Crossing Pasig river on a banca was a father and son affair that I always look forward to, we had relatives in Mandaluyong then, and during the weekends and holidays we would often come and visit. My father, a frugal and impatient traveler prefers the wet and rickety banca ride, it was inexpensive and the fastest way he said, but I knew even then that crossing the river is not the safest commute one could take – but for a kid my age, water is fun!
But with all the bad things we hear about the river, its significance in our history would never diminish, the great Nick Joaquin went on to state that this graceful river created Manila. Kingdoms were founded on its banks, without it there would be no settlements and commerce in prehispanic Manila, Legazpi would’ve stayed in Cebu and not bother to establish Manila as Spain’s colonial capital.
Macati during the Spanish times was a holiday place for the affluent families of Manila, trying to escape the oppressive heat of the sun – they built vacation residences near the waterway where it is said to be cooler. I grew up hearing stories of its splendor, how people would catch countless fishes of diverse kind and how riverside dwellers would leisurely bathe on its fresh waters during summertime, this was of course before the informal settlers and factories came to its banks and condemned the river to its death.
If you want to go back further in time, there were the “aguadores” who would collect drinking water on some part of the river where it is clear and vend it on the street, yes, people had drunk water from that river!
Today, I boarded a ferry in Guadalupe Nuevo, the ride would take me to Plaza Mexico in Intramuros, I’m not crossing the rio this time – I’m taking a ride down the river! I was surprise how organize everything was, the ferry station was clean and the personnel are all in uniform, and they were extremely polite. The ferry was on time, it was spotless and air-conditioned. People should start riding ferries – its cheaper, safe and efficient. The ferry have ample supply of life jackets, it also have a flat screen television and a clean toilet.
After Sta. Ana, people were allowed to go on deck, it wasn’t so bad, I hardly notice the stench the river is now famous for, from there one could see all the swarming houses and crumbling factories ashore, rubbish together with water lilies were floating all over the place, amazingly, I saw men and children bathing – for them the provincial beaches are too far, too pricey, while the Pasig rivers water is free of charge, so there they are, swimming along with waste and dirt!
Historical accounts tells us that crocodiles once exist in this river, people then would bathe in enclosed areas, where the resilient bamboo buried in the riverbed would protect them, the crocodiles are all gone now, they were hunted to extinction! well, even if they weren’t obliterated by the riverside dwellers, I doubt it if they could endure the polluted Pasig river of the 1900’s.
For the fishermen, life goes on. When I was younger, I’ve always enjoyed observing them from the banks, theirs is a trouble-free life, I would even draw pictures of them on my elementary notepads, of course when you start to learn about life’s reality you begin to understand that these men’s lives are not as easy as it appears to be. During my childhood the river was already filthy, it produces an overpowering smell [esp. when a big boat or a barge would disturb its waters] my father would slap my hands whenever I’d dip them in the water while on a banca. I thought that 20 years has past since then, no fishermen could ever make a living out of these grubby waters now, I was wrong, they are still there, as if nothing has change.
At the PUP station, coast guards boarded and inspected the ferry, we were getting close to Malacañan, we were told not to take pictures, for a while I thought that they would also command us to close our eyes, the level of insecurity of this current administration is incredible. People who were trying out the ferry ride were puzzled, someone said, “baka kasi nagbibihis si Gloria at mabosohan nyo’ pa!”, even the Coast Guard man smiled. I hope that instead of prohibiting people to take pictures of a palace where some of their tax money go, the government should focus on improving those pitiable coast guard vessels, a dragon boat could out run those obsolete vessels stationed near the PUP.
When we reached Ayala Bridge I saw hospicio de San Jose, the Isla de Convelancia , it has served this nation since 1810, mainly an orphanage, it also provides shelter for the elderly, its now being administered by the Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. These institutions reminds me of the good that came from our despised Spanish past, its so beautiful and so peaceful. It is said that Hospicio was the place where patients from the other old Manila hospitals is sent to recover faster. I would want to visit it one day.
The terminal in Quiapo appears unsafe, and this has nothing to do with the ferry service, its not their fault that the squatters are there, you would have to alight under bridge and walk until you reach the back portion of the Quinta Market. I would not suggest going down here, specially if your one of those people that can’t be without the expensive gadgets, not unless you want to get acquainted with the tattooed tambays there.
The view of Binondo and the Intramuros from the ferry was remarkable, we were fast approaching the last terminal, one could picture how beautiful this places were then, the ferry arrived at Plaza Mexico in Intramuros exactly 45 minutes after the it departed Guadalupe, I felt good about the trip and I hope people would try it. But in order to enjoy the ride you’ll have to use your imagination and travel back in time.