The heat slices across your skin immediately as you run from the airport terminal, across the pavement and towards the loudly exhaling public bus. You walk towards the back, happy to have caught it just in time. The purser on the bus drifts from front to back, collecting the fares. You hand him the only bill you have and he shakes his head and pushes it back towards you.
“That’s all I have,” you reply, shrugging your shoulders and painting a look of feigned worry across your face. He mutters something and walks back to the front of the bus.
You’re still on the bus, which seems to creep a couple inches every minute. The choked streets, lined with construction materials and other vehicles, are scattered in random fashion across the road. The distance from the airport to the EDSA train station—a short 1.5mi (2.5km) jaunt—looked entirely walkable on the map, and in retrospect, would have assuredly been quicker. The engine roars intermittently, followed by a heavy brake, creeping inch by inch.
The bus creeps slowly by your train station stop. You motion your departing intent explicitly, but the driver ignores you. Finally, the bus pulls to an abrupt stop and you make your way backwards to the station. The streets are full of vendors, hawkers, beggars, cars, and commuters.
Upon entering the train station, you are greeted by an infinite amount of people in a massive mob. Everyone is bottlenecked at the ticket gates. Cutting perpendicularly across the hordes to the ticket window, you give the cashier the 15 pesos ($0.30USD) for a ticket and then become part of the population problem.
You thought it was a bottleneck at the ticket machine, but upon passing the turnstiles, you find yourself in an even worse cattle march. It runs along a long hallway and eventually down sets of stairs. At the bottom platform, more people are waiting for a train to show. When the trains show, there is a stampede to fill the train. Each train that arrives helps the line move that much more.
There is a special line for women, and that proceeds much quicker. You inquire with some people who opine it is for protection against the stronger or heavier or more aggressive male contingent. You wonder if feminists would be aghast at this unequal singling out treatment. Probably not.
You are standing on the platform, having finally made it down those stairs. You are very glad to only have a small bag with you. A roller board or any other kind of typical luggage would have made this entirely impossible.
There is a rope tied between two poles allowing for exiting passengers to leave the train before the rush. The train pulls up and opens its doors. The attendants in the other areas undo the rope, but your attendant is daydreaming. The mob races for the train doors while you are stuck behind the line. Each step of the process is taking far longer than you’d have imagined, and the air, which is 95F (35C) in the ventilated outdoors, is an atmospheric swimming pool.
The rush is violent yet efficient; the seats fill instantaneously, quickly followed by the standing positions. The energy from muscular bodies positioning through the interior is absorbed by the weak who shuffle into a default position based on forced movement. And then, the train doors close, squeezing the outliers.
You are pasted up against all the other passengers, noticing how none of them are sweating.
“Is this normal,” you ask a kid standing near you. He smiles.
“Yes, it is rush hour here,” he notes, “it is quite normal. Funny, yes?”
Stop after stop, more bodies join the packed car. “You better start to move,” the kid suggests, knowing where you intend to depart. “If you don’t start now…” he trails off with a smile and a nod.
There is a great sense of relief when the bus ticket crosses over into your hand signifying that there is indeed room available. It leaves in several hours, running throughout the overnight hours to get you to your destination. With ticket in hand, you scoot off to a creative outpost of Manila called Cubao X, the site of a now defunct shoe shopping zone.
If you believe the write-ups online, it appears to be a sizeable artistic haven, but in reality it looks to just be a small U-shaped street lined with cafes and shops. You slip into one of those, a restaurant bar with dark woods, dim lighting and a nice energy.
You order a fried fish plate and a fruit-focused drink and observe the surroundings. The area is laid back, almost sleepy, which you assume is a direct consequence of the early evening hour. The sociability of the restaurant staff and other guests is virtually non-existent, leaving you to pass the time observing the paper money, quotes, napkins and other paraphernalia pinned to the walls.
You climb aboard the bus and realize that no one is sitting next to you. Not only that, but the seats are comfortable for the night ahead. It pulls out into the street and, in total contrast to the earlier experience, slides effortlessly through the streets and out of the city.
The mountains are waiting.
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