While most if not all our stuff is still sailing somewhere in South-east Asia, most days I have a lot of free time.
Which I thought is a perfect time for me to get reacquainted with my city. To be honest some of the places I will be writing about are places I have never been to, despite living so close to them for most of my life.
You know when they say that you often take for granted the things that are just within your reach, or just under your nose? For some it’s the curious mystery of the greener pasture brought by the unknown, for others it’s as simple as distraction. In my excuse, life got in the way, which really isn’t much of an excuse especially when the university I went to is one jeepney ride away from most of these significant places in Manila.
The realization that I have yet to visit these places came when I found myself able to travel abroad visiting places I only ever dreamed about. The inevitable sense of guilt came crashing within me, standing under the Eiffel Tower. I was thinking about how this was France’s iconic landmark, a few seconds later naturally my thoughts drifted what could be The Philippines’s counterpart, and then it hit me, my chest felt a bit of twinge when I am reminded that I am a shameful Pinoy who haven’t been.
For the Filipinos reading I’m sure you’ve guessed where it is by now, and as for the non-Filipinos, I thought it would be best to start where our Kilometer Zero is.
I wrote about Luneta Park, presently known as Rizal Park, a few months ago, when I learned of this travesty of a building being built near its vicinity forever ruining its once beautiful backdrop of the wide sky. As of today, the said issue of the Torre of Evil has risen much to my dismay, I of course is not alone as it has gained plenty of protests as well some staunch defenders (probably unit owners and investors). Its construction has since ceased as the gruesome legal battle of its existence and approval has yet to be resolved. And as long as it’s going, the ugly damage remains standing there.
My visit to the said park was cancelled due to continuing heavy rains around Metro Manila, but as soon as the skies cleared, went I did. At the time of my visit, I knew I have more weeks of free time to I went with a quest to find a corner where i can visit once in a while for a quiet read. I did this a few times back in Muscat when the weather was cooler, my spot was somewhere in Shatti beach on the grass under one of the Palm trees near the shore. Now that I am home it’s best to find a new one there, especially since JG and I found ourselves living so close to it.
The park is I think the biggest we have. It’s main feature is the actual tomb and monument of our National Hero Jose Rizal, as the area, used to be known as Bagumbayan is the actual place where he was executed via firing squad during the Spanish rule. His death sparked revolutions that eventually lead to our independence. Locals also know it as Luneta, which they say is because it used to be the best place to walk under the moonlight (“Luna” as in Lun(a)eta).
It stretches from Roxas Blvd, along the coastal road, and into land towards Taft Ave. Around the park are some of the old yet important buildings, including the National Museum, the Museum of the Filipino People, The National Historical Commission, and the Department of Tourism.
Inside the park are sculptures, busts of other Filipino heroes, and several gardens like this one, The Chinese garden.
My favorite would have to be the Children’s playground because the place was just as I remembered, so it’s kind of nice to think that children of past and present have been creating happy memories of abandoned, carefree, days at this very place for years. This would probably be my winning reading spot, as I think it would be nice to be surrounded by the refreshing laughter of happily playing kids as you read a good book.
I entered three of the said parks, which by the way have entrance fees. Most of its visitors now are young students who need a place to rehearse their group activities, some lovers, etc. The Orchadium was my least favorite, because I think it charged too much. Most of the other places asked for at least 10 pesos which isn’t bad. This one charged 30 pesos, so I expected to see a garden full of orchids, but alas there was none, not even a one. As I was heading out, I had half the mind to ask for half my money back, or a picture of an orchid at least. (Okay perhaps it wasn’t the season for the flowers to bloom, but if that’s the case, a fair warning should be given at the entrance, so you could get your hopes down a notch).
I was actually pleasantly surprised at how clean it is, growing up I was once told that there was nothing really much to see but bums and unkept trash. But now that I’ve seen a fair share of parks abroad, I realized that no park, even the ones in wealthy countries is void of such things. In fact I now have this belief that every city needs to have such a park where everyone can come and visit, especially the ones who have no where to go, even for a bit of respite from whatever journey they are undertaking.
When I mentioned that I have yet to visit the place, I meant specifically the area of Rizal’s monument. I have visited the park several times in my life, but only around it, but never that area. So I guess the heavens thought it would be a great treat for me as I wound up there around noon, which is when the changing of the guards take place. Because this is the tomb of our National Hero, ceremonial soldiers of the Philippine Marine Corps’ continuously guard it (rotation is every two hours). Also at the tip of the tomb are three genuine gold stars so the guards are also for the thieves beware.
Tips from the local:
- Weekends are of course the busiest time. Also during holidays. So if you’re a tourist and you don’t want to get stressed out with lots of people and be able to enjoy the park at its most tranquil, come during weekdays, in the morning or the afternoon when the sun is not at its harshest.
- Most people would start at Rizal and into Taft Ave. but as you might have already gotten the clue that I am against the erection of that horrible building. So I decided to start my tour from the Taft Ave. side going towards the Rizal Monument, this way I would have my back turned and moving away from the said building.
- There are nice men and women who take pictures around the areas, if you’re feeling generous and would like a souvenir, I suggest you help them out.
- Snacks and drinks can be found at small stores around.
- For the love of God don’t take a nap there by yourself. I know it can be refreshing to lie back on a blanket after a nice picnic on your own, but Manila isn’t the most crime free city, some idiots are known to have lost a wallet and even shoes during their naps.
- There is also an open auditorium which regularly shows cultural presentation, so if you’re looking for an educational experience or a date that’s low on fee (at times free of charge) check out their scheduled programs.
So here I am a bit less shameful and happy to have finally paid homage to Rizal Park. I guess I shouldn’t work myself up about how long it took me to get there but it feels really great to finally do so. Nowadays, many Filipinos especially the younger citizens have the means and the ability to travel abroad, so I really hope you take a lesson from me. Don’t wait too long and take time to get to know your country first, especially around here in our capital.
More to come, for now I leave you with pictures near the Rizal Monument minus the ugly “condominium”.