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Pope embraces unique Philippines transportation method

When it comes to getting around one of the most congested cities on the planet, a little divine intervention can go a long way. During his recent visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis greeted the six million faithful lining the streets of Manila from the back the nation's most beloved symbols: A Jeepney-inspired popemobile. His choice of transportation was more than just an endearing display of the humble, everyman quirkiness the 78-year-old pontiff has become famous for. Squeezing more than half the population of Canada into an area not much larger than the city of Toronto creates traffic problems that make the Don Valley Parkway at rush hour -- or Calgary's Deerfoot Trail at any other time of day -- seem like a calm stroll through a garden. Every day, millions of Filipinos rely on the makeshift buses as their primary means of transportation. A common sight gasping and rattling through Manila's notorious traffic, they're the most affordable way for both residents -- and tourists -- to get around town. For visitors to the Philippines, getting around by cab, a decidedly less suicidal option than renting a car, certainly won't break the bank. With the 10-km trip from Ninoy Aquino Airport to Manila's main shopping district in Makati running about $4 Canadian, cabbing it everywhere seems like a no-brainer. But for those wanting a decidedly more "authentic" travel experience, the Jeepney is clearly the way to go. It certainly was for the Pope. The Jeepney -- a clever portmanteau of "Jitney" and "Jeep" -- is a hop-on, hop-off bus with as colourful a history as the country of its birth. After three centuries of Spanish rule, the Philippines became a principality of the United States in 1898 after the Spanish-American war. This arrangement lasted until its independence in 1946. The American withdrawl from the Philippines after the Second World War left behind thousands of Jeeps, transformed by enterprising Filipinos into small buses -- seen as an answer to the public transportation crisis that plagued post-war Manila. Today's Jeepney bears only a superficial resemblance to their military forebearers. Modern versions are custom made using engines and powertrains imported from Japan. With fares starting at 7 Philippine pesos (about 17 cents) it's a mode of transportation that most Filipinos can easily afford, despite its lack of creature comforts. It's appeal goes beyond the low price. A frenetic, frenzied and intimate way of getting around, Jeepneys are woven into the ceaseless pace of life in Manila -- and a great way to get a true taste of the Filipino experience. Individual Jeepneys are lovingly -- some would say garishly -- decorated with striking and unique paint schemes, adorned with lights, horns, chrome, wings, signs and other eye-catching accoutrements that display the owner's individual flair and pride of ownership. As daunting as riding one may seem, tourists are welcome and encouraged to ride Jeepneys. It's easy once you learn how to do it like a true Pinoy. Other than terminals, there are no designated stops: Passengers hop on and off at their leisure, and will hail passing Jeepneys like a taxi. Once aboard, first-time riders will notice a much cozier atmosphere than they might be used to with passenger seating consisting of two padded benches running lengthwise along the walls. Foreigners are often shocked how many souls can jam inside a Jeepney, with some riders clinging to the outside of the vehicle when the seats fill up (a perilous way to ride and not recommended for novices). Things can get downright claustrophobic with upwards of 30 people crammed inside, especially with groceries, bags and packages tossed into the mix. Rather than dropping coins into a traditional fare box, payment is passed to the driver via your fellow passengers. Saying "bayad dao! (here is my payment)" will impress your fellow riders. Rides of a few kilometres or less cost about 7 pesos, with each extra kilometre costing an additional peso -- either the driver or other passengers can tell you how much your ride will cost. Exact change is appreciated, and of course passing forward enormous bills is not only considered bad form when surrounded by people who don't earn a fifth of what Canadians make, it's also an invitation to get robbed. As Jeepneys only stop on request, a polite "para po! (this is my stop!)" will let the driver know to let you off. Aside from being the cheapest way to get around, many agree the best way to experience this exciting city is -- just like her residents -- to witness it whip by from the back of a Jeepney.

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