It was time to say goodbye. She had a long journey back to the mainland, back to the bus and back to the hostel… before setting off on an overnight boat crossing to another island on the west coast. She began the descent… down through the sandy dirt track, the bare trees and back down to the muddy waters where she began. Hopefully a small boat would be waiting, ready to take her back to the mainland.
Her eyes were peeled in search of her next mode of transport even before she hit land. Time was on her side, so she walked back up the track she had walked before. Worried it might be a long wait, she felt the adventurer in her yearn for a little wander and turned to walk back in the other direction.
Amidst her new adventure, she turned the corner to find a local funeral procession moving in her direction – a colourful, flamboyant yet symbolic procession led its way through the street. She didn’t want to stare but it was such a strong, moving and new cultural tradition to have experienced, her eyes could not stop taking in the colours and music – respectful of the honourable occasion she had witnessed. As it passed by, the crowd dispersed as quickly as it had come together. A short walk onwards, she found her new ride home and hopped into the back of the jeepney ready to go… little did she know this would be even more stressful than her early morning start at the bus station.
‘No!’ the driver of the jeepney cried, ‘we aren’t full so we aren’t leaving for another hour… but if you give me 300 peso I guess I’ll leave now.’ As much as she needed to get going, she knew there was a flat rate of 20 peso per journey so there was no way she was going to hand over such an extortionate amount. Politely declining and unsure of why he would expect her to pay any amount more than the flat rate, she said she would wait for more passengers – it was too much to pay for alone. A couple more people got in the back of the jeepney and there was some brief conversation in their local language, a pause and then a slight nod in my direction from the driver. Another awkward pause. Before long the driver had a second offer for her, ‘So, this other passenger give me 150 peso, you give me 150 peso and I take the three of you now’. He said pointing to the lady, her grandson and myself. Having seen no money handed over she wasn’t going to be fooled into paying for other people either. She felt a bit threatened by their expectations and was worried she would have to find another way back again.
After a few minutes of silence and realising she wasn’t going to stand down, the driver along with another young man, (perhaps a newly acquired friend from the area) proceeded to take some money from the lady. He glanced over and gave her a knowing a smile. As he walked around the outside of the van there was yet more conversation although she was now slightly distracted as a young boy came over to ask her questions. Halfway through their talk the driver bursts over and demands more money again, ‘look she’s given me money, so you give me yours and we’ll go.’ Out of the corner of her eye, she sees him hand the money straight back to the lady. The cheek of it, she thinks to herself, there was no way she would pay over 7 times the amount the journey was worth, it felt a bit like daylight robbery! At this point, she didn’t really feel safe, for such a beautiful country where the people are known for their kindness, she was disappointed to have experienced this.
She didn’t know what to do next at all. So she calmly let him know she’d watched him try to cheat her out of money and left. Knowing he was trying to do her out of money – and on purpose, she wondered if it was just because she was alone, white and female. But she knew at some point there would be another jeepney, even if she had to walk elsewhere and wait even longer.
Walking away and back down the road she’d come, she was glad she decided to return to her original plan and felt better about not losing her guard. In the background she could still hear voices shouting in her direction and she wondered why they were so keen. She kept walking and tried not to look back – she didn’t want to cause a scene. She’d reached the corner now but in the distance she heard a motorbike engine and it briefly crossed her mind that he would race after her. But that was silly…
A minute later his voice gets closer and closer. And there he is, suddenly almost next to her on the back of his friends bike, actually shouting for her to return, that he’ll change his price. Asking her why she’d left – he obviously didn’t understand what he’d done at all. She couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t leave her alone, what else did he want from her? She’d said no and that she wouldn’t pay so much and left. What else was there to say? What else did he want her for? These questions continued to circle her mind, round and round they went.
Before long, his words were simply background noise. She felt a tear slide down her cheek and then another, before long her vision was clouded, her mind frazzled. The heat was so much, all there was were voices, the noise as this man kept talking and talking. ‘Please just leave me alone!’ she shouted. Now there was laughter and heckling and talking… it was just more words. The bike circled up and down the street a couple of times before he once again returned to protest her decision a final time, but she wasn’t even sure what the words were anymore. All her efforts were going into walking away as fast as possible. After what felt like a lifetime, her vision began to clear and the sounds of the motorbike revving and shouts surrounding her had ceased. When she took a moment to look back, the bike was just a small blur in the distance.
She kept up her pace and shortly found the jeepney she needed, back in the safety of locals shopping and a tourist here or there, she could breathe again. Her body feeling calmer and more relaxed by the minute. Before she knew it, after a multitude of changes – probably worse than the equivalent of three or four changes on the London underground (with the addition of a foreign language and much less space to sit), she was back in the main city.
Time was on her side now and she was actually relieved. Between the ups and the downs she had experienced in the last 6 hours, on the whole the day had been totally worth it. There wasn’t anything better than being able to go out and do these things independently on the other side of the world. She was winning the battle, following her instinct and finding her way out of trouble without the helping hand of anyone else – there was nothing more satisfying. Confidence oozed from her and she knew the next couple of weeks was going to be enlightening, she would gain so much and for none else but her. She felt accomplished and no one could beat her down. No one.