by Carmel Ilustrisimo
Last week, I joined a few friends, old and new, on a walking tour around Old Manila. MapaLakad was created by our tour guide (and my good friend), Reina Adriano, as part of a school project. For P80, you get a free chapbook filled with beautiful prose poetry written by Adriano herself, along with the walking tour. We visited old buildings and sights in Quiapo, Escolta, and Binondo respectively.
Mind you, most of the places we went to were not tourist hotspots. It was what I would call “the authentic Manila experience.” We saw Manila at it its most downtrodden and squalid. We jumped over mud puddles, dodged trash strewn carelessly on the street, pinched our noses at the smoke and canal smells, and heard the loud voices of sellers calling out their wares. We passed by shanties with half-dilapidated houses and saw traces of old Manila grandeur in the rotting wood and iron bars: an old theater still being used to show “bomba” films, a stable/parking area for kalesas, and a house that used to be owned by Julio Nakpil, the second husband of Gregoria de Jesus (the first being Andres Bonifacio).
One thing was made clear: Manila was alive. The tour was also a peek into what went on in an ordinary day in the less visible parts of the city. The tourist spots were surrounded by the everyday bustle of the citizens. For example, when we took pictures of an old, Japanese-style pagoda, we had to stop by a small, makeshift basketball court, where children played busily as their parents talked and gossiped.
We were also allowed to enter one relic, the First United Building, where we refreshed ourselves and read in the Library of Unread Books. Apparently, people can donate their unread books to the library so others could read them for free. The stop was one of my favorite parts of the tour. From the top of the building, you could see the whole street: the tops of old, decaying structures mixing with modern drudgery. Rife with such history, it was a sight that would make you think of so many stories.
Escolta was the most memorable part. I remember reading that it used to be the business district of the metro, basically what Makati is now. Today, however, Escolta was a far cry from its glory days, though its traces still clung on to their rich past. We visited those traces and heard their stories.
The last leg of the trip involved the most important part: FOOD. We ate at an authentic Chinese noodle house in Binondo, where the servings were big for a relatively cheap price. The food was delicious.
Do not expect the usual tourist spots in this tour. You will be taken to the nooks and crannies of Manila, only to be astounded by the grandness of their histories. It is not always convenient; for instance, you will have to deal with the rain and the heat. Nor is it a tour for those who are easily tired. But if you’re into obscure history and game for urban adventures, this tour is highly recommended. I did not exactly know what I was getting into, but I was glad I got into it!