Sunday, September 30, 2007

My “Pasig River Ferry” Tour

Despite the odds, I did it anyway, and I just did it today! Yeah! Am happy I did! I swear I will do this again in the nearest future with friends and/or family.

This all started with my curiosity about those good-looking white boats plying the murky Pasig River. Every time I pass by the Guadalupe bridge in Makati (ok Mandaluyong is the other side), I always chance upon a quick glance of those white boats. Many times it made me feel nostalgic remembering those days when I would ride the CityCats of Brisbane from Hamilton down to Southbanks or even further to the UQ. Those boats are similar to what Pasig River now has!

I did hear some years ago about Piso-Para-Sa-Pasig (a rehab program) and I did hear that some commuters use the Pasig River instead of the dizzying traffic on city streets. Sometime ago, there was even news of a motorized outrigger banca (full with students) that sunk in this murky river. But I have not heard (yet) of good-looking and seemingly clean (at least from afar) catamaran-style boats to be plying this river. So I checked out the web and chanced upon a few bits and pieces about this Pasig River Ferry.

I scheduled today as my Grand Pasig River Tour. I had to dilly-dally as today was a gloomy Sunday with sporadic drizzles and showers. The skies were not that cooperative. But by around 2PM, I saw some sun brightening up scattered clouds. So I said to myself GO GO GO! I knew this was not a good time to take pictures but I did grab my old and reliable Fuji E550!

At The Boat Station
Went to Guadalupe via MRT and braved a light drizzle walking from the ABC Mall to that little building which I was almost sure is the wharf or boat station. And I was right. The building is obviously new with a tasteful architecture but I find it rather tiny. I could just imagine when a lot of people will be patronizing the ferry; there will be some crowding, I think! Anyway, as for now, I liked the experience and here we go:

At the “station”, you enter a glass door with a guard standing right beside it who will motion you to pass thru an electronic gate (scanner) which is just about an arm’s length from the door. At the other side of the gate are the ticket counters manned by (and only enough for) two people. Good design and almost like a bank, this counter; complete with a glass-partition (I don’t know what for). But this glass partition and the wall behind those ticket-sellers are peppered with a lot of printed announcements, reminders, etc that it now looks disorganized. Then you take about two or three steps sideways to encounter a turnstile for you to enter the waiting lounge.

The ticket, oh the ticket! It is nothing but a little piece of thermal paper (like those in ATMs) where the date-and- time, fare and your destination is printed. There is also a barcode. I had to ask the ticket-girl when I read my ticket because it said my destination was just Sta. Ana when in fact I told her I was going to Escolta (the end station). She smiled and courteously (if not shamefully) explained that it was alright since today, any destination costs the same – just P25. Yes, they have a promotional fare – just P25 to any destination during Saturdays and Sundays. Oh, children pay the same price as adults do, but there are discounts for students and senior citizens. So, always bring those IDs. But during weekends, everybody pays P25 going anywhere! Lastly, if you or your child is never taller than the turnstile, then it’s a free ride. Happy will be the midgets as the turnstiles here are a bit taller than those at the MRT or LRT.

At the turnstile, there is another guard ready to help you. He/She will ask you to put your ticket face-down on the glass-top so that the barcode information will be read (just like at supermarkets); then a little green light will pop and that metal thing will turn allowing you entry. About a meter from the turnstile, you face a glass door. But unless it is already boarding time, chances are it will be closed, and the guard will direct you to rows of plastic seats (just like at airports) and that is the “waiting lounge”.

How many seats are there in this waiting lounge? I forgot to count the exact number but I guess it should not even be 30. Probably, a lot less. On this trip, I caught a vacant seat and stayed there for a while. But I had to stand up and walk front to the glass wall to take pictures of an oncoming boat. When I turned back, all seats were taken hehe. So I stood there with about three or four other passengers. The seats are really too few. And new as they are, at this Guadalupe Station, two are already defective (there are markings that say so). Hmm, low-quality materials? Or I’d like to call it substandard! Oh, lest I forget, you’ll be happy to know that this whole place is air-conditioned, so it’s comfy (if you were seated hehe). And there is a comfort room! There is also a flight of stairs going up to I don’t know what. I didn’t ask, but probably their offices or a view-deck whatever!

Boarding call is c/o the guard who will open the glass door and motion everyone to go down the boarding ramp. No need for a public address system, since even the flushing of the toilet can be heard in the whole place! It’s a zig-zag ramp until you reach the pontoon where an employee is waiting to collect those little pieces of paper called your tickets! What does that mean? Well, you won’t have anything to take home as souvenir hehehe! Good that I was crazy enough to have taken a picture of my ticket while waiting for the ride. So it’s published here(above) for your scrutiny!

The Boats
The boat? Oh lovely! Just like the station, the boats are clean and new (or should I say “clean-because-new”)! The bright blue plastic seats will appeal to any child and the child in you! Yes I mean you, you, the aged! As you board, you’ll see the captain of the boat seated at his elevated glass-enclosed cockpit at the very front of everybody else. Then you scamper to grab a seat that you think is best for you. Don’t worry, these days (at least during my ride this afternoon), these boats are never full – probably because not too many people are yet aware about this comfortable conveyance. My best place would be window side at the midsection of the boat. Why? Because the glass window seems to be lowest at that portion (so you have a very good view of the outside). Let’s describe the boats further. Yes, “boats” as in plural since I learned from one of the crews that all five (yes, there are only five of them) are similarly designed.

There are about 140++ seats. Sorry, my bad, I did not count the exact number of seats when in fact I had more than enough of a time to do so. But hey, from the web I read that each boat has a capacity of 150. So we might as well believe that! Here is how it is. Arranged like the seat plan of the economy/coach class of a B747, there are three seats adjacent to each other on either side (window side). These columns (starboard and port side) are not consistently fitted with 3-seats since by the midsection there are two 2-seater rows to give space to a square hole on the floor which is actually the entrance to the engine room. Note: this is that best area for me I mentioned above. Towards the aft section, on both sides again, there are seats facing each other with a table in between. This is a good area for six people who may need a table. I consider this portion as the “sosyal” area! Really, it will remind you of the Orient Express!

Consistently from front to rear the middle portion is a 4-seater column. So I think you should get the picture? 3-seats on the right, then an aisle, 4-seats in the middle, then aisle, 3-seats on the left. But unlike a B747 aircraft, the two aisles are very spacious and the front area is so spacious you can make it a dance floor! Oh, the back of this 4-seater column is cut short to give way for some kind of a counter that will probably in the near future become a little store for snacks and the likes. Way front of the 3-seater columns (beside the entrance doors) are similar but smaller counters – that would probably serve as little stores too – but as of the moment they’re empty. I did note that this is where the crews keep their umbrellas and helmets. Helmets? Yes, helmets. Am not sure about marine rules or laws, but you’ll see that when those crews go out to dock the boat, they wear helmets.

Oh yes, there are exit doors at both sides of the rear section that will lead you to the comfort rooms. There was no running water at the men’s CR, thus, it gave off some kind of CR smell. Then again, this is outside of the passenger cabin so it does not pervade if you are on your seat hehehe! Those comfort rooms are clean and kept clean but the pail of water is easily consumed. BTW, the little “hallway” at the rearmost area of the boat is also a nice place to catch some sights especially the waves that this craft creates in its wake.

Okay, we’re not yet done with the boat because I need to tell you that up front is a flat screen TV. That should be about 30++ inches. Oops, not all of these five boats have the video screens though! Going to Escolta, M/V Pasig Ferry 3 had that video screen. It showed a lengthy musical video of some recent western pop star. Was that Paula Abdul? Am not sure! Then it was followed by a concert of a recent local pop star that I think was Christian Bautista. Sorry guys, I was not too keen on watching music videos! My mind was interested on the outside views that we passed by! I noted though that the sound system on these boats is excellent – more than your average aircraft piped-in music or bus sound system.

M/V Pasig Ferry 5 has no video screen (yet) but the crew told me it is soon to be fitted with one. However, without the video as it was, on this ferry the captain announced via the equally excellent sound system every time we were approaching a station (e.g., “approaching P.U.P. station”). During the cruise, as if not to be outdone by the other boats, Ferry 5 was constantly playing good pop music. I found that nice enough! M/V Pasig Ferry 4 also has that flat-screen TV with a shiny aluminum trash can below it! When I boarded, it was playing videoke, and yes, some of the crews were singing or humming to songs being played. Soon it was an old music video of ABBA but it was crisp and high resolution. I thought that must have been a DVD!

Now the wise guys in you might be asking why I am talking about three boats in a single tour. It’s like this: my itinerary was Guadalupe-Escolta (Ferry 3), Escolta-Kalawaan (Ferry 5) then Kalawaan-Guadalupe (Ferry 4).

My Tour Notes
New as they are, these boats have very good air-conditioning systems. It can actually be too cold for someone used to the outdoor world like me! So grab a jacket or sweater especially during a rainy day.

Passengers are allowed to go out into the bow section while cruising – except when the boat is about to pass and while passing via the Malacanang Palace area. You will be told by the crew that taking pictures or videos is not allowed when passing by this place.

A ‘Philippine Marines’ officer (no long rifles, just pistols) will join the ride at P.U.P. Station going downstream to Escolta . He is there to watch and apprehend if you are taking pictures or videos of Malacanang Palace or its environs. Both banks of the river at Malacanang are the President’s turf. But in my upstream cruise, there was no such soldier from Escolta. Instead, a marine joined us at P.U.P. station and slept his way all the way to Guadalupe!

Watch out for the river banks on either side. You’ll get a glimpse of many things like children at play or just there to wave at you, people who live by the river banks going about their daily lives, little boats loading passengers to cross the river, tanker boats anchored and their crews taking a bath or having a meal, children and even adults swimming by the river, oil depots, condominiums and other interesting things.

It is safe to roam or romp around the boat during each trip (except when passing by Malacanang  ). During my tour there were little tykes running around and playing hind-and-seek. Their giggles and screams made many of the passengers smile.

The Pasig River is not dead. How can there be hundreds (even thousands) of seagulls on this river if it was dead? You can catch those white birds by their numbers esp towards Manila. They sometimes fly to inches of the boat and you can see many of them diving to the water to catch fish! Oh, there is an electric wire that you’ll notice to be fully lined of those gulls resting!

Water lilies keep flowing downstream and you either like or hate them when taking your pictures. Just learn to like them. They’re not going away anytime soon, I think!

All boat stations and all boats have 2-way radio communications. You can hear them communicate while waiting for your boat (cuz the stations are quite small).

The captains will sometimes omit docking at a station if they know that no one is disembarking or boarding there. This happened on my downstream trip to Escolta where we did not dock at Sta. Ana Station but just very closely passed by it (a fly-by!) and I saw a janitress at the pontoon stomping her feet in frustration because our boat did not dock there so she could not join us in the ride!

It’s neither that stinky nor filthy! Well, probably because this was a rainy day and everything in the river was being washed downstream at a faster pace. I did not see much of trash on the river nor trash being emptied unto the river. Perhaps again, because this was a rainy day when all those unsightly things would be flowing by too quickly! When I went to the bow section of the boat (rain stopped), the air was not at all stinky! Then again, perhaps because this was a rainy day and every foul-smelling thing was quickly washed to the Manila Bay. But yes, the water was cream to brown. More like the color of Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’s Vanilla Ice Blended!

Many times the boat will go slow and I learned that is because we could be passing by a place where there are smaller boats on the river or the banks should not get that high of a wave (like there are houses) or you are passing by the Malacanang area!

The crews and the guards are friendly and will engage you in conversations if you like to. I guess the owners of this venture had them go through some customer service training or anything like it. They’ll greet you upon entering a station or boarding a boat. They even say ‘thank you’ when you disembark! Very friendly, really.

Contrary to advertisements and the many postings on the walls of their stations, Guadalupe is not the penultimate destination upstream. Boats go to as far as “Bambang” (Pasig?) and Kalawaan (Pasig). There is another station still under construction that the boats never pass by as of yet (San Joaquin or something).

To us, the seats are plastic but the crews tell me those are made of fiber glass!

Life vests are under your seats. There are signs that say it is unlawful to take them out except on emergencies. So for those who have itchy hands, don’t take them away, those are not souvenirs!

This tour took me almost an hour from Guadalupe to Escolta, then I went to that Mini-Stop store near the Arc of Friendship, bought some snacks and ate there, hopped into the 5:15PM trip upstream and was at the Kalawaan Station by about 6:30PM. Like Bambang, this Kalawaan Station still being constructed is manned by just two guards and no one else. You pay at the guard without receipt or ticket. You just tell the boat people on board that you did so. This trip from Kalawaan was at 7PM where I was the only one who boarded. That 30-minute stay at the station afforded me time to chat with the guards and learn more about the ferry system.

Kalawaan Station is in some kind of a desolate residential area so if you are on a tour, there is nothing there to see. Do engage the guards in some small talk as I did. This is where I learned that beyond Kalawaan the river goes further upstream to Laguna. Also learned from the guard that there is a planned route beyond Kalawaan to as far as Binangonan and further upstream. I hope he was in the know, but one of the guards told me there is also a planned cross-route that will ply from Guadalupe to Riverbanks in Marikina. Hmm, that must be exciting.

BTW, at the Escolta Station, you buy your ticket at a window of the building where you are still outside of it (unlike in Guadalupe). You will be surprised why people hang-out outside of the station instead of waiting inside. The reason is: there is no more space in there for you to wait out! Escolta Station is even smaller than Guadalupe. Besides, the view from that area is grand with the main post office building just across the river.

The Bambang and Kalawaan Stations are makeshift. Those terminals are still under construction. The guards at Kalawaan were pleasant enough to keep me in conversation during my 30-minute stay while the rains continued to pour.

You are sure to catch a lot of interesting views as you cruise day or night. Malacanang was really grand - then you start dreaming of how this palace was during the cleaner days of the Pasig River. The oil depots and tankers are also quite a sight - some of those tanks are quite big and heavily fortified with visible warnings that open flames or anything like that is allowed within a prescribed distance. Condominiums, buildings, little houses, shanties, boats - even the SM Manila - are part of the views. Then the grandeur that is the main post office building beckons as you reach the fnal destination - Escolta.

Upriver is not dull either! The Makati City Hall looks interesting at night standing tall and alone! Also try looking at the Guadalupe bridge from your boat on an early evening. The lights on those giant billboards, the MRT whizzing by and the fading light of dusk will be a merry mixture of a sight to behold. Beyond Guadalupe going eastwards and upriver, the right side of the river is lined with a lengthy park. Am not sure if that is Rembo or Cembo or Pembo - whatever!

Moving further up, I particularly liked the left bank where Pasig was wise enough to have made the riverbank some kind of a long stretch of staircases from the water up to the road. It serves many things like the riverbank looks cleaner; no houses (of course since its all concrete stairs); the place becomes a spacious wharf and a nice promenade for those late-afternoons and early-evening strolls. Since houses are lined on the other side of the road (not water side), streetlights line the water's edge which is a nice view as you cruise along.

The rides get an exciting movement when you meet another of the boats going in the other direction. There is a slight up-and-down movement as your boat cuts across little waves in the wake of that other boat. Otherwise, it is a very smooth trip down or up the river.

Oh, while surfing the web, I chanced upon a news article saying that the operators of this ferry service a losing millions due to lack of patronage from the riding public. So, there are only two things we can do here: either let’s go riding and perpetuate this nice river conveyance, or go now and experience it before the service folds down. Note that this is supposed to be the third attempt to maintain a ferry service along the Pasig River.

At any station, as you buy that ticket, you are required to write your name, age, destination, nationality on a sheet of paper. When I asked, the ticket attendant told me it is the boat manifest. I don’t know about maritime laws, but should this ferry service become hectic, the writing of names might be tedious. Hmmm, why was I not asked to write on a boat manifest when I toured the Chao Phraya? Nor does the CitiCats! Realizing this, I wonder why we don’t have bus manifests or jeep manifests or MRT manifests or pedicab manifests and Kalesa manifest hehehe! Why is it limited to boats and airplanes?

During my tour, I chanced upon some families doing exactly what I did – just touring the river. How did I know about them? Well, they were mostly armed with what I had, a camera! And some of them were with me going to Escolta and coming back up to Guadalupe!

So, hop on?!


The Fare Structure (for weekdays)

Boat schedule posted at the still being constructed Kalawaan Station

7 comments :

  1. nice and informative

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  2. Good job, keep up the good work.

    Nice reading and good info.

    Thank you,

    Joe

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  3. Informative and really very good job you should continue with it. I am booked for shirdi tour package and i will also do good job there.

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  4. thanks for this blog! it's very informative!

    i'm actually planning on a 'solo' tour of the Pasig River. probably only from Guadalupe to Escolta or Plaza Mexico and back (and hopefully i won't get lost!)

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  5. can i have a copy of the boat trip? i'm planning to ride one of these days with my friends..thanks

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  6. good evening, can i have a total passenger for student/foreign and workers a day who are using the cruise? this is for my school project. the tittle of my project is "how can we promote the pasig river feery service as a transfortation"kers.
    hope can you us thank you and god bless we need to have the estimated numbers of student/foreign and wor

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  7. I was so taken up by this travel note that I took the earliest opportunity to make the ferry trip. Alas! they have temporarily suspended from Jan 2011. What a disappointment.

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