Passing through Baclaran

I had to go to Makati today, and instead of taking my usual route — jeep to South Expressway, then bus to Ayala — I opted for a more adventurous alternative: a jeep to Baclaran LRT, then the MRT at Edsa to Ayala Station. It’s a route I rarely take, except when I have time to spare and am in a daring mood.

After the jeepney turns onto Quirino Ave, about halfway to Edsa, the usable roadspace narrows as sidewalk stalls by the hundreds spill onto the street, with vendors hawking everything from anting-anting at gayuma (tribal lucky charms and love potions) to fake brandname jeans and plasticware. At some point the sheer human traffic slows the jeepney’s progress to a crawl, and it becomes faster to get out and walk.

And what a walk! The street market is an assault on all the senses: every stall blaring music from pirated CD’s, pools of foul-smelling water overflowing from the gutter, heat rising from the crush of people, and of course the variety of merchandise surrounding you.

It’s not a safe place. I once saw a snatcher try to grab a necklace from a young girl right in front of me, only to be spotted, caught, and beaten to a pulp by local police. Bombs have exploded in the area, set by terrorists or political destabilizers, killing dozens. And just once, I had to pass through the area at 1am in the morning, when the stalls are all dark and covered, and garbage is strewn all over the avenue: it’s more than a bit scary, knowing how the place is a breeding spot for drug addicts, muggers, and other unsavory criminal elements.

Towards Edsa, the market retreats back to the sidewalks, and the road becomes usable to vehicles again. All in all, the whole walk is a bit less than 10 minutes, from the Baclaran LRT station (where the market gets thick) to the Edsa MRT station at Edsa-Taft. Quite an experience.

Now I’m in Starbucks Glorietta. Seated here with a tall hot chocolate and surrounded by foreigners — and upper class locals trying to look/sound like foreigners — I feel like I’m in another world.


  1. Eileen says:

    Strange, isn’t it, how Manila seems to be composed of several alternative realities which coexist in the same time and place? I live in Tondo-Divisoria, which is a chaotic universe that needs to be experienced in order to be defined, and I have graduate classes at DLSU, which is a rather posh and orderly world of books and academia.

    The space between these two disparate realities can be bridged by a jeepney, FX or LRT ride.

    And that’s why living in this country is an experience unlike any other. =)