When my friend Jeric asked me to join the 1st Environmental Law Society of the Ateneo (ELSA) Amazing Race, I was awestruck at the top cash prize – Php 12,000.00. The fact that the race rules disallowed the use of private cars, guides, support crews and stipulated a limited fare allowance galvanized my positive decision. Electronic gadgets, cellphones and iPad’s included, were strictly prohibited. The huge cash prize juxtaposed with “four Metro Manila cities” sounded daunting.
“Challenge accepted!” I told myself, quoting the iconic Barney Stinson.
Back in our freshman year in college, James and I (plus some of our track & field and volleyball friends) joined a similarly patterned race, albeit at a far lesser scale. Also in that year, I served as part of another friend’s support crew for the AXN Adventure Race. Those two races, as well as my commuting street smarts and track & field background, pretty much summed up my insufficient Amazing Race curriculum vitae.
Although I expected a fairly difficult course, little did I know that we were in for a prolonged battle of wits, endurance, quick-thinking, and patience.
We assembled in Rockwell for registration. Thinking of a team name proved to be a hard task, with options like “Pining Garcia,” “Ping Guerrero” (a Joe Baricaua brainchild), and “Makati Brief Co.” (yet another Joe invention) meriting quick dismissals. We settled for the innocous “Team Andrei Blancia,” as a tribute to the self-descirbed “ultimate flaker” himself.
Ample supplies of Gatorade and mineral water were distributed, as our bags were checked for prohibited items. We were introduced to our designated “runners,” personnel from ELSA who observed our adherence to the strict rules. After a few words from the race organizers, the game was on.
Stop 1: Rockwell
The first stop seemed simple enough. We were tasked to complete a photo puzzle of the Barangay Poblacion Market. Sad to say we were left out in the cold. Like a horribly unprepared sprinter, our troika froze on the starting blocks. We had difficulty completing the puzzle as the other teams zoomed right past us to the next stop.
To make matters worse, we wrongly interpreted the next clue, thinking that the reference to the origins of Makati pertained to the distant Museo ng Makati. In our haste to catch up with the early leaders, we failed to digest a vital part of the clue : the picture of the Poblacion market!
Stop 2: Poblacion Market
The gutsy Jeric took it upon himself to complete the task at hand. With an iron will (and a tough stomach), Jeric filled an entire sack with piles of rubbish, whilst yours truly stayed at the sidelines, controlling the urge to puke.
How we deciphered the next clue became our Waterloo.
Instead of correctly guessing University of Santo Tomas as the next destination, our trio of die-hard Ateneans wrongly chose the good ole Alma Mater in far-away Loyola Heights. As we read the vague descriptions of “an irony amidst a flood-prone plain” and of the three C’s, we wrongly thought about the Blue and White, thinking that the probability of us being led to faraway Espana Boulevard was far less than Katipunan Avenue.
(The Supposed) Stop 3: Ateneo de Manila University (The Big Mistake)
We took a jeepney to the Guadalupe MRT station. The team then rode the train all the way to Cubao Station. When we got off, James seemed puzzled. One of the runners who got left behind by his group didn’t disembark. Perhaps the next stop was really UST, but we ignored the aforesaid incident, choosing to run to the LRT 2 station to catch the Katipunan-bound train.
While waiting at the eastbound side, we again encountered another group waiting on the other side of the platform. Thinking that they had just completed the Ateneo leg, we proceeded on to Loyola Heights, disregarding yet another sign of our looming monumental mistake.
While sitting on the LRT’s plastic bench across James and Jeric, sweating and shivering at the same time, a scary thought hit me. What if “riding the train only once” and the incident of the lost runner pointed to UST as the stop? The use of the word “centuries” instead of “centuries” was equally glaring. The Ateneo has been around for 153 years – roughly a century and a half. UST, in contrast, traces its roots back to the 1500′s – five centuries ago. I stared at Jeric’s race shirt, looking at the sponsor logos for clues. I recognized the prominent sun on one of the seals. James concurred that this was the UST Law School logo.
We connected the dots and arrived at a horrible realization: we made an enormous error.
Nevertheless, the team got off at the Katipunan Station. A quick inquiry with one of the gate guards confirmed the fact that we were the only racers who passed by this station.
With heavy hearts we turned back, taking the LRT 2 all the way to Recto. A quick jeepney ride and a lung-busting 800m run brought us to the correct stop in front of the imposing UST main building. By then, we were exhausted physically and emotionally.
The organizers at the stop confirmed our worst fears, we were in 14th place – second to the last.
Stop 3: University of Santo Tomas
At the UST campus at last! (Photos from Crisanta Leonor Chianpian)
The next task was to gather a total of twelve softdrink cans from the nearby UST field. Since the other two members have completed the first two challenges, I was up next. Under the harsh 10:00 AM sun, I ran for a good 10 minutes collecting those accursed cans. I’ve been feeling sick the past few days. The fact that I played 38 minutes worth of intense basketball the day earlier didn’t make running any easier. By the time I completed the challenge, I felt terribly drained.
Some snapshots of my tired self! (Photos from Crisanta Leonor Chianpian)
I could hardly keep up with James and Jeric as we searched for the elusive junk shop, to which we were supposed to sell the cans. The three of us, plus our uncomplaining runner Cedie, ran the length of the Espana searching for the shop. I almost gave up! Heaven knows why didn’t ride a jeepney.
Thankfully, we did not make any more wrong turns.
Stop 4: The Junk Shop
With James and Jeric using their formidable, combined charms to fetch the best price for the cans, I found a quiet spot and drank Gatorade to recover my strength.
At the end of it all, we got a measly Php 5.50 for 12 pieces of crushed aluminum cans. “Hindi gumana ang face value natin,” Jeric said to James. Despite the lactic acid build-up my muscles, I mustered a laugh, tinged with subtle hints of defeatism. We were at the bottom of the standings. Quitting seemed like the the easy way out. But we were way too competitive to give up without a fight.
The next clue was straight-to-the-point: Palma Hall, University of the Philippines was our next destination.
Our choice of public transportation proved to be the catalyst in our almost miraculous comeback. We chose to ride a Fairview-bound jeepney from Espana, getting off at the Philcoa stop in Commonwealth Avenue. The ride was practically hassle-free, thanks to the light Sunday traffic. We rested well and stayed hydrated throughout the thirty-minute trip.
Even if we stared at the prospect of an ignominous finish, we chose to soldier on. Despite our sweat-drenched shirts and wounded pride, we were having a great time!
Stop 5: Palma Hall – An Hour of Rest!
To reach Palma Hall, we took a cab from Philcoa, disembarking right at the car-less Academic Oval. We ran for a good five to eight minutes before reaching the fifth station – a one-hour rest stop.
Hot food, refreshing drinks, and unexpectedly comfortable stone benches welcomed our tired selves. Our fellow racers and the organizers were baffled at our wrong turn to Ateneo. As I panted with fatigue, I noticed that most of participants were looking well at ease.
Despite the 43 minute lead of the race leaders, we leapfrogged from 14th place to 8th place.
Stop 6: UP Grandstand
Since the challenge entailed collecting recyclable items, the task fell to Jeric yet again – the team’s resident junkyard go-to-guy. For fifteen minutes, Jeric toiled to complete the list, as James and I prepared mentally for the unknown puzzle. When the pieces of the Tangram Puzzle was given, we went down to business.
James, being the mathematically-inclined guy, had the first crack. As the other groups screamed “done” and moved on to the next station, I felt cold beads of sweat trickle down. We were getting left behind again. I took charge as James stepped back to rest. Remarkably, I was able to complete the puzzling Tangram in a few minutes’ time. It turned out that I have a previously unknown affinity for geometric puzzles.
Two jeepney rides brought us to our next destination: the Marikina River Park.
Stop 7: Marikina River Park – the Janitor Fish Experience
The race suddenly took a dangerous turn when we were running from the jeepney stop to the seventh station. Sprinting downhill, James almost ran into a tricycle. His lightning-fast reflexes enabled the former Ateneo sprinter to instinctively change directions, avoiding a potentially hazardous accident.
The stop was the most challenging, where the men were separated from the boys, the women from the girls.
The first teams to reach the river had a seemingly easy time to catch the minimum of two janitor fish. By the time the peleton arrived, it became increasingly harder to catch the aquatic vermin. For almost an hour, we struggled at the banks of the dirty river in an attempt to fish out the pests with a narrow, circular net attached to a three-meter long bamboo pole.
By the 50th minute, I’ve given up! James was the only one to catch a fish. I took a breather. While staring blankly at the Marikina River’s murky water, thinking about the comforts of home, I saw an exhausted James walk over to the station. He had caught the second fish.
With the throngs of defeat looming at the distant horizon, James’ patience and industriousness saved the day.
Stops 7 and 8: The Marikina River Bank Park (Photos from Kyle Chan)
Stop 8: Tree-planting
Considering what we’ve been through – the wrong turn to Ateneo, the lung-busting run to junk shop and the frustration of catching the janitor fish – the next challenge proved fairly easy.
The uncomplaining Jeric dug the loose soil to plant Mahogany tree saplings by the river bank. Unable to control my laughter, I remarked: “Jeric, time to do the dirty work again!” The three of us shared a light moment, easing the strains of the horrible experience of catching janitor fish.
From 8th place, we climbed up to 6th.
Stop 9: The Blue Eagle Gym
Thankfully, there proved to be no more hitches in deciphering the clues. Reading the words “built in 1949″ and “Olsen Racela” shed clear light on the next destination. Before we reached the home of the bright Blue Eagles, we endured another taxing run to gym. A welcome, 30-minute respite ensued before our next task began.
We were supposed to gather red and orange strips of cloth emblazoned with a triangle. After 20 minutes of fruitless searching (the alloted time for the stop), finding those troublesome things proved unexpectedly problematic.
From then on, we went on a mad dash to the Matteo Ricci Study Hall for the penultimate stop.
Stop 10: Matteo Ricci
This was by far the easiest station. We were made to mark certain areas in a Philippine map with recent disasters.
Stop 11: The Gesu and the Belarmine Field
Again, the clue to the last stop was clearly stated. Seeing the pot of gold (even if it wasn’t worth Php 12,000) at the end of the rainbow, Team Andrei Blancia dashed to the tricycle station in front of Gonzaga Hall. Running towards the Church of Gesu seemed like the most dramatic option. But since we had Php 200 left, we chose the fastest alternative.
Like the over-thinkers that we were, we searched in vain for the ELSA stop right in front of the church, failing to take note of the clearly stated hint referring to the Belarmine Field. I got to the ELSA station first. I screamed at my teammates like a man possessed. As Jeric and James got to the platform, we shouted in unison: “WE LOVE RUNNING FOR THE ENVIRONMENT!”
At long last, our eight and a half hour ordeal came to an end.
Cedie (our runner), James, Yours Truly and Jeric at the final stop. (Photo from Kyle Chan)
We spent the entire day practically running around Makati, Quezon City, Manila and Marikina, utilizing every mode of mass transport available. Our wits were found wanting in seemingly clear cut clues. To catch up, we ran whenever our tired bodies permitted. Our patience was tested to the limits at the banks of the mightily murky Marikina River.
At the end of it all, there wasn’t any fairy tale ending. We finished at a far fifth place, an hour behind the leaders. We did it for good causes – for friendship’s sake and for the environment, making the race worthwhile.
While walking to our cars in Rockwell, almost ten hours after the race commenced, James said “Maaala natin ito kahit puti na ang buhok natin.” True enough, this was one for the books – an experience we’ll never forget.