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A Trip Southward. The Lake Taal and its Volcano. Seven Hours of Poling.





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June 25, 1894.

Last Monday was the monthly bank-holiday again, and three of us had previously decided to take a journey southward for the purpose of seeing one of the Luzon's active volcanoes and getting a little change of air and "chow."

So, late on Saturday afternoon, we went aboard a dirty little steamer, which was to take us ninety miles down the coast. She wasn't as big as a good-sized tug and was laden with multicolored natives, who were on their way back to the provinces after a brief shopping expedition to the capital. We were soon sailing out past the fleet of larger vessels in the Bay, with our dull prow pointed to the mouth of the great enclosed body of water. At nightfall we reached the Corregidor light-house, at the Bay's entrance, and thence our course lay to the south. At half past two that night our craft reached a place called Taal. During our trip down we had become acquainted with a very pleasant Indian sugar-planter, who is as well off in dollars as rich in hospitality. At Taal he took us to one of the three big houses he owns, and, although only three o'clock in the morning, gave us a delicious breakfast. We talked and chatted away comfortably, and as the streaks of dawn appeared I played several appropriate selections on one of the two very good-toned pianos belonging to his establishment. This brought out his family, and before we set out for the river from which our start to the volcano was to be made, quite a social gathering was in progress.

The natives all through the islands seemed indeed most courteous and hospitable to foreigners, and although a Spaniard hesitates to show his face outside of any of the garrison towns, yet any of the other European bipeds is known in a minute and well treated. Our good friend at Taal went so far as to harness up a pair of ponies and drive us down to the river at four o'clock in the morning, and we found a large banca, a previously ordered, waiting to take us up to the Lake of Taal and across to the volcano.

Our banca was of good size, was rowed by seven men and steered by one, and had a little thatched hen-coop arrangement over the stern, to keep the sun off our heads. We had brought one "boy" with us from Manila, with enough "chow" to last for two days, and soon was stowed away in our floating tree-trunk. The river was shallow, and for most of the six miles of its length poles were the motive-power. It was slow work, and both wind and current were hostile. In due course, however, the lake came into view, and in its centre rose the volcano, smoking away like a true Filipino, The wind was now blowing strong and unfavorable, and we saw that it was not going to be an easy row across the six of seven miles of open water to the centre island. But the men worked with a will, and although the choppy waves slopped over into our roost once or twice so jocosely that it almost seemed as if we should have to turn back, we kept on. Benefiting by a lull or two, our progress was gradual, and at half after twelve, seven hours from Taal, we landed on the volcanic island and prepared for an ascent.

The lake of Taal is from fifteen to twenty miles across, is surrounded by high hills and mountains, for the most part, and has for its centre the volcanic island upon whose edges rise the sloping sides of an active cone a thousand feet high. The lake is certainly good to look at, reminding one forcibly of Loch Lomond, and the waters, shores, and mountains around all seem to bend their admiring gaze on the little volcano in its centre.

Filling our water-jug, we set off up the barren lava-slopes of this nature's safety-valve, sweltering under the stiff climb in the hot sun. Happily, the view between each moment, the smell of the sulphur became stronger, and we forgot present discomfort in anticipations of the revelation to come. After banging our shins on the particularly rough lava-beds of the ascent, near the top, we saw a great steaming crater yawning below us and sending up clouds of sulphurous steam. In the centre of this vast, dreary Circus Maximus rose a flat cone of red-hot squashy material, and out of it ascended the steam and smoke. All colors of the rainbow played with each other in the sun, and further to the right was a boiling lake of fiery material that was variegated enough to suit an Italian organ-grinder.

It was all very weird and if we had not been so lazy we should probably have descended farther into this laboratory of fire than we did. But it was too hot to make matches of ourselves and the air smelt like the river Styx at low tide. So we were contented with a good view of the wonders of the volcano from a distance , enjoyed the panorama from the narrow encircling apex-ridge, and cooled of in the smart breeze. Once more at the lake, and it was not long before we were in it, tickling our feet on the rough cinders of the bottom. The bath was most rejuvenating after a hot midday climb, and just to sit in the warmish water up to one's neck gave one a sort of mellow feeling like that presumably possessed by a ripe apple ready to fall on the grass.

The wind was now fresher than ever and more unfavorable to our course. The captain of the tree-trunk, in a tone quite as authoritative as that manipulated by the commander of an ocean liner, said we can not proceed for some time, so the boy arranged the provisions and we had a meal in our little hen-coop. After a provoking wait until four o'clock the old banca was pushed off again and the struggle renewed. The seven men, who had now been poling and rowing since early morning, seemed pretty well beat, but their was no shelter on the volcanic islands and we had to push on. The other shore looked far away and we slopped forward sluggishly, The sun set , the moon rose, and still we were buffeting with the choppy waves. It reminded me of a good deal of the sea of Galilee; and it did seem as if the dickens himself was blowing at us and trying to keep us from ever getting to that farther shore.

At last we reached the lee of a lofty perpendicular island part way across the lake, and, although its upright sides offered no chance to land, yet they kept off that southeast wind. The men shut their teeth hard, and in due course moved our bark around the point and out into more moonlight and breeze. The lights and shadows on the great lump of rock standing a thousand feet out of the water behind us were worth looking at, and in many places huge basaltic columns seemed to be holding up the mass above. Not to put as much labor into these lines as our men put into the oars, at half after ten we came to land, seven hours from the shore of the volcano, a distance which in fair wind ought to be covered in a little over one.


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