Almost everything in Metro Manila is in a hurried pace. Even pedicabs (a manual tricycle with a sidecar) race each other to take in commuters. But it’s a different experience with the local Philippine calesa.
Inspired by the horse-drawn carriages of the Spanish elite in early times, Spanish-time Philippine transportation conceptualized the Philippine calesa. But it was a far cry from its Spanish counterpart which was elegant and more suited to the taste of Spanish elitism. The “carwaje” had stylish European features drawn by a handsome and decorated horse manned by a uniformed cavalier (just like the ones in Vigan and Fort Santiago in Manila), while this Filipino re-make was more suited for mass appeal, sometimes drawn by a small and sluggish potbellied horse driven by common folks.
Today, like the transformed Philippine jeepney and motored tricycle, this public Philippine transportation vehicle is overly dressed up and painted. From being a common side street makeshift vehicle that left a trace of horse filth along the way, the Philippine calesa is now one of the major tourist attractions in many places in the country. It is a major Philippine transportation sight in Zamboanga in the South of the Philippines, Vigan in Northern Luzon, and in Intramuros, Manila.
In the walled city of Intramuros, it is a thrilling experience to roam around the historic vicinity in a Philippine calesa. Once a visitor takes his seat in this Philippine transportation carriage, everything seems to stop. The fast city pace becomes arrested in a sudden nostalgic slow-paced tour of the walled city, taking one back to past times. For a tour fee of P250 or more (for a big group) a calesa trip will give the visitor a detailed inventory of the various historic sites in Intramuros. And coming from the calesa driver in the local dialect or in English, the P250 is a real bargain. These calesa drivers are no longer the Spanish-time common folks who plied the city route for a mere livelihood; these are well-trained tourist guides who can recite accurate details on the various sites plus a bonus of warm and enchanting public relations works. Drivers (and horses) of Philippine calesa in Intramuros can be so patient as to drop off and wait for tourists in certain Wall sites for picture taking and reflection. This Philippine transportation certainly adds tourism value to Intramuros.
The Philippine calesa is a vital legacy in Philippine transportation that benefits the tourism industry for all time. To miss riding them is to miss a part of the past.