So finally, after some years of planning (hehe!), Mike and I went on a Carlos Celdran walking tour. It was a lovely day for a walk, breezy and not too hot; we'd purposely planned to do this in December for the more pleasant weather, but we actually needn't have worried about that, because we ended up walking less than we'd expected (compared with walking tours we'd done in England).
The 3-hour Intramuros tour took us from Fort Santiago to the facade of Manila Cathedral, to San Agustin Church and Father Blanco's Garden, and finally, to Casa Manila (all just a few blocks away from one another). Of course, being a native of Metro Manila, I'd been to all those places before a number of times, but what made the tour amazing wasn't the locations per se (though I'm sure the locations delighted first-timers to Intramuros), but Carlos' colorful, theatrical, sometimes-funny-and-sometimes-extremely-moving romp through the history of Manila.
Indeed, I felt a lump in my throat a number of times during the tour, most especially during Carlos' dramatic description of the rape of Manila during World War 2. I'd learned about it all in high school, of course, but the version in our textbooks had been a highly sanitized version, a month of atrocities crammed into a paragraph. As we sat there in the crypts of San Agustin museum, Carlos' voice transported us back to 1945, and we were surrounded by cries, screams, tumbling walls, and the smell of death and decay around us. (Incidentally, Juan Luna bones are kept in that crypt!)
Most of the tour was very lighthearted, though--funny most of the time, sardonic many times--and we laughed a lot with Carlos, and together with the other Filipinos in the group, we also often laughed at ourselves.
Carlos' love for Manila was evident and infectious. His final line of the tour said it all: "If you want to change the way Manila looks, start by changing the way you look at Manila" (a slight change from the tagline often mentioned in relation to him, "I can't change the way Manila looks but I can change the way you look at Manila"). As Carlos himself pointed out, a lot of tourists consider Manila an "ugly" city, something that travelers should preferably skip over if they're on the way to any other place in the Philippines. But Manila's story is beautiful, tragic, poignant ... and Carlos is one of the best story-tellers we have out there right now.
In a nutshell: Carlos is a really, really good tour guide, among the best I've ever listened to. If you haven't yet, go, go, go on a Carlos Celdran tour; it's an excellent way to spend half a day, and I daresay you'll find yourself a little more in love with Manila after the tour is done.
Incidentally, it's been my dream for a long time to be a historical tour guide, ever since I went on a tour of Corregidor in college. Now I'm more committed to that dream than ever. (I don't intend to compete with Carlos, of course, haha! He's too good and what he does is unique and precious and all his own. I would do my own thing differently.)
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