It is the kind of sight that makes foreign tourists pull out their cameras, start clicking pictures and shake their heads in amazement and disbelief.
It is a just an ordinary motorcycle, originally manufactured and designed to carry a driver and a passenger. With two wooden planks attached like a boat's outriggers on both sides of the bike chassis, you now have a public conveyance that can carry up to eight people plus the driver.
This is the famed "Skylab" motorcycle named after the legendary international space station with the jutting solar panels (considered analogous to the bike's wooden extensions) that fell back to Earth in 1979. Its reentry caused widespread near panic all over the Philippine islands which was purportedly in the path of the falling space debris. It was not.
Riding on the Skylab is an delicate balancing act, almost an art in itself and yet for many of the rural folk in the Lianga area, hitching a ride on this marvel of Filipino ingenuity, or others say foolhardiness, is a regular fact of life. It is simply the only form of public transportation readily available and, in the countryside, one takes what one can take. It's either that or a long walk to nowhere. Take your pick.
It cannot be denied that a first time ride on this marvelous contraption can be an exhilarating experience akin to a long yet thrilling rollercoaster ride. Except in this case you do without the safety harness and any form of personal protection. It is just you and your balancing skill, the driver's prowess and a lot of other random factors (pure luck included) that determine whether you reach your destination whole and unharmed or as a tangled, mangled and bloody mass of flesh and bone.
Regular riders on the Skylab express pooh-pooh the physical dangers of commuting on these modified motorcycles. They say that road safety is achieved because the passengers and the driver all cooperate and help maintain the over all balance and stability of their vehicle. In other words, it may look outright dangerous but in truth it really is not.
There may be some degree of truth in what they say. For it is a fact that road accidents involving these two wheeled contraptions have not been as frequent as one might normally expect. Why that is can be the subject of a lot of conjecture.
I wonder indeed.
I have often also wondered if there is something in the character of the rural Filipino that makes him contemptuous if not more accepting and tolerant of the risks involved in riding the Skylab. Perhaps it is his innate peasant fatalism at work.
Or perhaps it is just an acceptable way of flirting with danger, a way of silently communicating to other commuters on the road, "Hey! Here I am. Life is very hard but I don't care. I am brave and now feel truly alive! Look at me! My life is in my hands!"
Me? I am not that brave or even that fatalistic enough. I'd rather walk.