Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Previously on Souljacker:

Astral Travel
Suenos de Manila

The head waters making its way to the bay slithers around this tadpole-shaped peninsula, embracing its outer banks like a jealous lover. For in its western edge, next to the isthmus, bends the murky San Juan. The riverine passage, whose frequent inundation take the residents' attention away from the Pasig river. 

Little is known about this outpost of Santa Ana - a historic district already steeped in legends only few bother to learn. Punta, whose tales have been carried away by the confluence of two rivers is a tabula rasa even for same-city dwellers like me. The great families who lived there may no longer see this place home, and the hundreds moving in seem to have cocooned themselves from the outside world, that it's hard to know the secrets that lie within.

I maybe wrong.

But there is a part of me whose passion is to get lost in places said only through word of mouth. Like this strange protrusion from Mandaluyong. The earliest accounts were from high school buddies living in the suburb. Also were the public transport passing near my place plying the route. "Where is Punta?" I mused. As I grow older, revelations begin to unfold. There is the two-lane passage, often blocked by jeeps going to the midland. Also, there was a time when I took a ferry going to Guadalupe and the side opposite Santa Ana was cleared of structures, save for several derelicts that appeared to be factories.

Curiosity grows as sliver of scenes interrupt my train of thoughts until one Tuesday afternoon, many years after a house help in her disbelief argued with another when she said, she is going to Punta, did I decide to set foot in the place nurtured by footnotes of my growing-up years.

The Hanging Bridge of Punta

With the aid of Google Map, I made landfall a short distance away from a hanging foot bridge. It crosses the San Juan River and connects the suburb with Bacood, another suburb in another district. There was not much to see, except the decaying wood planks that are in need of replacement. Also noticeable was the change of scenery. Bacood is home to the more affluent residents of Santa Mesa. In contrast to where I came from, the streets were narrow, the small houses jutted out into the alleys, and the people stayed outdoors to eat and talk to neighbors instead of enjoying resting moments in their private quarters.

Walking away from the foot bridge, a short stroll towards the interior revealed some interesting landmarks of the place. There was Phimco, makers of mosquito coils and safety matches. The old trees in front of the main office suggest of being one of the first industries in Punta. There was also a gated community named in honor of Manila's former Archbishop, whose pink, medium-rise apartments stand opposite to the Brutalist-designed tenements nearby. 

The road ends at the gates of an abandoned steel mill. Looking at satellite photos, it appears to occupy a third of the peninsula. Its name was Marcelo Steel Mill, and the now empty property serves as a stark reminder of what Punta was: Santa Ana's industrial powerhouse. While most of the factories and oil depots have relocated elsewhere, the wage earners who used to work in the assembly lines, and their descendants stayed behind. Their homes make up the vast swathes of corrugated rooftops dominating the residential skyline.

Marcelo Steel Grounds

The empty lot of Marcelo Steel Mill would have been my last destination, after a strange dream last year foretold my arrival. During my brief stop, I looked around for any mid-rise buildings where I sighted the trees in my sleep. Instead, there were hovels as far as the eyes could see. 

I was about to ride a jeep going home when I recall Google Map markers showing a river crossing. I remember this ferry service from the time I took a boat trip from Escolta going upstream. Asking a local for instructions, he pointed to a side street leading to a very busy neighborhood. I followed some commuters ahead (the ones carrying bags and implements of travel) and after going through a short straight path, I emerged at the banks of Pasig River, with fast-moving colorful boats waiting for passengers at the pier.

Punta - Santa Ana River Crossing

The last leg of the urban stroll brought my feet past the sleepy Santa Ana Market and into the Poblacion (old commercial center) of the district. A meal at McDonalds replenished my strength, but to gobble a large serving of potato fries and soft drinks meant doing some more exercise. 

So walk I did.

I ended the tour at the foot of a newly-opened bridge. The winding archway connects Bacood and Boni Avenue, easing the traffic at the busy intersection at Shaw Boulevard. Many commuters walked on foot. Some paused at the top of the bridge. They seem to enjoy the cityscape as the weary sun hides behind the clouds. And as I looked at the river below, watching a lone boat ferry a single passenger to the opposite bank, I knew my journey has ended; the mystery of my childhood at long last revealed; and I am not returning.

Many places still need to be explored on foot, and be written.

Bacood Approaching

"The thing with journeys is that some destinations are mere transit points." I posted on Twitter. Crossing the bridge satisfied with my expedition, I added the words "Keep walking." before alighting the jeep that would take me home.

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