Manila,oh, Manila

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  • Just got back from an Asian cruise that took us from Hong Kong to Australia with several port stops in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. It was generally a pleasant adventure though I won’t bore you with details – already did that with our incessant facebook postings enough for my envious buddies to unfriend me.

    For us this particular cruise was less impressive than the others we’ve been (what with half of the people on board were Chinese from Hong Kong who naturally had some social and etiquette challenges) but this trip had a significance.

    What made this significant is the fact that this was our first visit to Manila after more than thirty years, and it was the first time I’ve seen Manila from a ship, at sunrise slowly emerging from the horizon as we entered the bay coming from the South China Sea. So even if this was a one-day stop we were excited.

    Before I go on, a bit of history. Manila never had been a cruise stop. A story I heard was that years ago a cruise ship tried to visit Manila but after port and custom authorities came on board at the invitation of the captain for lunch or dinner the ship apparently was looted of items such as silverwares and some duty-free items. After that incident it seems cruise lines blacklisted Manila.

    Anyways, I made sure to be at the bow of the ship along with many other passengers as we entered Manila. I pointed to a spot on the cityscape and proudly told a fellow from Australia beside me, “I was born from there!”

    As always, Pinoys are very entertaining. As our shipped docked, some colorful ati-atihan dancers were at port to greet us. Naturally the ship passengers were all delighted.

    Sadly the port itself looked pitiful in a very poor condition that was not a welcome sight for tourists such as these. We’ve seen better ports in much poorer countries.

    In every place it visits, a cruise line promotes the place and sells excursions in advance. At the beginning of this cruise we saw planned excursions for a city tour, Makati, Tagaytay and Pagsanjan Falls, and many of the cruise guests were booking those excursions.

    Something at the back of my mind was whispering words such as “traffic”, “impossible”, “can’t come back in time”, so we didn’t sign up for any of those excursions. Instead we opted for the safest tour – we rented a van to take us to MOA, which from the map looked like a fifteen-minute ride from the pier.

    That fifteen-minute ride turned out to be an hour-ride. MOA itself was a delight but the traffic was not as I remembered it thirty years ago. It seems like a wild-west with no traffic laws!

    At the end of the day we returned to the ship and that’s when we learned all of the planned excursions were cancelled for fear of traffic.

    Then came the horrible stories. A couple from Malaysia took a calesa that was supposed to take them to a tour of Intramuros. Instead they were taken to some other place and were forced to withdraw money from an ATM under knife point. Another Australian couple were held-up at gunpoint after taking a taxi for a tour of the city. These and several other horrible incidents were reported to the authorities and to the cruise ship officers.

    Some time later in the cruise, we learned that the cruise line had cancelled future stops in Manila and eventually will be changing it’s itinerary – to exclude Manila. We can only guess it could be the result of these incidents. There’s only one word that screams into my mind: “nakakahiya!”

    Tourists are funny and weird. Besides being tacky they love to spend so much money on souvenirs. Number one on the list are fridge magnets! So after steaming from Manila I was chatting with an elderly Australian couple over lunch. So what souvenirs from Manila did you get – I asked. Didn’t find any, the gentleman replied. Not even a magnet? I asked. Well, he explained, we were looking for a magnet we want but can’t find one.

    What kind were you looking for, I was curious. The guy chuckled. Well, he said, it’s something showing the traffic in Manila – that’s all we remembered it anyways!

    by: Jun Cordero

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