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20 April 2007

Travel to Manila, day 3:
Riding the Pasig River

Ferry on the river
Leaving Makati City behind.

“TODAY, YOU will experience the Crawford Market of the Philippines,” I announced to Bembem and Neha in the hotel lobby. We would be visiting Divisoria, the grande dame of wholesale markets in the Philippines. I wanted the two Indian ladies to experience the other side of retailing in Manila, and see for themselves why Filipino visual merchandisers love this place with all its craft materials and decorative props.

To get there, I made them experience the newly-launched Pasig River Ferry Service, an initiative by the national government to provide a viable public transportation alternative. The MRT (Mass Railway Transit) took us to the Guadalupe ferry station, which is presently the farthest end of the five-station route (five more stations are being planned for opening this year).

Riding the MRT
Mad rush at the MRT headed for Guadalupe Station.

Riding the MRT
Guadalupe Station of the Pasig River Ferry Service.

If my aim for riding the river were to introduce to the Indians the dilapidated side of Metro Manila, then I would be successful. At the start of the trip, we beheld a truly unsightly and polluted side of the metropolis! The stench of the river permeated the enclosed, air-conditioned ferry. Surprisingly, the Makati City side of the river was the worst sight: painted names of electoral candidates shrieked loudly from the stony banks (local elections are coming up), and all sorts of plant and plastic life floated on grimy waters. At some point, three children were diving into and swimming in the river . . . a few meters away from the names of the political candidates, as if they were condoning this ghastly sight! It was hideous.

Election campaigns
Vote from the boat.

House by the river
What happens if the wind blows hard and the clothesline shakes?

Ferry on the river
Makati City Hall above and its wannabe occupants below.

The Mandaluyong City side looked so much better: street lamps lined the banks, and the decrepit factory buildings and residential houses actually gave an appealing, bucolic character. A bright surprise was the orderly Gawad Kalinga Village where houses are splashed in happy crayon colors and dotted with leafy palms. I wonder, though, how those living on these banks can survive the river stench!

Gawad Kalinga Village
Gawad Kalinga Village.

Farther down, the vista turned much more picturesque and comforting. This is the side of the Pasig River that I have never seen in all my years of living in the metropolis. The Mabini Shrine stood with quiet dignity. Several blocks away, the presidential palace and stately Malacañang gardens evoked the black-and-white charm of 1950s Tagalog movies. I immediately thought of the hundreds of years of life-altering history that these grounds contained. The boat stewards directed me to cease from taking photographs of the palace for security reasons.

Bridge  along Pasig River
MacArthur Bridge.

Post Office Building
Post Office Building.

Binondo
Quaipo and Santa Cruz, approaching the Escolta Station.

As the river entered the mouth of Manila Bay, Intramuros waved its old-world charms: the newly renovated Plaza Maestranza was an unexpected but welcome sight. Sitting on those banks in the olden days must have given an idyllic view of this river! Then came the neoclassical buildings of prewar Manila! We had indeed reached downtown Manila. Up close, Jones and MacArthur Bridges—those proud icons of the days when Manila overtook other Asian capitals in the race for postwar modernism—were never this good-looking before!

Escolta StreetWe finally reached our destination—the Escolta Street station—in a trip that took forty minutes from Guadalupe. Stifling noontime humidity welcomed us to Manila’s Chinatown. Divisoria would be minutes away, and a jeepney would take us there.

The Pasig River ride was a trip that brought out the best and worst of thoughts and memories.

Past Post: Family Surprise
Next Post: Divine Divisoria

Related Sites: Pakshet 101's Photoblog, Sidney Soeck's Travel Blog, Tutubi Flight Chronicle

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