We entered Philippine waters at Sand Bernardino Strait and after clearing the more enclosed waters near Bernardino Strait we crossed the Sibuyan Sea towards Verde Island Passage were we exited the archipelago on the west side of the Philippines.
Greeting us on the dock were hundreds of young people either playing instruments or dancing. Numerous tents had been erected by the Port Authority in honour of the MS Amsterdam and its Pilipino crew; to be used by the family members get-together. It was just an awesome sight.
Manila is the capital of the Philippines and one of the cities that make up the greater metropolitan area of Metro Manila. Manila became the seat of the colonial government of Spain when it controlled the Philippine Islands for over three centuries from 1565-1898. We can see that influence in many of the buildings we see on our time here. Starting in 1898 the US occupied and controlled the city and the Philippine archipelago until 1946. During WWII, much of the city was destroyed and it was not until 1975 that the Metropolitan Manila region was enacted as an independent entity. If you recall the last time we were in Manila (2009) we visited Corregidor, which was a very moving experience for both of us. At the entrance to Manila Bay is the tiny island where the Filipino and American armies took a final WWII stand. It was believed that Corregidor was invincible but it ultimately fell and thousands of young defenders and attackers died. It’s now a national monument and a moving tribute to visitors of the war’s absolute waste of human life.
As we’re here a day early we’ve decided to do our own thing. There’s a shuttle into the centre of town and we want to eat something local. We arrive at Robinson Shopping Centre which we’re told is one of 3 large shopping areas in Manila – and my gosh we just couldn’t believe our eyes, the place is enormous!! There’s at least 6 levels of shopping areas with many escalators going in many different directions. After a bit of shopping we stopped and ate some local food, which as always was just amazing. I think the total meal was $4.00 US!
On our second day we have a tour booked “The Charms of Old Manila”. We have a superb guide, his English is awesome and he’s totally knowledgeable about the history of his country.
Our first stop is Intramuros. Manila’s oldest colonial district, it was a Chinese settlement before the Spaniards fortified it. Intramuros, which translates to “within the wall” refers to the standing barrier that was expanded in the face of constant attack. The walls protected the colonial headquarters. Political prisoners, included Dr. Rizal, were locked away for “safekeeping”. Unfortunately the Spanish zealots attempted to eradicate the local religious ceremonies during the 300 year Spanish reign in the Philippines. The Filipinos retaliated but none were as violent as the uprising sparked by Dr. Jose Rizal’s sham trial and eventual execution in 1896. He was totally devoted to peace and died with honour, refusing both a blind fold and requested to be shot in the forehead versus the back of the head. There’s an amazing memorial close by that usually has 2 guards always on duty 7 x 24. The country just loved this man.
Our next stop was San Augustin Church which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and amongst the nation’s oldest and beautifully restored buildings. This church is just unbelievably beautiful, the art work alone could take several days to view many created by hand using wood as the medium. The ceiling art is just mind-blowing. At first glance you wonder how in heavens name did they do the cornice and mouldings – we were told that it wasn’t plaster but painting. I’ll ask Gerrit to put in several photos of the ceilings and you make up your own mind. It really is amazing. They had several small museums within the grounds providing information on the ultraconservative Spanish priests and their dealings with those who didn’t reform!
Our next stop was the first Spanish colonial fort, Fort Santiago which is now a very popular park. At the end of WWII, prisoners who had been held inside were massacred. More than 600 bodies were found in one cell where they open the flood gates and drowned them all. Many of the bodies when found showed evidence of starvation and torture. The fort interestingly has a Rizal Shrine containing a collection of Dr. Rizal’s personal effects and artwork.
Our next stop was Casa Manila, where there was a great selection of elegant hand carved wood fixtures and period furnishings. We were unable to take photos here but the gardens and the gateways were free to be photographed. The landscaping and flowers were just lovely.
We did manage to squeeze a little shopping in at a duty free store close to Manila Cathedral which was our final stop. I think I’ve spoken a lot about churches today so will leave you with a few pictures.
To end our day 35 children from Hospicio de San Jose (Hospice of St. Joseph) entertained us in the Queen’s Lounge on board. It was just awesome!! The Hospice was the first social welfare agency in the Philippines. It was established in October 1778 by Don Francisco Gomez Enriquez and his wife Dona Barbara Verzosa with a donation to found the hospice that would take care of Manila’s “poor and unwanted children”, physically and mentally challenged and aging people. In 1810 the hospice was governed by a Board of Directors and in 1866 the operation of the hospice became the responsibility of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. In addition to providing love and care to children and the aged they provide outreach programs, so abandoned people can experience a quality of life. They provide formal education as well as health and spiritual programs. The goal is to design develop and sustain innovative programs and services to improve the quality of life of the poor. The current mayor of Manila is a graduate of the orphanage, he gave a small speech to us. All the money raised plus some from Holland America totalled $5,000US. That’s a lot of pesos!