Fabulous Philippines > Yesterdays in the Philippines > Chapter 5(a)

Visit of the Sagamore. Another Mountain Excursion. The Caves of Montalvan. A Hundred-mile View. A Village School.

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May 9, 1894

The other day the yacht Sagamore dropped anchor in the bay, her owner and his guests, all Harvard men, having got thus far on their tour around the world. I was sitting on the Luneta, Sunday evening, when I saw those familiar Harvard hat-ribbons coming, and in behalf of our little American colony welcomed the wearers of them to Manila. In return for a dinner or two at the club and a visit to the huge cigar-factories, where three or four thousand operators pound away all day at the fragrant weed, I spent a noon and afternoon aboard the yacht, glad to enjoy a change of fare. The Sagamore is a worthy boat and seems to be loaded up with gimcracks and curious of all classes and descriptions. A collector would positively be squint-eyed with pleasure to see the old vases, carved wood-work, plaques, knives, sabres, pots and kettles that her passengers have picked up all along the way; and it is indeed the only method by which to scour curios from the Orient. The boys thought the Luneta was the best place in its way they had yet seen, and it was as much as I could do to get them away from listening to the artillery band and looking at the crowds of people in carriages. Three men in a boat of the Sagamore's size make a pretty small passenger-list for a pretty long voyage.

We've kept up our record as tripsters by having gone again up into the mountains, seen pounds of scenery, breathed fine air, and received great hospitality from the natives. Monday was a bank holiday, so late on Saturday afternoon four of us started on two-horse carromatas for a mountain village called Montalvan, about twenty miles from Manila. Two boys had been sent along a day ahead, with provisions and bedding to find a native hut and provide for our arrival. We had a delightful drive out of Manila, passed through numerous native villages, forded three rivers, saw a fine sunset, and at about eight o'clock, after a three hours' journey, pulled up at a little native house situated in a village at the lofty mountain-range. The occupants seemed willing and glad to turn out of their little shanty and put it at our disposal, and we were very comfortable. The house was not large, but it had a very neat little parlor -- curious name for a room out here -- and in the corner, covered with a light bed-quilt, stood a wax figure of the Virgin Mary, with the usual glass tears running down her cheeks. The family of about fourteen slept somewhere out in the rear regions of the building, leaving us to spread out around the floor of the little sala, like unmounted club sandwiches.

One of the party, more sensitive than the rest, woke about one in the morning and disturb us by finding some four-inch stringing cobwebs from the end of his nose to his ear and down to one finger. He was for the moment embarrassed enough to shout for joy and throw his slippers somewhere. But except for this, and a few rats that now and then tickled our toes, we slept well, and next morning before breakfast we went down to the shallow river for a swim. After a jolly good bath, a hearty breakfast, and a few preparations, our party of four, with the two boys and two guides, started up a steep valley that wound in among lofty mountains to the so-called Caves of Montalvan.

One of our guides was the principal of a village school, who held sway over a group of little indian girls under a big mango-tree, and he shut up shop to join our expedition.

In about two hours and a half our caravan reached the narrower defile that pierced two mountains which came down hobnobbing together like a great gate, grand and picturesque. From a large, quiet pool just beneath the gates, we climbed almost straight up the mouth of a stalactite caves that run no one knows how far into the mountains, starting at a point about two hundred feet above the river. The guides made flare-torche of bamboos, and we entered the damp darkness, bounded by white limestone walls from which hang beautiful stalactites that glistened as the light struck them. In we went for a long way, now crawling on hands and knees and now stumbling into large vaulted chambers. Blind bats flew about and water trickled. It was ghostly, uncanny, but interesting. It seemed as if we were going into the very heart of the mountain, or were reading "King Solomon's Mines," and this impression was further carried out when we came to a small subterranean river that coursed down through a dark outlet and disappeared with weird gurglings. Unpleasant but perhaps imaginary rumblings suggested that a sudden earthquake might easily block our exit, and, retracing our steps, we breathed more freely on coming to the first glimmer of light. Once more in the air, we descended, took a good swim in the pool, lunched, and lay around for an hour. After another bath later on, we donned our sun-hats and trudged homeward over the long, rough path. A good walk, a good supper, a little dancing and music by the natives who occupied our house, and we went to sleep upon the floor.

Next morning, after another early bath in the river our party started to climb the mountain back of the town for a little experience in the bush. The work was hard and warm, but at the top came the reward of a superb view for a hundred miles around. Manila and the great plain, the bay and mountains beyond, were glorious before us, and behind the great mountain wilds that reached to the Pacific stretched off and up in great overlapping slabs of heavy greenness.

The plain was cut up into the regulation checker-board farms of the richest looking description, and the scene was very much like an English one. Far away at the edge of the Bay, could be seen the glistening white houses and steeples of Manila. Away to the northwest and southwest were the great fertile stretches of the country that produce tons and tons of rice and sugar, reaching to the sky or distant mountains. We had luncheon in a leafy grotto; the guides found water, and brought it in lengths of bamboo which they cut down; deer run past now and then down below us, and a short siesta on a bed of leaves finished off our morning's work. The return was so steep that it seemed as if we should go heels over head. However, we hung on to the long grass, and painted our once white suits with dust in the effort to reach level ground again. After a long decent, we came to the big mango-tree. where the rural school was in session, and the little Filipinos were immediately given a recess. They rushed about , got benches and water for us, and the old schoolmaster, who had left his wife to do the teaching while he went with us , set two or three of the shavers at work mopping off his ebony skin. Our visit at the school was in the order of ovation. The children opened their almond eyes almost to the extent of turning them into circles, and when the camera was pointed at them for the first time in their young lives, their mouths so far followed suit that recitations have to be suspended.

After thoroughly disorganizing discipline in the establishment, we accompanied the half naked president of the seminary -- who had been our guide -- to the river, and there washed off such of the day's impressions as went easily into solution.

And finally, after returning to our hut for tea, we packed up our baskets, whistled for the carromatas and jolted back to Manila through a flood of dust and sunset.

Although the hot season is trying to do its best to scorch us, it has but dismally succeeded, and we have had scarcely any severe weather at all. The thunder showers, harbingers of the southwest monsoon and the wet season, began two weeks ago, and it rains now nearly every afternoon. The nights are all delightfully cool, and a coverlet is always comfortable. The sun is going well to the north to make hot June and July days for people in the States, and our season of light is growing shorter. When he gets back overhead again, heavy clouds will protect us from his attentions.

Owing to the outbreak of black plague or something else among the Chinese in Hong Kong, the quarantine regulations here in Manila will cause the steamer by which I was going to send the mail to miss connections. It was at first reported there were three thousand deaths in Hong Kong in six days, but I believe they have now taken off one or two ciphers from that amount. At all events Manila seems to be below the zone of this peculiar epidemic and is much better off at this time of the year than Hong Kong, which swelters away in the great unventilated scoop in the mountains.

The men of the big artillery-band that plays at the Luneta twice a week have all been vaccinated lately, and are too broken up to blow their trumpets. The people are objecting, because the infantry band doesn't make nearly as good music, and only plays twice a week at most. The third regimental band is still fighting the savage Moros with trombones down at the south, although it is rumored they will soon return, and so at present about all the music and fireworks we have are derived from the thunder-storms that play around the shed-iron roofs as if they meant business. But in spite of the terrific cannonade of sound and the blinding flashes of lightning nothing seems to get hit, and the iron roofs may act as dispensers of the electric fluid even though attracting it.

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