Posted by: Jill | August 3, 2008

My Cebu Commute

On the bus this morning on my way north to Alcoy, I got one of the coveted front seats next to the driver, which meant I had a good view of the road. We were coming up to a hill; just beyond the crest of the hill a truck was stopped on our side of the road, blocking about 2/3 of the right lane. Another bus sped towards us in the opposite lane and was almost even with the truck. There was a smattering of pedestrians and tricycles thrown in for good measure, and probably some stray dogs that I couldn’t see.

The driver did not slow down.

Or honk.

He just continued at a steady, fast speed, and we were just fine – the other bus passed us and we zipped around the stopped truck into the other lane.

Like any responsible, self-respecting daughter of my mother, this should make me very, very nervous. But encounters like this are de rigueur here, and I’ve come to trust and respect the skill of the drivers. The bus drivers, along with their conductors who collect the fare, are some of the most impressive people I have met in Cebu.

The highway along southeast Cebu, where I live and conduct my research, is served by three bus lines that together provide fairly regular service. The fare varies depending on the distance; my 40 km trip this morning cost me 43 pesos (US$1). Though there are a handful of actual bus stops, the driver will stop anywhere to pick up or drop off passengers, and is never fazed by a road full of trucks, pedestrians, mopeds, children, and bicycles. Because the highway also doubles as the main street in most towns, people are always hanging out along the road. I have learned to listen closely for the loud honk from the buses; they have the undisputed right of way.

The conductors hop on and off to assist passengers and help with packages or luggage; they carry a neat fan of cash in one hand, a change pouch around their waists, know exactly how much the fare is to your destination and will, almost always, remember where you want to get off and remind you when the stop is coming up.

It is one of the easiest public transit systems I have ever had the pleasure of using. The highway winds along the coast and has glorious views, so I always get a seat on the right side going north and on the left side when I’m headed south. I usually arrive to my interviews with my hair quite windblown, but it’s a small price to pay for the fun ride.

Enjoying the view and ignoring the zigging, zagging, and honking.

Enjoying the view and ignoring the zigging, zagging, and honking.

[Apologies to my mother for the unsafe highway transit practices in this post. But she has trained me well: I insist on wearing a helmet when I’m on a moped, and I fully appreciate the “Don’t Text While Driving” posters].


  1. Good girl! That helmet will help keep your head intact. Since you are likely to need it in the future, that’s ALWAYS a good idea.

    Love, Mom

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