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.
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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