Sometimes I get an idea in my head and it consumes me. I’m like a dog with a bone. New Years Day, 2019, I decided before the year was up, I’d attend a yoga retreat in Bali. I’d spent a great deal of time in 2018 focussing on my spiritual well-being, and visiting Bali seemed the next logical step. Manila was a stop on the way.
After weeks of research, I called my travel agent, Noreen, at Paull Travel. Noreen took my visions and ideas and made me an itinerary that I could only dream of. I was set to travel at the end of September. All I had to do was find someone to go with me.
That did not happen, and by the last week in August, a voice inside my head said, rather loudly: “What the heck were you thinking?!!! You–off to Asia!!! By yourself!!! Do you even know how far that is!?!!”
A view of Manila’s Rizal Park from my hotel room.
I couldn’t fly direct to Indonesia but had to land somewhere first. I chose Manila for no particular reason, other than it was in the Philippines and it was Asia… and I’d never been there.
Manila is the Capital of the Philippines, and three times the size of Vancouver, BC.
For the record, the size of Vancouver freaks me out.
My 9km cab ride from the airport to the Luneta Hotel took over 30 minutes.
There are 3000 permanent residents in Cluculz Lake, BC, 4000 in Vanderhoof, BC, and 11000 in Bucerias, Mx. Vancouver has 700K; two million if you count the entire Fraser Valley with all its municipalities.
Manila has a population of 13 million people.
Did I mention the length of the flight? 23 hours at that point.
Ten days earlier, I’d driven from Chipman, New Brunswick to Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, (by myself) which took 4 days. I visited with cousins for a week, (my back appreciated that) then flew from Winnipeg to Vancouver, (3hr 03min).
Two hours later I boarded a plane to Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport. (13hr 50min). After standing in line for over an hour, I exited customs, located my driver, (he was outside holding up a big sign with my name on it) and we headed to the Luneta Hotel in Ermita.
My success during this part of my journey was significant because there were 3 terminals at the NAIA, and I, a country-pumpkin, did not get lost. It was all because of Noreen’s excellent planning.
FYI: On my trip home, I was told to be at the airport 4 hours prior to my flight. There is a very good reason for that. You need every second of those 4 hours to reach your gate on time. I’ll explain about that in next month’s post.
If you’re interested in history, particularly WW2, you can check out the significance of the Luneta Hotel during the war here. It’s a fascinating read.
President Dwight Eisenhower stayed at the Luneta for 4 years during the 40’s. I felt fortunate to be there for its 100th anniversary. My room was on the 5th top, on the right. (your other right.) The one with the three curved windows together.
The room was extravagant. Beautiful. The staff were pleasant but busy, and none of the other guests spoke English. Everyone smiled a lot. A thought crossed my mind several times that I should have waited until this year because I probably would have found someone to come with me. But of course, along came the Covid-19. If I hadn’t taken this chance I might never have seen Asia.
Every place I saw was fascinating.
Directly across the street from the Luneta Hotel was historical Rizal Park. Originally known as Bagumbayan during the Spanish Colonial Period, it was renamed after national hero José Rizal, Filipino patriot, writer and poet. He was executed there in 1896.
The Declaration of Philippine Independence from the United States was held there on July 4, 1946. Today the park is full of busts of heroic Filipinos who were also executed in the park. Many of them writers.
From my hotel room, I watched busloads of tourists arrive each morning, along with school buses full of children.
During my morning walkabouts, I saw things I’d never seen before: gas pumps that hung from the ceiling.
Strange forms of transportation…
The Jeepneys are a huge part of Manila’s identity, not unlike double-deckers are in the UK. They’re the cheapest form of transportation on the island.
The one disturbing part was the children and adults begging in the streets. They were everywhere. It was very sad.
I think everything in life happens as it should. I think visiting Manila was an important part of my journey as a human being and a writer.
On the way back to the airport, the taxi driver pointed out many important landmarks and told me the next time I came I should visit the beautiful islands of the Philippines instead of spending the entire time in Manila. I told him I would, but also that I was grateful to have visited his city. It opened up my concept of the world. It broadened my horizons. It changed me as a writer.
Malacanang Palace was built in 1750 for the nobleman, Don Luís Rocha, later becoming the summer home of the Spanish governor-general.
San Agustin Museum. The monastery attached to the church was wrecked during the Second World War but was rebuilt in the 1970s and its former refectory, sacristy, crypt, halls and library now hold a museum. Doesn’t the courtyard look familiar? Like something you’ve seen in a movie?
Chinatown in the Bindondo Quarter.
The seafront on Manila Bay is the site of the Battle of Manila Bay between the United States Navy and Spain in 1898, which ended Spain’s 300 years of rule.
Fort Santiago. At the start of the Philippine Revolution in 1896-1898, the national hero José Rizal was incarcerated here before his execution. You can see where he was imprisoned, and there’s a shrine in his honour, replicating his ancestral home.
I found Manila to be a beautiful and fascinating city with much to offer any traveller. I think the historical relevance is reason enough to visit. But I recommend seeing more of the tranquil and stunning beaches.
Binondo Church was founded by the Dominicans in 1596 to serve their Chinese converts to Christianity.
Manila American Cemetery. Twenty-three American Medal of Honor recipients are buried or memorialized at the Manila cemetery. Among the honoured are the five Sullivan Brothers, who died when the USS Juneau was sunk in 1942.
Travelling so far from home by myself was very out-of-character for me and changed me in ways I’m still discerning.
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