Saturday, January 05, 2008


(I joined the Travel Writing seminar of Filipinas Heritage Library last year, which included a field trip to Manila's historical old walled city, Intramuros. As all that history made me lose my appetite, i decided to take the opposite direction and write a nearly-history-free account of Intramuros. Here's what i came up with.)

From: "GUS"
To: "Siopaoski"
Date: Fri, September 7, 2007 11:47 pm

Hey siops,

Just came back from the Travel Mart Expo at Megamall. As expected, I nearly keeled over carrying the ten kilo-ton bag of brochures, flyers, etc. handed out at the booths. Kinda impolite, really, to refuse, especially if winsome ladies are thrusting them at your face.

I took a quick glance at the brochures, and threw out most of them, though. They’re all so glossy . . . so perfect-looking, yet after a while, they all seem to be all the same. I mean, if its about a beach resort in Boracay or Palawan or wherever, you see this glorious sunset with a couple entwined in each other’s arms; kids frolicking in the fine white sand; a bikini-clad girl snorkeling or kayaking in the azure blue waters; etc.

If its about a luxury spa nestled somewhere in an island or at the hills, you see close-up pictures of their aromatherapy oils and natural / herbal scrubs; sauna / Jacuzzi / bathroom facilities with those to-die-for vertical showerheads; heck, even those flower petals floating on wooden bowls, while they wax euphoric about their detox programs and massages that “rejuvenate the soul and revive the core of your inner being”. Who writes these meaningless claptrap, anyway?

What bugs me is that these perfect photos inflate your expectations, but once you get to the destination and see what it actually looks in real life, you feel deflated, misled even. I remember when i drove to Nurture Spa in Tagaytay before. The damn place looked so impeccably manicured and sterile and artificially put-together that it could have been Snow White’s garden where she played Trip to Jerusalem with the Seven Dwarfs every afternoon (of course, they have to let Grumpy win, every single time).

So, last Saturday, during our visit to Intramuros (I did mention in my last email about this travel writing workshop I was taking part of, right?), I thought it would be fun to take some “real” pictures.

It was perfect weather to be walking around and poking one’s nose into history: very light sun, a fair breeze, and no sign of dark clouds preceding a rainshower. I got there early. Hmm . . . no sight of anyone looking like a fellow travel writer-wannabe, nor anyone remotely resembling our tour guide Ivan.

I decided to buy some taho from an itinerant vendor and walk around Plaza Roma, the square right in front of Manila Cathedral. As you know, Intramuros is the oldest part of Manila and Manila Cathedral is no spring chicken itself, having been burned down a couple of times over the past three centuries and rebuilt each time.

In due time, everyone showed up and pretty soon, I was absentmindedly half-listening as Ivan animatedly fired away with a carload of historical tidbits about Intramuros, while resisting the urge to scratch an itchy spot at the small of my back.

Well, here’s something he probably has never noticed. Ever. There are TWO GARGOYLES guarding over the Manila Cathedral!! [triumphant chortle] Yup, from the looks of it, they scrutinize each and every visitor entering its doors from their vantage point at Plaza Roma (and probably put a curse on would-be thieves, who knows?)

And I have here the pictures to prove it, too; one of them a close-up at that:

Fascinating, isn't it? Well, yes and no. Here's why:

Yep, by my (unofficial) count, that' s 4 cigarette butts, 1 candy wrapper, a few lotto tickets; and strangely enough, some giant black ants happily swimming in the fetid water.

Gargoyle B fared much worse. Take a look:

Tsk, tsk [shaking head vigorously]. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

And those Bahay na Bato (stone houses) at Casa Manila? Remember you were quite impressed with them during our field trip back in Grade Four, and wanted your dad to tear down your house and rebuild it in the exact same style? Well, the whole thing is one big sham.

Turns out the design is not from the 1800s, as we had thought. No sir. It was Imelda the Iron Butterfly who had these built, back in 1981.

As Ivan pointed out, there were no such things as three-storey buildings a couple of centuries ago. Why, you ask? I dunno. [shrug]

In fact, Imeldific got the design of these stone houses from an old house in Jaboneros St., San Nicolas district in Binondo. An absolute disgrace, fooling tourists like this! Gusto ko talagang sapatusin yang Imelda na yan! (I want to bop her in the head with my fake, turquoise-blue Croc sandal!!)

Oh yeah, we dropped by the equally historic San Agustin Church (see above) as well. It looks all magnificent and imposing in postcards and magazine articles about Philippine churches, i know; but up close, I’d say it’s in dire, dire need of a paint job. Take a look:

Inside, we looked around some exhibits of religious figures, and even a mausoleum. Pictures were not allowed for the most part though, but no one seemed to be enforcing it anyway.

Check out this abaca press from the 18th century:

I’ve no idea how exactly they used it, but it does look like a giant corkscrew or something like that, don't you think?

Wellllll. . . not quite. Take a closer look. Here's a close-up pic of it now:

Hah! Our ancestors really had incredible prescience! They knew that those nincompoops at the Department of Tourism would be looking for something record-breaking, after inflicting the biggest shoe in Marikina and the biggest strawberry cake in La Trinidad on us.

Damn right, here is the “Longest Phallic Symbol disguised as a Museum Artifact inside a Historical Church” in the world, and it's right here in Intramuros, Manila, Philippines!

Now, this i wanna see in a brochure.




dyosa said...

hi GUS! stumbled upon your nice blog. by the way, i saw that you were asking Fran about T-House in Tagaytay. if you want to see pics of T-House, you can visit this page.

hope it helps!

Happy new year to you!

Anonymous said...

hehe yay, blog! --abbee

-=K=- said...

Hahahahaha! I laughed super loud when I saw the last part. Funny.

By the way, it's 3AM and I'm supposed to be quiet, ya know.

Damn that Phallic Symbol. LOL.