This week was ToT Tourguide Week. After the Holy week madness and much needed relaxation, it was back to more adventures in Manila to educate my US-born cousins of their own heritage aka Being “Pinoy”. If you have relatives who live in the states and are first-gen Fil-American cousins, you know that self-identity is a major crux they have to deal with. Hell, even just 6 years of living in a foreign country makes you wonder if anyone else in the world understood what “being Filipino” meant.
So to acclimate my balikbayans (returning Filipinos) with their culture, as well as to brush up on my patriotism, I booked us on Carlos Celdran’s Walk This Way tour of Historic Intramuros, better known as the Walled City of Manila back in the days.
Carlos’ mischievous grin and lively iteration of Filipino History is well known in the metro. From his Imeldiffic tour of the controversial Cultural Center of the Philippines built by the reigning first lady of the time, to his impeccable knowledge of historical Filipinas, he is the man to follow when in need of a cultural awakening. Plus, his wife Tesa is an amazing yoga instructor whom I’ve attended classes with, so it was just a matter of time and a matter of finding the next visitor/foreigner as the perfect excuse to excuse myself on a Wednesday morning to Walk This Way to Carlos Celdran’s footsteps.
Of course, Filipinos would not be so without the inevitable tardiness. We missed the first leg of the tour, which was the Spanish Era class at Fort Santiago. So I can only imagine the hysterical recreation of friars and priests and all that Spanish colonialism that Carlos could reenact with authentic gusto only a true history buff could muster up.
So my group’s start of the tour was a refreshing Kalesa (Carraige) ride to take us around the walls of Intramuros to the San Agustin Museum, then the church.
We spotted this very NY Central Park look-a-like carraige and was tempted to take it, but realized that a multi-colored wooden version of a jeepney with a horse was more fitting since we’re trying to be full-on Filipino today.
Here is ToT rocking my Urban Outfitter’s “I Love Philippines” shirt to add authenticity. To my left is my sis-in-law-in-law (yup) LG from General Santos, and cousin JL from Cali.
The Kalesa ride was a good ten minutes, and somehow saw our tour guide Carlos walking his way to somewhere. Apparently we were just looping around to see the surrounding city, still very old school and charming. We wondered how far it would take him to arrive, and he was at our next destination before the horses parked their kalesas!
Next Stop was the San Agustin Church and Museum. Famous for very many weddings, this church is apparently the only remaining Espanyol Church in Intramuros out of the 7 Cathedrals originally built during the colonial days, the other 6 were destroyed during a bombing. Who bombed? I was surprised to find out who. But more on that later.
I was instantly drawn to the large wooden doors at the foot of the church’s entrance. In original form and still quite sturdy, its craftsmanship left me ogling at it for a good minute or so.
It reminded my of the doors of the Duomo in Firenze, Italy. But those doors were bronze.
The hallways of the museum, as well as the entire structure of the church, was made entirely from volcanic ash and patterned after European churches. It’s amazing to know that the Filipino resourceful trait actually has roots from the colonial times.
I guess, we missed a pretty substantial portion of the tour, because Carlos Celdran then took a 5-minute break for us to wander around the area and try the Philippines “national candy”.
Cue childhood memories of these nutty chocolate-y treats filling the gaps of our teeth with brown gunk. Choc-Nut is indeed a Filipino tradition, with Capampangan hot chocolate a drink version of this candy. Though in his basket he had ChocoMani (literally ChocoPeanut), I tried to compare the knock-off to the original… I’d still go for Choc Nut.
Old relics from churches and paintings surrounded the museum, although I was a bit disappointed that the title or name of the artwork was the only info available for them. I am such a sucker for random bits of information and a description of purpose when visiting museums.
Also part of our group was my sis-in-law and her brother, and they took me to visit their grandparents who were buried inside the crypt at the Church. Whuwhaat!? There were tombstones dating back from the 1800s, and then there was a recent one much younger than myself, who was buried in 2006. I realized I might want to rest here, when the time comes. Such a peaceful place with so much history and tradition.
And interestingly enough, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a lot of the dearly departed had fresh flowers next to them. That’s love right there.
Anyway, back to the tour. Here is the master storyteller himself with his infamous 3-ring binder of historical photographs, reiterating what happened when the Spanish was “defeated” by American forces and the Philippines was sold to US for a mere $20 million during the 1898 care of the Treaty of Paris.
This is where his story gets a little theatrical, satirical, and downright entertaining. I don’t want to reword his historical run through of the American period in the Philippines, because I doubt I’d do justice, plus it is really worth hearing it from Carlos’ very glib mouth. Note that we have the American flag in the background + Uncle Sam’s hat for full-on visual appeal.
The rest of the tour was listening intently, laughing when he made smart alec remarks and completed his sentences when asked what the national bird/fruit/tree was. Basically, during this period, America wanted to bring their brand of patriotism to our Spanish/Catholic influenced nation and turn everyone to Asia’s foremost Western nation.
Then Carlos debunked the supposed facts of the American Occupation and portrayed the reality of a nation struggling to walk the line between their colonial roots and the modernization of the western revolution. It became a bit awkward because more than half of the group was foreign, and mostly American, and probably wonders why this mestizo-Filipino was attempting to dig up the past in a way that their history books did not portray.He did point out the fact that the Philippines was the first in Asia to have an airline, cineplex, western movies and a 98% literacy rate wherein almost everyone can speak impeccable English, making us the Call Center Capital of the world. Lol.
We returned to the catacombs, and found that the Japanese massacred over 120 people in that room. I sat by the steps where the most people died. SHUDDER.
I decided to light a candle in respect for the innocent who lost their lives during that trying time, as well as to remember our history and the momentous events that shaped our nation.
Our next stop was the San Agustin Church, which looked a lot like the European cathedrals I’ve visited.
St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican
The San Agustin Church bears a striking resemblance to the latter photo. From the naked eye, you would almost be convinced it is as intricate. But look closer, and you realize that there are no moldings, gold leaf, or any plaster whatsoever. What it does have, is a lot of paint. Yes, the domed ceilings, the sconces and the other decorative trimmings found in the church are conveniently painted
on to the volcanic ash walls of the San Agustin. The builders at that time were smart enough to forego aesthetics because of so much recurring earthquakes, a simple structure was the most practical one. So who did the beautification??? Who else but the most beautiful first lady Imelda Marcos.
Our next stop was Plaza San Luis. I wasn’t very attentive during this final leg of the tour because I was distracted by…
The Guardia Sibil!
Guardia Sibil, or Civil Guards, were protectors of the walled city during the olden times. So cute because even the traffic guys were wearing the same uniforms.
Plaza San Luis is basically a mish-mash of all the cultures that sailed and prevailed in the Philippines up until the modern era. Carlos dabbles a bit about the Chinese influence in the Philippines and says: we think we’re Spanish, we look very Chinese.. but deep inside, we really just wanted to be Americans.
Hahaha. A bit of truth to that.
Then I got distracted by more Guardia Sibil in the area.
The tour ended with an edible symbol of the culmination of everything the Filipinos went through, lived through, and survived through. In the end, we are the epitome of our favorite dessert: Halo-Halo!
Too bad there was no Leche Flan
After that, we were escorted to La Monja Loca Store
, aka The Crazy Nun.
It had souvenirs and tchotchkes which leaned towards some native games, shirts and other interesting items that only Carlos Celdran could come up with.
I thanked Carlos for the wonderful tour, and promised I’d be back for the Imelda Tour. He absolutely fell in love with my shirt and was wowed when I told him it was from Urban Outfitters.
Our group, composed of people from the far south of the Philippines to the Westcoast by the Pacific Ocean, was more than happy to eat up all the fun, information and theatrics that Carlos shared with us. We were also excited to eat at his ” Tita’s” place. But that’s for the next blog. Wait for it!
Reserve a slot for his tours at Telephone: +632 484 4945 or +63 920 909 2021. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org