Philippine Travel: Discovering Marikina City

Often, we think we need to take a plane, get on a ship or ride an overnight bus in order to experience the wonders of travel and tour. Maybe so, but not all the time. Sometimes, the wonder can be found in a neighboring city.
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This was my realization when I signed up for a private tour of Marikina City, the nation’s shoe capital and one of the most awarded cities in the country in terms of local governance, health, and competitive business environment. 
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Marikina has its own tourism department to cater to anyone who wants to tour the city.

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You just make an appointment and pick up the designated tour guide at city hall. Fees vary depending on the size of the group. We paid P350 for a group of two and off we went in my car.

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The first stop was Concepcion Elementary School which is one of the last public schools that has that traditional design.

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Then we headed to Lucban Hats established in 1935 when Manuel L. Quezon was still president. I hope they never change their vintage logo.

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We saw how the famous hats are made manually from sinamay.

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They mostly export their hats to Europe but they’re also available locally.

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They churn out hundreds of hats each day.

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They also make sinamay bags, tissue paper holder, candle holders, etc.

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Next we went to Pan de Amerikana, famous for its 1950s-style pan de sal.

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My friend, a Marikina resident, vouches for its ensaymada. As I am not fond of sweets, I will just take her word for it. 

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But Pan de Amerikana is more than just a pan de sal store. It is a chess-themed Filipino restaurant. We did not stay to eat so I will be back to try it out.

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Puto (rice cake) is a common Pinoy delicacy but the best I have ever tasted is from Marikina with its rich texture and just the right amount of sweetness. As they are bite-sized, if you’re not careful, you can consume dozens in one sitting.

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I felt like a kid at a toy store seeing how my favorite puto was made.

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The whole place smelled so heavenly!

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Next we went to Hermie’s Bags. (For Sherlock Holmes fans out there, I’m sure you see what I see here.)

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It really is so nice to see how some things are still being crafted by hand.

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If you’re sensitive to rugby smell, you can choose to skip this stop as the smell was so powerful.

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Of course, you can’t go on a Marikina tour without visiting their shoe businesses. Bobmars is one of the more popular home-grown brands.

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Shoe companies (big and small) buy their work from Bobmars and they just stamp their name on them. So if you’re thinking of going into the same business, you know where to source your stuff.

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There are shoe businesses that use machines but I made a special request to skip them. It is more fascinating to see things made by hand.

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According to our guide, tourists are most excited in seeing our next stop---Japs Shoes.

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The shoes that you buy at malls can be bought at Japs for half the price. That’s the owner, Mang Japs who only looks Japanese.

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Once again, they are created by hand. The woman here is putting rugby using her forefinger. I wondered out loud if she had ever forgotten about the rugby and rubbed her eyes with her finger. She confirmed by laughing. *Ewww* She added that she also sometimes gets the rugby in her hair. The smell of rugby here was not that strong as there was proper ventilation in their work area situated at the garage.

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Now, no tour in Marikina could ever be complete without the mother of all shoe tours---The Shoe Museum.

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This is where the former first lady Imelda Marcos’s shoes are on display. I wish the photos accompanying the shoes showed the ones that she was wearing.

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A fashion luxury or fashion history student can get started here by going through all the high-end brands.

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Imelda wanted to donate some of her clothes but because of limited space, the museum had to decline. May I suggest, madam, that they be offered to Tacloban, your hometown? They can open a closet museum there which will add to that city’s tourism attraction.

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But the shoe museum is not all about Imelda.

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They also have shoes donated by famous personalities like presidents (Fidel V. Ramos as shown here), senators (Juan Flavier), fashion designers (Patis Tesoro), ballerinas (Lisa Macuja-Elizalde), as well as actors and beauty queens.

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Bayani Fernando, my idol, was the city’s former mayor who transformed Marikina into what it is today.

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The museum also has shoes from other countries.

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Outside is the shoe walk of fame. I hear that the museum is still waiting for a shoe donation from the PacMan, my other idol.

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It’s not hard to find the shoe museum in the city. Just look for this shoe lawn ornament beside it.

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This was our last stop at Kapitan Moy---the centuries-old house of the founder of the Marikina shoe industry, Don Laureano Guevarra. It was converted into a public school years later where my friend’s mother graduated. In the afternoons, the plaza outside Kapitan Moy is a great place to sit and relax. The benches face the building so you have a front-row seat to its architectural beauty.

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The public school has been transferred and Kapitan Moy currently houses two restaurants---Café Kapitan and Cocina ni Kambal (P200 pax for buffet lunch).

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As much as I enjoyed the tour, it would have been better if at every stop, we had someone orienting us to its history and significance for more appreciation. We were mostly left to ourselves to just watch and look, even at the Shoe Museum. You either need to do your own research or have a long-time Marikina resident (like my friend) to fill in the blanks. But that did not deter me from returning to the city and inviting some friends along.

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I came back a couple of weeks later to watch a musical adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince” at Dito Bahay ng Sining (“this is an art house”).

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A Filipino adaptation by the fledgling group of artists collectively known as Ikarus.

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Not only is Dito an art house but it is also a café. So while waiting for the show to start, the audience chatted with each other.

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Kids curled up in a book or played board games. You have to appreciate that they still appreciate board games these days.

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I peeked inside the intimate theater that could only sit 100 people. For live theater, the closer you are to the actors, the better. I sat so close to the stage that it almost felt intrusive.

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Nevertheless, I love intimate theaters. You get to be intimate with the cast afterwards. I have been to several plays and musicals here and abroad but this is the first time I was able to take a picture with the entire cast on stage as well as chatted with the organizers. That was such a thrill!

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And if you’ve always wanted to be in theater, this is your chance! Ikarus is calling for like-minded artists.

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After the show, we went to Café Kapitan at Kapitan Moy.

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Café Kapitan enjoys a good reputation among the Marikina locals and after experiencing it, I understand why. It’s a non-pretentious place to enjoy home-styled cooking of Pinoy favorites.

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We wanted to order the house specialty, paella, but they said it would take an hour to prepare so we ordered its next bestseller, crispy chicken. They weren’t kidding about it being crispy! The chicken was tender and flavorful that you'd forever put off fast-food chicken.
 
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I usually shy away from breaded pork chops because they’re usually just bread with hardly any pork but Café Kapitan offered pork meat at every bite. 

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Its blue marlin in lemon butter was kind of bland though for my taste. I could hardly taste the lemon butter even though I tried pouring what little sauce I could get underneath the fish. 

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The crab omelet tasted more like seasoned scrambled egg.

The service at Café Kapitan was kind of slow with the food served in trickles. I was almost already done eating when my friends’ orders were just being served. But the servers and owner who was there were very kind and accommodating. 

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And if the service is still slow, we can while the time away looking at the well inside…

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…and make a wish. (See the $ bill?)

For more information on tours, call Marikina Cultural, Tourism, Trade and Investment Promotions Office at (632) 646-2368 loc. 207/208 or email at invest@marikina.gov.ph.

---THE PARANOID TRAVELER

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