While everyone went out of town for Lent, I opted to stay in Manila for Holy Week. Unlike most, I don’t have Thursday and Friday off, so I really had to stay in the city to work. Besides, the usual places will be full of people, so I thought it’s better to stay in Manila and just go out of town on another weekend.
I didn’t really have plans how I’m going to spend my afternoons, considering I still have work. I was antsy to go out and explore the city though, specially since there would be no traffic. I went out with friends in Quezon City on Thursday, and blogger friends in Manila Bay on Friday. Saturday found me at the Chinese Cemetery with Couch Surfers.
Lucas, a traveler from Vienna is visiting the Philippines for the third time. He usually explore the different parts of the country, but this time, he thought to ask Manila-based couch surfers if they would like to join him in exploring the Chinese Cemetery. I’ve nothing planned for Saturday, and I haven’t been inside the cemetery before, so I thought this is my chance to finally do this tour.
Eric, who’s been to the cemetery before said that it’s best to go there with a guide because if you’re doing it on your own, you wouldn’t find the interesting mausoleums. We hired a guide, Mang Rodolfo (contact number 0929-4374620). For a one-hour tour, he charged us Php 500. Since there were five of us, that comes out to only Php 100 per person.
The great thing about having a guide is that not only you get to see the interesting mausoleums, you also get an explanation of the layout of the cemetery, the intricate designs, and the traditions and superstitions of the Chinese. We found ourselves amazed at how glitzy some of the mausoleums were, and we were taking pictures like there’s no tomorrow. Mang Rodolfo has been touring people for a long time inside the cemetery, so he knows most of the caretakers inside. Thanks to him, we were able to go inside some of the mausoleums, including the 3-storey mausoleum of Regal Film’s Mother Lily Monteverde’s family. This was certainly the tallest in the cemetery, and from the top floor, you get a sweeping view of the entire cemetery, and you can even see Eastwood, Quezon City, Ortigas, Makati, Malate, Caloocan and even the hills of Bulacan in the distance.
After the tour, we headed to Jollibee for some airconditioning and a Chicken Joy lunch. Refreshed and energized, we rode a trike to the North Cemetery. The tricycle drivers are very familiar with the place already and took us directly to one of North Cemetery’s famous resident: Fernando Poe, Jr. Actually his tomb says Ronald Allan Kelley Poe. Right beside his family’s plot, we were surprised to see this pseudo mausoleum that looks like a house and even have a sari-sari store!
Whereas the Chinese Cemetery was almost deserted save for the caretakers, the North Cemetery looks like a small barangay. There were plenty of people around, playing cards or bingo, sleeping in hammocks or atop tombs, kids playing on the streets.
There were several interesting mausoleums and tombs in the North Cemetery as well. There are the tombs of former Philippine presidents like Manuel Roxas and Ramon Magsaysay. There’s this mausoleum shaped like a pyramid, complete with sphinxes at the front.
While we were walking around taking photos of the people living in the cemetery, the head of the cemetery admin arrived and told us that we were forbidden to take photos. Tricycles suddenly arrived to take us to the main entrance, where we had to wait for the head. Then it got interesting. Some of the people hanging out at the office said we weren’t supposed to take photos because we might use it in a way to shed a bad light on the Philippines. Uh, what? However, when the head came back, he told us that if we want to take photos, we have to go to the city hall to get permission from the Mayor’s office. We assured them that we were only tourists and the photos will just be for personal use. With that, he said that it’s okay and let us go and even hailed a jeep to take us to Sta. Cruz.
The chief advised us that next time we’re going back to the North Cemetery, we should register at the office and tell them of our intentions so he can have a guard escort us around the cemetery. We didn’t bother asking if we would still be allowed to take photos with the guard in tow, but this is just a precaution as there have been cases of robbery within the cemetery, even in the mausoleums, that’s why they were very concern about us going around with our cameras on our own.
Both the Chinese Cemetery and North Cemetery are huge and definitely a place I can see myself visiting again. If you’re doing a similar tour, I suggest you wear comfortable shoes and clothes, a hat or umbrella, sunglasses, sunblock and water. There’s a sari sari store called Jolly Bina inside the Chinese cemetery selling cold drinks and some snaks. If you’re taking a tour with Mang Rodolfo, he’d surely bring you there.