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Published April 11th 2015
Walk this way
"Walk this way" came the booming voice from the boom box. The gathered crowd quickly rose from their shady seats and looked towards the direction of the voice, where they then gained their first glimpse of the iconic and charismatic local Filipino tour guide known as Carlos Celdran.
It was around 9am on a Sunday morning and the crowd of 40 people had gathered for a 3 hour walking tour of Intramuros, known also as the walled city of Manila. After paying our PHP 1,100 ($A 32) we waited in the shade near the Fort Santiago entrance for the commencement of the tour.
Carlos Celdran, our tour guide for the next three hours, is an outspoken activist who has successfully combined performance artistry with a historical tour of parts of Manila to create one of the most sought after activities in Manila. Carlos' background includes a degree in performance art during the early 1990's, several years in New York before returning to The Philippines in 1997 to continue his career as a performing artist. It was during this time that Carlos noted that Manila was notoriously inhospitable to pedestrians, so he formed his own walking tour company, which when combined later with one man street performances, acts, narrations and comedy became an instant success.
On the day of my tour, Carlos commenced with a early summary of Manila life prior to the arrival of the Spaniards (via Mexico) in 1571, and the subsequent introduction of Catholicism. Carlos' historical knowledge and ability to test the borders of political correctness created much humour amongst the audience of the day which was made up of some Americans, French, Brits, Filipinos and a lone Australian.
It was in the late 16th Century that the Spaniards constructed the Walled City of Manila, known as Intramuros, and the location of our tour. Despite being some 425 years old, most of the buildings remain in tact, and the gardens are well maintained and attracting of tourists both in tours and on their own.
Pied Piper leading us in to Fort Santiago - Steve Hudson
At the end of this short narration, the boom box barked loudly again with the soon-to-become-familiar"walk this way". And we did. Carlos, with a Pied Piper strut, donned a tall top hat and had the boom box in hand, and led us through further areas of Fort Santiago and provided further commentary on the formation of Manila over the years.
Heading through the parks and past the numerous historic buildings, we hear the story of a true Filipino hero, Jose Rizal, and how he came to be executed in 1896 for being a revolutionary and standing up for his rights. It was shortly after this, in 1898, that the United States of America commenced a period of sovereignty of Manila and The Philippines given its close and important trade proximity to Asia.
Carlos' reflection on the "American era", is quite amusing and while it is somewhat of a parody, there is little doubt that the introduction of fundamental American traditions like Coca Cola, McDonalds, Hollywood lights, razzle and dazzle, American Soldiers and the motor car. It was during this time that Manila grew many times over, and became a popular destination in its own right, and ultimately expanded all around the small walled city of Intramuros.
From 1942 until 1945 there was a period of Japanese occupation, and some damage to Intramuros and in particular the eight enormous churches in the city. July 4th 1946 saw the independence of the Republic of The Philippines, and Manila continued to grow with its mixed cultures from its past.
At the end of the walk around Fort Santiago, and a short light and sound show, the boom box barked "ride this way", and we all boarded horse drawn carriages or bicycle-sidecars for a short trip to San Augustin Church. A quick reflection on modern Catholicism, and the issues facing The Philippines when decision-making is shared by the Church and the Government provides Carlos with an opportunity to make some near-controversial statements, a number of which he teases the audience with, before stopping short of controversy.
The final stop for the tour is inside the small tourist centre near the Church where Carlos reflects on Manila, a town of some 10,000 people in the 15th Century, to a bustling modern city of 20 million people today. A complimentary serving of The Philippines national dessert, Halo Halo, provides a welcome and cool end to this amusing yet very informative tour of Intramuros and Manila.
Carlos and his tours have been made famous with good reason. Carols has created a stage out of the fortified city, as well as made characters out of the ghosts of Spanish friars, Japanese soldiers and American Generals. The whole tour was theatrical, a hilarious multi-act play about the transformation of Manila over the last 500 years. Carlos used an arsenal of antics to command our attention, and wedged in between his monologues were sudden explosions of confetti and vaudeville dance numbers, as well as that trusty boom box.
Carlos Celdran's Walk this Way tours operate most days of the week, with further details found on his website. It is only after doing this tour that one realises that although history can't be changed, it can be made interesting through a fresh and humorous perspective.