This was an amazing day in so many ways – first, the captain changed the original times for both our arrival and departure. Because Manila and this part of the Philippines has so much history, especially important to the USA because of WWII, there were passengers who wanted to go to Corregidor Island which was at the entrance to Manila Bay, but a two hour ferry ride from where we were docked. There was only one ferry early in the morning, so the captain made a special effort to get our ship there early so that those passengers could catch that ferry. There was no planned ship’s shore excursion there, so it was an independent trip for them.
This was also an important port for our ship because like in Indonesia, many of the officers and crew are from Manila and so there were many family members waiting for our ship. We heard later there were about 1,000 visitors on the ship today – with lots of the crew’s relatives enjoying a big meal and kids enjoying the ice cream cones! As we pulled into port, the decks were lined with crew on their cell phones contacting their families. We were also docked near the USS Blue Ridge. We were told this navy ship serves as the naval intelligence center for the Pacific Fleet.
Once again we were greeted with a very warm welcome – lots of music, dancing, and singing. It was very elaborate. They also had little stalls selling local crafts – and one even was selling t-shirts with a picture of the ms Amsterdam on the front and the ports of call for the 2013 itinerary on the back (we later bought two!)
A few quick facts: Manila is on Luzon Island and is the capital of the Philippines. It was the seat of the colonial government of Spain for three centuries (1565-1898.) In 1898 the United States occupied and controlled it until 1946. Much of the city was destroyed during WWII. Today it is a huge city – comparable to London and Tokyo. There is lots of traffic – and traffic signals are a mere suggestion. No one pays attention to the lines on the streets. One of the public modes of transportation that you see everywhere is the jeepney. More about this later. This is a city of great historical significance.
We had a full day tour that included the best of Manila – both past and present. We began with the newer Manila. We were on a ship’s tour and so on a bus with about 32 people. This would have been the place for a small, private tour. We saw the busy and modern city of Manila as we drove to our first stop. We went through the Makati area which is the financial and commercial center of Manila – lots of high rise modern buildings here.
We arrived at the Manila American Memorial Cemetery, the largest outside of the continental United States. It is a beautiful area arranged in concentric circles. You are initially struck by the numbers of white marble headstones in the shape of crosses. There are over 17,000, and these are where the bodies of both US and Philippine soldiers are buried. On most of these headstones, the name, rank, and hometown is engraved. However, on some unidentified bodies, this is what is engraved: “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God.” It was very moving.
We then walked to The Memorial which is a tower containing a small devotional chapel. Usually there are flowers on the alter there, but today the flowers were a special arrangement from the USS Blue Ridge (the naval ship docked next to us.) Members of our Navy, all decked out in white, were there to honor the memory of the soldiers who died in the Pacific. It was extra special to see them there.
Around the Memorial, there are two half circles of walled corridors where the Walls of the Missing are located. Engraved on these marbled walls are the names, rank, and hometown of the 36,286 missing soldiers, whose bodies were never recovered. Once again, the sheer numbers was overwhelming. As I walked down the corridor, I remembered that my mother’s brother had been killed in WWII in the Pacific on his ship (the Astoria) and that his body was never found. So, on a whim, I went to where his name would be and found it. I guess I was not really prepared for that moment because I was moved to tears. I stood there sobbing for many moments, trying to take pictures to share with my family. I think I am the first family member to actually be here to see this site. It read Andrew James Cribbin Seaman 1C USN Missouri. I wished so much that my mother were still alive, and I could have shared this with her. After that I couldn’t walk around the rest of the area – it was time to get back on the bus. The whole visit to this site was such an emotional impact for me – not just because of the uncle I never knew, but because it brought home to me even more the loss that war brings to everyone involved. It was an experience that will stay with me always.
We left the Cemetery and drove down Roxas Blvd past Manila Bay. Throughout the city we saw Jeepneys – a tradition here. These are old WWII jeeps that have been elongated and converted into modern public transportation. They can hold about 8-10 people and each is unique with its own décor and name. Here are a few as examples.
We drove by the Cultural Center of the Philippines – reminiscent of the glory years of the Marcoses. This complex includes the International Convention Center and the Folk Arts Theater. Adjacent to these structures was the Coconut Palace which Emelda Marcose had built mainly from coconuts. She apparently had it built for the Pope who was there to visit. When he found out how much it cost to build, he refused to stay, claiming she should have spent the money on the poor and homeless in Manila, not on this extravaganza.
We got off the bus at historic Rizal Park where the remains of the country’s national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, lie within the Rizal Monument. There is a statue of him holding a book in his hand because he believed in learning, not war. There are two honor guards on duty at this monument at all times.
Lunch was at the Legarda House, an ancestral house located on San Rafael Street, formerly one of the city’s most elegant streets. It is now a museum. A Filipino lunch was served, in the style of the late 19th century Philippines, consisting of a full seven-course meal made from family heirloom recipes and served on antique china, glassware, and silverware. It would have been an even nicer experience if there had not been so many people here – three bus loads all together here was just way too many people. We walked through the house on our way out to see the rooms decorated in the 19th century style.
After lunch we went back in time to see old Manila. We went to the old walled city of Intramuros (“within the walls”) built during the Spanish colonial period. We visited San Augustin Church, the oldest structure in the Philippines, dating back to 1571. It was one of the few buildings not destroyed in the war. It was Saturday and we were not able to go into the sanctuary because there was a wedding, but I did manage to snap this picture through the gated area. We walked through the rest of this stone structure but because of so many people in our group, it was hard to really understand what we were looking at. Our guide was not very good and did not wait for the group as a whole. We did see an ivory exhibit which was beautiful and a crypt area.
Across the street was Casa Manila, a reconstructed 19th century mansion with furniture and furnishings from the 16th – 19th century. Once again, we had no guide so we just walked through without really being able to understand all that we were seeing. It was very disappointing. We were not allowed to take pictures inside, but here is what part of the outside looked like.
My favorite stop in old Manila was Fort Santiago, which served as the military headquarters for the Spanish, American, and Japanese until its destruction in 1945. It was even surrounded by a moat. It was here that Jose Rizal was locked away as a political prisoner until his execution in 1896 after a sham trial. He was devoted to peace, but the scholar openly opposed Madrid. His execution set off a large and violent revolt that led to the end of the Spanish colonization. In his memory there are bronze footprints along the path marking the final steps Rizal walked from his cell to his place of execution. Also, in this fort near the Pasig River, there are underground storage areas that the Spanish used to store their ammunition. Later, the Japanese used these areas to chain their Filipino prisoners of war and drowned them by drilling holes out to the river, so that the water could come in and flood these areas.
Upon leaving the Fort, we had a thirty minute stop at the Mananzan Handicraft center. And then we headed back to the ship after a full day. This excursion had great potential, but too many people and a guide who didn’t wait for the group to explain what we were seeing made it a huge disappointment. I really liked Manila, however, and would like to return again and see more of it.
Back on the dock, we looked through some of the little gift stalls before getting back on the ship to watch the sail away. There were once again more dancers and marching bands to give us our send off. We didn’t have to go far out before stopping to anchor. This was another change the Captain made to accommodate the passengers going to Corregidor Island. They would not have been able to make it back in time before the original departure time. So, the Captain sent one of our tender boats out to meet them and bring them back to the ship.
An added benefit to the rest of the passengers was we were able to watch the International Fireworks competition between Italy and the Dutch. We couldn’t hear the music and fireworks themselves because we were too far out, but we were able to see them. While we never heard the official result, we all agreed that the Italians won! It was great fun. However, it had been a long day and we were glad we had a day at sea coming up before arriving in Hong Kong.