(This was written sometime in 2011. We are reprinting it here as Dagupenos and visitors again enjoy calesa rides along the city streets – Editor)
DAGUPAN CITY – When the sun is gone and the city is awash with streetlights, calesas (horse drawn carriages) start coming to downtown.
ENJOYING A CALESA RIDE. A family enjoy a calesa ride along the major streets of Dagupan City after attending the Christmas eve midnight mass. WILLIE LOMIBAO
No, they don’t take over modern vehicles that clog Dagupan’s arteries. They just offer joyrides for those seeking to relive the “good old days” when the main transportation in the city are the calesas or karetelas; a romantic drive for lovers, a bonding moment for families and a thrilling experience for young children.
The carriages may look incongruous in the streets dominated by modern vehicles, but city drivers seemed to be used to their presence and give way whenever they hear the “clang clang” sound that announces the carriages’ arrival.
The calesa rides in the city started in 2001 when Dennis Muyalde, who just arrived from a working stint in Taiwan, bought a carriage and a horse and went around downtown. Then Mayor Benjamin Lim and former Councilor Michael Fernandez saw him and suggested that they bring the horse-drawn carriages to the city.
The calesa rides were introduced during the fiesta celebration in December 2001 when there were many balikbayans (expatriates), Muyalde, 34, recalled. The carriages then came from different towns like Malasiqui and San Carlos City.
At present, 25 white carriages that can each carry three passengers, all come from Salisay and Mangin villages of Dagupan. The owners and cocheros (drivers) have been loosely organized for fare control and discipline, Muyalde, the group’s leader, said.
The carriages are required to put reflectorized stickers at both sides and at the back and flashlights in front as safety precautions. The cocheros have requested for mayor’s permit to operate but were informed that there was no need for it yet.
Muyalde said a sightseeing tour around the downtown loop takes around 20 minutes (depending on traffic) and cost P30 each passenger and each trip has a minimum of three passengers. For longer trips, passengers may haggle with the cocheros for the fare which is usually P300 an hour.
There are almost no historical sights in the city, although 66 years ago, American General Douglas MacArthur landed at Lingayen Gulf, walked down the city streets and held temporary fort at the Home Economics Building of West Central Elementary School.
But the ride offers nostalgic moments for elderly balikbayan-passengers who love to talk about how the city looked like in their youth, pointing to some old buildings that evoke a memory, and lamenting how a certain spot already looks very different from their past.
They would also tell accompanying children of the days when the carriages were the king of the road, and that the only environmental pollution they create are the horses’ droppings and urine.
Muyalde said that the cocheros of Salisay and Mangin are told to keep their carriages sparkling clean and their horses, smelling nice. They are not also allowed to leave the droppings on the road. A sack is tied below the horse’s bottom to catch the poop and cocheros are required to bring cans to be used when the horses need to leak.
He claimed that there had been no serious accident since the cocheros started the tourism trade in 2001, except when a doctor’s car (who said he was on emergency call) hit a horse which fell down and skinned its knees.
“But the horse is okay now and is back on the street,” Muyalde said, adding, “Horses are always on the defensive, they don’t want to get hurt.”
On ordinary days, a cochero earns around P300 a night but during fiestas and other celebrations, they can earn a minimum of P2,000 a night. Muyalde said carriages are not used during daytime when it is hot and the passengers cannot enjoy the ride.
Muyalde’s fascination with horses and carriages started when he was a young boy. After all, he belonged to a family of cocheros, his grandfather Raymundo and his father Ben were both cocheros.
So when he can afford it, he brought a horse and a carriage “for fun” but which turned out to be an income-generating venture.
He now has seven horses and three carriages, has cocheros, and services weddings and funerals.
“But the horses for weddings are different from those for funerals,” he said.
Muyalde also buys and sells horses which he source from Calayan Island and Burgos town in western Pangasinan. He also designs and builds carriages for “pasada” and for weddings.
When his grandfather died in 2006, Muyalde said he hired 26 horses as “royal guards” during the funeral procession. A fitting tribute to a cochero whose grandson helped brought back the days when horse-drawn carriages dominated the streets of Dagupan.