I was never comfortable with riding one of these bikes. If the police had a checkpoint on the way to Toril, then word would spread around the drivers and they knew exactly where the checkpoint was and wouldn’t go past it. No genuine attempt to stamp out this dangerous illegal mode of transport and for the people of Catigan, no alternatives.
They would take you to the bottom of the hill only leaving you to catch a legal registered side-car which was safe into Toril. It was extremely unlikely you would see any of the safe legal and registered side-cars in Catigan.
If no police checkpoint then these death traps would take you all the way into Toril. You do it because there is nothing else. The longer you have been in the Philippines, the more reckless you become.
Whenever I had the opportunity to not ride a bike, I would take it. Coming back, you have the option of riding a safe legal side-car but at a massive cost of 180 pesos.
An illegal side-car would wait till he had around 3 or 4 passengers and it is 40 pesos a person up the Catigan road and 30 going down as it takes less fuel. If you’re alone, they would ask more. However, they were still far cheaper than the legal ones so naturally in a community where people have little money, they will always ride with the cheapest option.
One Friday in June, I waited patiently for an illegal side-car in Toril to get back home. Unusually, it was only me in the side-car and they would usually ask for more money. As he lived in Catigan and was going home anyway, he took me for 40 pesos. All was fine and as we got a short distance up the Catigan road, he got a puncture on the side-car’s tyre.
Of course, a spare tyre was rather not thought about or more likely, there was simply nowhere to put it on one of these crates on wheels. His only option was to carry on home without the extra weight of me leaving me stranded. He gave me back my 40 pesos and set off, and I waited patiently hoping another side-car would come along.
The only sidecar that passed was full so I started walking up the Catigan road towards a populated area where I hoped I would be able to find some mode of transport to get me home. After not too far a walk, I came across two guys sat on motorbikes. I approached them and asked if they were offering a service. At first one of them said no. After a discussion between the two of them, he changed his mind and asked how much I’m paying.
I said from Toril its 40 pesos so 40 then. After an attempted haggle for more money from the Americano who was not an Americano, he reluctantly agreed and off we went towards my puruk.
All I remember was chatting nonsense with the driver and the next thing I knew, I woke up lying on the road with many people around me. I had no idea what had happened, where I was and was asking myself why I am lying here in the middle of the Catigan road surrounded by people. I come to realise I was badly injured and still had no idea what had happened. My bag was gone although later returned to me as it was taken into safe keeping by a tanod. Most people in this community are basically honest. I was put into an illegal sidecar which served as my ambulance and I was rushed to a private hospital in Toril.
Private was not a choice; it was the nearest hospital in Toril and I wasn’t questioning it whilst blood was pumping out my head, and I felt that my ribs and shoulder were smashed. I wasn’t feeling as badly you would expect at the time; a little shocked but the pain hadn’t set in yet.
It was one of many examples of when I found out how hard life can be being poor. No way could I afford the excessive price of being made well again but naturally at the time, I wasn’t thinking about that. I just let them get on with giving me pain killing injections, stitching my head wounds and preliminary cleaning of my other wounds.
After the stitches, I became conscious that this was going to cost a fortune and I had little money and no way of getting any. I was confused as to what happens next when you have no money so I asked to see the bill for the treatment I had received so far. I don’t remember the amount but it was more than I had and was even charged for the surgical gloves at way above their value.
The mother of my twins had been informed and came quickly to the hospital. I saw the colour drain out of her face when she first saw me. Strangely enough, I was laughing and joking still not really realising the extent of my injuries although by now it was hurting.
The following events highlighted some other realities which I have to say are sad ones. I’m not going to go into a wholesale attack on the Philippines’ health system as I believe if I was in a life threatening situation, I’m told I would have been delivered by ambulance to the only public hospital in Davao which was far away. I can’t get clarification on this but it’s possible that it is true.
I wasn’t in a life threatening situation, thank God, but I was very hurt and needed help. What I found to be saddest of all, coming from a country with a brilliant national health service, was once I told the staff I had no money, everyone walked away and left me.
I was awaiting X-rays to be done on my chest, shoulder and head but once I uttered those immortal words, “I have no money,” I was left with most of my injuries still untreated, and it got more bizarre after that. Money is more valuable than human life. I already knew that I had been in the Philippines long enough to be aware of the obvious, but it was hard when you’re directly affected.
I cannot say what would have happened if my injuries were more serious. I’m inclined to believe what I’m told that I would have received treatment to save my life or at least taken to the public hospital far away. However, it was a strange feeling when everyone who had previously tended to me so diligently suddenly treated me like a leper.
Once word was out that the rich foreigner was actually poor, an administrator came down to assess whether or not they should carry on treating me although I had potentially broken ribs, a mild dislocation of my shoulder and had one hell of a bang on the head. It seemed he had decided to give me no further treatment. I’m not bitching as I was obviously not in any serious danger. He had a job to do and I accept that, just felt odd.
I suppose coming from a more privileged place with a national health system that treats you no matter if you’re rich or poor without a bill at the end of it all, by comparison this was strange and alien to an English boy.
For my further entertainment, the police arrived and asked me if I wanted to file charges against the driver. I found out at a much later stage that the driver had no licence and the accident was caused by the simple fact that his front wheel came off. I knew none of this and could not see the point in having someone who rightly or wrongly gave me a ride thrown into jail. I had the choice to not ride on his bike and wait for a slightly safer illegal side-car.
That was the irony for me. There was no other choice, a dangerous motorbike or an illegal side-car which was almost as dangerous. I opted to ride the bike so in my thinking at that time, I was equally to blame. However, I wasn’t in receipt of any of this information at the time regarding him not having a licence or the dangerous state his bike was in. I wasn’t in a position to make an informed decision.
Looking back, I don’t regret it even armed with that knowledge. To punish him surely you have to punish local government for letting this dangerous transport situation flourish and offer no realistic alternatives. The approach to upholding the law seems to be to find a scapegoat, punish him but do nothing to stop such occurrences happening again. I say this because I was only one of many people injured and killed on the Catigan road over time.
After I declined the invitation to file charges, the driver turned up. I did actually think it may have been out of concern for me but by the time he left, I was no longer sure. I told him the police wanted me to file charges but I declined then he started to tell the twin’s mom what had happened. This was the first bit of any information I received as to how I ended up in hospital. Apparently, I went over his head when the wheel came off and landed in the road. I’m glad to say the driver, as it turned out, was not seriously injured; just surface wounds.
His wife proceeded to keep on informing us how much of a problem this accident was causing them as now he can’t work and his bike has damages to the tune of how many pesos, I can’t recall, but was interesting to note she already had a figure on it.
I may be wrong and some of the conversation was not in English but Visayan. It seemed she may be suggesting, I should pay towards it although she never asked directly. It is possible I may be doing her a disservice and assuming too much but it felt that way. There again, idle chat can get quite insensitive sometimes in the Philippines. It’s possible she wasn’t thinking about what she was saying.
The reply from the boys mom was “yes, you have a very big problem there, and we have a bigger one here,” looking at me as she said it. They left.
Having realised I couldn’t pay for the treatment, I decided to leave. We didn’t have enough between us and a cell phone was left with them as security for the balance which we paid a few days later. This was to be the start of a very difficult final month for me here in Catigan.
In short, the moral to this story? Make sure you have accident insurance at the very least before you come to the Philippines. Reckless? Well, maybe; living in Catigan, you have no choice sometimes.