We had a day at sea to recover to recover. There were a few Boobies hovering around the boat – quite a rare sight as we had travelled around through tropical seas devoid of life. We were beginning to think every last living thing had been wiped out. It is incredibly sad to think that we are witnessing the last remnants of wildlife. Once these seas and lands were teeming with life. But I am afraid that we’ve been killing everything. Now the wildlife is scant indeed.
We sailed into Manila with the sun painting it a wan early morning orange. What a welcome! There were three fire-ships lined up to give us a squirt as we docked!
Not one but two bands and dance groups were there to greet us again. We are so popular! One was a drum group who pounded out some great rhythms while young psuedowarriors, with hardboard shields and wooden spears, performed an ethnically inspired war dance. The other was mainly made up of young girls on xylophones? – With an array of other interesting instruments with some I’d never seen before. They were excellent and I certainly enjoyed the rhythms they created.
They were guys on stilts, huge paper mache cartoon characters and a huge array of dancers. They were certainly pulling out the stops! I noticed that not all the dancers were really into it though – there were bored looks and whispered asides. Kids will be kids the world over. Performing for tourists can be tedious.
After wandering about through a grimy part of the city marvelling at the strange buses that the locals were jumping off and on. There were armed guards with big guns standing about. But undeterred we wandered off through the back streets where the electricity cables hung in bundles just as with Thailand – a spaghetti of electricity. You just hope that your lines don’t get crossed.
After wandering aimlessly for a while in the gathering heat we decided to purchase the leg power of a local and allow a pedal powered rickshaw to propel the two of us around the old city and show us the sights. He proved adept at weaving in and out of traffic and avoiding ruts. We did our fill of the old city walls, or what was left of it after them after they had been destroyed in the Second World War by the Japanese. Inside the city walls they were filming a movie – it looked like Beauty and the Beast.
The old fort was a ruin but was interesting. It housed tales of martyrs and battles long gone as well as pleasant surrounds with old gates and ponds of water-lilies. The view out across the river gave you a view of the city plus a look into the slums that they did not really want you to see.
The cathedral was interesting and picturesque. It was set on a great little square with the Presidential Palace. By some divine protection, or sheer luck, they seem to have come through the bombing fairly intact.
The Old Church and monastery was very calm and also intact. It always amazes me that the poorer and more destitute the population the more they turn to religion. I think it is the same psychological principle that causes people to turn to gambling. They have hope that some action on their part (prayer or a bet) can make everything perfect. Some hope.
We cycled past the park and river, stopped off at the museum before heading back to the ship for refreshments. The museum gave a glimpse at another life. A mere hundred years ago the place would have been unrecognisable as local Indians went about their business, fishing, harvesting and creating, following their gods and performing their rites. All swept away in the tide of time and the mad rush down the rapids into this overcrowded city. Such a short time ago. All gone. Replaced with what?
Our guide was informative and quite content to let us wander and stay as long as we wanted. We were paying him by the hour!
Talking to Rico (our powerful calved pedlar) it seems that the war on drugs, in which hundreds of thousands had been executed (for a variety of political reasons other than drugs), had done nothing to solve the problem. The people executed were all small-fry – the ones behind it were immune and there was widespread corruption. Same story the world over. Rico proudly told us that, despite being in his early thirties, he was the proud father of seven without apparently seeing any connection of this to the congestion, grinding poverty, squalor and misery all around him. Overpopulation and poverty did not seem to connect in his head. It fills me with dread.
As the sun began to set we were seen off by not one but two very large brass bands and baton twirling girls in a much more American inspired performance.
The Manilans certainly pushed the boat out! Though it was rather strange as we pulled away from the quay and they struck up Auld Langs Syne.
As we left the harbour we sailed close to the slums. They sweltered in the unrelenting heat as a multitude of people tried to eke a living out of very little.
We looked back at Manila as we steamed away. The orange glow of the setting sun gave it a shabby magnificence that belied the dirt, people sleeping on the streets, the rubbish and the rats. We all agreed that it was a fairly typical Eastern city in that respect. There was an interesting raft of colonial left overs (mainly Spanish), a sense of decay, overpopulation and poverty along with some opulent wealth all boiled together in the heat.
We waved goodbye to the locals who had gathered at the end of the quay to wave us off.