Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Manila Trip '07 - Day 3 (Part 3)

Dateline : 4th Feb 2007.
To read the previous entry, click here.

After spending literally hours walking around Intramuros, we crossed the street opposite the Manila Cathedral to reach Fort Santiago which was the last stop of the day for us. Unlike the lived in Intramuros, Fort Santiago was set aside and maintained as a tourist spot which means that they charged for entrance into the area. The entrance fee of 40 pesos was reasonable especially when it was clear that it went to the upkeep of the area. The gardens that surrounded the area enhanced the setting and looked wonderfully festive in full bloom. Compared to the surrounding Manila area, both the Intramuros and the grounds at Fort Santiago were a welcome respite from the drab brown earthy hues that seem to be the preferred color of the whole city.

(Gardens and water fountain at Fort Santiago)

Walking through the garden and the water fountains, I found myself trying to imagine how the surrounding area looked like back in the days when the Spanish were the lords of the land. I wished that I did my homework and looked up if there were any pictures of how the area looked like back then. I was fairly sure that the now beautiful garden and water fountains were not part of the original grounds. I also walked up part of the outer wall of the area that must have overlooked the original moat that surrounded it and the Intramuros area to take some photos and to get a feel of the whole historical complex.

An inner moat marked the boundary between the gardens and the inner walls. Unlike the outer moat that was filled up and converted into a golf course, the inner moat was still filled with water and water-lilies. I could not see if the inner moat went around the inner courtyard as the water seem to flow from underneath the fort embankments. Since the water in the moat did not seem to be stagnant, I have to assume that it flowed in from somewhere I could not see from where I was standing. Walking across the bridge that spanned the width of the moat, we came to the entrance of the inner courtyard. At the top of the entrance was a sculptured relief commemorating the victory of the Spanish conquistadors over the native population that lived in the area. The site of Fort Santiago was actually built on top of the ruins of the place of Rajah Suliman who ruled the area before the Spanish came to Manila.

(Long shot of the fort entrance and the brigde across the moat)

(Fort Santiago Entrance)

On the grounds of the inner courtyard prominently stood another statue of Dr. Jose Rizal since this was the place where he spent his time in incarceration before his execution. To the left of the entrance was the Rizal Shrine. At this point, the others from my group were a little tired from all the walking we did so we decide to go our own ways in the grounds and meet back later in the evening. I decided to go off on my own to explore the Rizal Shrine I saw earlier. The building held personal items and artifacts belonging to the Philippine national hero as well as his written works and art. Since photography was not allowed inside, I had to make do with trying to capture all the images that I was seeing in my mind in hopes that they will not fade so quickly. All the displays were clearly organized and captioned which made learning about this prominent person much easier. Guided tours were also available to paying customers but since the building was quite small it was easy to overhear the running commentary and learn more from the experience.

(Rizal Shrine and statue)

Walking around the building, it was clear how much Filipinos revere their national hero. While we also have our own national heroes in Malaysia, I don’t think we place the same amount of emphasis on them like they do in Manila. I think this is partly due to the cultural differences between Malaysian and Filipinos when it comes to reverence of a past figure especially on the subject of statues and depictions of people who has passed on. It was thought-provoking for me to ponder as I walked though the Rizal Shrine realizing that I might now know more about him than some of the unsung heroes of my own country.

After exiting Rizal Shrine from the upper floors, I found myself walking along the battlements towards the area of the fort that faced the Pasig River. The river was not as foul or full of garbage as what my guidebook made it out to be so I guess that the river recovered once the squatters of the area moved out. Standing there in that balmy afternoon, it was easy to see why this spot was strategic for the Spanish to build their fort. Even in the current conditions, the fort still have clear and unobstructed views of both direction of the river which made it easy to spot any boats that passed through. There were also some stairs that led to the lower levels of the lookout point but most were gated off. I could just imagine that they might have a whole labyrinth of service tunnels underneath the fort that one could get lost in if they were not careful.

(View of Pasig River from Fort Santiago and the embarkments that surround the area)

As the sun began to dip lower on the horizon, I took one last circuit around the fort embankments to return back to the main entrance of the fort. This was actually my first time being in a proper fort so I was quite excited to be walking the same path that people have walked through 500 plus years ago. The idea that I was standing on a spot that had been through so much through the years fueled my imagination and drove me to try to discover as much as possible in the time that was left to me in Fort Santiago. I could have easily spent more time here if it was not for the promise that I already made with the other to regroup so we can all go back to the hotel.

(Walking through history)

Once we left Fort Santiago, we walked back towards Manila Cathedral to see if we can find a jeepney that went to Mabini St. Instead of walking though the Intramuros again to the entrance where we saw jeepneys picking up people earlier, we decided to veer to a different direction thinking that we might be able to get jeepneys there. It turned out that there were no jeepneys that passed the area where we were walking through and this fact did not dawned on us until we were too far to turn back. Our only option was to walk back toward Rizal Park in hopes of finding jeepneys there.

We finally reached Roxas Blvd before the group decide that they had enough walking for one day and decided to get a cab instead. It had been the most interesting day of the trip for me and I was sad that it was coming to a close. Not knowing if I would ever make it back to Manila left me a little sad but at least I was able to do something that got me excited about while I was there. Since we all had a very early start the following morning, some of the guys I was with decide to turn in for the evening. I, on the other hand, had some dried mangoes to buy and another night out to spend in Manila.

Once we reached the hotel at about 7pm, I took my leave to go back to Robinson’s Place mall to buy packaged dried mangoes. Somewhat of a must bring back item for visitors, the dried mangoes turned out to be more expensive than I had originally thought at 78 peso per 200g pack. I don’t know if it’s because I was buying them at a supermarket but the price was comparable to how much they cost in KL. Wandering through the supermarket, it was interesting to spot both the familiar and not so familiar items on the shelves. There were also quite a few halal food items on sale although they were the minority here instead of the other way around in KL. After buying about 2 dozen packs of dried mangoes for friends and family, I made my way back to my hotel room for a quick dinner of cheese and crackers, a lukewarm shower and got dressed to go out again for my last night out in Manila with one of the guys who knew the area from his previous visit.

First order of business when we left the hotel at 9 pm was to look for an ATM machine to withdraw some cash. Fortunately I knew exactly where having found the Mabini St Maybank ATM machine while exploring the area the day before. I tried my own card and found that although I could not lookup my bank balance, I could withdraw cash from it fairly easily if I wanted to. Once we had our cash, we walked up the street to find the place that my friend was taking me too. He was fairly sure that he knew the way but true to form, we got lost again walking the streets of Manila. We ended up just outside of the Hobbit House Bar which while was a novel place to go to, was not what we were planning for the night. In the end we decided to take a taxi to go to the other direction of Mabini St and stop at the Cowboy Bar & Grill for some live music.

The night out at Cowboy Bar & Grill was more my style compared to the strip club we went to the night before. The night we were there, they had 3 bands playing 3 sets through the night. There was no cover charge to enter but you do need to buy food with your drinks. Deciding on grilled mushrooms and fries with our coke (I've gave up drinking for good and he wanted to be sober for tomorrow’s flight), we stayed for a set of the 3 bands. The first 2 were the normal Filipino bands that you find locally in KL and they played mostly pop songs for their sets. The last one was the clear crowd favorite as they played classic rock songs much to the enjoyment of all of us. They spent the night rocking down the house with their mix of old and new rock songs.

Since we had to get up at 4:30am that morning to get to the airport on time for our morning flight, we left Mabini St Cowboy Bar & Grill at about 2am. The walk from the bar to the hotel was uneventful as there were still a crowd out on the street at that early in the morning. I guess that having company with you to walk the streets helped as I would not think that I could do it on my own. Once I reach the hotel room, I decide to take another shower before trying to get 2 hours worth of sleep on my last full day in Manila. I knew that I would be dead tired the following day but it was worth every moment.

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