My first introduction to the Kalesa was at the old stone walled city of Intramuros in Manila.
The kalesa is basically a horse drawn carriage, it was introduced to the Philippines in the 18th Century by the Spanish. It was the upper classes mode of transport, only the nobles and officials could afford the luxury of the Kalesa.
Things have changed a little bit now!
You can find the calesa in most of the major tourist traps. The most popular area is Intramuros and you can also see them around Chinatown. In the Ilocos Region the province of Ilocos Sur is also famous for the kalesa, particularly around the capital Vigan. It is well worth a trip in the kalesa as you navigate the cobblestone roads that interlock Vigan.
To the south of the Philippines the calesa can also be found in Cebu.
Intramuros is a large area to cover on foot. There is an awful lot to see, from Fort Santiago to Manila Cathedral, with lots in between.
One way of covering the area whilst giving your legs a bit of a rest, is by kalesa.
Most of the kalesas can be found outside Manila Cathedral where they will take you for a trip around Intramuros. Now there has been some adverse comments about being ripped off by kalesa drivers who charge way over what they originally quoted, or you were never quoted in the first place and then got hit with a gigantic sum of money at the end.
Note: This is important so pay attention. The going rate for a kalesa trip is P250. For that, you will get a drive around Intramuros and finish back at the Manila Cathedral. It will not include stops along the way, you will not be told this. I repeat you will not be told this. You can have as many stops or as few or none at all. I liked the fact that the kalesa would stop and let me wonder around. Each to there own. Depending on how many stops you have and how long you stop for, will depend on the final price. So if you have lots of stops and take a couple of hours, expect to be charged more than the original P250. You will need to negotiate with the kalesa before you jump in. Make sure everyone understands what you are getting for the price that has been quoted. If you change your mind and want to stop somewhere additional ask at the time how much extra. Don't be afraid to ask.
Right back to the kalesa trip.
First we went to San Augustin Church and Museum where there was a wedding in progress so the traffic was pretty heavy, this was the first stop. Even though we could not go into the church, access to the museum was available and well worth it. It is full of historic artefacts and explains the history of the church and the area, you can easily spend an hour here alone.
The Philippine Kalesa then took us in through the points of interest in Intramuros. The knowledge of the cocheros is quite outstanding, the whole two hours we were with the kalesa the running commentary did not stop they were fantastic. We travelled in a anti-clockwise direction with the last major stop being Fort Santiago. Here we had a look at the cell where Jose Rizal spent his last days writing Mi Ultimo Adios before he was executed by the Spanish.
Finally we were taken to Luneta Park , a good two hours with great guides that we would not have been able to achieve on our own. I highly recommend you to take a kalesa tour of Intramuros.
The Philippine Kalesa was designed to carry two people and some baggage, although I'm sure more than two would be carried quite easily, specially when I have seen 7 Filipinos on a motorbike! The carriage has small sides and a roof to keep the glaring sun from burning you, two huge wheels hold the carriage up, which are then connected to a scrawny horse by two poles strapped either side of the horse.
The carriage is brightly coloured and it looks as though a lot of care has been taken in it's upkeep. A whip is kept in a pipe to the cocheros right hand side and sticks straight up in the air like a radio antenna.
One of the more amusing things with the whip, is the noise it makes as it is pulled from the pipe that holds it. It makes a rasping sound, which the horse hears and immediately trots faster. Obviously the horse associates the noise of the whip coming from the pipe as a chance to speed up before he gets whipped on the but! I'm happy to say that the horse was not whipped at any stage.
Now if you do come to Intramuros make sure you allow enough time for a kalesa tour and don't forget to negotiate the price of the trip before you step foot on the kalesa, otherwise you may be in for a unpleasant end to your kalesa trip!
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