Experiencing Manila traffic for the first time

Experiencing Manila traffic for the first time

By: Martina Dampf

So here I was, 10 years ago, stepping out of NAIA 1 – my first time in Asia. I had been told that traffic in Asia is vastly different from Europe (with a lot more vehicles on the road) but for me nothing could possibly beat the Peripherique in Paris. “I can surely drive anywhere in the world if I manage the Paris Peripherique perfectly fine, right?” Little did I know. Blissful ignorance.

The first thing I noticed stepping out of NAIA 1 was the honking. It seemed to be coming from everywhere but I was too tired to dwell on it. The second thing I noticed was that on either side of the car I was sitting in, another car was way too close! In my books, I just survived a “near miss” accident and it was sheer luck that our side mirrors were still intact. So much excitement right after arriving! Ok, “lean back, rest a bit”. But there it comes: ANOTHER “NEAR MISS” accident!!!

The road was clearly meant to have less lanes than the lanes that were actually formed by the cars/truck/busses. Or was it the driver who was just being extraordinarily reckless? But he was just following the car ahead of him!

And then, to my right: a slightly dilapidated huge bus, honking like there is no tomorrow AND THIS IS SURELY THE END OF THE SIDE MIRROR, if not me. Low and behold, we made it past the bus, side mirror intact. The adrenaline in my blood was already making me light-headed after all those “almost-accidents”!

The driver seemed entirely unfazed and also: he didn’t use the indicator much. “Quite reckless”, I thought. Instead, he did a lot of honking. Slowly it dawned on me that honking might actually be a means of communication with other cars, thereby replacing the use of indicators. Loud horn equals right of way? Big car equals right of way?

And, surely, “there must have been an accident somewhere ahead of me, what else could cause such traffic during off-peak hours” on this major thoroughfare I was on?

Come weekend, come NLEX. A relatively new Expressway (at the time) and I was in the process of checking out the surroundings of my new home town. By now I sort of understood that all the “near miss” accidents are not going to happen, scary as it is, I’ll be ok. Balintawak took some time but so do most toll plazas anywhere in the world. But then it started – people overtaking on the right and, aweee, another one just overtook on the left. So what’s the law? Presumably overtaking on the right should be prohibited?

I needed a basic understanding of driving in my new home country. This is what I came up with: (1) you go wherever there is space, (2) the horn is the most important part of the car aside from the engine, and (3) it’s not as dangerous as it looks.

Now here I am, 10 years later, thinking how easy it was 10 years ago to move around in Metro Manila and how free flowing NLEx was. Limited traffic, almost no motorcycles – WAIT, did I just say “limited traffic” 10 years ago? Yes, looking back it wasn’t all that bad 10 years ago during off-peak hours, was it?