Jordan and I arrived in Manila much later than anticipated. We had a very short time planned for the city of Manila to begin with, but this flight delay ate into half of it. So we were scrambling to readjust our city itinerary and condense our plans into the “must see” list only.
I had heard that Manila’s international airport always hits the top three list of the worst airports in the world, so I was a little concerned about what we’d find once arriving. Terminal three, which we flew into, is brand new, I believe. Built in 2014, its waiting area is small and has few seats, but overall I experienced no problems. We will fly a domestic flight through the airport, so we’ll see if that’s any different.
Being sleep deprived and a bit confused on taxi services (I thought a yellow taxi and regular taxi were the same thing and was surprised to find signs pointing different directions), we made a bad call there. We let an airport taxi convince us that they were safer and better. I was vaguely sure that the trip from airport to our hostel in the Malate neighborhood shouldn’t cost more than 300 pesos, but wasn’t sure. They started quoting a 1,850 pesos, which is about 31 USD. I knew that was ridiculous, so we walked away. They haggled down to 750, which I agreed to. And that’s how we paid double. Instead, we should’ve gone straight for the white taxis with “Taxi” signs on their roofs and asked the driver to run the meter. That’s the smarter, more frugal plan.
Everyone that’s ever visited or lived in Manila talks about the traffic, and after one taxi ride I see why. Cars, jeepneys, trikes, and motos weave in and out of the lanes, just like any other undeveloped urban sprawl with roads under construction. Manila has about 12 million people and not enough roads, so its understandable when traffic jams occur.
Malate is a hip, fun neighborhood near the bay and many cultural sites in the city, and we’re glad we picked it. We checked into our hostel, crashed in bed for an hour, and then forced ourselves to get up and explore the city.
A taxi took us from our hostel to Fort Santiago, costing just 75 pesos. As we got out of the taxi, the wind picked up. It had been overcast all day, threatening rain, but we hoped to avoid the worst of it.
“We did go to the Philippines during monsoon season, so I guess this is what we get,” I told Jordan as it began to rain.
Fort Santiago is one of the oldest complexes in Manila. Built in 1571 over an indigenous village, the Spanish held the fortress for over three hundred years despite attacks, earthquakes, and storms. When the American forces took over the Philippines, it was the headquarters for the US military. The Japanese took it in 1942, using it as a prison for Filipino and American soldiers. Near the end of the war, in 1945, during battles waged to reclaim Manila from the Japanese, it was destroyed. Rebuilt by Americans, it was handed over to the Filipino government in 1946. Now it’s a historical site, housing important Filipino history and a shrine to their most beloved national hero, Jose Rizal.
Although many historical and culturally important things happened at the fort, the most important is the execution of Jose Rizal, which happened right here in this square.
Isn’t this architecture just amazing?
Anyway, inside the fort is a museum dedicated the life and death of Jose Rizal. A doctor, poet, novelist, and artist, Rizal was born to an affluent Filipino family in 1861. Privileged with a great education and social status, Rizal spent much of his time writing about Filipino culture and nationalism, joining a growing force of Filipinos that wanted the Spanish out of their country. Although he did not fight or plan the revolution, he supported the cause and encouraged other Filipinos to consider retaking their homeland.
He was executed on December 30, 1896 by firing squad and buried in an unmarked grave. His large family, including his new wife, were heartbroken. But the revolution was underway, and in 1898 gained independence from Spain.
While we were in the museum, it began storming. Thunder crashed around us, and although we were wet from some rain, Jordan and I looked at each other and mouthed, “we’re inside!”
Then the power went out. Actually, while we were indoors, a tornado swept across Fort Santiago and headed north. I just found that out while writing this blog post. It really was a good thing we were inside, because the wind broke branches and crashed heavy metal fencing, which would’ve hurt. We were perfectly safe as we parsed our way through the branch-littered sidewalk, unaware that 100 homes in northern Manila had been damaged.
The rest of the afternoon was spent dodging rain and trying to see as much of Intramuros as we could. The historic quarter of Manila, it’s the only place left with a few Spanish colonial buildings. Much of the neighborhood was destroyed during WWII, but a few streets are still cobblestoned and a few old churches still stand, like the Cathedral of Manila:
Other things to see in Intramuros:
- Casa de Manila museum
- Bambikes ecotours (this was recommended to us by some friends that loved it)
- the old city walls (most reinforced by Americans during WWII)
- plazas and grotto parks
This district is kind of a place to explore the nooks and crannies in, to admire the architecture and enjoy the Spanish vibe. Plenty of men hawked their trikes and their horse carriages, encouraging us to hop in and ride around the quarter with them. We decided we’d walk, even if it was raining.
San Augustin is the flagship of the district, and with good reason. The church was bilt by the first missionaries to the Philippines in 1571. The church, built between 1587 and 1606, is now more museum than convent and church. They do still offer mass everyday, and we almost ducked inside at the call of the bells.
Admission into the museum is 200 pesos per adult, but very worth it. We walked through the halls and courtyards of the church, admiring old paintings and sculptures. There were exhibits of 17th century religious art, like ivory statues of the Virgin Mary and the Holy Child. We looked at old prayer books from the 1700s and admired the wood carvings done by monks hundreds of years ago.
Based on the information given at the church, it seemed that Filipinos welcomed Christianity and the Augustinian order to their islands, and converted without many problems. Although this opened the country up to Spanish colonialization, many Filipinos in the past (and today) are staunchly religious and protective of their faith and churches. It was honestly really nice to see an example of evangelism done well. I’d guessed that Catholicism had been in the Philippines for many years, based on how many Filipino missionaries are spread across the world, but I didn’t know exact dates. I loved learning more about Christianity in another culture and time period.
When the museum/church closed at 6, we wandered through the district a little longer before heading to The Aristocrat, a Filipino restaurant on Manila Bay. I have a friend from college who married a Filipino man, and he very kindly recommended a few places for us to check out. I am so glad he did, because this food was amazing.
That’s rice and BBQ chicken. We were wet, bedraggled, and sleep deprived. Delicious, hot food was exactly what we needed. If you’re in Manila, check it out!
Hopefully weather will clear up, and tomorrow we can head out of town for a daytrip. So far, though, I’m loving Filipino culture!