Down the River

Larger boats that now cross the river

A colorful boat loaded with passengers crossing the river

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.

The old boat ride that brings people from Macati to Mandaluyong

The boat ride that brings people from Macati to Mandaluyong (look at how it unevenly tilts to its side)

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!

A Family on deck observing the Pandacan oil depo

A Family on deck observing the Pandacan oil depo

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.

The rear of the historic Manila Central Post Office Building

The historic Manila Central Post Office Building

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.


10 responses to “Down the River

  • The Fishers of Rio Pasig | With one's past...

    […] of Pasig was the ferry service that was recently rehabilitated to help alleviate traffic in Manila. There was a company that was running the ferry service a few years back but the business didn’… from it. The government, as usual, failed to aid the dying venture. They didn’t […]

  • nold

    this is nice.

    Pasig River recalls memories of life, love

    By Sunshine Lichauco de Leon
    Philippine Daily Inquirer
    First Posted 06:11:00 03/22/2009

    Filed Under: Family, history

    MANILA, Philippines – On a historic street of Sta. Ana known as Herran (now Pedro Gil), stands a magnificently simple, 200-year-old Spanish colonial house, whose garden ends on the banks of the Pasig River. This is the home of 97-year-old Jessie Lichauco, whose memories reveal the spirit and heartbeat of a river whose glory has often been forgotten with time and neglect.

    Having lived the past 65 years by the Pasig River, Lichauco feels she has one of the most beautiful views in the world. Sitting on the covered porch watching the boats go by, she declares: “Having seen this river gracefully flow as I myself have matured, I feel very possessive and protective of my part of the river. It’s beautiful and quiet and the most perfect little spot in Manila.”

    The Sta. Ana portion of the banks of the Pasig River was the Forbes Park of its time. It was the place to live. She recalls a time when there were no borders between the river and the grand homes built on the water’s edge. Sometimes, however, the river would overflow and flood the whole garden but even that had its benefits. “We once were so surprised [because] we found shrimp swimming in the yard, so we ate them and they were good!”

    Lichauco speaks of a Pasig River that was the source of life for everyone. Boats used it to transport their goods, people used it to travel from place to place, and children swam in its unpolluted waters.


    She remembers one night when a lost animal ended up on its shores. “I woke up at 3 a.m. because the dogs were barking. There was a great commotion on Punta (an area in Sta. Ana) across the river from our house. I could not believe it but there was a wild deer running along the shores of the river. I could not help but wonder how it ended up there.”

    Although Lichauco’s preference for dry land – she likes to look at the water but not to get in it – has kept her from ever swimming in the river, she shares a memory of a guest she invited for lunch during the liberation or postwar period: “An American officer was temporarily living across the river when there was nothing there but big old trees and a couple of houses. After lunch, he shed his shirt, jumped into the water and swam home to Punta!”

    Living by the river has given Lichauco and her seven children an early view of, and an appreciation for nature. It also filled her busy and often noisy home with an underlying sense of calm and tranquility.

    Breakfast by the river

    Breakfast by the river, watching the water lilies float by and buying fresh fish from the bancas that came by regularly were cherished family memories.

    She reminisces: “Sometimes we did not even have to go to the market. It was a pleasure to hear the river come alive through the voices of the boatmen yelling ‘Ayungin (small fish) … tulya (clams)!’”

    Her family treasures activities such as picnicking in the garden, which is perfectly situated on the bank of the river and taking banca rides up and down the river “with no destination but to enjoy the moment and the changing views.”

    They would then return home to enjoy the swing under the enormous Banyan tree in their yard – swinging to certain heights that offered a delightful glimpse of the setting sun sparkling light on the water.

    Perfect setting

    A widow for the past 37 years, Lichauco says with great affection: “All of this is dearly treasured as my children had a father like no other. He provided the perfect setting for us to enjoy together as a family, and we continue to treasure this even after he has left us.”

    Her late husband, Marcial T. Lichauco, was Philippine ambassador to the Court of St. James’s and other European capitals and was executive secretary and counselor to the Osmeña-Roxas independence missions to the United States. A lawyer, he is reputed to be the first Filipino to graduate from Harvard.

    Lichauco says that her children, all of whom have been living abroad for decades, often return to this home to refresh themselves with the calm waters of the river.

    When asked about the Pasig River’s effect on her younger years, Lichauco laughs and says its impact was “to cool my breeze.” Her home was built to have natural cooling winds that refresh both body and mind.

    A free spirit, Lichauco explains she has never felt trapped living between a road and a river. “I always have an alternative – If I could not take the car, I can get on a boat.”

    It’s in her blood

    Now in what she calls her “over-aged years,” Lichauco finds great solace in the peacefulness of the river.

    “Since all my children have left, I recollect events in my life. It is both educational and entertaining to watch life go by on the river,” she says with a tinge of dreaminess in her voice.

    She continues, philosophically: “In a way, it’s a bit like eternity because it flows and never ends … it reaches the bay and melts away …”

    Although Lichauco is grateful to have the river as her companion, nothing gives her more pleasure than to share its relaxing and peaceful atmosphere with visitors who drop by to chat or to simply sit with her and watch the river in silence.

    The fact that it’s possible to see the flowing waters of the Pasig from almost every part of the house ensures that the river has been integrated into the very fabric of her family. It’s in her blood and Lichauco’s love for the river has made Pasig a part of all those who love her.

    The Pasig River was an important travel route during the Spanish colonial era. The earliest merchants would come up the river to sell their wares. It is what nurtured the birthing of Manila as we know it.

    Mourning the Pasig

    Although Lichauco has mourned the passing of many things that were once a part of her life, seeing the Pasig deteriorate has been particularly painful.

    She says with sadness: “I have sat here day in and day out, watching it struggle. It has been suffering from neglect for years because it is no longer needed as it had been in the past. But if we choose to use it properly, it can still serve a purpose, it can be used to a greater degree than it is today …”

    Lichauco speaks with passion about the maligned reputation the Pasig has today, the abuse done to the river and to the land along the river. She stresses that there is nothing the matter with the Pasig River at all, except the people’s lack of care and disregard for it.

    Gift from God

    She says the solution can start with simply a change in the basic attitude of people. “The river is in the condition it is now because we don’t have individual pride in the assets we have. People think nothing of disposing whatever they don’t want. We need to take pride in the Pasig. A river is a lifeline and why would you want to pollute that which gives you life?”

    As she looks beyond the Banyan tree whose leaves provide shade to her corner of this lifeline, Lichauco’s experiences help provide a voice for the river which has grown mute with time. She reflects: “I do not have my children here anymore but I am glad I still have the Pasig. The tree and me are still flowing along. At least we are in harmony in a world that can be full of confusion and uncertainty.”

    Highlighting the fact that Manila has been blessed by a beautiful river without which civilization and commerce would not have been possible, she continues: “My one hope is that this generation will treat it as the jewel that it is. We must not forget that a river is a gift from God and should be treasured.”

    ‘It is my joy …’

    A firm believer that the river can be revitalized, Lichauco dreams of a Pasig River with a future as glorious as its past. She declares: “The river is an inspiration to my life. I am convinced that if people learn to know it as I do, absolutely anything is possible. It is my joy to ebb and flow with its tide as it passes by on its silent journey to wherever …”

    (The author is a granddaughter of Jessie Lichauco.)

  • nold

    Joe – try it my friend, its worth your peso!

    Pepito – political paranoia is untreatable, this administration is even afraid of its own shadow.

  • Pepe Alas

    As far as I know, even the White House doesn’t prohibit people, particularly tourists, from taking pictures of the US President’s abode. But this President of ours and her military caboodle? Man, they’re hopelessly paranoid. And why not? They’ve done so much wrong to us Filipinos.

  • Joe Narvaez

    Hey Nold! Matagal ko na ito gustong gawin. Naunahan mo ako hehe. Paguwi ko siguro ulit.

  • wonker

    Interesting blog, I’ll try and spread the word.

  • nold

    The ferry service during weekdays have boats arriving at 30 minutes interval, during weekend the interval is one hour, I took mine at 1130am. It only cost P45 from Guadalupe to Intramuros, I think P50 if you’ll start your trip from Kalawaan Sur in Pasig – a staff told me that they would soon serve the waterways of Mariquina river. Can’t wait for this.

  • levi

    This is one great activity me and Joann will try brotha. Do they have schedules with the ferry ride from Guadalupe to Intramuros? How much is the fare?

  • watcat

    Hi this blog is great I will be recommending it to friends.

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