Driving on treacherous roads

The Mountain Province is one of the culture-rich and picturesque places in the country’s Cordillera Administrative Region. It offers strikingly beautiful sights and experiences that are worth the long hours spent on a bus to get there. But if there’s one word that comes to my mind to sum up the place, it would be RESPECT.

Taken from the bus from Baguio on our way to Sagada
View from the bus on our way to Sagada
Bus from Baguio in our last stop-over before arriving at Sagada. The driver was good in maneuvering those roads without the need for unnecessary speed.
Bus from Baguio in our last stop-over before arriving at Sagada. The driver was good in maneuvering those roads without the need for unnecessary speed.

You can’t help but develop a great respect for nature, time, or whatever higher being you believe is responsible in sculpting those scenic mountains. Then there’s the respect for the people of the Cordilleras who somehow managed to preserve a rich culture even as the entire country mostly struggle with a lack of national identity. But one other thing worth respecting would be the region’s treacherous roads. Whether you are traveling on zigzagging, well-paved, and wide highways or on the narrow strips of snaking rough roads as you go deeper into the mountains, respecting the inherent dangers they pose can help in avoiding or preventing accidents.

The road as we get closer to Sagada
The road as we get closer to Sagada
Respect for drivers that safely maneuver vehicles squeezed in very narrow roads between a mountain and deep ravines
Respect for drivers that safely maneuver vehicles squeezed in very narrow roads between a mountain and deep ravines

Just two days ago, news of a bus that fell off a ravine in the Mt. Province quickly spread on social networking sites. Fourteen people died with over 20 more injured in that accident. These are statistics with stories that go deeper than the numbers. They carry tales of unimaginable loss and grief for those who were impacted by the tragedy.

Every time I hear about a bus or jeepney falling off the road in that area, which thankfully does not happen often, I couldn’t help but relive a personal trauma. In 2009, my friends and I rode a bus from Bontoc because we couldn’t get seats on the buses plying the Sagada-Baguio route. After waiting for about two hours, we decided to leave Sagada by jeepney to catch a bus in Bontoc. Unfortunately, the bus we wanted to take when we got there was fully-booked. I personally wanted to be on it since it’s one of the fleets of a known and established bus line in that area. Left with no other choice, we ended up with some random bus that was scheduled to leave the station a few minutes after we got there.

It turned out to be what felt like the longest 6-hour bus trip I’ve had in my life. All the conditions were ripe for an accident to happen. It rained and remained drizzling for most of the trip. I distinctly remember the thick fog rolling in, the roads were wet with rain with no sunshine to dry them. Any responsible driver, especially one that held the lives of many others in his hands, would have been careful in dealing with those roads. But for reasons I couldn’t understand, our driver acted like a crazed man escaping from some winged, evil creatures.

It didn’t take long for me to start worrying about our safety when the bus was going at such alarming speed. The hours stretched like days with only a few minutes’ worth of respite during the brief and too few stopovers. I truly believe that it was a miracle that we reached Baguio unscathed. That driver was inviting trouble. He was lucky to avoid it. I imagined he must have felt quite accomplished for driving at such speed without a hitch. But for me, it’s not a skill I’d encourage bus drivers to test in those routes. If there’s anything they should learn, it’s to respect the innate dangers those roads present. Because even the railings along paved, well-maintained highways can’t keep a bus on the road if it’s careening out of control.

The trouble with accidents is that no one can really predict when they’ll happen. But to deliberately take chances and tempt the fates is unwise to say the least. If there is a common thread that we can glean from the bus-related accidents in the country, it would be malfunctioning breaks and human errors (read: driving fast, driver dozing off, etc.). And sadly, there seems to be a continued trend in taking a more reactive approach in dealing with road mishaps that can otherwise be avoided. Why wait for more accidents to happen before revoking franchise licenses when there are obvious problems that can be addressed. Dealing with some irresponsible drivers who are treating those Mt Province roads like their personal race tracks would be a good start.

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