As she started to tell me, I looked across the street and saw a Jeepney that said, “Mez.. Basak — SM”, so I asked her, “How many SM’s are there?  I see a Jeepney that is going to SM.”  Now.. SM is one of the bigger malls aside from Ayala there in Cebu.  I’ve been there enough times that I could find my way home from there so I ran across the street and.. the Jeepney left without me. Fortunately another one came a few minutes later and I told Delia I’d text her when I got home safely.  It was already well past 9pm at this point.  The next Jeepney rolled in and I asked the kid hanging on the back, “This is going to SM Mall, right?  SM Mall in Cebu, downtown?“.  “Yes sir.”, he assured me.

There were only four other people in the Jeepney so.. plenty of room, at first.  I took up a seat directly behind the driver so I could lean on the cab-edge for some support.  Aside from sitting up front with the driver, which is usually deferred to either handicap, elderly or cute girls.. my spot behind the driver was about the best seat in the back of the Jeepney as far as I’m concerned.  We went.. I’m not kidding, about thirty feet and pulled over to pick up another passenger.  Then we waited while someone stood in line to buy hanging-rice.  I just.. wanted.. to get home.  My feet were throbbing, legs were tired, back was sore and I was tired.  But I tried to stay upbeat.  After all, from SM it should be a piece of cake getting home. We kept stopping about every two minutes to let someone new on.  So far, only two pretty girls and they were sitting up front with the driver.  The Jeepney began to really pack in and, once again.. nobody wanted to sit next to me.  They were really squeezing in tight to avoid sitting near me.  Maybe I had some crazy look in my eye by this time, I don’t know.

Another stop and this time a really sketchy Filipino guy.. looking like he’d just come in from being high on crack for six weeks in the jungle climbs aboard and without even a pause, he sits next to me as everyone else looks on.  Okay, dude looks like he’s really high, bathing is not on his priority list.. I’m definitely keeping an eye on this dude.  Acting as nonchalantly as possible, I slipped my nice smart-phone out of my hand and into my front pocket .  There were still about three open spaces around me, but he sits next to me.  Seriously? We putted on down the road a bit more.  Another stop.  Nobody is getting off.  Only now, when we stopped, the sketchy dude suddenly gets up and decides to sit directly across from me.  He gets kinda comfortable quickly, leans his head back and, while pretending to sleep.. I can see he has one eye slightly open, staring me down.  Okay, I may have to take this guy down.  If he lunges at me, I’m throwing him out the window.  Call it Jeepney Justice, but I am not about to get my throat cut by some lunatic with a shard of glass.  Not on my watch.

He just kept on staring at me.  I stared at him back.  We were locked in this staredown as the new passenger made their way through the crowded aisle. Next thing I know, this guy with a chicken (a live chicken) is standing over me speaking in Tagalog.. making gestures nativechickenthat he wants my seat behind the driver.  Yah, fat chance that’s happening.  I may not know much about maritime law or Jeepney regulations as they pertain to seating priorities.. but I’m pretty damn sure that climbing aboard with a live chicken does not give you your pick of seating.  This is a first-come, first-served, open seating arrangement and my tired ass was not about to be swayed by some dude with live poultry tucked under his arm.  Again he motioned, spoke even louder pointing at my seat.  I just looked at him, waiting for him to finish.  When he stopped talking I calmly said, “You can have this seat, over here.”.  More Tagalog and this time he held the chicken forward for me to see more clearly.  I was not swayed.  Finally he sat down next to me, a bit miffed but entirely without cause as I was under no obligation to give preferential treatment to a chicken.  Now, if it had been a Rooster.. a fighting cock, I actually might have given him my seat.  After all, a fighting rooster is like a local gladiator around here.  But this was a female hen, what they call, ‘Native Chicken’.  It wasn’t ever going to do combat.  I raised roosters and hens as a teenager and I know the difference.  It was probably going to end up as Chicken Adobo by tomorrow afternoon.  I was exhausted and that chicken seemed very energetic so.. Rooster, yes.. Chicken.. not gonna happen.

Another few blocks and we picked up our final set of passengers.  Now it was getting interesting.  Aside from the pretty girl, what interested me was the big woman who now sat across from me and the previously mentioned said chicken, carrying her fairly large, gray poodle.  I just love surrealistic situations like this.  I mean, a poodle is the last thing you expect to see this side of town.  And now here it was just five inches away from a live chicken.  I was already envisioning some very lively on-board entertainment to ensue.  The large woman got comfortable and all the while carried her dog outstretched, on it’s back.  Cradled there, like a baby, as if on display.  So as the Jeepney pulls away from the curb, there I am with the crazy-guy eye-balling me still and this guy with the chicken next to me.  Meanwhile, due to the way she’s holding this poodle, he’s just leaning back while he shows off his male doghood and nutsack hanging there for all to examine. I kept an eye on the dog.  Then the crazy-dude.  Then the dog again.  Then the chicken.  A dog versus chicken bout was just what I needed to distract me from the heaviness of the day.  Unfortunately, no such battle ensued so I had to just imagine the flying feathers, gnarling teeth and resultant chaos.  The Jeepney just rolled on into the night as we finally approached the downtown area of Cebu where the SM mall is.  We all climbed out and I breathed a sigh of relief that now I at least knew where I was.  There was a huge karaoke bar down the street I’d been curious about, but I was even too exhausted to check that out.  I made my way across the street only to face THE longest line for taxis that I have ever seen.  Of all nights, it had to be tonight.  The mall had just closed and the entire army of employees plus shoppers all wanted to go home at the exact same time.

The line for taxis easily had over a hundred people in it. I got in line at the end of this serpentine nightmare and a young Korean couple got in line behind me.  We chatted a bit, the line moved about six inches.  Only 300 feet more to go.  I looked ahead and at the front of the line.. not a single taxi in sight.  I looked around with blind hope for some alternate moderation to ‘the plan‘.  That was when I noticed a V-Hire van passing by with the words, “Lapu Lapu” written on the side.  I advised the couple of my plans since they too were going to Basak.  They decided to play it safe and wait in line.  I wished them well, went around the corner of the mall and climbed into a waiting van as the last passenger to board for Lapu Lapu.

We were really squeezed into that van.  Counting the driver and myself, there were 17 of us in there.  Like a circus-act minus the clown costumes.  But we were on our way to Lapu Lapu and at this point I really didn’t mind at all.  The a/c was working well, everyone was in a good, albeit tired, mood and as the scenery went by for the first time this evening I actually recognized one familiar landmark after another.  I was on my way!  It was after 10pm but I was on my way home for sure now.

The GT Express got closer and closer to Lapu Lapu but then pulled off the main road and came to the end of its route in Tamiya, which is still about a mile from my home.  I climbed out of the van and knew I’d need to get a Tricycle for the last leg of my journey.  There were plenty of them around.  As I milled about trying to decide which one to approach I happened to notice there in the somewhat dark area near the sidewalk an attractive young woman from behind as she walked away.  Nope, not going to get distracted.. must get home.  I went to the first Tricycle asking if he was going to Grand Mall, which is right next to my place.

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Grand Mall?”, he repeated.  “Yes, Grand Mall.. you going to Grand Mall?”  “Yes.”, he said as he gestured to the Tricycle which was completely full of people.  Not even the spot behind the motorcycle driver was available.  I went to another driver, repeated the same inquiry and he wasn’t going to Grand Mall.  After asking four drivers with no success I actually considered just walking the last mile and walked away back to the main road.  At least I knew the area and the route home.

Across the street, I saw her again.  The same attractive girl in the blue outfit, but still could not see her face as she was across the street with little light available.  Whatever.  I braced myself for the longest mile to get home and started down the street.  I hadn’t gone more than maybe two blocks when I realized I just absolutely had to get a ride home.  I crossed the street to where the Tricycles were in line with the flow of traffic towards my place.  Seeing a Tricycle up ahead I asked the driver if he was going to Grand Mall and, yes!.. he was going to Grand Mall so I grabbed the handle and swung into the tiny cab of the sidecar.  And who do I find myself sitting next to?  The same girl in blue I’d seen before.  “Well, at least the day ends on a positive note.”, I briefly thought to myself.  She was looking away as I climbed in and once I settled in I simply said, “Hello.”  That was when ‘she’ turned around and only then did I find out that ‘she’ was a ladyboy.

I was polite though, if nothing else my Mom did engrain into me to always be courteous when possible.  And actually, I just put it aside and we had a short, yet pleasant conversation for the 5 minute ride to Grand Mall.  A nice person.  Not aggressive or untoward in any way.  I was soon at Grand Mall, gave the driver a 10 peso coin for the 8 peso ride and I was finally only a block from home.  The driver took the ladyboy with him into the darkness and I made my way back into my studio around 11pm.

I was so exhausted by this time I just drank some water, sent a text to Delia that I was fine, took a quick look at my Facebook page and went straight to bed.

Now, don’t get me wrong.. getting around the island is normally not this much hassle.  The strangeness is a daily thing.  But usually things go pretty smooth.

Meanwhile, I learned that there are THREE communities called, ‘Basak’.  I learned it pays to stay calm and adjust ‘the plan’ as needed. It’s also a great help to have someone you can text for help or directions.  And I learned, once again, that not all ladies here are as they first might seem.  I really will have to do a complete article just on the whole ladyboy thing.  It has been a weekly part of life ever since I got here, compared to maybe seeing less than half a dozen in 49 years while living in the U.S.  I hear Thailand is really over the top, but here it seems they are just about anywhere and everywhere.

But that’s another article for another time.  I’m just glad to be home without any unnecessary sparring with chickens, dogs or crazy-people.  In my book, that’s a good day.

Henry V.

Author: Reekay V.

Since 2012 I’ve been traveling through various islands of the Philippines as a full-time Expat and spent 1999 living in Vietnam.

Share with me my ongoing adventures of life in the Philippines. Hopefully you find my observations helpful in your own adventures.
— Reekay


  1. Henry, you are A very brave man. The area of town you were in is not good. I was there in March of last year. Without my gf I would have been at serious risk of mugging. Glad you made it home safely.

    1. Yah, it was pretty sketchy the whole night through. Just before I was dropped off I was told the 'working girls' in that area go for about 300 pesos, but most are drug addicts and you gotta deal with their pimp, not to mention whatever cooties they got goin' on. I'll pass.

      I've been in worse areas, like over by the carbon market at night and twice I walked the back street from Pier 1 to Pier 3 by myself around 10pm. I thought for sure I'd have some drama but, lucked out again.

      Moving to Bohol in a few weeks though, much nicer area, lots of jungle. Should be more tranquil. Although it there's a bad side of town, I know I'll find it.

  2. Public transportation and life in the big city – what a trip Henry! At least Bohol will be more laid back and once you’re settled in, you will begin to understand what draws expats to the more quiet and tranquil areas of the Philippines. The city will always be there when you need another adventure!

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