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Two days in Manila - I get lost in a slum, experience local fish, and wander a Spanish Fort

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

Arriving in Manila by ship is a spectacular experience. For many hours you traverse between hilly turquoise islands, many of which appear, from a distance, to be inhabited. Then, eventually, a modern megacity looms into view.

This is me in a tuktuk .in Manila ... which will be explained below.

From the ship I could see a beach, which seemed populated the day we arrived (it was Sunday) ... but no one was swimming ... I cannot imagine that the water is pristine that close to port.

I landed here with a 'privileged-white-tourist' sort of mission. The Skechers running shoes that I bought last spring in Venice were broken after 2,000 K and needed to be replaced. And the Lucky Chinatown Mall which, according to Google maps, was a 50-minute walk from the port (in broken shoes) had a Skechers store.

I headed there as soon as we were allowed off the ship ... and after being greeted by the local welcoming party on the dock.

It took about five blocks for the humidity to get oppressive. So I flagged down a tuktuk. The driver, Juan, was intent on giving me a multi-hour tour of the city but I kept insisting that I just wanted to get to the mall. And, with obvious regret, he did as he was asked.

The Lucky Chinatown Mall is a modern, gleaming, three-storey building that might be any mall in Canada except for its focus on children. Every second store is geared to things of interest to babies, kids and parents. Lots of toys, lots of pink and blue clothes with dinosaurs. Not so much adult fare.

There were colorful displays.

And there was a hall of Chinese lanterns.

The Chinese have plied lots of cash into this city, just as they have in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa, and everywhere else in the eastern Pacific.

I bought the largest pair of women's shoes 👞 in the Skechers store.... and headed back.

All I had was a $20 US bill ... which I knew was way more than the tuktuk fare (my efforts to get Philippines money from multiple ATMS failed). And I had the time to walk to the ship before the tour departed.

So I started out down the crowded streets that were lined with small shops selling a hodgepodge of wares. I dodged cars and motorcycles, and crossed over open sewers until I was totally lost. Google Maps could tell me where I was, but it refused to find a route back to the port.

Eventually I was in the middle of an impoverished slum. The smell of human waste hung in the air, along with the laundry and parts of animals. Naked toddlers peered out of filthy, darkened doorways. Older people ignored me but I figured it was only time before someone realized I did not belong. I took this picture quickly because I did not want to draw attention to myself. Nor did I want to appear to be exploiting the misery for a photo. So this does not do justice.

And when a tuktuk driver stopped to ask if he could help me, I said yes, and gave him my $20 to return me to the Poesia, which he did - after telling me it would have been a very long walk.


That night, Josie, Virginia and I took what was billed as a trip to a night market but was actually a full tour of the city after dark.

We boarded one of three buses, along with other Poesia passengers, and about 90 of us were driven through the upscale part of town (these kinds of tours steer well clear of the slums so tourists get a very sugar-coated view.)

We drove past the arts buildings that were the projects of Imelda Marcos (she of the 3,000 pairs of shoes and the dictator husband whose son is now president of the Philippines). Our guides explained that the scaffolding on one film centre we passed collapsed as it was being constructed, and 160 workers died by being buried alive in cement -- but rescue workers were not allowed to the site for hours for fear of embarrassing the Marcos regime.

Then we got to the market where the fish were beautifully displayed.

There was a strong smell of garbage in the air as we wandered the dark stalls ... but it was nothing like the stench in the slum I had seen earlier in the day.

We arrived at a large open restaurant with long tables - there were other similar establishments all along the street and they were fully packed, so I assume this is a traditional type of eatery. But this one had been set aside for the tour. They served shrimp and mussels and crab and full fish, and some sour type of fish stew with rich. It was delicious.

Then we took a selfie.

Then we navigated the very crowded and car- filled alleyway back to the bus for more touring through Manila at night.

I have visions of toddlers I saw begging by the busy roads of n the dark that will stay with me for a long time ... but, again, the bus went to 'millionaires row' and the casino and business districts, not to the ghettos.


The following day, Josie, Virginia and I took a cab to the Mail of Asia which is a giant complex complete with a skating rink.

Then we returned to the ship and I paid a local taxi driver named Riki to take me on a tour of the Intramures area, which is the massive walled and moated fortification built by the Spanish in the late 1500s.

Above is a gate that is original to the time.

The Spanish colonized this country for hundreds of years, instituting a class system that put native Filipinos at the bottom and themselves on top. The revered Filipino national hero, Jose Rizal, wrote two books in Spanish in the late 1800s that pointed to the inequities ... which earned him a trip to the firing squad.

That sparked an insurrection and eventually the Spanish gave up and sold the country to the Americans who gave the Philippines its independence in the 1940s. But then the city was devastated by bombing and street fighting in WWII. This is a monument to 600 Filipinos and Americas who died when they were left to starve to death by the Japanese in a gaol that was part of the Spanish Fort.

So it's been a tough go for the citizens of Manila over the centuries.

And it is reasonable that they would venerate their heros. These are statues to Rizal all over the place. This one was in the intramures.

And, interestingly, all the Filipinos I talked to look back on the Marcos regime with fondness as a time of great prosperity - which is why his son was elected.

We also did a quick tour of the cathedral, which is magnificent and adorned with displayed of gold.

And we cruised past another church built in the early 1600s before heading back to the ship. This is a very Catholic country.

Two days in Manila well spent, but I know I just scratched the surface.

Next stop is Taiwan ... and then Japan.

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