Riding through history

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By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter

At 10 a.m. on a Saturday, the festive sound of drums joined in with the clatter of the approaching train at the LRT-1 Central station. Eleven teams of four members — made up of an LRT-1 driver, an LRT-1 teller, a blogger, and a reporter — hurriedly lined up at the ticketing booth to load their Beep cards, catch the next train, and explore specific cultural and historical landmarks on a list. All were determined to arrive first at the finish line — and in the process, the teams explored Manila, despite the continuous rains.

Exploring Manila and seeing what the nearly 450-year-old city has to offer need not be a hassle as anyone may enjoy it, rain or shine.

The Light Rail Manila Corp., (LRMC) in partnership with the Department of Tourism (DoT), Tralulu, Walk This Way, Old Manila Walks, and Kapitbahayan sa Kalye Bautista, launched IkotMNL, a tourism campaign which aims to help people rediscover Manila with the LRT-1 as the main mode of transportation.

The project hopes to “maximize the tourism potential with LRT-1 and drive more riders on weekends when people have time [for] sightseeing,” LRMC president and CEO Juan F. Alfonso told the press during the launch — and race — on Aug. 11.

Mr. Alfonso noted that on weekdays, the LRT-1 has an estimated 500,000 riders while about 400,000 and 280,000 people go for a ride on Saturdays and Sundays, respectively.

“Along with LRT-1’s accelerated rehabilitation, continuous operational improvements efforts, and stations that are strategically located, LRMC is steadfast in its commitment not just to accommodate more passengers, but also to draw more foreign and local tourists to Metro Manila’s rich and diverse attractions and cultural experiences through ikotMNL,” Mr. Alfonso was quoted as saying in a press release.

“Tourism is inevitably linked to transport. As the LRT-1 operator, we are in a unique position to connect local and foreign tourists to the city’s most important and historic places in the quickest land travel possible,” he added.

IkotMNL offers special guided day tours and unguided tours which can tackle everything from architecture and art, to shopping and dining.

The special day tours are given to small groups which can either be moderated by a single or multiple tour operators.

The “Grand Manila: Glorious Architecture and Art” tour explores the art and architecture of Escolta, Malate, with stops at specific locations in architect Daniel Burnham’s original plan for Manila, and the Manila Cathedral Park. The “Mass Transit: Following Manila’s lost Tranvia Lines” tour explores the Quiapo to Malate route of the old street car line which serviced the city from the late 1800s to World War II.

Visitors may also check out four unguided tours: “Glorious Architecture” which explores heritage churches and monuments; “Museum and the Arts” which features several cultural stops including the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD) of DLSU’s College of St. Benilde, The National Museum Complex, and The HUB: Make Lab in Escolta; “Bargains and Bites” which explores shopping destinations; and “Nature and Nurture” which features famous monuments and parks.

“We tried to do it with the DoT because we want to work with them on the different tourism areas,” Mr. Alfonso said, noting that the LRMC intends to complement other tours in Manila and not give tour operators any competition.

Maps of the destinations are mounted in each station to help tourists navigate the city.

During the tours, riders may opt to buy unlimited-ride cards for P99 which give them access to the trains for the entire day. The offer is valid until Sept. 28 and is only applicable for rides on LRT-1.

Meanwhile, the IkotMNL tours are planned to continue beyond that date. “We’ll just keep it as long as we feel it’s useful,” Mr. Alfonso said.

“We at the LRMC recognize our role to promote cultural, architectural, gastronomic spots in Manila to the use of the fastest land travel available,” Mr. Alfonso said in a speech during the launch.

The LRMC has had various improvement projects since assuming operations of the train line in 2015, such as adding more trains, trips, extending operating hours, and improving security and cleanliness in all stations.

Construction for the Cavite extension project is expected to begin in October and is targeted for completion in 2021.

During the race, the 11 teams were first tasked to get down at Vito Cruz Station, head to De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s School of Design and Arts for the first task — deciphering three hidden messages posted on a wall.

On the way to the second station in Yamaha Monumento all the participants got soaking wet. As we got down from the station, the teams crossed to the rotunda to find the next clue.

(Last February, Yamaha got a three-year naming rights deal for the station, originally named Momumento Station after Caloocan’s Monumento Circle, which houses the Bonifacio Monument.)

Getting off at Carriedo Station next, we walked to Binondo for lunch, then the teams were tasked to head back to Central Station where the final task of the race was enumerating all the LRT-1’s 20 stations’ names on paper.

The three winning teams won cash prizes of P50,000, P30,000, and P20,000.

This writers’s team did not win.

For more information, visit www.ikotMNL.com and www.facebook.com/ikotMNL/. For guided tours, visit www.tralulu.com.