Despite the heavy traffic en route to Intramuros, my buddy and I still managed to arrive at the Bambike Ecotours headquarters. a few minutes before our agreed call time.
As we alighted from our Grab ride, I immediately saw Jherson and his fiancée Lana trying out a few bamboo bikes parked outside. We quickly exchanged handshakes and hugs.
“The rest of the gang are still on their way bro,” he said. “But you guys can already choose your bikes while we wait for them.”
I actually never expected to see them again this soon. It’s only been just a few months since we bade our goodbyes at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bataan. But I’m glad that we were still able to catch up during my brief homecoming trip to the Philippines.
A well-curated Intramuros tour
“Dude, I’ve never been to this part of the wall at all,” I told my buddy as we listened to Russell Leyco, our seasoned ‘Bambassador’ (tour guide) that afternoon. We were then at an accessible portion of the wall at Puerta Real Gardens, the second of 8 stops in the itinerary.
Russell earlier shared to us a quick history of Intramuros. During the Spanish occupation, the area housed important offices of state (such as the Palace of the Governor-General, the Royal Audiencia), seven great Roman Catholic Churches, and a few of the oldest universities in Asia.
The Intramuros of today however, is a far cry from what it looked during its heyday. Bombings during World War II leveled most of the city, and claimed hundreds and thousands of Filipino lives.
All these, including a relatively unknown Chinese uprising at the Parian, an overlooked detail of the image of Saint James at Fort Santiago and an interesting jeepney backstory, are just among the many new insights I learned from the tour.
Half of our group were all foreigners. Aside from my buddy who hails from Malaysia, we were also joined by six others from the Netherlands. Even so, Russell was able to capture the attention of both Intramuros first-timers and nth-timers. We would later find out that prior to joining the Bambike team in 2016, he has been tour guiding in these parts since 2003.
Over all, I liked how Bambike curated their Intramuros tour. While we could have been bombarded with facts, dates, and names that no one will remember at all, their Bambassadors instead chose to share just the right amount of context, trivia and a bit of humor on the side.
More than just cool rides
Two and a half hours later, we were back at the Bambike HQ. We capped the long yet very memorable afternoon with a good IPA, courtesy of Engkanto Brewery.
As we sipped from our cups, a video explaining Bambike’s origins and advocacies was played on the small screen above the mini-bar. This socio-ecological enterprise was actually founded by Filipino-American Bryan Benitez McClelland back in 2009.
I also learned that the bambikes we rode on earlier are a lot tougher than they may seem. The bamboo frames, for one, were thoroughly tested and certified to rigorous international standards.
Each were also beautifully handcrafted by ‘Bambuilders’ (bamboo bike builders) that came from a community supported by Gawad Kalinga, a poverty alleviation and nation-building movement in the Philippines.
Needless to say that when you book any of Bambike’s tours or decide to purchase a bamboo bike, you also indirectly participate in their programs such as scholarships, weekly feeding program for children, a bamboo nursery for reforestation, among many others.
Something new even in the familiar
It is impossible to cover the entire area of Intramuros in a single day. I actually learned that the hard way on my first time here.
Back in 2010, I visited most of the puertas (gates), the baluartes (bastions) and the museums in my worn-out flip-flops and under the grueling midday sun, but not without sustaining a sprained ankle and scheduling a trip to a physical therapist afterwards. It was a terrible Amazing Race-esque idea in retrospect.
The Intramuros tour offered by Bambike is infinitely better by comparison. Their Bambassadors are very capable and most of all, we comfortably covered a good stretch of the wall and key landmarks, on awesome bamboo bikes.
I really thought I already knew Intramuros like the back of my hand. But boy, I’m glad to have been proven wrong one Sunday afternoon not long ago. I realized that there will always be something new to experience here, and in all the other familiar tourist spots in our own backyard.
With that said, I can’t wait to return to these old walls someday.
Real St. corner General Luna St.
Intramuros, Manila 1002
Aside from the Intramuros Experience (2.5 hours, Php 1200 /person), here are the other bike tours that Bambike offers:
- BGC Mural Art Tour (1.5 hours, Php 1200 /person)
– learn the stories behind the 17 murals at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig
- Express Tour: Intramuros (1 hr, Php 600 /person)
– a short and sweet way to see the old walled city of Manila
- Intramuros Experience: Night Edition (1 hr, Php 1200 /person)
– experience Intramuros when the sun has set
- Intramuros Experience: Sunset tour (1.5 hrs, Php 1200 /person)
– around Intramuros, plus the Manila Bay sunset
- Filipino Experience Tour (1.5 hrs, Php 600 /person)
– a guided Intramuros tour in the Tagalog language
Disclosure: The blogger would like to thank Bambike for the complimentary Intramuros tour. Even so, he maintains full editorial control of this blog feature.