By Charlie Greene
As unbelievable as it may seem - it’s true… Just before the flights were stopped, a friend of mine was taking a flight from Manila down to Legaspi and sent me the following text message: “Cebu Pacific bus driver lost his way on the tarmac to the aircraft! He just sat there not knowing what to do! Didn’t use his radio comms. Sat there then drove around until he saw 2nd bus returning from the plane! Total training and quality management unheard of.” - I think the ground transport is handled by a different company, so maybe he shouldn’t have blamed the airline - but his point was taken.
This reminded me of a bus tour we took in London a few years ago. We returned to my hometown for the Christmas holidays and my wife and daughter persuaded me to take one of the open-top double decker London bus tours. Well, it was their holiday, so ok…
Being born and having worked in the city for quite a few years, I know my way around extremely well. As part of our school education, frequent trips to the museums, art galleries, palaces, and a multitude of other cultural delights that the capital has to offer was a regular occurrence. So, sitting on the top deck of an open-top bus in December was not something that I really wanted to do. However, the two ladies yet again won the day.
Having to pay £23 (PhP1,500) each for the tour, didn’t make me feel any happier; and of course, I couldn’t have the pleasure of sitting downstairs in the warm… No, I had to go upstairs and weather the cold winds that are a part of the English winters.
The tour was well underway and the tour guide (I think she was Romanian or Hungarian) was speaking through a microphone to the tourists, who mainly appeared to be Chinese, enlightening them on what the buildings on either side were. I think that’s what she was doing - I wasn’t really listening properly…
My daughter interrupted my daydreaming; “What’s that over there, dad?” (She couldn’t understand the guide properly, so I doubt the other tourists could either.) Looking in the general direction of where she was pointing, I said, “That’s one of the old fish markets.” Hold on - we were supposed to be going to the Tower of London.
Politely interrupting the guide, I asked why we were going down the Shoreditch Road - it’s in the wrong direction. A rather curt reply came back. “I don’t know. You should ask the driver.” I was cold and not in the best of moods, but I navigated down the stairs as the bus was moving along and made my way up to the driver.
“Excuse me, I thought we were going to the Tower; why are heading towards Blackwell Tunnel?” His reply made me want to cry - I was already too miserable to laugh.
“I don’t know. It’s my first day on the job and I’ve got lost…”
Now, the Shoreditch Road is very straight and very long - no roundabouts for many miles - so I told the driver the only thing he could do was to stop and make a three-point-turn. Not the easiest thing to do in a big bus on a very busy London road, and I think it’s probably breaking traffic regulations. However, he took my advice. Back on the right track to the Tower of London and he almost missed the correct turning again – that was enough for me, so we decided to get off and leave them all to it.
The funny thing was, everyone else thought it was all just part of the tour…
Another time in Mindoro, when a small group of us were attempting a jeepney ride from Puerto Galera to Calapan, we realized that local advice not to try it during the rainy season was well founded. Dirt roads through the jungle terrain quickly turn into mini swamps. The normal small streams grow into raging torrents. But, of course, the driver will attempt anything if the price is right, and he gets paid in advance.
Going up an incline was difficult enough, but the slippery slope down proved too much for our eager driver, who accelerated when maybe he should not have done so… a jeepney marooned in three feet of water is going nowhere. Neither was its owner. He told us he would stay with his jeep, and we should just walk and follow the road (no refund of course). Half an hour later, and in the middle of the jungle, the road had already disappeared. The feeling of hopelessness is not something that anyone looks forward to, but the old saying that ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ sometimes comes true. One of the dark clouds above had brought a young village boy whistling a tune and marching through trees going in the direction that we should have been. He was drenched to the skin, and his village uniform of t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops suited the occasion much better than our denim jeans, shirts and sneakers - a sensible young man had come to our rescue and led us to safety.
I often wonder what the sight of four soaking wet foreigners carrying soggy rucksacks and traipsing wearily behind a small but smiling rescuer leading them out of the jungle must have looked like…