Sunday, 27 May 2012

An afternoon stroll along Estero de Paco

Estero de Paco view from Pedro Gil sans trash
I've always wanted to check out Paco especially since it is the first tributary cleaned by Gina Lopez's project called Kapit Bisig Para Sa Ilog Pasig (KBPIP) or Linking Arms for the Pasig River.  So, when  I saw Jude's tweet inviting any would be walkers to join him in Paco on a Saturday afternoon, I immediately replied with a "Yessss!!".

The Pasig River is 27-km long that stretches from Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay. Unlike the Thames, Seine, Chao Praya or any other river in the world, the Pasig River has been deemed biologically dead in the 1990s due to 80 years of abuse brought about by over population and pollution.  Several efforts were undertaken by past governments to clean the river but have fallen short because of lack of funding and technology as well as difficulty in relocating the informal settlers.

with some of the active River Warriors
Instead of attacking the whole stretch, Gina divided the river into its tributaries and focused on cleaning the river one section at a time starting with Estero de Paco - the dirtiest and largest.  In two years, she managed to relocate over 1,200 families to Caluan, Laguna, removed 3,200 cubic meters of trash, landscaped the area and installed biomatrix floating machines (aerators) and lastly, created and recruited River Warriors.

spotted five aerators along the canal
There are about 200 River Warrior volunteers and 25 of them are active. The 25 are charged with cleaning  the headwater (the area covers 16 barangays) five times a week from 6 am to 5 pm and half day on Saturdays. They admitted that it's hard to break a litterbugs' habit. No matter how hard they try to discipline the residents, some still do litter.

The River Warriors are also responsible for the MRF (material recovery facility) which transforms the garbage collected into usable products such as the hard tiles that are installed on the walkway along the canal (below).
tiles made of trash
the newly renovated Paco Market
The newly rennovated Paco Market which took ten months to build is right next to Estero de Paco. We were told that it will be formally launched on May 30.  The market with its white painted walls, high ceilings and clean stalls looks more like a tiangge for clothes, shoes, whatnot. At the center is an area for gatherings possibly for staged events.

Pasig River has at least 48 esteros.  The next section targeted is the area of Malacanan Palace - specifically Estero de San Miguel.

Our impromptu afternoon stroll in Estero de Paco is more like a do-it-yourself tour. We started at 3:30 pm and ended past 5pm,  over two hours. We started off at the corner of San Marcelino and walked down Pedro Gil where Jude pointed out the art deco buildings along the way (lucky for us he lived in the area since his University days as a medical student and loves architecture).

art deco Bellevue Theater built in the 1930s
walk-mates Charlotte and Jude
Our first stop was Paco Market to check out the stalls and view the exhibit about the history of Paco. Then, walked down the canal which is about 3-km long admiring the colorful homes painted in bright colors, the greenery - flowers and all.  Mind you, the river is clean (hopefully, clear soon) and rid of any stench. The children would either gape at Charlotte's dreadlocks and try to touch or ask why we were walking.

The walk was leisurely, meandering down the canal's path until we reached the end at the railway tracks across South Super Highway. We were looking for the MRF and accidentally met the River Warriors who were in a prayer meeting. We doubled back and chanced upon the first masonic lodge in the Philippines on San Marcelino.

Kids touching Charlotte's dreadlocks
We ended the day with a hearty italian dinner prepared by swiss Chef Chis in his new restaurant called My Kitchen located at the ground floor of Oasis Hotel, right next to Paco Park.

and me matching the flora (photo taken by Jude)
I must say that there is a huge potential to market Estero de Paco as a tourist destination. The tour is much like the Hutong tour I enjoyed in Beijing (which included a lunch though with a typical family) and the reality tour I booked in Mumbai inside  Dharvi, one of the largest slums in the whole of Asia. There are other tours offering this such as the Favela tour in Brazil and the Township tour in South Africa. In fact, Charlotte kept saying that backpackers would love the place. So, paging Secretary Jimenez of the Department of Tourism!

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