Your sweat pours down your back as the temperature rises. The heat is killing you. You press yourself hard on the body trapped between your thighs, making sure that you are fixed on it. You try to stay focused but you forget everything along the way. Your grip becomes tighter; you don’t want to lose the moment. And just like anything done in haste, the whole act is over before you know it.
This is how it is to ride a motorcycle under the battering heat of the sun. Wind is the only relief as it touches you. The ride’s rhythm makes you wonder what awaits you. Is it a pending collision, a machine defect, a dried-up-river road, or an attempt of the motorcycle driver to make advances on you? In this case, wonder is an understatement because people at times become frantic and even terrified. To fall from the motorcycle is unfortunate, or worse, tragic. Just like what the old folks keep on telling us, riding a motorcycle is like putting one foot in the grave. But the danger can also explain why one tends to be so absorbed by the ride that one forgets the road and distance traveled. Sometimes, it may even be disappointing to realize that one has arrived at one’s destination. At this point, you must get off the motorcycle but you’ll definitely ride on it again and again and again.
In what is considered as the most livable city in the country – Davao City — this kind of ride is called “habal-habal.” “Habal-habal” comes from the Cebuano word which means sex; a term commonly referring to the mating of pigs. “Habal-habal” is mainly based on the position of pigs while mating – the boar on top of the sow. In some areas in the Visayas, “habal” also refers to the extremely intimate position of two persons. Repeating the root word turns it into the diminutive form, which suggests that the motorcycle ride is a minor kind of sex act.
It is not a laughing matter at all when you take notice of the intimacy of positions of the driver and the passenger/s, minus the penetration. However, riding “habal-habal” is actually more than the physical closeness of bodies. This act is perhaps more daring, more adventurous and definitely unpredictable.
First of all, “habal-habal” is illegal. The City Ordinance No. 0189-06 series of 2006 states that single motorcycles should not be used as public transport units and drivers are not allowed to solicit passengers for a fee. In addition, all drivers and riders of all single motorcycles along the city streets and National Highway within the territorial jurisdiction of Davao City are required to wear helmets while operating or driving the said motorcycles. This ordinance also limits the number of backriders or riders to only one person. It also requires the riders to wear crash helmet or other protective head gear when riding on the motorcycles and not to allow minors less than eight years old to ride on their motorcycle. So those of us who willfully disobey the city ordinance experience a kind of forbidden and illicit affair.
The ride itself drowns you in pleasure without knowing it. It gives you the thrill and feeling of no boundaries. Danger as an essential ingredient of riding habal-habal creates an image of fear in the passengers. It is, as a matter of fact, a source of a different kind of high that is appealing to young people and to those who still feel the need for speed. It is best suited for the fast-paced world we are living in.
Try riding a motorcycle that runs 120 kilometers per hour and it will blow your mind. It is as if there is a continuous clash of flesh and rushing air which causes you to leave behind a part of your whole being, your consciousness, your problems and worries. This may trigger the addiction, the dependency on riding the habal-habal. One feels the detachment from reality. It urges your hands to involuntarily spread out in the air. It causes euphoria, the kind that makes you look up at the sky, appreciate its beauty even though it’s about to rain, and then to scream at the top of your lungs, “I am the King (or Queen) of the world!”
Riding “habal-habal” is more than a means of transportation or a minor sex trip. It is a poetry of motion and a perfect reflection of life. Just like living life, one must go through the comfort, the obstacles, and the dangers of the ride. A clear example of how creative Dabawenyos are in getting to our destinations.
Arianne Nemenzo is a BA Communication Arts student of UP Mindanao.