Manila's sprawl, when viewed from the window of a car crawling along one of it's traffic-choked major roadways, does not invite walking. But hidden in this urban tangle are neighborhoods, and the only way to discover them is to get out and hoof it.
We've taken a shine to Baclaran, a barangay anchored by the Redemptorist Church (also known as Baclaran Church) on Roxas Boulevard.
It's especially busy on Wednesday, novena day, when devotees of Our Lady of Perpetual Help crowd the building and overflow into its yard. It's said that a prayer to Our Lady is always answered.
On Sundays the church and the streets around it have a bit of a fiesta feel to them. The crowds aren't as thick as on Wednesdays, but everyone who's out seems to be enjoying him or herself. There's so much going on it's hard to take it all in.
Just outside the church's Redemptorist Road gate, one vendor sells bibingka, and rice cakes steamed in bamboo,
while another offers a range of Santo Nino statues. In the Philippines the Infant Jesus is believed to bring good luck, and at markets you'll rarely find a produce or fish vendor without a Santa Nino watching over his or her trade.
A grandmother with a captivating apple-doll face and smiling eyes is convinced to mug for the camera,
and further up the street, at number 3062, lechon is offered at Jay's. Their slogan: Crispy Na!
If a plate of roast pig doesn't appeal, there's also goto, Philippine rice porridge flavored with pork and topped with fried garlic,
paksiw, a sweet-sour stew made of lechon leftovers,
and succulent glazed meat on a skewer.
Nearby, appraoching the Baclaran LRT station, the jeepneys are lined up hood to tailpipe,
in front of a private market claiming to be the city's cleanest. There, vendors named Lexie and Elsa and Woody and Vacio sell meat, and fish fresh enough - and at prices low enough - to make a seafood lover swoon.
Just across from the meat, displays of abundance
and heaps of edible flowers add a splash of color.
Behind the cleanest market, a banana delivery.
In front, a fighting cock watches over plastic bins of rice,
a kitten stares wistfully at banana leaf-lined metal trays of krill and sardines,
and a fish seller strikes a pose,
while a child grabs a bite where he can.
Down Opena Street, on the other side of Baclaran Church, Mindanao-born mama of the Plaza family supplements husband Teofilo's earnings as a taxi driver by serving, from the first-floor kitchen of their tiny home,
pork sinigang, meaty and rich and clear and light all at the same time, pleasingly sour and packed with perfectly cooked vegetables - a heaven-sent pick-me-up on a hot morning.
In the narrow streets and alleys around, religious statues are offered for sale,
ice cream is scooped from an old-fashioned wheeled cart the likes of which you'll see all over Manila,
seaweed, oysters, and everything else from the deep is sold at the dimunitive Seaside Market,
breakfast is taken curbside,
a shuffle pool tournament is underway,
fish is grilled over coals,
'Hey Joe! One shot!' is shouted from hither
and two strangers are welcomed in a way they've come to think of as very Filipino.
Yes, we've taken a shine to Baclaran.