March 27, 2017
If you like big cities, you would love Manila – it is a high speed city with stop and go traffic! There are 101 million people living in the Philippines and more than 12 million just in Manila. The Philipines is made up of over 7000 islands and due to the early Spanish influence, 85% are Catholic. It is named for King Philip II of Spain.
We were in Manila on our last trip and toured the city then, so we opted for a different focus this time. As usual, we were greeted by music and dancing as we left the ship, and beautifully dressed women gave us hand beaded necklaces.
One of the wonderful things this cruise line does is to have the families of the crew on board when they are in their home country. We have 180 Filipino crew and we talked to so many about this. Cate, one of our favorites of the restaurant staff, couldn’t wait to see her 10 year old son. So, as we left the ship, it would soon be filled with the families of our crew members and they would have lunch on board.
Carlos was our tour guide and we first went to the pier where we boarded a high speed ferry to our destination, Corrregidor Island. On the way he gave us some facts about his country. Here are some of them:
- The colorful Jeepneys are reminiscent of WWII “general purpose” vehicles which have been painted and personalized. We saw a lot of them on the way to the pier.
- When Emelda Marcos was First Lady, in addition to having thousands of pairs of shoes, Carlos said she was in the mining business. Everything was “mine!” She was known as the Iron Butterfly.
- The famous Coconut Palace Hotel, which we saw from the bus, is constructed 70% of coconut materials.
- The Philippines in #1 in call centers and they are being built up like crazy. This is because labor is so much less expensive and the people speak English pretty flawlessly. The Indian call centers are losing popularity because their English is much harder to understand. Carlos also says it is because Americans would never want those jobs because of all the complaining they have to endure.
- Call center business is worth 24 billion$/year here. 70% of the business is from American companies.
- Manila is 50 feet below sea level. The last storm surge they had had the water higher than the palm trees and completely flooded the American Embassy. It has since been repaired and parts rebuilt.
- They have earthquakes every day. Most are too small to be noticeable.
The ferry was run by MV Sun Cruises, and as we got seated (in our assigned seats, mind you), one of the crew started dancing to American music!
That dance was cool, but after they went through the safety drill, they broadcast – on the TV screens, a prayer. Now, that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence especially since we have heard many stories of ferry accidents.
Nevertheless, after a 90 minute trip, we arrived on Corregidor Island which is 26 nautical miles southwest of Manila. There are 5 islands at the mouth of Manila Bay and 4 were used by the US Army, including Corregidor. It was called Fort Mills. It is also known as “the Rock” and is considered the Gibraltar of the East. It is the best preserved Army station largely due to a Foundation that was formed in 1986. Much of the ruins were overtaken by forest and were in disrepair but now that the Foundation is in place, things have been discovered and preserved.
The island was fiercely fought over during WWII. It was first held by Allied forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. It eventually fell to the Japanese after MacArthur left to command troops in Australia. True to his promise “I shall return”, the general recaptured Corregidor in March of 1945.
Today the island is strewn with gun batteries and battle scarred buildings that have been preserved for wonderful guides like Carlos to tell the story of the battles. There are no permanent residents on the island, and the one hotel is closed and being made into a boutique hotel. So we were in pristine areas – almost in solitude.
We boarded open sided buses which are replicas of the original trolleys that once criss crossed the island. They were designed to be like the San Francisco trolleys.
Malta and Corregidor were the most bombed sites in WWII. We saw the “Topside” section including the Army’s headquarters, the Mile-long barracks for 8000 soldiers and the Spanish Lighthouse – a replica built on the site of the 1836 original.
Another very interesting part of the trip was a walk through the Malinta Tunnel where we saw a light and sound show that re-created the dramatic events of WWII on Corregidor. During the siege of Corregidor, this concrete re-enforced tunnel provided a bomb-proof shelter for munitions, supplies and remarkably – a 1000 bed hospital. On the island is a tribute to the “angels” – the female nurses who braved the fighting to work there. After Corregidor fell, they were imprisoned for 3 years.
The last stop of the day was at the Museum and the Pacific War Memorial which is in the shape of the parachutes used by the paratroopers that helped to regain the island for the US. The Japanese were never expecting troops to arrive by air!
It was a long and hot day – 9 hours – but a really interesting one, and I realized how much history I never knew and some that I forgot. Our lecturers on board help fill in the gaps too. We were delayed by traffic on our return and we were glad to be on a ship sponsored tour since they needed to wait for us. As we returned, we saw the high school bands performing and passengers on the open decks and their balconies cheering them on. I did remember these performances from last time, they had many bands and performed for hours just for the ship!