I do very much like the historical vibe of Intramuros, the cobble-stoned, walled fortress in old Manila. Call it a fascination for the Spanish roots of the Philippines (the country was a Spanish colony for 300 years) or perhaps just a curiosity coming from a familiarity of the works of Dr. Jose Rizal, the country’s national hero, whose writings about Spanish injustice had caused a Filipino revolt (he was later executed by the Spanish government for rebellion).
The last time I did a tour of Intramuros was on an e-chariot in 2013. But because we couldn’t go on a fast pace with the e-chariot (our tour companions had been on the slow side), I decided to book another tour of the place, this time on a bambike eco-tour.
A bambike (link: http://www.bambike.com) is a handmade bicycle with bamboo parts – a toast to sustainable/ green equipment created by poor “Bambuilders” from the Gawad Kalinga group with the goal of empowering them to end poverty.
I found the bambike a bit heavy and clumsy to handle (but maybe that was just me) plus my bambike suffered from a flat tire midway into the tour. However it is still a good piece of equipment which may soon become widely available (and perhaps once the construction improves).
With a bunch of tourists, the bambike tour brought us to several stops up and down the outer fortress wall where our tour guide told us about how the Chinese had been treated like lowlife during the Spanish colonial era and how only the elite were allowed to enter the fortress at through the main gates while the Chinese could only enter through back gates. Coming from that story, it is quite ironic then that it is Chinese families that now seem to run the country’s big businesses. What a comeback!
We also took the bikes inside the Intramuros dungeons where people had been tortured and purposely drowned (when the high tides swept in from the bay) during the Spanish and Japanese occupations of Manila during the War years. I am told the dungeons are now open to hold events but I would probably not attend a dungeon event past 5pm due to the possibility of seeing ghosts.
The tour also had stops at the UNESCO world heritage site San Agustin church and the famed Manila Cathedral where the Pope always holds mass whenever he visits the country.
Lastly, there was Fort Santiago where we left the bikes at the entrance and went inside to appreciate the story of the country’s national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, who was imprisoned there. It was also there where he wrote his famous “My Last Farewell” poem. We also followed his footsteps (marked in the stones) from his cell in his final walk to his execution site at Luneta.
Standing under the old Spanish light posts at the plaza outside the Intramuros dungeons and looking out to the Pasig river, one can almost imagine the glamorous social gatherings that had once taken place there with the ilustrado (educated/ elite Filipinos) in their Spanish wardrobe mingling with Spanish high society as depicted in Jose Rizal’s novels.
Going on tours like this is really the closest we can ever get to our colorful past, and this historical vibe in Intramuros is one that I would always tell people to capture when in Manila.