Written by Issa Mijjares-Ramos
I have grown accustomed to measuring distaces by the length of time I have to spend inside a moving (or non-moving!) vehicle. That or by the battery life of my smart phone. Manila does that to you. Its traffic situation turns kilometers into long minutes and miles into hours. Travelling from one point to another is pitted against how much email one can respond to in the duration of the trip and the percentage of your mobile device’s power at the start and the end of your journey. I must warn you that city driving, especially on a Friday evening, can drain your battery! Thank heavens for power banks and car plugs. Needless to say, the traffic can get on your nerves, too.
Land transportation in Northern Samar is a breeze in comparison to Manila. The most common mode of land travel is the tricycle. Bikes, motorised or otherwise, are modified with carriage attachments to take on passengers. Upon observation, the Nortehanons’ sense of distance is gauged by the kind of tricycle one needs to ride to reach their desired destination.
Padyak in the poblacion
The municipality of Catarman has a total land area of around 460 square kilometers. It is composed of 55 villages called barangays. The poblacion (town center) is made up of 17 neighbouring barangays. The padyak is the main mode of transportation within the poblacion. This commuter vehicle is a manually-pedalled bicycle fixed with a side-car thus the name pedicab (pedalled cab) or padyak (which translates to ‘stomp’ or ‘pedal’). It is quite easy to hail this type of ride as padyak drivers usually roam around the poblacion without a set route. There are no set loading and unloading areas in the town center. Pedicab drivers can pick up and drop off passengers anywhere within the poblacion. The fare within Catarman town proper is standardised at 5 pesos (7 pence sterling) for each passenger. Fare bumps up to the double if you ride one from the line of pedicabs right outside the Catarman terminal.
One can actually walk from one end of the poblacion to another end but it is common practice among locals to move around the city proper in a padyak. Even if people just need to get to the next block, they would still ride this manual tricycle. Some would refer to the next street corner as malayo (far) even though it is just about a 200-meter stretch. Such short distances merit a pedicab ride. Others ride the padyak. It costs so little to ride one anyway so they might as well save their energy for going on foot for some other activity. The extreme heat, you see, can be a deterrent for walking. Most passengers ride the padyak to keep away from the sun. While the passenger area has some cover, most padyak drivers’ heads are exposed to sun and other elements. Drivers have to rely on their own creativity for some shade.
Padyak drivers getting creative in covering their heads from the heat
The second kind of tricycle is the motorised bike with a side carriage attachment. This is the most popular tricycle type in the Philippines. It is used in Catarman for middle-distance travel. My personal estimate is that their consideration for the remark ‘harayo’ (‘quite far’) is travel with distance between 2 to 5 kilometers. This tricycle with side car can seat 3 people inside while two other passengers can sit behind the driver with their legs hanging on the left side of the motorbike. Of course, people have a way of fitting more people into any vehicle. There have been instances where children are made to sit on the tricyle floors and in front of the driver on the motor bike’s engine. In Catarman, this side-car type bring passengers from the town proper to farther barangays still within the same municipality. This means that if one is coming from or going to somewhere outside of the 17 poblacion barangays, one already has to take this motorised option.
It must be noted that there are no traffic lights in Catarman. Vehicles and throngs of people are guided by pulse and flow. Tricycles of this type randomly cruise along streets looking for passengers, very much like the padyak. Sometimes they park at street corners while waiting for customers. All the same, they are always ready to go. Shared rides costs 10 pesos (14 pence sterling) per passenger. This means that the driver can pick up passengers as seating will allow at any point between your place of origin to your destination. Commisioned rides can cost between 30 pesos (43 pence sterling) to 50 pesos (72 pence sterling) depending on how far you need to travel.
Tricycles parked at street corners awaiting passenger
The next municipalities: far away lands
Travelling farther, possibly to the next municipality, requires riding another kind of tricycle—the one with a longer carriage attachment usually located behind the driver.
All passengers who need to go to nearby municipalities have to go to the Catarman terminal. There they can choose from over 10 different tricycle routes. The tricycles are color-coded: the red ones go to Mondragon, the green ones to Dalakit where the Catarman Airport is located, while the orange ones can take you to Bobon, and so on.
The seats line the sides of the carriage making passengers face each other when they are inside the tricycle. Passenger capacity can range from 6 to 9 passengers depending on the length of the carriage. There is one seat in ftont, beside the driver and if needed, a child can sit on the motorcycle itself, in front of the driver.
Most passengers share rides and have to wait for the tricycle to fill before they can depart from the terminal. If one wants to commision a trip, they have to pay for the maximum capacity of the tricycle. Each passenger pays about 30 pesos (43 pence sterling) per trip so getting a tricylce for a commisioned trip can cost anywhere from 180 pesos (2,5 GBP) to 270 pesos (almost 4 GBP). All vehicles who use the terminal pay a fee of 5 pesos (7 pence sterling) per passenger as the drivers exit the gate.
The green tricycle brings commuters to the airport and nearby places
The tricycles share the terminal with jeepneys and buses. While the motorbike is king of the provincial road, there is a limit to where these commuter tricycles can travel.
The Nortehanons will be quick to tell you that farther municipalities and next door provinces will require a jeepney ride or the locally-popular Turbanada – a privately run van service that shuttles passengers to various locations such as the port area, Rawis, Calbayog in Western Samar, or even as far out as Tacloban which is more than 200 kilometers away from Catarman poblacion. Travel by bus is another option for farther and longer trips.
Here in Northern Samar, all places are near and far at the same time. You do not need to travel by car. A bike can take you where you need to go. Although all places are near enough, all tricycle drivers will encourage you to ride their vehicle. Sakay ra, sakay ra, (ride now, ride now), they would say invitingly.
So let me ask you, where are you going and what type of tricycle do you need to ride today?