Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Leyte Tour Part 1 - Manila, Corregidor, Bataan

Thursday, Oct. 8

We took the Sun Cruises ferry from Corregidor to Manila, where we checked in at the Heritage Hotel. We went to the SM Mall of Asia to meet with Alvin Alfonso, who is organizing a Manila-area chapter of the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society. The Philippine Scouts were Filipino soldiers trained under the US Army. They fought as part of USAFFE troops in the Philippines, especially on Bataan and Corregidor. Apparently, most members of the Heritage Society live in the United States. Steve is becoming a member.

After eating dinner at Sbarro’s, we went back to the hotel. We asked at the desk if they had a reservation for Phil Peterson, who was expected to check in at around midnight. They found nothing. We were originally going to have Phil join us when we picked up the rest of the guests at the airport, but our Philippine guide Tommy said it would be best if the three of us waited at the hotel.

Friday, Oct. 9

Phil did not know the plan, and called us from the lobby at 4:20 in the morning. We thought about going back to sleep, but decided instead to get up and spend the time talking with Phil, who told us he’d arrived at 1:00 AM and never checked in. At 6:00 we ate breakfast, and then the three of us waited for the tour bus.

Although the plane arrived on time at 5:25, it took over an hour for the guests to get through customs, claim their bags, etc. We finally saw the bus pull into the Heritage driveway at 8:00. The guests were all tired, in part from the 16-hour flight from San Francisco, naturally, but also due to the fact that the majority of them have been senior citizens for awhile. We at 57 and 56 years old are the kids in the group, as far as the Americans go. We have four WWII vets on the tour, including one female, our first. She was stationed in the United States as a member of the Army Air Corps.

We all checked in at the Manila Hotel, toured the MacArthur suite, and then visited the American Cemetery in Manila. We were appalled to see the high-rises going up around the cemetery, especially one that ruins the previously beautiful view from the main gate. One of our guests was wounded by a Japanese bullet somewhere near the cemetery, Ft. McKinley at the time. The area is now called Ft. Bonifacio. We also made a brief stop at the old Nichols Field terminal, which has a library of Philippine History in the basement. It includes many books about the war in the Philippines. After lunch in the basement of Landmark, a department store in Makati, everyone was ready to return to the hotel and get some rest before our “official kick-off dinner” that evening.

Saturday, Oct. 10

We slept in until around 7:00. Steve showered first, expecting his first warm shower in six weeks. Instead, the water from the hot tap was so cool that he tried the cold tap to make sure that the two were not switched. While the hot water felt lukewarm, the water from the cold side felt like it was chilled. Marcia followed, and after another five minutes had scalding-hot water. Since it took 15 minutes for the hot water to arrive, we wondered if the water heater was located over in Intramuros across Roxas Boulevard.

After a superb buffet breakfast, we visited Santo Tomas University, site of a WWII civilian internment camp. Next, Steve offered the guests an opportunity to walk the back alley to the Manila City Jail, aka Bilibid, which was used as a Japanese POW camp. Steve’s father was imprisoned there for about 10 months, including five in the prison hospital. You can’t really see much of the jail but the walk is an eye-opener, since it passes through a very poor area that is surprisingly safe. Most of the people took the walk and were happy they did so, expressing dismay at the obvious poverty, but also awe at the politeness of the adults and children who lined the walkway.

We then proceeded to the old walled city of Intramuros, spending time at Ft. Santiago. Then we looked at a couple of the old Catholic churches, St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Augustine’s, the latter having survived the massive war-time shelling better than most other large buildings in Manila. We next stopped at Central United Methodist Church just outside the wall, the oldest Protestant church in the country. It became a place of refuge for civilians, who were then moved to Santo Tomas. Finally we stopped at Tesoro’s, a Filipino handicrafts store.

Later in the day three of us took a taxi to St. Augustine’s for Mass. A group of us finished the day by eating at the Blue Bay Restaurant which sits on Manila Bay. Due to the recent bad weather, however, the nice view to the bay was blocked by tarps.

Sunday, Oct. 11

We got up early and boarded the bus for the Sun Cruises ferry. There were a number of races including a marathon with the start/finish line at Quirino Grandstand, causing our bus driver to detour 12 kms to go the two kms to the CCP Terminal. We boarded the ferry and had a normal day tour of The Rock with Steve as guide. Later we toured the Topside Hospital, watched the sunset at Battery Grubbs, and went into Malinta Tunnel for the evening lateral tour.

Monday, Oct. 12

This was our first “adventure day,” as things did not quite go as planned. We boarded the Sun Cruises ferry at around 10:00 and headed to Mariveles, with an ETA of 10:30. As we approached the harbor, however, the ferry came to a stop and we just sat. We were told that the tide was too low, and that we could dock in 15 minutes. About a half hour later the captain must have decided that the water was rising too slowly, because all of a sudden we turned around and headed back into Manila Bay. We docked near Cabcaben, and then had to wait another half hour or so for Emil, our bus driver, to arrive. We had to backtrack the 20 kilometers to Mariveles.

So we were now running two hours late when we pulled into town. We visited the monument and marker at KM0, the traditional starting point of the Bataan Death March, then went next door and ate at Jollibee’s, the Filipino equivalent to McDonald’s. We stopped in Limay at a plaque dedicated to Filipino and American nurses. Then we went to the Balanga Elementary School and visited the monument memorializing General King’s surrender of his troops to General Homma on April 9, 1942. While walking along the school building, Steve heard some children calling to him. When he looked up, he saw them behind barred windows. He asked them if they were in prison and they said, “Yes!” So he took a picture of the “prisoners.” By the way, all school children here wear uniforms, with the girls all wearing skirts.

Because we were running late we decided to save Mt. Samat for the next morning, and went straight to Montemar Beach Resort, where some of us waded in the South China Sea before supper and bedtime.

Since beginning the tour, we’ve heard that we may be unable to go up north for the part of the trip that includes Lingayen Gulf, where the Japanese invaded in 1941 and the Americans returned in 1945. Going to Baguio was also questionable, where the first bombs were dropped in the Philippine islands and where General Yamashita surrendered. There has been so much rain and flooding due to stalled-out Typhoon Parma that the roads are barely passable and the Hotel in Lingayen suffered water damage. Going to Baguio, only one road of three is open, and it is only passable by small vehicles. Gasoline trucks cannot make their deliveries, so there is no gas available in the city. Quite a mess! So tonight we made the final decision to skip those locations and spend more time in central Luzon. The guests are disappointed, as are we, but they are also seasoned travelers and know that nothing is certain when nature exerts its power.

Tuesday, Oct. 13

About 30 minutes after we left Montemar Beach Resort the bus was climbing Mt. Samat, where a shrine honors the valor shown by soldiers of WWII. There is a cross, 400 ft. tall, at the top of the mountain, with an elevator that takes visitors through the upright to the arms of the cross. From there one can see for miles in each direction when the weather is clear. Steve went up with four guests. Then we drove to Subic Bay where we had a great lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Before checking into the hotel we visited the Hellships Memorial on the waterfront, and the Olongapo Museum.

En route we had one near incident. As our bus driver was in the process of making a left turn, a man on a motorcycle passed us on the left. Emil the driver jerked the bus back to the right and hit the brakes to avoid hitting the motorcycle. The jerking motion sent one passenger into the aisle of the bus, and it took a few minutes to work his feet free from the bar his feet were under, since he was sitting in the front seat. Another passenger seated in the center of the bus sustained a scraped knee and a scraped arm, both minor, as he was throw forward and left. We were all a bit startled, but finished the day with no further surprises.

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