Fabulous Philippines > Yesterdays in the Philippines > Chapter 4(a)

An Up-Country Excursion. Steaming up the River to the Lake. Legend of the Chinaman and the Crocodile. Santa Cruz and Pansanjan. Dress of the Women. Mountain Gorges and the Rapids.

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March 27, 1894.

The Easter holidays have come and gone, and one of the favorite vacation trips from Manila has been brought to a close. Five of us have seen lake, mountain, and river scenery; have been taking interesting walks, drives, swims; have camped out in a good house and enjoyed the hospitality of our native Indian friends. Whistling for the punka boy to go ahead, I will now set down the record of our trip.

The week from the 18th of March to the 25th was practically one long holiday, but it was Wednesday, the 21st, in the afternoon, that we left Manila for the interior. Rand and I got up the trip by procuring a large and commodious steam launch for five days -- gratis. Having done our share, we left our three companions to look after the "chow" and other kindred topics. To my "boy" I merely said, "Wednesday we are going to the Laguna; prepare what is necessary for four days." That was all, and on Wednesday afternoon I found him at the launch with my clothes and bedding all ready to start. Here also were assembled hams, boxes of ice, and other provisions, big bundles of personal effects and the four "boys" (a "boy" may be seventy years old if he likes) whom we were going to take along.

The whistle blew. the special artist with his camera ambled aboard, amidst a pile of sunhats, oranges, and excitement, and soon the Vegilante was steaming up the river on her sixty-mile trip. Familiar objects were first passed, but soon after leaving the uptown club new scenes presented themselves. The launch stirred up large waves astern that washed both banks of the river with great energy, and the first incident was the swamping of three banca-loads of grass that were on their way down to Manila under charge of Indian pedlers. Turn after turn opened up new scenes; our house on the hill began to fade away, and soon we skimmed through native villages where white blood was "not in it." The hills increased in size, the river lessened, and great bamboo trees hung over toward the central channel. At one point, high up on the bluffs, perched a Chinese pagoda-like chapel, said to have been constructed by a wealthy Celestial as a thanks offering for his escape from a crocodile. He was bathing in the river, so the story goes, when suddenly he saw the monster making for him. He threw up his hands and vowed to make a monument to his patron saint if scape was vouchsafed him. And so sooner had he spoken than the crocodile turned to stone and lies there to-day, a long, low black mass , fretting the current that ripples over it. As we passed the rock it looked as if it had never been anything else, but the afternoon was too pleasant to doubt the veracity of the legend. On we went. The mountains ahead grew more to look like masses of rock and trees and less like soft blue velvet. Pasig, an important town, was left behind, the lowlands came again, a multitude of fish weirs stuck up ahead, and before we knew it the great lake was holding us on its rather muddy waters just where it slobbered into the mouth of the river, its only outlet.

On all sides save the one by which we had entered rose the mountains right out of the water, and I was reminded of Norway or Scotland. It was like a sea, and the farther shore was below the horizon. The sun had set and the full moon rose just ahead as we kept along the coast to the north. At half after eight o'clock we anchored off a little town called Santa Cruz that seemed to be backed up by two very lofty mountain peaks, and we were soon surrounded by two bancas filled with natives who began to transfer our many effects. And so we left the launch, were slowly pulled ashore, and next found ourselves on a sandy beach surrounded by much people and baggage. Dispatching two of our retinue up into the town to fetch enough of the two-wheeled covered gigs called carromatas for our assembly, in about three-quarters of an hour we had the felicity of seeing seven come racing down the road to the lake shore. Our destination, by the way, was a town called Pagsanjan, about three-quarters of an hour from Santa Cruz, and situated just at the foot of a range of mountains. The chattels were soon loaded, there was a cracking of whips, a rattling gait through the town and out the rich coconut groves beyond.

At Manila, outside of bamboo and banana trees, there is no sign of really equatorial vegetation, but up in the mountains there was no deception, and Nature did her best to let us know that the temperate zone was far away. We bounced along at a terrific pace and presently saw the lights of our little village. Rattling through an old stone archway, we drew up before the house of a certain Captain Feliz, to whom we had been recommended. The genial old man, whose face and corporosity were charmingly circular in their rotundity, welcomed us with open-armed hospitality, and saying he knew of just a house that would accommodate our party, started to lead us to it. After a few steps he suddenly stopped, apologized smilingly, said he had forgotten his set of false teeth, and must return for them. And coming back shortly after, he took out his teeth, commented on their grace and usefulness, and said he could speak much better Spanish with them without them.

In due season we drew up at a very thick-walled stone house on the high bank just above the river, and were invited to take possession. Our "boys" got out the provisions in short order, for a late supper; our pieces of straw matting were spread out around the edges of the shining floor of the large "sala" which had been placed at our disposal for a dormitory; pillows and light coverings were duly regulated, and after eating a bit, we said goodnight to our new friends and turned in on the floor to rest. I found the hardwood planks so soft after my bed at Manila that before long I arose, arranged eight chairs in facing pairs, spread out my sleeping arrangements, and soon fell asleep in a very good improvised bed which was high enough from the floor to keep cockroaches from using me as a promenade. Thursday morning we arose early, washed ourselves on the balcony that overlooked the fashionable avenue of the village, and, as is the true Philippine custom, sprinkled the street with solutions of soapsuds.

Now, as I have said before, the Thursday and Friday before Easter are tremendously sacred days in the Philippines, and no carriages of any description are permitted to move about. The little town was still as death, and the early-morning hush was only broken now and then by the weird caterwaulings of the peculiar Passion songs which the natives in these parts sing off and on during Lent. Later on, as we finished breakfast, groups of women began coming out of the various houses and directed their steps churchward. Most of them were gorgeously dressed in all colors of the solar spectrum -- with a little cloth added on -- and it was instructive to see an expensively gowned Indian woman emerge from a shabby little nipa hut that didn't look as if it could incubate such starched freshness. For the dresses that some of these people wear are costly; and even their piña neckerchiefs often cost $100.

After breakfast we went down to the river and got into five hollowed-out tree trunks, preparatory to the start up into the mountain gorges. It was worse than riding a bicycle, trying to balance one of the crazy affairs, and for a few moments I feared my camera and I would get wet. However, nobody turned turtle, and we were paddled up between the high coconut-fringed banks of the wonderfully clear river before the early morning sun had looked over the mountains into whose cool heart we were going.

Then came the first rapids, with backgrounds of rich slopes showing heavy growths of hemp and cocoa palms. Another short paddle and the second set of rapids was passed on foot. A clear blue lane of water then streched out in front of us and reached squarely into the mountain fastnesses through a huge rift where almost perpendicular walls were artistically draped with rich foliage that concealed birds of many colors. a few chattering monkeys, and many hanging creepers. Again it seemed like a Norwegian fjord or the Via Mala, but here, instead of bare rocks, were deeply verdured ones. Above the blue sky showed in a narrow irregular line; below, the absolutely clear water reflected the heavens; the cliffs rose a thousand feet, the water was five hundred feet deep, the birds sang, the creepers hung, the water dripped, and we seemed to float through a sort of El Dorado, a visionary and unreal paradise. At last we glided in through a specially narrow lane not more than fifty feet wide; A holy twilight prevailed; the cliffs seemed to hold up the few fleecy clouds that floated far over our head, and we landed on a little jutting point for bathing and refreshments. It seemed as if we were driving into the river Lethe or being introduced to the boudoir of Nature herself. In an hour we pushed on, passed up by three more rapids, and halted at the foot of a bridal-veil waterfall that charmed the eye with beauty, cooled the air with its mist, and set off the green foliage with its white purity. Here we lunched, and in lieu of warm beer drank in the beauties of the scenery.

The return was the repetition of the advance, except that we shot one or two of the rapids, and that the banca holding the boy and the provisions upset in a critical place, wetting the crackers that were labelled "keep dry." We got back to our house by early afternoon, and all agreed that an inimitable, unexcelled, wouldn't-have-missed-it-for-the-world excursion had passed into history.

Good old Captain Feliz took us to call on some of the native villagers in the late afternoon, who exhibited quite a bit of Indian hospitality. At one house was a pretty Indian girl who spoke Spanish very well and entertained our party of six with as much grace as an American belle. Of course the presence of five "Ingleses" in town was quite an event in a place fifty miles from Manila, and we walked through street after street each house window presented at least seven curios faces; dogs barked, fighting cocks crowed, and the occupations of the moment were suspended.

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