Manila Summer Scramble 2009: Adventure Race in the City

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Couchsurfers from different part of the Philippines and the world converged at the Oblation monument in front of Quezon Hall or the UP Administration Building of Diliman on the last day of May this year for their last hurray for the summer of 2009, the first ever Manila Summer Scramble.

Couch Surfers at Quezon Hall

Photo by Greg Galang

Manila Summer Scramble is an adventure race within the city’s famous landmarks and hidden gems. It is organized by Couch Surfing (CS) – Philippines and inspired by the popular TV show The Amazing Race.

The Teams

Nine teams of randomly grouped couch surfers were formed to compete in the race. Participants came from various places in the Greater Manila Area to as far as Iloilo in central Philippines and even Germany, China, France, Hawaii and New York, USA.

The Race

From the UP Administration Building, couchsurfers headed to the UP Lagoon Theater to find their first clue.

Clue #1 (UP Lagoon Theater): Go to Sunken Garden and meet the CS volunteer that will give the next clue.

The teams then scrambled to the UP Sunken Garden where the CS Volunteer was waiting. Running and walking to the muddy grass towards the Sunken Garden was already a challenge, but only a prelude to a tougher race ahead.

At the Sunken Garden, the CS volunteer handed the next clue to the racers.

Clue #2 (UP Sunken Garden): Proceed to Cubao-X via jeep and LRT for the next clue. Take a group photo inside the jeep and outside the LRT station.

Jeepney to Katipunan

Me, with teammates Benj, AJ and Abby inside the jeepney to Katipunan (photo by AJ)

Racers headed to the jeepney station near the Sunken Garden and board the public jeepney to Katipunan. Teams began to strategize at this point. One team even rented the entire jeepney exclusively. Most of the teams met at the LRT Katipunan Station and boarded the train to Cubao Station.

Katipunan LRT

My team at Katipunan LRT Station (photo by AJ)

When the train opened its doors in Cubao, racers hurriedly find their way out and proceeded to Cubao X. Cubao X is a commercial block not far from the Cubao LRT Station.

My team was among the first batch in Cubao Station but with bad luck on our side, we lost a team mate thus wasted some time looking for her.

Clue #3 (Cubao-X): Look for eight different clue-cards with CS logo posted  around Cubao X. Each clue contains a letter or a number. Rearrange all eight to spell out the next destination and hand it to CS volunteer for the the next clue.

The challenge sounded quite easy, but looking for the eight clue cards scattered in the area was time consuming. The eight clue cards had the characters ABCNRT22. Rearranging those eight characters to reveal the next stop was not easy either. Our team managed to get it – 22BAN CTR (Tutuban Center).

The CS Volunteer verified our answer and eventually handed us the next clue.

Clue #4 (Cubao-X): Go to the Prime Block Building of Tutuban Center in Divisoria, Manila and find the store on the attached photo. A gift and clue await you there.

From Cubao X, the fastest and most practical way to reach Tutuban Center is via LRT2 to Recto Terminal, and that was the racers took to get to the next stop.

However, from Recto Terminal of LRT2 to Divisoria is entirely a different story. The area is know for the terrible traffic at any given day, and with the Sunday crowd and the last minute shoppers of school supplies, the traffic that day was indeed horrible.

Being familiar with the place, I decided to head first and eventually meet my team there. I hurriedly hopped to a jeepney and alighted near Abad Santos Ave., which is just a block to Tutuban Center.

Not ten minutes passed when I arrived at the Prime Block, I saw the store in the photo. A gift (hand towels) and the clue was handed to me just in time for my teammate’s call that they were already in the area.

Clue #5 (Tutuban Center): On the early years, Tutuban Center was a train terminal. There are still two old trains located in the PNR grounds, find these two and get the next clue from the CS volunteer in the site.

Teams walked to these two trains that are located in the existing Philippine National Railway (PNR) grounds fronting the mall’s north entrance. The CS volunteer then handed the next clue to the teams.

Clue #6 (PNR Grounds): Navigate by foot to Chuankee Fastfood near Binondo Church for the next clue.

From PNR grounds to Binondo district, racers described this leg as the most brutal since most if not all racers were already dead tired at this point of the game. The approximately one kilometer walk was a test of endurance, not to mention the human traffic on the busy streets of Divisoria.

Chuankee Fastfood is located along Ongpin Street, near Binondo Church.Two teams were already in the site when we arrived but no clues were handed yet. After some whining and cursing, the clue giver finally handed the clue to the teams present in the area. So the race was back to zero lead for the first three teams.

Clue #7 (Chuankee Fastfood, Ongpin St., Binondo): Enjoy Chinese foods done the Filipino way right in the heart of Chinatown. Go, eat and have a group photos on these three restaurants. Once done with the food proceed to Cukeng Coffee Shop located at the corners of Soler and Masangkay Streets. Have coffee or dessert with the CS volunteer whose waiting to hand the the next clue.

Binondo Leg Clue

Photo by Greg Galang

The names, food items and locations of the three restaurants specified were all written in Chinese characters. It was really a big challenge for all teams to find a good interpreter. A team with Chinese participants can read the characters but cannot translate it in English or Filipino so it was a level playing field.

The translation:

Food Item Restaurant Street
Xiao Long Pao Dong Bei Yuchengco St.
Chicken Feet Wai Ying Benavidez St.
Hopia Ube Eng Bee Tin Ongpin St.

The Binondo leg was where most racers enjoyed. Walking in Manila’s Chinatown and eating some of the best tasting foods that can only be found in Binondo were truly a remarkable experience.

In the Cukeng Coffee Shop, teams had their short break. Our team ordered Iced Coffee, and that was really good.

The CS volunteers stationed inside the coffee shop then handed the next clue.

Clue #8 (Cukeng Coffee Shop, Soler St., Binondo: Travel back to the colonial Philippines. Go to the Manila Cathedral by cab and meet the CS volunteer waiting there to get the next clue.

Teams scouted for taxis in the area. The big challenge for taxis in this leg was to find the hassle free way to Intramuros or worst be lost in the dead-end streets of Binondo or much worst be caught in the horrible traffic of Binondo, Divisoria or Sta. Cruz.

My team got another stroke of bad luck for having a hard headed taxi driver who claimed to be familiar in the area. I supposed not. Instead of traversing the Reigna Rigente (which we insisted) all the way to Ongpin and Plaza Sta. Cruz going to Intramuros, he made his own and prolonged way of turning to Abad Santos Avenue going to Bambang Street that ended up to Rizal Avenue, passing to horrible traffic in Doroteo Jose.

We were stuck in Doroteo Jose traffic  for around fifteen minutes, and anticipating more traffics in Recto and Sta.Cruz, we decided to leave the taxi and take the LRT to Carriedo Station where we boarded another cab to Manila Cathedral.

Clue #9 (Manila Cathedral, Intramuros): Have a group photo in the statue depicted in the attached picture. Present your photo to the CS volunteer waiting in Casa Manila to get your next clue.

The statue depicted in the Photo is in Plaza dela Fuerza, a memorial of the City of Manila dedicated to all innocent victims of war. It is in between Casa Manila and Manila Cathedral along General Luna Street.

Plaza dela Fuerza

At Plaza dela Fuerza, Intramuros Manila (photo by AJ)

Clue #10 (Casa Manila, Intramuros): Proceed to Rizal Park and have group photos taken with the following:

  • Photo with Rizal guards
  • Photo with a calesa
  • Photo with Lapu-Lapu
  • Photo with Philippine map in a pond
  • Photo with a Luneta park-goer,
  • Photo facing Quirino Grandstand

Present the pictures to the CS Voulunteer waiting in Quirino Grandstand for the next clue.

The next task is tricky, if you are not familiar with Luneta you will end up wasting ample amount of time going back and forth the park. The most logical sequence is to go to the Relief Map of the Philippines first at Taft Avenue, Lapu-Lapu monument, Rizal guards and the nearby parked calesas all the way to Quirino Grandstand.

Clue #11 (Rizal Park, Manila): Go to the final destination – Mall of Asia and have the 12 required pictures taken throughout the race printed. Present the photos to the CS Volunteer at the SM Ice Skating Rink.

From Luneta, teams traveled by taxis along Roxas Boulevard to SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City. There are several photo printing shops inside the mall, to find one with the shortest processing time will matter a lot. Most shops offer thirty minutes to one hour processing.

Island Photo in South Park of SM Mall of Asia was our team’s breathe of luck. They had our photos printed in less than fifteen minutes that put us back in the race. We then looked for the CS volunteer waiting in the Skating Rink.

We presented the 12 photos and to our surprise, the race is not yet over. The last clue card was handed to us.

Clue #12 (Mall of Asia, Pasay City): Go to an internet shop and visit the Manila Summer Scramble thread for the final clue.

We then hurried to EGG Netopia not so far from Ice Skating Rink. We logged in at’s Manila Summer Scramble thread, the instruction was to go to Ronnie’s Blog and decode the password from the photos of the place we visited throughout the race. The password will be used to open the file that bears the final pit stop.

Final instruction: Meet us at the northern end of San Miguel by the Bay, we’re waiting for you there.

Finally, the end of the race. We ran and walked as fast as we could. With our body sore all over, we headed to the northern end of the San Miguel by the Bay and from afar, we saw some teams already in the area.

We finished the race still high in spirit. Unexpectedly we were the third team to arrive. After all the odds and mistakes we had, we still managed to position our team to the top 3. As promised, we gave them a good race.

The Manila Summer Scramble was a big success. Kudos to the organizers and all the participating teams. We are all looking forward for the next season.

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