I wasn’t even registered for this tour in the first place and who misses a pre-bex tour at TBEX anyway? Well, I did after failing my 6am wake-up alarm on Friday, 14th October, because I did not track my time the previous night at a Couchsurfing meetup at Makati.
By the time I woke up, it was 8.15am. I jumped out my bed and rushed to the shower, in a flash I was in a taxi, didn’t have my morning coffee and soon arrived at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC). I approached the registrations desk where I collected my name badge, a bag of goodies from TBEX sponsors and finally informed the girl at the registrations desk that I missed my Tagatay city tour and whether it was possible to take part in another tour, the girl was prompt and asked me if I would be interested in riding around the historic walled city of Manila on a bamboo bike. I had no idea what it was, but I agreed and was told to wait a couple of minutes for the remaining participants of the tour to turn-up.
At 9.10am, we met our tour guide and were escorted to a brightly decorated 20-seater ‘jeepney’ bus parked just outside the entrance of the convention center. There were 3 of us including me participating in the tour, the other two were Bill Fink and Brianne Miers. We also had two security personnel and two representatives from the Philippines Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) along with us. Our jeepney was escorted by a police officer who was riding a motorbike in front of our vehicle, at times he was unable to part the traffic, since there was virtually nowhere for him to redirect the traffic to, especially in the morning rush hour. The tour guide gave us a short introduction of the jeepney tours.
Jeepney tours are an important aspect of the development of Philippines tourism, it is an exciting and informative way to learn about Manila, its sights and insights. It has been successfully continuing what it started many years ago as an effort to serve tourists the best Manila has to offer.
Our jeepney had an overhead videoke screen installed at the front area of vehicle for tour participants to sing. We plied an area of the charming 7.6-kilometer Roxas Boulevard, passing iconic and historic landmarks such as the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Embassy of the United States in Manila and hundreds of hotels that dotted the landscape. Finally, we stopped at outside Plaza San Luis Complex, where the head-office of Bambike is located, it was surrounded by historical houses from the days of Old Intramuros.
Bambike, as the name suggests, is a bamboo bike, hand-made and produced by a Philippine-based socio-ecological enterprise. The company also supports the villagers of Gawad Kalinga, the community that builds these bikes. Bryan Benitez McClelland, the founder of Bambike was there when we arrived, he greeted and showed us a short video on Bambikes, and then showed us our way to Casa Manila, where a few bambikes were parked, they let us choose whichever bike we preferred for the tour.
The tour guide cautioned us to be careful and to ride next to the pavement, to avoid collision with vehicles coming from the opposite traffic stream. I found it very difficult and uncomfortable to paddle the bike over the cobblestone roads of Intramuros. Our first stop and attraction of the tour was the San Agustin Church, claimed to be oldest stone church in the Philippines, located at General Luna Street. It was designated as a National Historical Landmark and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. We all got off our bikes and took some photos of the exterior of the church. I was taken by surprise to learn that this church has withstood 2 fires, 7 earthquakes, and 4 attacks from the Limahongs, British, Americans and the Japanese.
The second attraction of the bike tour was a stop along Lucia Street at the Galeria de Los Presidentes de La Republica Filipina also referred as the Philippine Presidents’ Gallery, a series of artworks depicting the faces of the former presidents of the Philippines.
The heat was intense and we were getting scorched in the sun. The tour guide stopped at a shaded cabana to surprise us with the “dirty ice-cream” at Baluarte De San Diego Gardens, the ice cream itself is not really “dirty”, it’s an expression chosen to reflect the street carts and how the vendor sells it. They are available in a wide choice of flavors from mango, coconut, avocado, cheese, chocolate, etc..
Baluarte de San Diego is a bastion and remains as one of the oldest stone fortifications in Manila, located at the southern edge of the walled city of Intramuros, it was constructed in the late 16th century and was built to serve as a defensive stronghold from the Japanese invasion. Today, it is a confined garden full of bonsai trees and endangered plant species, catering events such as weddings and seminars.
Near the Lyceum of the Philippines University and the Mapua Institute of Technology, all of got our bikes to push them to climb the defensive walls of Baluarte de San Francisco de Dilao. There were cannons installed in the fortifications, it was built in 1592 by the Spanish government to intercept foreign invasion and threats. The entire fortification was destroyed in 1845, when the Americans liberated the country.
Our final attraction was the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica, also referred as the Manila Cathedral, it is renowned as the premier cathedral and church of the Philippines. Sitting across the Plaza de Roma in Intramuros, it was first built as a church in 1571, and was owned and governed by the Archdiocese of Mexico, until it became an independent diocese in 1579. The current structure was completed in 1958, and had been destroyed several times before that. We parked our bikes outside the cathedral and went inside to take a few quick photos, we returned back soon as our tour was expected to end at 1200 noon and we were already ten minutes behind schedule. Next we headed to the bambike head-office and left the bikes where we found them, then we took a short walk to one of the restaurants at the Casa Manila patio strip for a treat by the Philippines Tourism Promotions Board (TPB). We had fresh juice and assortments of local delicacies, banana lumpia – banana wrapped in spring roll paper, deep-fried to perfection and dressed with salted caramel sauce. We roughly spend about 30 minutes at the restaurant and returned to our jeepney to get back to the convention center.
On our way back to the convention center, our jeepney had one of its tire punctured at Roxas Boulevard. All of us got off the vehicle near the water front and waited for about 15 minutes, soon the TPB’s van had us picked and dropped at the convention center.