By Mummy B.
The Philippines, as I explained, were a revelation. Here is the story of our first day in Manila.
After our flight on Monday evening, June 23, where we could enjoy the service (and dinner!) of Singapore Airlines, we arrive at night in our hotel The Bayleaf and we directly fall asleep.
The next morning, after breakfast together, Daddy B. goes to work. I stay alone with Mimi B. in the most beautiful hotel of Intramuros, the historic district of Manila. No way to spend the whole day locked in the room, I take a map at the reception and decide to discover the city. Manila is not really known for being very safe. There are even some places clearly to avoid, especially when it seems obvious that you are not a local. Besides, most of the testimony that I read on travel forums and blogs advised not to spend much time here … It is often said that there would be nothing to do! Well… I’d say it’s like the myth saying that you cannot find a deserted beach in Thailand during peak season : all depends what you are looking for and where you wanna go!
In Intramuros, I did not feel unsafe. But we have always avoided to walk around at night.
So here I am, late morning, under a blazing sun walking into the maze of streets that represents every new neighborhood when you begin to visit it, with the map in my hand, my DSLR camera around my neck and the wrap baby carrier in my bag. Immediately, I notice the Hispanic influence in architecture due to the colonization of Manila by the conquistadors in 1571. Indeed the city remained under Spanish rule for over three centuries.
I meet no tourists. So I quickly become the attraction of the day … and Mimi even more! But after a year in Asia, I should get used to it, but at this moment we are just surrounded by people who want to talk to us, touch Mimi … It is always with great kindness, but all this attention makes us eventually little uncomfortable. And then the rickshaw drivers keep following me even if I firmly repeat them that I prefer to walk. I feel a little uneasy and prefer to rush a bit to find some quieter streets.
On the map it seems that a museum is not far. This is the Bagumbayan Light and Sound Museum, which was housed in a former convent for the campaign “Visit Philippines 2003”. We arrive at the right place, but there is no desk to have information. There is only a room with a piano and a nice small courtyard at the back. And then, seeing me a little lost, a woman begins to talk with me. Her name is Armie and she is a middle school professor. Today she brings her class to the Museum. His students are waiting patiently for the next visit that takes place in fifteen minutes. Armie offers me to join them. I am thrilled and leaves Mimi B. do some scales on the piano until the doors open. I don’t know what to expect with the Museum, but I am touched by the kindness of the Filipino teacher.
So I join the school group when the guided tour starts and try to be as invisible as possible. The museum traces different periods but explains particularly the life of Jose Rizal, a major figure in the history of the country, a national hero, who paid with his life for his commitment to the emancipation of the Filipino people. I don’t know it yet, but I will read and learn a lot about Rizal during our stay in Philippines. The story of this brave man will increase my interest in the culture of his country and make me understand the injuries and struggles that built this nation.
The visit of the Light and Sound Museum takes an hour, but as it is interactive, it goes by fast. Dynamic scenes with animated mannequins, music and lighting effects bring to life the different chapters of the Filippino history. From Singapore to Manila via Seoul, I really was surprised by the technologies used to make museums accessible and interesting, a model that could inspire the museums curators in France! Even Mimi B. is attentive to what is going on. For her, it’s like a show!
At the end of the visit, I take a picture of Armie and her students which I will send her by e-mail. She is delighted and her students too. I leave them. I am surprised and pleased with the unexpected twist that my morning took.
After asking my way (the exit of the museum is not at the same place as the entrance!), I see a small canteen which draw my attention. There are only Filipinos who are having lunch (it makes sense since I still met no tourists! ). From outside, I can hear laughter, sounds of plates and cutlery and it smells very good … We go there! Mimi B. and I share a beef cabbage soup with hot corn and rice. It was plentiful and delicious. Clients and waiters talk a little with me, they all love Mimi and her curls. And I am very pleasantly surprised when paying, our bill is very cheap (100 php, less than 1.80€, water bottle included).
During lunch, I also learn my first words in tagalog (the local language) : “Salamat” (Thank You) and “Maganda” (beautiful, for a girl, it was about Mimi of course!).
More confident now, I take time to walk in the streets. I immerse myself in the atmosphere, look at the colors, pay attention to the smells and discuss with the rickshaw drivers. They know that I will not use their service, I’m in no hurry and prefer to walk, but they seem happy to just chat with me and laugh with Mimi B.
There are children everywhere. Mimi goes to them. They give some cookies to her, she shares hers. I begin to understand the mentality that prevails here and I like it. I talk to people who stop me on the road. I just enjoy every moment without thinking “what’s next?”.
Then I take my way towards the Bahay Tsinoy Museum, which explains the history of the Chinese in the Philippines (the Tsinoys). The entrance fee is 100 php. This Museum is also very informative as well as entertaining and Mimi enjoys it. Beyond the written explanations and small objects or manuscripts presented retracing the route of this ethnic group from prehistory to the present, there are also many scale models and mannequins that depict the life of past centuries. The museum is small enough and the visit can be made quickly (depending if you read all the explanations or not: alone with Mimi, I had to skip some of them).
After that, we walk to the Cathedral of Manila. A beautiful structure where there are a certain quietness and a great fervor. In the Philippines, Catholicism is practiced by more than 80% of the population, making it the first Asian Catholic community. And this monument shows how important this religion is for the locals.
From the square in front of the Cathedral (also called Basilica of the Immaculate Conception), you can also admire the governor’s palace.
The square is also full of carts pulled by horses. In the sweltering heat, those poor animals have no food or water and seem tired. Although Mimi B. would have loved a ride in it, I explain her why we won’t do such activities, as for elephants in Thailand, because the animals are suffering and it is not nice for them. At her age, I’m surprised she understands so well. She keeps repeating during the afternoon that we should not go on the horses here because they are hurt.
We meet also many jeepneys. This is the local public transportation. These are old Jeeps, lift in kinds of buses and painted in beautiful bright colors. This is very typical, a true icon here!
We end the day at Fort Santiago, one of the oldest fortifications of the city. The entrance fee is 75 php for an adult (about 1.30 €) and it is free for Mimi. As there is no car in the park, Mimi can walk alone without danger. The park is really beautiful with lush vegetation and beautiful fountains.
At the back there is a small playground … local atmosphere guaranteed! To sum up, the safety standards are very different from our Western standards: there is a “squirrel cage”, as it is called in French to describe a metal climbing structure that has disappeared from the playground for years in France, deemed too dangerous. I remember we had one at school when I was a child and a lot of us fell from it with bloody nose or lips … As for the seesaws, they did nothing to dampen when you are down, on the ground! But for Mimi, it doesn’t matter: this playground is perfect because she can have fun!
Finally we arrive at the entrance of Fort Santiago. We cross a bridge and arrive in a second park where you can visit the Rizal Shrine. It presents souvenirs that belonged to him, but also and especially Rizal’s cell, where he spent his last moments before being shot in 1896 at the age of 35 years.
At the end of long day, fatigue is felt. We return to the hotel by rickshaw. For 50 php (or 0.90€), we save a fifteen minutes walk. The vehicle is much smaller than in Thailand or Cambodia. It’s very tight for two adults, but alone with Mimi, it’s OK. After this long walk, where Meryl slept only one hour in the wrap baby carrier and walked almost all along (a real little adventurer!), she collapses into bed at the hotel until Daddy B. comes back from work in the early evening work.
We have dinner together in the hotel restaurant. The Sky Deck View Bar is a beautiful rooftop terrace with panoramic views of Manila. With our cocktails and an excellent meal, we spend a wonderful evening and already begin to enjoy the atmosphere in the Philippines.
Of course, as they say … it’s more fun in the Philippines!