Sunday, October 22, 2006


The other day, with nothing else better to do after having lunch in Chinatown near Binondo Church, I flagged down a calesa (a two-wheel horse-drawn carriage) for a ride to Tutuban Mall in Divisoria. The cuchero (rig driver) charged forty pesos for both me and my nephew; a reasonable enough fare since the uncomfortable pedicab ride would cost about thirty pesos.

I love riding on calesas and often take one whenever the opportunity presents itself. The cuchero of this particular calesa claimed he has been doing it for more than thirty years. It is a family enterprise he said in which he is also responsible for training the young drivers and horses from Batangas. The black horse (in photo above) he has been training/handling for the past four months. This horse is acclimating quite well with the city traffic. Only problem is it has pretty acute hearing and gets easily spooked by sudden bursts of loud noises. As a remedy, this veteran cuchero puts earmuffs on the horse; starting with a thick version and gradually decreasing the thickness as the horse gets adjusted to various street noises.

Soon he’ll assign this black horse to one of the cucheros in the family’s employ. He will then take on a new young horse to train. This man does seem to have done a pretty good job since the horse was noticeably obedient of his every command; not once did the cuchero have to resort to the whip. He also spoke of the perils involved in driving a calesa nowadays due to myriad traffic snarls and impatient motorists; hence, his job also entails the training of the young cucheros to become ever mindful of their horses’ safety in various traffic conditions.

Now, here’s a man who appears to have a very responsible and professional attitude toward his occupation. Furthermore, in the many years he has been doing it, he has never caused any harm to any of his horses, passengers, pedestrians, or motorists. Neither has he gotten in any serious trouble with traffic enforcement officers. This man was definitely unlike Rizal’s cuchero in El Filibusterismo who caused his passenger, Basilio, much delay when he was stopped and detained by the guardia civil for having forgotten to carry his cedula (identity card) in his person. Although it was his fault, he was nevertheless embittered for getting hit with some rifle butts and dragged to the barracks to face the commandant.

When released, there was another delay he and his passenger had to endure — a Christmas Eve procession. While waiting for the procession to pass, he asked Basilio, if the mythical king of the indios had almost escaped from the chains that imprisoned him, for his eventual freedom would rid the country of the guardia civil that he hated so much for hurling abuse at him and hitting him with rifle butts for his every infraction. He pledged to offer his horse and meager possessions to the king for that day when the king would save him from such unmerciful acts by the guardia civil.

After the procession had finally passed, the cuchero was stopped a second time that evening by another guardia civil. This time, it was because the rig’s light had gone out. A rain of insults fell upon the poor cuchero who tried in vain to explain that the procession had lasted too long; making his rig’s light burn out its entire fuel.

As I delve more into our local history, the more I am led to believe that Rizal’s two novels — Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo — were not simply a scathing indictment against the abuses of the friars, but also an exposure of the Filipino frailties; in this case, the incompetence and lack of spiritual maturity as demonstrated by this cuchero. Leaving his identity card at home and not carrying an extra supply of fuel for his rig’s light were enough to prove his incompetence. Moreover, instead of looking inward to correct his erroneous ways, this cuchero would rather pin his hope of deliverance from the cruelty of the guardia civil on some mythical king.

Had he been more mindful of his responsibilities, he could have been more vigilant to carry his identity card with him at all times, as well as carry an extra supply of oil for his rig’s lamp. In so doing, he would have prevented getting arrested, hit with rifle butts, or verbally abused by the more competent guardia civil who perform their duty more diligently.

Ironically, in today’s Metro Manila, it’s common to see the exhaust pipes of some commuter buses and jeepneys belching out black smoke; drivers deliberately dropping off and picking up passengers in prohibited areas and entangling traffic in the process; drivers who commandeer their private vehicles in city traffic as if no one else matters in the world but them; and, of course, those swarm of students in the university belt area who would cross the street regardless whether the light is in their favor or not. Yet, everyone is quick to claim innocence when caught by traffic enforcement officers, or even whisper that such apprehension is nothing more than a rouse to fish out some merienda money.

Alas! Despite these modern times, there are still those who’d choose to remain incompetent and immature in their ways as Rizal’s cuchero.

posted by Señor Enrique at 1:20 PM


Blogger fionski said...

How much did the kutsero charge you for a tour around historic Manila? Ours made sure we paid him $100.

October 22, 2006 6:06 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a good observation eric. Rizal's work might as well be a a mirror of Filipinos weaknesses and their shortcomings. They say art can be truer than fiction after all.

October 22, 2006 8:03 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's been years since I've taken a calesa ride man. I didn't realize the calesas are still plying their routes in the Binondo area!

October 22, 2006 11:05 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've mentioned before that you do ride the calesa but didn't realize that they also go through the main thoroughfares. The earmuffs is a good idea. I was just thinking of buying a pair last night when I couldn't concentrate on reading because the stereo was blasting from the basement and the TV in the kitchen as well. Hay!

I agree with Major Tom. You have very good observations with Rizal's writings as they relate to the Filipino attitude. I don't remember much about the Fili. I've got a copy here and I think I'd like to read it again. Didn't understand it much in high school :)

October 23, 2006 2:15 AM  

Blogger MISYEL said...

I miss riding in a calesa :(

October 23, 2006 10:32 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to hitch a ride on a Calesa.


Well, I guess city life is hectic and people tend to not follow the regulations; sometimes, noh?

October 23, 2006 11:15 AM  

Blogger Unknown said...

takot ako dati sumakay sa calesa kasi feeling ko pang turista lang yun. P40 is fair enoughm considering na mahirap na mag-alaga ng kabayo sa siyudad. masubukan ng a minsan ;)

October 23, 2006 12:30 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Mine was a short ride, Fioski. However, $100 for a tour of historic Manila seems a bit extravagant for me. Is that just around Intramuros?

Thanks, Major Tom. Rizal's two novels I never paid much attention to in high school mainly because the Tagalog used in those books were not as easy to digest. Come to think of it, a Pilipino subject in high school is not that easy at all.

But then again, in all honesty, I was probably too immature at 15 and 16 to truly appreciate Rizal's writings. Furthermore, a typical Pilipino class -- with all other lessons to be covered -- is not enough to fully discuss either the Noli or Fili.

So what I've done is re-read these two novels when I moved back to Manila, and to this day, would glance through both books every now and then.

And whatever wisdom I had accumulated through the years may reflect on the way I now see Rizal's novels -- devoid of prejudice against the friars -- which is more objective.

Rizal was truly a gifted literary artist.

October 23, 2006 1:02 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I remember, BW, when I first arrived in NYC, all I wanted was to experience riding in those awesome Camaros, Firebirds, and Porche Targas. But upon my return to Manila, I couldn't wait to ride a calesa.

It is actually one of the best public transportation around -- it has comfortable seats; you ride high while facing the direction you are going; and you get to see as many sights that you pass by :)

And yes, there are still calesas in Binondo and in most parts of the city.

Yes, Irene, calesas are still allowed in most main city streets, including Roxas Boulevard and all bridges. However, I don't think they're allowed on major highways such as EDSA (not too safe for the horse).

Do you have Sharper Image Store where you are, Irene? Best to ask around for the best model of noise-reduction earmuffs/headsets.

I got the English version of both Noli and Fili by Maria Guerrero Lacson-Locsin (?). But I think Penguin is due to release Noli and Fili as translated by a western writer. They are really worth re-reading, Irene. And I'm sure you'll pick up more insight from it as I have now that I'm older and wiser, too (I hope)... hehehe.

October 23, 2006 1:17 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

You have got to to ride one, Michelle, if ever you come back to visit Manila! It is really wonderful!

You have got to try it, Kyels. Actually, Carlos Celdran runs a tour of Binondo in which you will have to ride a calesa. You have got to check it out!

Ay, naku, Cruise, wag kang mahiya kasi hindi lang pang turista ang calesa :) Pero, sigurado, pag nasubukan mo, uulitin mo uli!

Lagi ko sinasabihan ang mga ibang cuchero na di na nila kailangan paluin pa ng latigo kabayo nila kasi okay lang naman ang takbo at di naman ako sumasakay ng calesa para magmadali :) Awa kasi ako sa kabayo din, eh.

October 23, 2006 1:24 PM  

Blogger Rey said...

I love the Calesa! There's a sense of retroness in riding it. I've rode it many times with my late grandfather and had so many animated experiences with it, eating turon and bescucho while on journey.

come to thin of it, it's been a long while.

October 23, 2006 5:46 PM  

Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Senor E, you sound just like an American there, complaining about local idiosyncrasies that the locals themselves don't even seem to notice. That seems to be the way of it though. My wife lived in the US for 11 years and now she complains bitterly about the things you point out and more. I just shrug it off and accept it as the way things are here. I think her complaints come from a disappointment she feels for her native land and for her fellow Filipinos, because she knows it doesn't have to be this way.

October 23, 2006 10:16 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

senor enrique,

how are you? in lipa city, the calesas were the mode of transportation in the city before the smog and noise polluting tricycles. back then it cost 20 centavos fare...from the palenque to anywhere in the city. there is some sense of "organic" feeling in riding a calesa or a horse for that matter.



October 24, 2006 1:57 AM  

Blogger MISYEL said...

Oh I remember riding on a Calesa, when my gradpa's still alive.. It was a great experienced :)

October 24, 2006 3:54 AM  

Blogger Gayzha said...

This is a great post ! There are so many Filipino traits that need to be remedied! This is when the likes of Jose Rizal like you ... :) have the power to instill better qualities and values among our people :)

October 24, 2006 12:30 PM  

Blogger General Bird said...

It's a strangely courageous and difficult exercise to describe the shortcomings of a victim. And it's a wonderful thing to read about a calesa from someone who's not a tourist. Thanks for all the insight. GB

October 24, 2006 3:38 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my opinion, Rizal's novels were so at par with other world-class classics like those of known writers like Fyodor Distovsky, Hemingway, Dickens but it is not as widely known globally. I've been reading a lot of works but I had truly enjoyed Rizal's novel just like those of Gabriel Garcia Marquez...I know what's good and what's not...

October 24, 2006 6:26 PM  

Blogger Amadeo said...


This is a very apt post, because this is one ancient enterprise that is slowly becoming extinct.

And for those unfamiliar with the provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao, this mode of transport was very prevalent and numerous, prior to the advent of first, the pedicabs, then the tri-cycles. Our Northern Mindanao province gave birth to what is now called the motorelas, four-wheeled bikes.

But it is not called calesa. We call them tartanillas. And the design also differs. While typically entry to the calesa is through either side, the tartanilla allows passenger entry at the back with the passengers facing each other, much like the jeepneys. One can google for images to see the differences.

A few tartanillas are still around, though now plying short routes along the cities’ periphery.

October 25, 2006 1:55 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Welcome to the club then, Rey! I wish they don't ever take away the calesa from our city streets.

I do get upset at times, Phil, especially when our local folks choose to be juvenile about their ways, especially when such actions could cause serious harm to others.

Yes, I feel disappointment also because I know these people aren't at all stupid.

Back in our province in Subic, DatuPanot, I'd always beg my aunts to take the calesa when coming home from the public market. But as I grew up, the jeepneys, buses, and tricycles became more numerous while the calesas started becoming a rare sight. But I'm glad there's still some in Manila :)

Make sure you take another ride if and when you ever come home for a visit, Michelle!

Ooops, I'm much too ordinary to be compared to Rizal, Jase. Sometimes I wonder if the man really possessed such genius and various talents. Martha Stewart would have made a perfect housewife for him, no? Hehehe.

Yes, I agree with you, General Bird, and I try to stay away from doing so BUT there are times I just have to make mention of it. I may now be a local Manilan, but I certainly still act like a tourist ... hehehe!

I completely agree with you, Major Tom. How I wish I can read Spanish so I can read Rizal's book as he had written them in Spanish.

The calesas in Manila, Amadeo, are usually those meant for two passengers to ride comfortably, but the tartanillas you mentioned (I checked out the photos as you had suggested), were common in Manila also when I was young, but hasn't seen one lately. This was the one we'd take from the market because they are roomier.

October 25, 2006 12:06 PM  

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