Walking Tour Quiapo-Escolta Kundiman Tour

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When you’re alone and life is making you lonely You can always go downtown
It’s been more than two months since I joined Carlos Celdran’s Walking Tour in Intramuros and ever since that tour I have been on the lookout for his other tours such as: the Imelda Marcos Shoe Tour and lately, the Escolta – Quiapo Tour. When I first heard about the Quiapo – Escolta Tour, it was through the Facebook page of 98B COLLaboratory, a group who are slowly but surely trying to revive the glory and the grandeur of Manila’s old shopping and financial district. Seeing that Carlos Celdran was offering this Escolta-Quiapo tour for the first time since 2010, I just couldn’t pass up the chance to explore another part of Manila. Most especially in a part of the city that is slowly capturing the attention of the bloggers, journalists and weekend warriors.

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The old and majestic Capitol theater
First of all let us first get the basics, Escolta was once the city and the metro’s financial and shopping district. It comes from the Spanish word “escoltar“, which means “to escort”. Back in the early 1900’s, the Americans transformed this district just outside Intramuros into a vibrant cultural, financial and commercial center that would rival the streets of New York and even contemporary Hong Kong and Singapore. At it’s height, Escolta became colloquially known as the downtown district of the city, comparable to the Greenbelt and Bonifacio High Street’s we have today. Unlike these two districts, every thing was found in Escolta: banks, malls, theaters, cinemas, the arts and culture scene. At its height, the Americans built many neoclassical buildings, housing many prominent companies such as: the Ayala Life and Insurance, Citibank, and HSBC among others. However the destruction brought about by World War II razed Manila to the ground and ever since then, in the words of Carlos Celdran “the city has faced a psychological scar” , and since then the district had fallen on hard times.

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The troubadours Kapitbahay sa Kalye Bautista or KKB for short
As mentioned earlier, the group 98B and many other enterprising entrepreneurs and tourism/heritage advocates have taken a keen interest in reviving this once vibrant and lively district. Through the help of Carlos Celdran, we were given the opportunity to walk the streets and go back in time to witness the significance of this district in the lives of the people who reside in it. Compared to Intramuros, we were going to cover a lot of ground in a span of 3 hours. Accompanying Carlos Celdran, was a group by the name of Kapitbahay sa Kalye Bautista (KKB for short), they are a group of troubadours who would provide brief snippets and stories about the district and the river Pasig through kundimans and various songs from the period.

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The old Citibank building, abandoned in the 1980’s revived and currently undergoing a renovation as a call center
The tour began at 9 in the morning at the Cafe Polland on the corner of Yuchengco and Escolta street, where we were treated to freshly baked hopia and a choice of sago’t gulaman or hot coffee care of the owner of the cafe. The tour would be divided into two parts: Escolta  and Quiapo and along the way I would witness the majestic beauty of many of the old buildings still standing with all of its old world splendor. In Escolta I was treated to many of the majestic buildings that are captivating the attention of the general public once more: the El Hogar, the old Citibank and HSBC offices. Along the way I was captivated by the stunning views and the contrasts between this district and the other parts of Manila, it was evident that there was serious urban planning when the Americans decided to fashion the city after Washington or NEw York. The streets (given a strong imagination) were wide, sidewalks were lined with trees and commercial centers were open for the casual visitor to drop by.

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The El Hogar, the old headquarters of Ayala Life and Insurance. Now an abandoned building

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A stunning panorama of Pasig river atop the old Citibank building

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The HSBC building, now a dilapidated building and warehouse
The second part of the tour was all about Quiapo and how it was once a cultural and art hub for many of the ilustrados during the 20th century. Making our way through a convoy of kalesas (horse drawn carriages), we made our way across the many streets, passing by the Carriedo fountain and stopping for a little while at the San Sebastian church where Carlos Celdran pointed out its significance when it was once one of the tallest buildings in Manila. In Quiapo, we were given a tour of the old Padilla building, where the owner Mr. Padilla converted his family’s 300 year old house into a beautiful art gallery and studio. Back then, the street where the Padilla building stands in, was one of the many places where artists and free thinkers would converge. A nearly Paris-like setting where  culture and art would combine and form a lively community.

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The only steel-made cathedral in Asia: San Sebastian church

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The Padilla building: an art studio and gallery and if you’re friends with the family your front row seat to Nazareno
 Apart from the KKB and Carlos Celdran, I was able to join the company of Mr. and Mrs. Sylianteng of the First United Building Corporation, they are one of the organizers of the tour and have really made a huge effort in bringing the weekend market to Escolta. Since Tricia was out of the country (she was in South Korea), I was doing the tour alone and I was glad to have joined their company. While the tour progressed along the different streets, Mrs. Sylianteng or Ma’am Lorraine as I have come to call her, pointed out and gave me a lot of interesting facts about Escolta itself. She talked about how many of the affluent families who once resided in the district have gone away and left the buildings that they once owned to neglect. It’s sad really that many of these old buildings still have a lot of character and hold a piece of history in them.

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The streets are once again his stage and we are all playing our parts
Our tour ended with a visit to the KKB’s project, an old dilapidated building known as the Bahay Boix and the Bahay Nakpil. The Bahay Boix was once the dormitory of President Manuel Quezon and the home of the Jesuits and the KKB are currently trying to revive this old bahay na bato to its former glory.

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Mr. Sylianteng of the First United Building Corporation. Him and his wife, Ma’am Lorraine gave me an education about reviving Escolta

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The old courtyard of the Bahay Boix. Support the Kapitbahay sa Kalye Bautista and their initiative to help restore this old house to its former glory. It is just beside the Nakpil House
The Quiapo – Escolta Tour was truly an interesting event that I believe should become one of Carlos Celdran’s tours in the future. Notwithstanding the weather, traversing the streets through kalesas and being serenaded by troubadours made for a very interesting Saturday morning. The education that I got and the way the streets come to life through the stories of Carlos Celdran, the Kapitbahay sa Kalye Bautista, and the Sylianteng’s was enlightening.

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Traversing Escolta and Quiapo in a kalesa
To avail of one of Carlos Celdran’s tours you may visit his website here
The tour costs Php. 1,100 for adults and Php. 600 for students (please present a valid ID)
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