A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
A view from my balcony

TBEX Asia 2016 took me to Manila. I was a speaker there – my topic being Architectural Photography (For those who may ask – “What is TBEX?” – well, TBEX is the largest conference and networking event for travel bloggers, online travel journalists, new media content creators, travel brands and industry professionals). Once I was in Manila, my mind went through a roller coaster of thoughts. Go on, read about them!

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes

I was on a ‘Smoking in Balcony Only’ floor of Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila. It was evening when I checked in. So, I opened the blinds and stepped out into the balcony for a smoke. Voila! A stunning cityscape greeted me! Beautifully illuminated high-rise, a couple of merry-go-rounds draped in psychedelic lights, a seemingly-reclaimed peninsula jutting into the bay, much greenery and smoothly gliding traffic – everything that marks a throbbing, buzzing town, was there!

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
Another view from the same balcony

Later that evening, we had to travel to Hotel Shangri-La at the Fort. A quick Google Search revealed a horrendous truth – this 9.9-kilometer journey would take us over an hour! I suddenly became present to the horrors of ‘smoothly gliding traffic’ in Manila! But, thanks to the police escort provided by Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), Philippines, we reached in 30 minutes!

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
Just after rains

Next morning, we were to visit an Island that held strategic importance during WW-II – Corregidor Island. The gory events of WW-II have turned this island into one of the ‘Top 10’ haunted Islands of the world – mainly because of mass suicides by Japanese soldiers in Malinta Tunnel.

For more on Corregidor Island, visit Eerie, not abandoned – Malinta Tunnel, Corregidor Island, Philippines.

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
They do this every day

As we reached the Sun Cruises Jetty, a delightful sight warmed our hearts. Scores of serious cycling enthusiasts were zipping around the place. They were engaged in their morning routine of completing their own personal targets of exer-cycling. And the road was a blurry riot of their colourful attire!

The Photo Walk Route

These initial glimpses were exciting! TBEX folks had requested that I conduct their pre-TBEX Photo Walk next morning. But then, October normally has moody weather in Manila. It falls bang in the middle of the Typhoon season. There was a threat of rain. A typhoon named Sarika (local name – Karen) was threatening to hit Luzon, the island on which Manila is.

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
In the distance – Manila Port

This reality was making TPB veer towards caution. They did not want the Photo Walk disrupted by high winds and a downpour. They suggested we do our Photo Walk in an area dotted with shopping malls – Bonifacio Global City.

Having read a little about Manila and having chatted with our guide to Corregidor Island, I requested that the Photo Walk route be changed. I proposed that we flag off from Bayleaf Hotel as this property has a viewing terrace that gives a panoramic view of Manila and its Spanish walled city called Intramuros.

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
Erstwhile moat along the city wall – now a posh golf course, courtesy the Americans

From there, continue our walk on the famed city wall of Intramuros. Then, proceed to check out the San Agustin Church (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and round off the walk at Casa Manila – a heritage house that showcases the colonial lifestyle. Despite their weather-related misgivings, TPB was pleased with the route as it showcased the real Manila! And, without much persuasion, they agreed!

A Photo Walk to Remember

After a night of pouring rain, the day of the Photo Walk presented a bright sunshine – the type not seen in Manila for days! I guess the elements were with us!

The usual police escort whizzed us past the US Embassy en route Bayleaf and we were chaperoned by the hotel reception personnel to their gorgeous viewing terrace. The view around accorded us a visual understanding of Intramuros and its surroundings. One side presented the Manila Port while the other showed us the colonial quarters! The view was totally breathtaking!

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
The wide city wall we walked on

A few hundred photographs and a refreshing iced tea later, the group stepped out to climb up the city wall. Post-rain high humidity made its presence felt – especially for those who wore grey Tees, with sweat visible all over!

But this humidity was not going to dampen the spirits of the group. They charged on regardless, admiring the moat along the city wall that is now a stunning golf course created by the Americans and the Jolly Bee tableaus spreading some jollity and bonhomie along the way! Ronnie, our guide, told us Jolly Bee is the most successful example of entrepreneurship in Philippines – a fast food chain even McDonald’s hasn’t been able to challenge!

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
Manila University

Surprise, Surprise!

Walking on the wall, we went past Manila University and suddenly found our way blocked by a gate! Even our guide seemed surprised by this little barrier. Surely, it was a new development. We backtracked, got down to the street and walked back to enter ‘Baluarte de San Diego Gardens’. Inside the garden was a 16th-century rampart that was constructed to fend off the high-frequency attacks by the Chinese pirates.

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
The rampart of San Diego

The gardens were beautiful. Here, our guide pointed out an insignificant-looking ornamental plant called Manila Hemp or Abaca. He told us it is used to make the paper on which Filipino currency is printed!

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
The Photo Walkers

By now, the heat and humidity were visibly affecting the group. Sensing that, TPB pulled another surprise out of their invisible witch-hat. We were treated to ‘Sorbetes’ (Filipino for Ice Cream) – that too, in a shaded cabana, well-covered with huge trees!

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
Sorbetes cart

Suddenly reinvigorated, the group refused the offer of getting into the van and instead, chose to walk to San Agustin Church, the star of the day’s walk. In a way, it was good, as we stumbled upon the gallery of the Philippines Presidents as we walked!

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
The Presidents’ Gallery
A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
Casa Manila courtyard – here, photography is permitted
A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
Ornate entrance gate of San Agustin Church

Art meets Heritage

San Agustin Church remains closed for lunch from 12noon to 1 pm. And that was the time when we reached there. Our guide steered us towards Casa Manila, the colonial lifestyle museum, to meaningfully utilise the time till the church opened. Like many museums, photography inside Casa Manila is not permitted. Since we were on a Photo Walk, we spent minimal time here. But what we saw during that brief while, sure gave us a good idea about the colonial lifestyle.

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
Inside San Agustin Church

We entered San Agustin Church sharp at 1 pm. While being ushered through history, Ronnie talked about the superlative work of art that adorns the church ceiling. He talked of how flat ceiling has been painted in a magical way to give an illusion of 3D bass relief work, just like what you see in the Gallery of Maps (Sistine Chapel), Vatican!

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
3D or 2D?

The church building does not only seem imposing and indestructible, it truly is. It has withstood repeated calamitous damage at the hands of raging fires, enemy attacks and high-intensity earthquakes.

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
The Crypt inside San Agustin formerly called the De Profundis Hall

Back to the future

As we exited San Agustin, we were herded into our transport to return to the conference venue. Since Ronnie had endlessly talked about an air conditioned church (The Manila Cathedral), the group requested for a quick, short, stop there. Though the air conditioning makes Manila Cathedral sought-after for weddings, it is notoriously jinxed and normally results in divorces!

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
Awesome stained glass work inside San Agustin

Over the next few days, TBEX conference kept us busy. But the evening parties were taking us places – from Chaos in City of Dreams to The Blue Leaf in Aseana to the Long Bar in Raffles, Makati. The drive to these venues showed us the buzz that is Manila!

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
The Manila Cathedral

I can broadly conclude that this little bit of Manila in my life has been addictive. Leaving Manila has given me cold turkey. Hence, I am resolved to be back here sooner than later, for more of my Manila fix!

A Little Bit of Manila in my Eyes - Little Bit Manila Eyes
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