Manila, The Philippines (Day 1)
When we woke up on May 5 Amsterdam was docked at the best located pier in Manila, right near the port gate. Manila is the capital of the Philippines, with a population of more than 12 million in its governing district. After periods of control by the Malays and the Sultan of Brunei, the Spanish ruled here for more than 300 years beginning in the middle of the 16th century. The Americans took over in 1898 after the Spanish American war, then the country became independent after World War II.
There is concern about piracy in the waters of this area, so Amsterdam had instituted anti-piracy procedures when we set sail for the Philippines. This had also been done in 2016 before entering the Red Sea but this time there was no razor wire strung around the lower promenade deck. Instead we just had the water hoses and long range ear shattering noise machines at the ready, and the lights were turned off at night while a beefed up security team kept watch across the water. We had a piracy drill (go to a protected area inside the ship) and we were told that we were being followed constantly by radar with warships not far away. So of course nothing happened. But better safe than sorry.
We also noticed in this area that there is a lot of trash floating in the water. This is a pretty disappointing sight & it would be nice if there were some international effort to do something about it.
Anyway, since we were docked so close to the old part of Manila we decided to walk around and explore it ourselves. As we left the ship we were greeted by a very lively xylophone band dancing as they played, and some local women welcomed us with necklaces (as had been done in Puerto Princesa as well).
A lot of construction was in progress at the port and it took some time to negotiate our way to the gate. In this area we also saw the first of many anti-drug signs; from what we have read in the Philippines these days a person suspected of dealing in drugs is as likely to die from summary police execution as from the effects of the drugs. Then there were a few blocks to walk out of the port to the main street. Along this street were countless fellows wanting to sell you rides and tours. We kept saying “no thank you,” but it was odd to see someone who has just watched you reject 10 people selling the same tour step out nonetheless to ask if you want to hire him. I guess it doesn’t hurt to ask, but how often can that be successful?
It was a much longer walk than expected to reach the Intramuros (“inside the walls”) area, the old town. That was because there was a very long fence with no gates along the side of the wall facing the main street near the dock. The old city is surrounded by walls, originally built by the Spanish in the 16th century. They also built a double moat, but the Americans found it unsanitary and filled it in, then built a golf course over it. Today the golf course runs all along the wall, so there is no entrance to Intramuros through it.
The traffic in Manila is horrendous & you take your life in your hands when you try to cross the street. This was another reason our walks took so long and difficult in the heat and humidity. A lot of local folks get around in what is called a “jeepny,” a sort of jitny made by welding a bus-like structure to the back of a jeep. These appeared after the war, made out of surplus US Army jeeps. They are very colorful and, we are told, inexpensive and fun to ride. We didn’t have an opportunity to try one.
The Manila Cathedral stands on what was the central square of old Manila, called Plaza Mayor. First completed around 1580, it was destroyed by a typhoon within 2 years and has been destroyed and rebuilt some 6 times. The current building was destroyed, along with almost everything else in Intramuros, by Japanese and American bombs and shelling during the Battle of Manila in 1945 when the Japanese forces made their last stand here. More than 100,000 Filipino civilians were killed in one month during that battle, many through indiscriminate massacres by Japanese solders occupying the area. The cathedral was rebuilt along the same lines as the previous one in the mid 1950’s.
Playa Mayor in front of the cathedral had several art installations. On the left, looking from the cathedral, was a large building labeled as the governor’s residence. We weren’t sure which governor this referred to (Spanish or American?) or whether this building represented what the governor’s residence looked like or just marked the spot where it stood.
Walking on we passed some interesting wall art & came to a very nice little park with a monument at the center erected in 1995. Called “Memorare Manila,” it memorializes those lost in the Battle of Manila. A woman in the center holds a dead baby and is surrounded by other dead people and a victim of rape.
It was not too long a walk to San Agustin Church, completed in 1607. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and famed as the only building in Intramuros to survive the fighting in 1945, when only its roof was destroyed.
One enters through what was once a convent attached to the church but has now been rebuilt as a museum. The museum tells the story of Manila through text and artifacts. Manila was a trading outpost for the Spanish, who exchanged silver mined in their Mexican and South American colonies for Chinese silks, ivory and porcelain, along with spices and gems from other parts of Asia. The Spanish galleons carried on this trade on a route between Manila and Acapulco for 300 years.
The baroque interior of the church itself is quite beautiful. Of particular interest to us was the ceiling and walls, which are covered by extraordinarily effective trompe l’oeil paintings of what appear to the naked eye to be architectural details. It wasn’t until we got very close that we could see that it was painted rather than real.
In the balcony is an old pipe organ and a wooden music stand that is several centuries old and holds some 17th century sheet music. Around the balcony are 68 choir seats, carved and inlaid in the early 17th century.
We also happened upon the church library, nicely finished in polished wood with a globe.
Between the church and the museum is a courtyard containing a small park called the cloisters.
There was actually quite a bit more in this facility, including a lot of old paintings and artifacts, but this was the main stuff (and all that we have pictures of).
Leaving the church, we walked to Rizal Park. This is a huge park with a lot of features we didn’t have time to explore. It is dedicated to Jose Rizal, an important Filipino martyr during the war for independence from the Spanish in the 1890’s. Rizal was executed in this park for treason and his remains are now interred under the monument to him at the front of the park.
Most of the flowers we saw this day were in the park, so this is a good place to show some of them.
We managed to find the National Library, which was on one side of Rizal Park. It was large & you had to present your identification to a policeman at a podium outside the door to gain entrance. The library seemed to be in the midst of renovation, with lots of empty shelves and books piled up in empty rooms. We found one room that was in use as a library, but when I took a picture I was admonished that this is not allowed. Why would a library be a secret?
We walked back to the ship, a pretty long way on a very hot and humid day. We saw statues of Benigno and Corazon Aquino, leaders of the movement that overthrew the Marcos regime. We also saw homeless people sleeping in the park.
By the time we negotiated our way back to the ship we were dead tired. That much exercise out In the heat and humidity, fighting dreadful traffic, can really take it out of you. We didn’t see everything we had intended to see but we saw quite a lot that was very interesting and learned a lot about this huge city. And we still had another day to spend here. Manila was lit up in the night as we headed for bed.