The rivers in Metro Manila are so polluted, river cruises are no longer enjoyable no thanks to the stench. I envy other countries which have river cruises showcasing the skylines, heritage and culture of their capital cities. I guess for now, while government tries to clean up the Pasig and other major rivers in Manila, the second best option is visiting nearby rivers. And few people know that just a few minutes drive north of Manila is one of the country's most important rivers before the arrival of the Spaniards.
The Rio Grande de Pampanga or Pampanga River for short, was a major thoroughfare before roads were constructed and host to major prehistoric settlements along its pampangs. Hence the name Pampanga. It's source is somewhere in the mountains of Nueva Ecija, flowing down to the Pampanga towns of Arayat, Candaba, San Luis, San Simon, Apalit, Macabebe and Masantol at the mouth of Manila Bay.
In the genteel and once elegant barrio of Sulipan in Apalit, there is a boat yard which rents out boats of different sizes from kayaks to two-story air-conditioned house boats for various purposes such as rest and recreation, sight-seeing and birdwatching or sports such as angling and kayaking.
I've personally taken their boats twice. The first was during an exploration and research cruise with the Center for Kapampangan Studies. The second was with my brod Mark Jomalesa and members of the UP Maroons who were looking for an out-of-town nature trip close to Manila. Although I've cruised along the Pampanga River before that during the Apo Iro Fluvial Processions every June.
The usual starting point is from their boat yard in Sulipan. But you could make arrangements for them to pick you up in Manila. Heritage stops along the river include the churches of San Luis and Apalit. I really do suggest you stop over since both churches have ceiling murals worth visiting and are very much intact. I hope the parish priests keep them that way.
You could also take a detour in Candaba and visit the Candaba Bird Sanctuary which is host to migratory birds. The cruise itself is quite relaxing, perfect for an afternoon nap especially if you are taking a house boat which has lounge chairs on the second floor.
One of the secrets of Pampanga are found along the shores of Manila Bay. These are the mangroves of Masantol where the water is quite shallow, perfect for kayaking and birdwatching. The photos here are from a February 2004 cruise with Mark Jomalesa, Marvin Cruz and Kenneth Robin. As I've said, I have a lot of archived photos which are worth featuring in this blog.
The best part of the cruise is watching the renowned Manila Bay sunset from a different place, far from the hustle and bustle of Metro Manila. As the boat speeds back to Apalit and civilization, the Philippine sun colors the sky with a dappled palette, a perfect close to a relaxing day with nature.
For more information about this cruise and other destinations in Pampanga, you can contact the Center for Kapampangan Studies at (045) 888-8691 loc. 1311 which could link you to the said boat yard.