I learned in elementary school about the so-called galleon trade and its vital role in the 300-year relationship between Spain and the Philippines, as well as in world history. The galleon served as the main transport for people and cargo and even as a warship, creating routes between continents and exchanging products and culture. I can look at drawings of the galleons in history books and on the Internet, but to actually see and even board a real Spanish galleon is a dream for me. A dream which became a reality.
The five-day celebration of the Día del Galeón (Day of the Galleon) Festival in Manila was organized by the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA) and various national and international agencies. The festival commemorated the 250-year history of the galleon (1565-1815). The highlight of the event was the arrival of the replica Galeón Andalucía in Manila Harbor, giving visitors the chance to board an authentic seventeenth-century vessel.
On October 6, 2010 (Wednesday, midday, under the heat of the sun), my Vibal Foundation colleagues and I arrived at Pier 13, South Harbor Manila. Our group and other sightseers (mostly students) were obviously excited to see the wooden ship and get a close look at its parts. The approximately 45-minute tour of the Galeón Andalucía began with a brief orientation on the history of the galleon trade and the role of the native Caviteños and Zamboangeños as expert shipbuilders, under the forced labor called polo y servicios.
Upon boarding the galleon, I couldn’t help but be amazed. I marvelled at how early navigators like Fray Andres Urdaneta were able to cross the vast span of the ocean, since the shortcut through the Suez Canal only opened in 1869. But more than that, I really enjoyed the tour. I was able to observe the three layers and various parts of the galleon and had the chance to take souvenir photos. Another attraction was one of the other visitors, who came in costume as pirate captain Jack Sparrow, adding to the nautical atmosphere (well, I guess!).
At the end of the day, I was able to truly appreciate how early navigators linked distant parts of the globe without the help of modern technology. Comparing the Spanish galleon with present-day passenger and cargo ships, I reflect on how the past affects the present and will shape the future. I am thankful for the opportunity to board the Galeón Andalucía, a replica of those vessels that brought great change to the Philippines and the rest of the world. Here’s hoping that next year another Día del Galeón Festival will take place and more Filipinos will be aware of such a special event.
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