MARIKINA -- It’s been more than 6 months since the lockdown was declared. Museums and most leisure establishments still remain closed. Most of us are itching for a sanity break from the quarantine life.
While some popular destinations like Tagaytay, Baguio, Boracay and Bohol are slowly opening up to local tourists from nearby regions, the requirements for Metro Manila folk to cross borders and travel by air at this time still remains prohibitive. The best option for those who want a quick change of scenery is to just appreciate and rediscover nearby destinations.
Thankfully, biking for exercise has been one of the few allowable outdoor activities during the quarantine. With all the border restrictions, there are only a handful of places in the metro where you can work out with views of open green spaces and nature, and Marikina is one of them.
Even before the COVID-induced biking boom, Marikina was already one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. Here are 5 things you can currently do while biking around Marikina.
1. Get some fresh air and exercise by the river park
The Marikina River Park, a system of parks, trails and open spaces along an 11-kilometer stretch of the Marikina River in the eastern part of Metro Manila, offers one of the best areas to get some fresh air and much needed exercise.
The urban riverside park covers an area of 220 hectares running through several villages. Studies have shown that spending time in nature is beneficial for one’s health and well-being.
Part of the biking trail passes through a shaded grove with animal sculptures and small recreations of landmarks from around the Philippines. You can also spot 16 mosaic art displays of nature scenes made from recycled glass tiles, bottle caps, stones, plastic bottles, foam bits, slippers, plastic clothespins and more were put up by different barangays from Marikina last December 2019 as a way to turn trash into art.
2. Appreciate history and architecture for free
Many of Marikina’s old houses and landmarks highlight the city’s rich history and can easily be visited by bike. The Bahay na Bato is a Spanish heritage site declared as a National Shrine in 1968. More than 200 years old, this structure was where the first pair of shoes were designed in Marikina City.
Right nearby, is the famous Marikina Footwear Museum, home to First Lady Imelda Marcos’ 749 pairs of shoes. The museum itself remains closed, but the small park right across the 200-year old building that used to serve as a granary during the Spanish regime, and as an artillery storage during the Japanese occupation, is a pleasant spot to take a break.
Outside the museum, you can see the century-old acacia tree that was uprooted by a freak tornado in 2018. Instead of chopping it up, like most other cities would have probably done, residents used bonsai techniques to revive and restore what remained of the tree. Today, new growths sprout from the trunk. For locals, the tree has come to symbolize resilience and survival. It’s a reminder that whatever calamity we face, it’s still possible to find new life.
The Cityhood Park, located at the corner of Sumulong Highway and Shoe Avenue, is another photogenic landmark you can pass by. The park has a fountain and a Spanish inspired facade that resembles a church. The 12 bronze cup-shaped bells imported from Italy are scheduled to play a melody every hour from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
3. Dine in open-air garden restaurants
Since the COVID-19 virus spreads faster in enclosed quarters, dining out in small, enclosed air-conditioned restaurants in malls can be pretty scary. These days, it’s safer to just get delivery or takeout.
But for couples or members of the same household who won’t be socializing with other people, dining in places with outdoor seating and lots of greens feels much safer.
Rustic Mornings, a lovely hidden garden restaurant in Marikina, has reopened their al fresco area open for socially distanced dine-in with safety and sanitation measures in place. Reservations are recommended for people to dine at specific time slots.
Greg & Sally Tree Garden Café, located in a quiet residential area of Marikina, is another secluded garden restaurant that has reopened for dine-in. The open-air gazebo is set up with one table in the middle and tables for one all facing the garden area, where you can dine with a view of lush greenery. For plantitos and plantitas, there's a plant shop right next door too.
4. Check out a vintage train on display
Not many people are aware that Marikina once had a train line that used to operate from 1906 to 1936. The railway route started from the Tutuban central train station in Manila, passing through Pasig, and trains went all the way to the towns of Marikina and Montalban.
The recently opened Daang Bakal Train Park right across Teatro Marikina along the road formerly known as “Daang Bakal” street features a vintage “Marikina Express” train that looks straight out of Hogwarts. Some construction is still going on in the area behind it, but the vintage train is visible right along the road, serving as a historic reminder of the former railway route and how it was a part of early 20th-century locomotive transportation.
5. Buy essential food supplies and snacks from J.P. Rizal
Residents from all over the metro often go to Marikina just to buy kakanin. The long street of J.P. Rizal has a number of roadside stalls offering budget-friendly native delicacies like kutsinta, sapin-sapin, suman, along with fish crackers, bottled products, and other treats.
While the area has long been a favorite of bikers, lately there seen to be lots of car owners buying food items in bulk for online reselling in their own neighborhoods.
Look out for Aling Remy’s Special Delicious Puto at Kutsinta, a food stand that has been around since the 1930s. You can also find stalls selling all kinds of goodies including “everlasting” Marikina’s signature meatloaf dish.
NOTE: A version of this article was first published in the author’s blog Travel Up.