Friday, March 4, 2011 - Manila Philippines
Manila is the capital; it became the seat of the colonial government of Spain when it controlled the Philippines Islands for over 300 years, from 1565 to 1898. Beginning in 1898, the USA occupied and controlled the city until 1946. During WWII, much of the city was destroyed and it was not until 1975 that the metropolitan Manila region was enacted as an independent entity. Under Spanish rule, it was known as the “pearl of the orient”, the jewel of Spain’s empire in the pacific. Ravaged during WWII, it has grown into a modern metropolis with few vestiges of its Spanish colonial past.
There are over 20 million people in the city and people say it is an introduction to the country akin to baptism by fire. There is terrible traffic and pollution and is not exactly traveler-friendly but once you get used to it, it has a certain shambolic charm.
We were told to be up early for a temperature scan before we could leave the ship. Our time was set for 6:30 AM! But thankfully that never happened – they will do it as we exit the ship. But we were ready for the sail-in! It was fabulous!!! Two bands, dancers, baton twirlers, a HUGE tent (double wide, and half the length of the LONG pier) all set up for crew family members, shops and booths. And the sun was rising so it was not blazing hot!! Wonderful welcome. I’ve always wanted to come to Manila and what a great way to enter a country – with an excited bunch of 210 crew members getting to see their families and friends and bands and dancers! Our Filipino friends offered to drive us around the city so we were off! We’re off!
We ventured north in the city to a local market, Tutuban. Lots of clothing and everyday wear and handmade formal wear. We saw them sewing the pearls and sequins on the most glamorous gowns. The tuxedo jackets and formal Filipino-worn shirt, the barong, were available in various fabrics, among them banana and pineapple leaf. We wandered around and enjoyed a great lunch at Max’s, their local fried chicken house, also specializing in fried pork and halo-halo ice cream. It was a real adventure as we worked our way through the menu. Crispy Pata (fried pork knuckle), Lumpiang Shanghai (rice with beans), Shanghai Fried Rice, Cameron Rebosado (shrimp) and in the halo-halo ice cream is shaved ice with ube (a purple tuber flavored ice cream), flan, sweet beans, fried toasted rice, coconut, sweet bananas, agar (red sea weed) garbanzo beans, jack fruit and sago (tapioca). Yes, all that was in this HUGE bowl of ice cream and shaved ice. So you can imagine as it all melted all the colors and flavors…I was not sure about as I looked at it but when you ate it, we really enjoyed it.
Down to the largets mall in Asia, the Mall of Asia, we saw the ice skating rink and a very long line of wanna-be-a-star hopefuls interviewing for the Filipino version of that TV show. The mall had everything…so after walking, we stopped to snack and rest. Back to the ship for all of us and Gene and I ventured out on our own to the Robinson Place mall with the ship’s free shuttle. We tried and tried to connect but only met some nice people along the way.
We were dropped off at the Manila Hotel (whose doors opened in 1912), where Gene had stayed years ago and met the nicest young man, who happened to be the butler for the MacArthur Suite! We had a private tour of General MacArthur’s suite and sat at his desk and saw all the photos and rooms. Gene was so proud to be allowed to wear his hat and sit at his desk with his corn cob pipe! It was a fascinating glimpse into the history of our two nations. The hotel is similar to the Plaza in NYC – reeks of character and glamour. Live piano music greets you as you enter the hotel and view the intricately carved dark wood ceilings, sparking chandeliers, marble floors and tour the Archives Room. Great ambience and staff. We practically floated back to the ship as we walked through the port late at night.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” - Henry Miller
Saturday, March 5, 2011 – Manila
We were driven by a new friend back to the Tutuban mall but found we were too early so we bargained for a taxi to go to the Chinese cemetery. The tombs resemble mini-houses with fountains, balconies, bathrooms, crystal chandeliers and benches and tables to sit and play majong. They are air conditioned and there are now over 100,000 Chinese interred here. It would be interesting to wander the streets in the cemetery on All Saints Day.
We rode in the horse and buggy (during the rain!) around the Intramuros area (historical section/walled city) of Manila. This is the old Spanish capital of Manila, built in 1571, it is a monumental relic of the Spanish occupation. At one time, there were plazas, the Governor’s Palace, fifteen churches and six monasteries in the city “within the walls”; much was destroyed during WWII. The Cathedral (wedding was taking place) was built in 1581 and has been destroyed several times by fire, typhoon, earthquake and war. We visited the San Agustin Museum and church (wedding was taking place) which was built in 1599 and is the oldest stone church in the country and Fort Santiago, a 16th century military defense structures standing witness to the valor and heroism of the Filipino through the centuries. We toured the armaments, the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Shrine to Dr. Rizal, a national hero who was executed for his belief in freedom. His final poem was secreted in an oil lamp and smuggled to his family hours before his death.
We jumped into a jeepney, one the main modes of public transportation. This is a WWII Army jeep, which has been modified to carry passengers. They have added two benches in the back with enough room for 12 people, painted it every color of the rainbow, added badges, horns, aerials, air fresheners, icons, lots of mirrors, a tape deck that plays only Philippine pop, a chrome horse…you get the idea. We wanted the experience wo we hopped on, met some nice people who helped us figure out when to get off, told us to keep an eye on our belongings, and we hopped off at near the port entrance. Very inexpensive ($0.18 a ride) and convenient and riding in a piece of history made it all that more appealing to us.
As we sailed out of Manila Bay, I felt how large the area is. It is W I D E and expansive. You find it hard to see one end to the other. Corregidor (an island which was fought over bitterly during WWII) and Baatan are nearby but we pass them at night so we are not able to see the area clearly. The Philippines are definitely worth a much longer return visit – to pay our respects at Corregidor, explore Manila and visit the outer idyllic islands such as Palawan.
“Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think…” - Benjamin Disraeli