Friday, December 28, 2012

2012: Our Year of the Kalesa/Karitela

Kalesas take a break on UN Avenue, Manila to wash the carriages and feed the horses.

During our journeys in northern Luzon this year, we saw the kalesa (or the popular karitela among Ilocanos) still plying the streets of Vigan, Laoag and Tuguegarao.  While doing historical research at the National Archives on Kalaw and at the Archdiocesan Archives on Arzobispo in Manila, we also saw plenty of them bringing tourists around the Luneta/Rizal Park, Intramuros and Fort Santiago with their variations from the traditional kalesa/karitela box design making them very interesting photo subjects.

Thus, in our personal timeline, we were inclined to tag 2012 as our Year of the Kalesa/Karitela.  This is also in line with our green advocacy, this horse-drawn transport vehicle being environment-friendly because no pollutants are emitted as the cocheros drive passengers down the town or city streets.  We noted that horse-y solid wastes are very well  managed through the use of portable cloth toilets hang by the rear of the horses.

Northern Luzon kalesas.  The Vigan kalesas (top left) cater to tourists mostly while the Tuguegarao type with rubber tires provides an alternative to tricycles for public transport.  The Laoag karitela is both for tourism and public transport.
Some digression:  kalesa and karitela are not indigenous Pinoy terms.  These are our derivatives of the Spanish words calesa (feminine form of cales), a 'two-wheeled calash, chaise,' and carretela, also a calash or stagecoach.  For that matter, kariton, for the carabao or cow drawn vehicle, is not also native being derived from the Spanish carreton, a cart.

The kalesas that ply around Intramuros and Fort Santiago are of different make and design. The one at bottom right has its sides made of recycled capiz windows.

Of course, there's also the carruaje,horse-drawn carriage, that one associates with royalty or the noble classes depicted in European period movies.  It's the carriage for those who want leisurely rides around Central Park in New York, New York.  In our home province Zambales these days, the carruaje is the most expensive alternative to the funeral limousine for the last mile of a dearly departed one to the memorial park.

In our boyhood, the karitela driver (kutsero) was king of the road.  Those who lived in the town proper walked to school, plaza, church and market.  The karitela was for trips to the barrios outside town.  The young girls in our family often joined an aunt on board a karitela looking for a pig to buy and butcher for her Sunday market stall.   In high school, we boys who were PMT (Phil. Military Training) cadet officers did not find it difficult to find a horse to ride on for the town fiesta parade.  The fiesta day was 'off' day for karitelas but not for horses we either hired or borrowed for the parade.

Before the second world war, the jeepney wasn't yet a Pinoy innovation.  'Peacetime' generations moved around their towns and cities using the horse drawn vehicle. In the YouTube video (below) from PhilClassic on the popular tune Kalesa composed by A. del Rosario and performed by the Juan Silos, Jr. rondalla, we can see that the the traffic of old Manila comprised these horse drawn vehicles.  In his original lyrics, superimposed on the video, national artist Levi Celerio endowed the kalesa with nationalistic and romantic attributes.

Going farther back to the 19th century, it was the carruaje that plied the provincial carreteras or highways.  To ensure public transportation between towns in Zambales, for example, the provincial civil government conducted tenders for carruajes de alquiler [carriages for hire] among the big businessmen of those times.

One of the dibujos of Jose Honorato Lozano in his album Vistas de las islas Filipinas y trajes de sus habitantes (1847), which can be found at the Biblioteca Nacional de España, is an open carruage [sic] de alquiler drawn by two horses with passengers in colorful costumes.

Dibujo DIB158425 by Jose Honorato Lozano (1847) available online from the Biblioteca Digital Hispanica.

We'd like to think that bringing back the kalesa / karetela in barangays and towns, and in touristic sites, to provide eco-friendly alternatives to petroleum fuel guzzlers and polluters would greatly reduce the carbon print of the Philippines in the worldwide environmental map.


Cassell's Spanish English English-Spanish Dictionary. (1978).  Gooch, Anthony & Garcia de Paredes, Angel, Rev.  New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc.

Lozano, Jose Honorato. (1847). Vistas de las islas Filipinas y trajes de sus habitantes. Retrieved from the Biblioteca Digital Hispanica of the Biblioteca Nacional de España at

Philclassic video. Kalesa.

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