Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands! There’s not a single person who actually set foot on all of them. I double checked it on google. I though it would be awesome to be the first one, to be in the Guinness World Record Book as the first person who visited all Philippines’ islands… Unfortunately, I only have 21 days (maximum days accorded in a tourist Visa on Arrival). So, it was mission impossible to see everything…choices had to be made. Manila, Banaue, Sagada, Puerto Princesa, El Nido, Cebu, Bohol were my priorities. Each of these locations had something specific that I wanted to see or experience.
My first stop was Manila, capital of the Philippines. For your general knowledge, in 1564, Spanish explorers led by Miguel López de Legazpi, nicknamed El Adelantado (because he was always among the first ones to offer his services for expeditions), sailed from Mexico to the island of Cebu. Since natives told them about the rich resources of Manila (up North of Cebu), the explorers went there to establish their first Spanish colony. Nowadays, Manila is still a city with Spanish-era influences, but you better not talk about it with locals. Even after more than 400 years, it’s still a sensitive subject…
Since I flew from BKK, and arrived late in the afternoon in Manilla, it was already dark outside by the time I checked-in in a hostel. The hostel had a French Lonely Planet travel guide (Per-fect!!), so I started planning the next day’s visits. I read that Manila is not worth more than 1 day of your time! Dully noted, I was going to follow the advice! As I was reading, I heard people speaking Spanish. They noticed that I could understand them…and in no time, I was meeting and speaking with a guy from Colombia, a guy from Argentina and a woman from Madrid, Spain.
With Rosa, the Madrilenian, we decided to explore together the city the next day! First let me tell you, it has been a while since I walked that many km in one day! We started the day at 9am and ended at 7pm with only 30 minutes break for lunch. And, it was the first time since the beginning of my trip that I got the chance to speak Spanish all day long! Rosa mainly spoke Spanish and a few words of English (she came in the Philippines to learn English).
The highlight of the day was definitely the Intramuros, a fortified city in the oldest district of Manila. Nicknamed as the Walled City, the Intramuros was the seat of the Spanish government during the Spanish colonial era. We entered in the Walled City through the Western gate, Puerta Real. And about one block down the main road, stands the pink coloured San Augustin Church, the oldest church in the Philippines (1571). This little church survived to Chinese pirates, several fires, a British invasion, and numerous earthquakes! Unfortunately, the doors were closed, so we couldn’t see the inside.
………………………….Across San Agustin is a house museum, Casa Manila. The house is a reconstruction of a 19th century residence which gives you an idea of how life was during the Spanish colonial era. Each room is richly decorated with antique furnitures and explanatory signs tell you more about the specific purpose of the room. I especially liked (thought it was funny):
…………………..The Cuarto Principal: “A typical master’s bedroom of wealthy families had furniture pieces of a grand size. Filipinos customs dictated that the master of the house give up this room for important guests who stayed overnight”.
The Caida: “It is said that the caida was so-called because ladies ‘let fall’ their skirts upon reaching the top of the stairs”.
The Letrina: “Large house had 2 or more toilets companionable close to each other. Some houses even had holes on the floor for those who wanted to squat. One could really do it ‘tête-à-tête’ and some even had checkerboard incised on the arms to help pass the time!”
The Antesala: “This room was used for receiving casual visitors. The family also whiled away their time here taking siesta, having snacks, smoking cigars or playing games”.
A bit further was the main square of the city, Plaza de Roma (previously known as Plaza McKinley and before that, as Plaza Mayor). In the middle of the plaza, stands a statue of King Carlos IV of Spain (1824) on top of a fountain. The statue is a tribute for the introduction of smallpox vaccine.
Facing the plaza is the Manila Cathedral. For your general knowledge, out of the 8 churches located in Intramuros, only 2 survived to numerous earthquakes: San Agustin Church and the Manila Cathedral. East of the plaza was the Ayuntamiento (City Hall) and facing it was the Governor’s Palace.
Guarding the city is Fort Santiago, a citadel located at the mouth of the Pasig river. José Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero, was imprisoned here before his execution in 1896. Inside the Fort Santiago stands the Rizal Shrine museum, which displays some memorabilia of the hero. And, you can also follow his footsteps marked in bronze on the ground; footsteps representing his final walk from his cell to the location of his execution.
…………………………………………….We went out of the Intramuros though the Puerta de Isabel II and passed by the beautiful Parque Rizal, better known as ‘La Luneta’. It’s 60 hectares of gardens, paved walks, open lawns and wooded area dotted with monuments to almost every Filipino hero.
After a long day of walking, we took a Jeepney to go back to the hostel. Jeepneys are these old WWII US military jeeps, that Filipinos have customized and painted with bright colors. Each Jeepney has its own little name! Some of them are really funny!!
We had a great day!! Now it’s time to say bye bye Manila, Hello Sagada!