Acquaintance with a Backyard Attraction
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August 16th, 2008 – by: Isabetlog
It was during one semi-sunny Saturday afternoon that saw a break from all the typhoons accosting the city that I decided to take advantage of the weather and finally took that cruise of the Pasig River I'd been meaning to do. It's hard to fathom just how much neglect the Pasig River has faced over the years but sad to say, this is the Philippines. Such a pity given that it's not only played a major part in the history and development of Manila, but it's from where the etymology of both our language and ethnic group is derived - taga-ilog or tagalog, literally meaning "coming from the river.
Thanks to the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, however, the ferry services were revived last year and I finally found the time to go for a cruise all the way down to Intramuros. The ferries operate daily, making a total of 14 stops from Kalawaan in Pasig all the way to Intramuros. I believe they have a fleet of 12 catarmans which stop at each station every half hour on weekdays though a little less frequently on weekends (I would only find out about this later). The fares range from P25-45 (U$.50-1.00), which isn't bad considering there won't be any traffic, vehicular or otherwise, to contend with.
I'd been planning to do this with Apo since he's the easiest one for me to drag along and we invited Niña as well since she expressed interest when we first brought up the idea.
Sure enough, we entered the station to get our tickets and lo and behold! The place was impeccably spotless! The AC was in excellent working condition, there were a good number of clean and new seats installed in the waiting area, and the staff, too, were pretty organized and seemed to have it together.
No biggie though as we weren't in any kind of rush. This gave us time to grab a few snacks at the 7-11 down the road and take a stroll down the little park they had on the side. I noticed brightly painted the structures of the Gawad Kalinga community project across the river. It's a bit too garish for my taste, but seeing the efforts taken in beautifying the place did make me smile.
The ferry finally arrived - and on time, mind you - a rarity in the Philippines where tardiness is usually the norm.
The cruise along the Pasig River was quite delightful. The ferries are well marshalled by men in uniform who graciously allow passengers to hang out in the bow. Most of us chose to stay out here as the afternoon breeze was something to enjoy together with the fleeting scenes from either side. If the river hinted at smelling and tasting like the coffee it resembled in color, I may have gone in for a dip (haha yeah, right). Surprisingly though, it didn't smell like a sewer as one would think.
All throughout the cruise are pictures waiting to be taken of Manila's aged grandeur alongside the squalid shanties of the less fortunate, oil depots, a handful of universities, and other abandoned factories and industrial structures on the banks of the river. Seeing these from a different vantage point was quite refreshing despite the fact that most of them were in a state of decay. I just love the drama, poetry and nostaligia that radiate from such scenes and was totally enthralled by the sight of it all.
It's also the perfect time to play spot the rugby boy.
Perhaps the most interesting sight of all along the river is the Malacañang Palace - the official residence of the President of the Philippines. About 10 kilometers away, camera or no camera, everybody's ushered back in for security purposes. Security my arse. Photography at this point will not be permitted and they make damned sure of it. Forget about snapping away on the sly, the guards are positioned in front, on the sides and behind you. Seriously. And if you're caught, they'll make sure your photos are deleted before the next minute ticks. I must say though that I lucked out on a shot, albeit an inferior one, of PUP (Polytechnic University of the Philippines) which is right next to the Palace.
Once Malacañang is out of sight is everyone allowed back out on the bow again.
There's a bit more too see, like a lighthouse that I completely missed - but it also may not have been on our route, an old church I believe somewhere in Makati, and the Philippine College of Criminology. Other notable sights of the cruise include the 13 bridges that cross the 25 kilometer river and among those that we passed from Guadalupe to Intramuros are the following:
The Guadalupe Bridge, identifiable with the gargantuan billboards on either end (complete with ridiculously blinding LCD screens), and the more distinct MRT rail above it.
The bright blue one that follows is the Lambingan Bridge, marking the boundary of between Makati and Manila. It's sponsored by Manila Water, quite hard to miss given the tacky giagantic branding on it...
Next is the Nagtahan Bridge. The largest of all the bridges, it's located in the Pandacan area and allows one to view part of the Malacañang compound from here.
Up ahead is the Ayala Bridge which first opened in 1880. It links the areas of Malate and Ermita to the affluent San Miguel district. At the foot of the Ayala Bridge where the famous orphanage, the Hospicio de San Jose, is located.
The most remarkable of all is the Quezon Bridge which connects Ermita to Quiapo.
And finally, the Jones Bridge. First built in 1632 connecting Intramuros to Binondo, it was originally called Puente Grande or simply the Big Bridge. It was damaged by several earthquakes and later rebuilt in by Juan Arellano (who also designed the Manila Post Office Building, the Metropolitan Theather and the US Embassy) in 1922. It boasted of arches and embellishments and ornate sculptures in neo-classical architecture but was ruined by the bombs of war.
These may not be the most attractive set of bridges, but they are our bridges. I hope more of us find ourselves inclined towards a higher appreciation and care for them.
The ride from Guadalupe all the way to the end of the line at the Plaza Mexico Station in Intramuros took all of 45 minutes. This was a trip of many surprises, the first being the state of the Guadalupe Station. The rest were uniform and pristine just like it and thus giving off a hopeful vibe to the cruise. Until we arrived at Quiapo. Its station was all but a shed with a red rinky dink plywood dock! I couldn't help but wonder why this particular joint was totally neglected like an orphaned child.
Plaza Mexico Station, although built somewhat differently from the rest with a nice brick walkway, was in the same sanitary and orderly state. It's right across from Binondo and behind it is the vintage Bureau of Immigration building. We walked around to the nearby park and discovered a huge monument marking 400 years of the maritime expedition from Mexico to the Philippines. It would've been nice to have hung around longer, if only for the rugby boys who had taken over the place.
Behind the marker is what's left of the original Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines). WWII had blitzed the city of Manila into oblivion, leaving only the San Agustin Church the only structure still standing. As I haven't done a complete and proper tour of Intramuros, I was again surprised to find that next to it was already the boundary of Puerta Isabel, the street where Sanctum, a favored hang out of mine, used to be.
Arriving back at the Plaza Mexico Station, I noticed that all the lights were off. It couldn't have been that there was a power outage when the rest of Manila was lit up. It turns out that the station still couldn't afford electricity and therefore the absence of it in the evenings. How sad is that? Anyway, Apo went on his way for a dinner with friends while Nina and I hopped on a catamaran and headed back to Guadalupe.
Cruising the Pasig River at night was just as charming with the lights illuminating all the focal points along the route and blinding one from the reality of poverty. It gave yet another perspective of all these places I don't get to see or even appreciate from the road. I had an amazing experience and I'd definitely like to do this more often.
I have to say, taking the Pasig River cruise was a great reminder to never overlook your own backyard.
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