I was born and raised in Metro Manila, not in the city of Manila. My Manila geography has mostly been limited to very specific areas which are reached via very specific routes. There’s Divisoria, the huge market area adjacent to Chinatown, which is one jeepney ride from the house where I grew up in. There’s “downtown” Manila which I took to mean all the shopping areas and restaurants (and movie houses) along Avenida Rizal and C.M. Recto Avenue all the way to Escolta. I had an aunt who worked in a shipping firm that had its offices in a building along C.M. Recto Avenue and she used to bring me with her on Saturdays. After she got off at noon, we’d have lunch and see a movie. Then, there’s the Malate area which I knew like the back of my hand because it is where Harrison Plaza, the first mall in the country, was built and because my father lived in the area.
By the time I was old enough to drive, I could navigate those areas pretty well. I became very well acquainted with the streets, side streets and alleys of Intramuros and Chinatown, all the way to that reclaimed area along Manila Bay where the Cultural Center of the Philippines stands.
But ask me to commute around Manila, especially if the commute requires changing vehicles, and I will get lost. I remember one time when I got off a jeepney and found myself in the Quiapo underpass. I went around in circles trying to find the right jeepney terminal to get home. For those who have never been to the heart of Manila, understand that it is a maze. You can’t even rely on street maps to navigate the area because streets have this nasty habit of disappearing — literally — when people build shanties on them.
Speedy, who grew up in Quezon City, has even less knowledge of the ins and outs of the streets of Manila. The only area he was familiar with as a child was Sampaloc area because his grandparents lived there (Vicente Cruz Street was named after his grandfather). He was already a working adult when he became aware of other areas of Manila but I still knew Manila better than him. Lamang ako ng dalawang paligo which really isn’t a lot more.
So, the other day, when Sam said we had to go to Quiapo because she needed to shoot for a class assignment, we were a little problematic. Speedy knows how to reach Quiapo via Quezon City but not from Taft Avenue where our girls go to school. Sam said drive to that bridge that goes to Chinatown but, instead of turning left to Chinatown, we should turn right. I knew she was referring to Jones Bridge but turning right would lead to Escolta and not Quiapo. Still, I knew that from Escolta, we only had to reach C.M. Recto Avenue and we’d find Quiapo so we did as she said. We drove to Jones Bridge, passing the National Museum Building and City Hall, and turned right.
We passed the Plaza Fair Building near the foot of the bridge as we turned right.
Then, we reached the Carriedo Station of the Light Right Transit (LRT) System. There was nowhere to turn but right to Avenida Rizal.
And… the scene was literally an assault on the senses. It was a mad jumble.
I hadn’t been in the area in a long, long time. Maybe for more than a decade. If it was crowded back then, it had become ten times as crowded.
It was hard to see where the sidewalks ended and the street began because sidewalks and street were occupied by vendors.
By the time we reached the intersection of C.M. Recto, I was totally confused. When Speedy asked if we should turn left or right, I couldn’t remember which was the right way. I said, “Right,” hoping that my guess was correct.
When I saw the Isetann Department Store building, I was so sure we were lost. Wasn’t Isetann on Avenida Rizal? What the heck was it doing on C.M. Recto? Speedy just drove on and on and… like a miracle, I saw the Mercury Drug Store with the iconic outdoor LED screen. Plaza Miranda! We were in the right place.
So, we finally saw the Quiapo Church. But where to park? Unlike that time when we took photos at midnight when the whole plaza was an empty parking space, this time, it was teeming with people. So, we kept driving on looking for a parking space. We asked around and was pointed to a paid parking area. And we found ourselves in yet another iconic part of Quiapo — the market under the bridge.
People refer to it simply as sa ilalim ng tulay (literally, under the bridge). It’s been there for as long as I can remember but I’ve never actually gone there. I only know of it. I remember passing by it as a child though. As far as I know, everything is cheaper sa ilalim ng tulay and they sold good handicrafts there. Speedy and Sam browsed the shops; I stayed near the parking lot. I needed a smoke, badly, to relax after that stressful drive from Carriedo to Quiapo.
Speedy and Sam took so long in the shops that I started ambling. And there was the sign that said “Quinta Market.” Wasn’t that the market where Sam and I took photos before?
So, the market is between Quiapo Church and the bridge? I’m sure that’s common knowledge to a lot of people but it was a discovery moment for me. When Sam and Speedy emerged from the shops, I proudly announced that we could walk through the market to reach the church.
And so, we did. And found minions there.