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A Trip to the South of the Philippines

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A Trip to the South - Contents of the "Puchero" - Romblon - Cebu, the Southern Hemp-centre - Places Touched At - A Rich Indian at Camiguin - Tall Trees - Primitive Hemp Cleaners - A New Volcano - Mindanao Island - Moro Trophies - Iligan - Iloilo - Back Again at Manila

December 23, 1894

I have just returned from the south, and feel able enough to begin the narrative. On Saturday, December 1, thick clouds obscured the sky, and gusty showers of rain continued to fall until evening, when they formed themselves into a respectable downpour. It was objectionable weather for the dry season just commencing, but the northwest monsoon was said to be heavy outside, and the rain on our east coast evidently slid over the mountains back of Manila, instead of staying where it belonged,. Such was the day of starting, while, to cap the climax, just before the advertised leaving-time of the Uranus, word came from the Jesuit observatory that a typhoon was apparently getting ready to sail directly across the course we were to take, and up went signal No.3 on the flag-staff at the mouth of the river. Philosophers, however, must not be bothered by trifles, and although my friends predicted a miserable voyage, and told me to take all my water-proofs and sou'westers, I went aboard the steamer with a smiling countenace only, followed by three "boys" who deposited my traps in a state-room of lean proportions.

At half after seven in the evening the whisle blew, the visitors departed, and the Uranus slowly began to back down the narrow river into the black night. She is one of the largest and newest "province steamer" in the Philippines, and it took a great deal of manipulation to turn her around and get her headed towards the Bay. As large, perhaps,as one of our coasting boats that runs to the West Indies, she has a flush deck from stem to stern, and is ruled over by a very jolly, stubby, little Spanish captain who looks eminently well fed if not so well groomed. There were three dozen passengers aboard ship, and evrybody, including four dogs, was desperately sea-sick. But sheltering islands soon brought relief to the prevailing misery, the dogs recovered their equilibrium enough to renew the curl in their tails, and the heaving vessel grew quite still. We touched again at Romblon, on our way up, long enuogh to get the mail and bring off an unshaven padre or two, bound up to the capital for spiritual refreshment, and for the last time headed for Manila. The monsoon apparently went down with the sun; we were not troubled further with heaving waters, and early on Thursday morning passed through the narrow mouth of Manila Bay, just as the sun was rising in the east, and the full moon setting over Mariveles in the west. The Uranus made a short run across the twenty-seven miles of water to the anchorage among the shipping, and everybody bundled ashore in a noisy launch, almost before the town had had its breakfast.

In the afternoon, when the steamer came into the river, I brought all of my arms, armor, and shells ashore to the office, and the American skippers who were waiting for free breezes from the punkah began outbidding each other with offers of baked beans and doughnuts for the whole collection. At home, the house had not blown away, but was firm as ever; the dogs rejoiced to see me back; the cat, with a crook in her tail, purred extra loudly; the ponies , that had grown fat on lazy living, pawed the stone floor in the stable; the boy put flowers on the table for dinner and peas in the soup, and the moon looked in on us in full dress. Thus ended a fortnight's trip of some two thousand miles down through the arteries of the archipelago.

We got out of the river at eight o'clock, saw the three warning, red, typhoon lanters glaring at us, and sterted full speed ahead Romblon, our first calling point, eighteen hours away. Dinner was served on deck from a large table formed by closing down the huge skylights to the regular dining-saloon below, and the eaters took far more enjoyment intheir Spanish bill of fare under the awnings than they would have done had the same victuals been dished up downstairs. I say "victuals," for the word seems to be the only invention for just such combinations as were set before us, and "dished up" suggests the scooped-out-of-a-kettle process far better than "served." Spanish food is rather too mixy, too garlicky, too unfathomable for me, but as one can get used to anything I accomodated myself to the puchero(a mixture of meat, beans, sausages, cabbage, and pork), and was soon eating fish as a fifth coarse instead of a second. The feast began with soup and sundries, and was continued by the pochero which was merely an introduction to the fish course, the raost and all the cheese and thing that followed. Every dinner was practically the same, differing slightly in details, and the deck each time played its part as dinning-room. Early breakfast came at six, late breakfast came at ten, and dinner poked along at five--a combination of meal hours which was enough to give one indigestion before touching a mouthfull.

During the night we all waited in vain to hear the sizzling of the typhoon that came not, and got up in the nexr morning to find the scare had been for nothing. The clouds and rain were clearing away, and the prow of the Uranus was headed directly for a region of blue sky. By breakfast-time there was hardly a cloud in the heavens, the rooster up for'ard began to crow, the mooly-cow which we soon to eat began to moo, the islands in front drew nearer, and the scene became fairer each moment. At noon we steamed a great mountainous island, crossed a sound between it and another group, entered a narrow channel, and at one o'clock dropped anchore in the small land-locked harbor of Romblon. Everywhere the hiils fell abruptly into the water, and houses looked as if they had slid down off the steep slopes to hobnob with each other in a mass below. There was a public bath down beside a brook, where everybody came to wash, an old church, the market-place, and a prodigious long flights of steps leading up to the upper districts, where the view down back over the low nipa houses towards the bay was most extensive.

We stayed in the little Garden of Eden until after three o'clock, then pulled out to the steamer, and left again for the south, over a calm sea and beneath a glorious sky. Some of us slept on deck in the moonlight, but, finding it if anything too cool and breezy, were up bed times to see the island of Cebu looming on our right hand. Our early six o'clock finished, we sat up on a bridge in easy-chairs, beneath the double awning, as the Uranus poked down along the mountainous coast towards the city of Cebu. At ten o'clock we passed through the narrow channel that leads between a small island and its big brother Cebu, and soon saw the white houses of the town lapping the harbor's edge. Two American ships were apparently taking in their cargoes of hemp, and beside them a small fleet of native craft and steamers smudged the little bay. Anchor was dropped again and those of us who cared to go ashore met some of our former friends from Manila on'change and took a look over this great hemp-centre of the south.

The local excitement was limited, and, and except that a Chinaman had been beheaded by some enemythe night before he was walking through the street,news was scarce. Numerous people, however, were gathered together outside the police-station, looking at the remains, and several sailors from the American ships, who had swum ashore during the night to get drunk, were being returned to their vessels in charge of the civil guard.

The Uranus was not to stop long, and most of the through passengers returned early to the steamer to enjoy a view tempered by rather more breeze and less smell than that which the narrow streets afforded. Cebu, from the deck, was worthy of a sonnet; the white houses and church spires were set off against the dark-green background of mountains, and as the sun got lower the place did not have the broiled alive aspect that it bore during the middle of the day. At four the stubby little Captain came aboard, and soon we turned northeast for our next stopping place, Ormoc. Another colored sunset, another dinner in the golden light, another moonrise, another sail up among the islands, and at eleven on the evening of Monday we entered the harbor of Ormoc. Here two or three ponies were hoisted over board to be taken landward, a can of kerosene was loaded into the purser's boat as he went ashore with the papers, and a little chorus of shoutings concluded our midnight visit to the second stop of the day.

Tuesday morning the sun rose over the lofty mountains on the iland of Leyte, and the Uranus shaped her course for Catbalogan, another of the hemp-ports. The steam of the bay blotched with islands was perfection, and by ten o'clock the anchor hunted round for soft bed in the ooze, some eight hundred yards off a sandy beach, above with lay the town. Those of us who have energy enough to bolt our hearty breakfast were taken by the jolly- boat onto the mud flats, and were carried through the shallow water on oars land. On the slopes of the higher mountains, behind the town, the hemp-plants (looking exactly like banana-trees), grew luxuriously, and in front of many of the houses in Catbalogan the white fibre was out drying on clothes-lines. A short taste of the hot sun easily satisfied our curiosity as to Catbalogan, and we were off to the ship again for more breakfast, just as several hungry looking Spanish guests, including the Governor's family, came aboard from the town to partake of a meal hearty enough to last them till the arrival of the next steamer.

From Catbalogan to its sister town, Tacloban, four hours to the south,the coure leads among the narrow straits between high, richly wooded islands and the scenery was most picturesque. Here and there little white beaches gleamed along the shore, and infront of the nipa shanties that now and then looked out from among the trees hung rows of hemp drying in the sun. Off and on the big waves, kicked out by the forward movement of the Uranus in the land-locked waters, woke up the stillness resting on the banks and nearly upsets small banca loads of the white fibre which was perhaps being paddled down to some larger centre from more remote stamping grounds. From the bridge our view was most comprehensive, and it wasn't long before the steamer actually entered the river like strait that separates the iland of Samar and Leyte. We twisted around likea snake troigh the narrow channel, on each side of which were high hills and mountains, richly treed with cocoanuts and hemp-plants, and, just as the sun was getting low, hauled into Tacloban, situated inside an arm of land that protects it from the dashing suges of the Apostles' Bay beyond.

At Tacloban there was little to see. A high range of hills rose behind the town, and in the evening half-light everything looked more or less attractive. We climbed a small knoll that looked off over the Bay of St. Peter and St. Paul to the south and down over the village. The strait through which we came streched up back among the hills like a river, and in the foregroind lay the Uranus. A number of hemp store-houses lined the water-front, and as usual the ever-present Chinese were the central figures of the commercial part of the community. At eight the anchor came up once more, and we left Tacloban to stean religiously down the bay of St. Peter and St. Paul for Cabalian, eight hours to the south.

Cabalian is another lttle hemp-town, at the foot of a huge mountain; but in the starlight of the very early morning we stopped there only long enough to leave the mail and drop a pony overboard. Sunrise caught us still steering to the south, but nine o'clock tied our steamer to a little wrarf in Surigao, directly in frot of a large hemp-press and store-house belonging to the owners of the ship on which we were journeying. Some of the best hemp that comes to the Manila market is pressed at Surigao, and all around were stacks of loose fibre drying in the sun or being separated into different grades by native coolies. Several of us left the ship and walked to the main village, but, as before, found little to note except the intence heat of a boiling sun.

There was the customary hill behind the town, and at the risk of going entirely into solution during the effort, two of us climbed to the top for a breath of air and panoramic view.

Dinner came along as usual at five; but I must say that the more I ate of those curiously timed meals the less I could accomodate my mental powers to the comprehension of what I was doing. Everybody knows what a difficult psychological problem it is to determine the exact numerical nature of the feeling in the second and third toes of his feet, as compared with that in the fingers of his hands. On your hands you can distincly feel the first finger, the middle finger , and the fourth finger; but on your feet your second toe doesn't feel like your first finger nor as a second toe should naturally feel. The great toe corresponds in sensation to one's first finger and all the other toes save the last seem to be muddled up without that differentiated sensation which the fingers have. And so with these meals aboard ship. A ten o'clock breakfast was neither breakfast nor luncheon, and it bothered me considerably to know what in the dickens I was really eating, It affected my mind to such a degree that somehow the food tasted as if it did not belong to any particular meal, but came from another order of things; and I spent long, serious moments between the courses in trying to locate the repast in my library of prehitoric sensations, just as I have often tried to locate the digit which my second toe corresponds to in feeling.

We left Surigao an hour before midnight, sailed away over moonlit seas toward the island of Camiguin, and when I stuck my head out of the port-hole at half five next morning, the two very lofty mountain-peaks which formed this sky-scraper of the Philippines were just ridding themselvesof the garb of darkness. Three of us went ashore at seven, and were introduced to a rich Indian, who, although the possessor of fourhundred thousand dollars, lived in a common little nipa house. He invited us to see the country, fitted us out with three horses and a mounted servant, and sent us up into the mountains where his men were working in on the hemp-plantations.

We started up the sharp slopes, and were soon getting a wider and wider view back over the town and blue bay below. First the path was bounded with rice-fields, but, as we rose, the hemp plants which, as before said, look just like theirrelatives, the banana-trees, began to hem us in. Now and again we came to a little hut where long strings of fibre were out drying in the sun, but our boy kept going upward until we were rising at an angle of almost forty-five degrees. Everywhere the tall twenty-five-foot hemp trees extented toward the mountain summit as far as the eye could carry,and we were much interestedin seeing so much future rope in its primogenital state. Up we went across brooks, over rocks, beneath tall, tropical hardwood trees, nearly two hundred feet high, that here and there lifted themselves up toward heaven and at last came to the place where the natives were actualy separating the hemp from strippings by pulling them under a knife pressed down on a block of wood. The whole little machine was so absurdly simple, with its rough carving-knife and rude levers, that it hardly seemed to correspond with the elaborate transfomation that took place from the tall trees to the slender white fibre separated by the rusty blade.One man could clean only twenty-five pounds of hemp a day, and when it is remembered the whole harvest consist of about 800,000 bales, or 200,000,000 pounds per year, it seems the more remarkable that so rude an instrument should have so star a part to play. We each tried pulling the long, tough strippings under the knife that seemed glued to the block, but there was a certain knack which we did noy seem to possess, and the thing stuck fast. All in all this visit to the hemp- cleaners will supply us with strong answers to letters from manufacturers who have written us to make efforts in introducing heavy machines for separating hemp from the parent tree, but who have failed to understand that a couple of levers and carving knife are far easier to carry up a steep mountain-slope than a steam engine, and an arrangement as big as a modern reaper. We lingered about all the morning on these up-in-the-air plantations, and at noon picked our way slowly back again over the stony path to the village, glad that we didn't have to earn fifty cents a day by so laborious a method.

Leaving our host with a promise to come ashore again and use his horses in the afternoon, we went down to the long pier and rowed off to the Uranus in one of the big ship's boats that was feeding her empty forehold with instalments of hemp. In the early afternoon we again went ashore, took other ponies and started off up the coast toward a remarkable volcano, which, though not existing in 1871, has since been bisiness-like enough to grow up out of the sandy beach, until it is now a thousand feet high. A whole town was destoyed during the growing process, but to-day the signs of activity are not so evident. The path up the mountain-side was terrifically stony and somewhat obscure. Long creepers frequently caught us by the neck or wound themselves about our feet, in attempts to rid the ponies of their burden. It was a laborious undertaking, and it didn't looked as if we should reach the crater before dark, but we kept on ascending, thinking each knoll woud give us that longed-for look into the business office of the volcano. But in vain. It was now getting so near sunset that we feared to lose the way, and instead of pushing on farther, we reluctantly turned about and went full speed astern. The decent was unspeakable; the hoses' knees were tired; they stambled badly; the vines and creepers snarled us up, and everyone muttered yards of cuss-words. On the way down we saw several wonderful views over the hemp-trees to the coast below, met numerous natives cleaning up their last few stalks of fibre for the day, and at last came out once more on the rough pastured-road leading to Mambajao, off which the Uranus was anchored. It was now moonlight, we all broke into a gallop for the three-quarter-hour ride to the village, and everybody, including the jaded ponies, thanked Heaven when we reached the first lights of the town.

Late the same evening the Uanus left, sailed around the island's western edge in the moonlight, and turned southward for Cagayan, on Mindanao Island, the last of the Philippines to resist subjection by the Spanish and now the scene of wars and conflicts with the bloodthirsty savages who are indigenous to the soil.

Morning introduced us to a shaky wharf and to a group of gig-drivers, who said the town was fully three-miles away. We were in the enemy's country, but nevertheless two of us started off to walk to the village, following quite a party who had already taken the road. It was an hour's plod along beneath tall cocoanut-palms before we came to the main part of the settlement, surrounding the jail, coart-house, and residence of the Spanish Governor. Hard by ran a river spanned by a curious suspension-bridge. It carried the high road to the village and country to the other bank, and our party from the steamer was an engineer who had come down to inspect this structure, which but a short time ago had utterly collapsed under the strain of its own opening exercises, killing a Spaniard, and cutting open the head of the Governors wife. Of late however, the bridge has been repared, and the question seemed to be, was it safe? For my benefit, as I walked over the long eight- hundred-foot span, the old bridge wobbled around like a bowl of jelly, and considering that there was alligators in the reflective waters below, I did not feel I was doing the right thing by my camera and friends to stay longer where I was. Some of the secondary cables were flimsy affairs, and inspection revealing the fact that the structure was just one-twentieth as strong as it ought to be, placards were put up to the effect that the bridge was closed except for the passing of one person at a time.

At the bridge we fell into talk with a Spaniard, who was the interventor or official go-between in affairs concerning Governor and natives. We ask him as to the prospect of finding some Moro arms, knives, and shields in the settlements for being in a district upon which a recent decent had been made it seemed as if the town should be rich in bloody curios. He gave us some encouragement, and off we trotted across the central plaza with its old church, on an expedition of search. It seems that all the houses around this plaza were armed to the teeth, and in time of need the whole place could be transformed into a fort. Every house in the pueblo had one of the newest type of mauser rifles standing up in the corner, and in fifteen minutes fiftee hundred men could be mustered ready armed to fight the savage Moros. We really felt as if we were in one of the Indian outposts of early American days, and were quite interested in the conversation of our guide, who seemed to take a great liking to two foreigners. We went into several little huts where knives and spears were hung upon the doors, and succeeded in exchanging many of our dollars for rude, weird weapons with waving edges or poisoned points. We passed several " tamed" Moros in the street and took off some bead-necklaces, turbans, and bracelets which they had on. Further search revealed shields and hats, and before the morning turned to afternoon we had visited nearly half the houses in the village. Sometimes a tune on the ever-present piano,coaxed out by yours truly, would bring a shield from off the wall, and at others the more telling music coming from the jingling dollars was more effectual.

For dinner we went to the house of the interventor to lunch on some grass mixed with macaroni, canned fish, bread and water, and if I hadn't been so much occupied with our Spanish conversation I might have felt hungry. After the meal our host wanted me to take a photograph of himm and his wife dressed up in a discarded theatrical costume, and it was quite a ludicrous as anything on the trip. An upholstered throne-- part of the stage-setting in their play of the week before-- was rigged up in the backyard, and the señor and senõra, robed as king and queen of Aragon, Put on all the airs of a royal family as they stood before the camera. These good people pulled the house to pieces to show us wigs, crowns, and wooden swords, and it seemed as if we should never get away. Later, however, our good friend borrowed a horse in one place, a carriage in another, helped us to go around and collect our various purchases, presented me with a shield which he took down off his own wall, and drove us back to the steamer. Here we unloaded all the stuff, and, surrounded by a curious throng of questioners, went aboard to stow our possessions away. the day had been a prolific one, and, although we had not expected to go into the curio business on the excursion, our respective staterooms were now loaded up with gimcracks that would interest the most rabid ethnographer.

Toward midnight the Uranus steamed out of the Bay of Cagayan and headed for Misamis, still further south. Another calm night, and Saturday morning saw us approaching a little collection of nipa huts precided over by an old stone fort and backed up by the usual high range of mountains. Two Spanish gunboats, the Elcano and Ulloa, all flags flying, in honor of Sunday or something were at anchor in the Bay, and at eight o'clock we pulled ashore to fritter away an hour or so in looking about an uninteresting village. There was a saying here that no photographer ever lived to get fairly into the town, for the only two had ever come before this way were drowned in getting ashore from their vessels. As I walked about the streets, several Indian women studk their heads out of the windows of their huts seeming quite amzed to see live picture-maker, and asked in poor Spanish how much I would charge for a dozen of copies of their inmitable physiognomies.

Misamis business detained the Uranus but for a short hour, and she then turned her head across the Bay eastward for Iligan, the seat of all the war operations in Mindanao. During the two hours and a half that our course led close along the hostile shore, we had breakfast and arrived at Iligan, the most dismal place in the world, about two o'clock in the afternoon. Everything looked down-in-the-mouth except the thermometer, and that was up in the roaring hundreds. The town was like all other Philippine villages, except that around the outskirts were the ruins of an old stockade with observation-towers, and in the streets soldiers, both native and Spanish, held the corners of every turn.

While I paddled across a creek to get a photograph of some friendly savages on the other bank, one of my steamer friend went up to the Government house to make a former visit. It seems he found no one at home except the wife of one of the high department officials, and she was reading the latest letters just fresh from the mail-bag of the Uranus. As I got back from across the river I heard a tremendous pandemonium going on in the upper story of the building in question, and soon my fellow-passenger came bolting down the stairs and out into the street below. The poor woman, in reading in her freshly opened letter that her husband, who had but recently gone up to Manila for a week's stay, was an absconder to the extent of some three hundred thousand dollars, suddenly lost her mind. He had tried to get across to China, so it seemed, but was taken on the sailing day on the steamer, and the wife now first heard the news. So, as chairs and flower-pots came sailing out the windows or down the stairs, we wisely decided to get out of harm's way, and together walked back to the steamer-landing, musing on Spanish methods of packet-lining.

The Moros themselves are study beggars, though most picturisque ones, and the tame specimens that came to Iligan were curious in the extreme. Dressed in native-made cloths of all colors, their heads were ornamented with turbans of red and white and blue, while gaudy sashes gave them an air of aristocratic distinction which few of their northern brothers possessed. Some of them black all their teeth, others only put war-paint on their two front pairs of ivories, and while some looked as if they had no chewing machinery at all, others appeared as if they might only have played centre rush on a modern foot-ball team.

For years now Spain has sent men and gun-boats down to Mindanao to wipe out the savages and bring the island under complete subjection,but without avail. Young boys from the north have been drafted into native regiments to go south on this fatal errand. The prisons of Manila have been emptied and the convicts, armed with bolos or meat-choppers, havefollowed their more righteous bretheren to the front. Well-trained native troops have gone there; Spanish troops have gone; officers have tried it, but to no end. If, in the storming of some Moro stronghold, a dozen miles back inland from the beach, the convicts in the front rank were cut to pieces by the enemy, it was of no importance. If the drafted youths are slaughtered there were more at home. If the natives failed to carry the charge, things began to look serious. But if the Spanish companies were touched, it was time to flee. Such have been the tactics in this great grave-yard, and where the Moros lost the day, fewer stepped in and won. The towns along the coast are Spain's, but the interior still swarms with savages, who are there to dispute her advance and are daily tramping over the graves of many of her ssoldiers.

We left Moro land at eight o'clock in the evening, after dining various officials who came aboard to see what they could get to eat, and by Sunday morning at sunrise had crossed northward to the island of Bohol, dropping anchor in Maribojoc, A small uninteresting place with an old church, a Spanish padre who had not been out of town in thirty years long enough ever to see a railroad or a telefhone, and the usual collection of thick-lipped natives. We stayed here to unload a lot of bulky school-desk and chairs destined to be used by the semi-naked youth of the vicinity, and a few of our company went ashore merely to walk lazily about the village.

Next, a second stop at Cebu for the mails bound Manilaward, a good-by for the second time to our friends, and the Uranus now kept back down the coast toward Dumaguete, a prosperous town on the rich sugar-island of Negros. At ten o'clock that night we were off again, and Tuesday noon ushered us in to Iloilo, the second city of the Philippines. A lot of "go-downs"(store houses) and dwellings on the swampy peninsula made a fearfully stupid-looking place, and the glare off the sheet-iron roofs was blinding. Scarcely a foot above tide-water, Iloilo was far less prepossessing than Manila, but everyone seemed codial, and friends were so glad to see us that we appeared to confer a favor in stopping off to see them.The surrounding of Iloilo are far more picturisque than those of Manila, and just across the bay a wooded island, whose high altitude stands out in bold contrast to the marshes over which the city steeps, gave an outlook from the town that compensated for the inlook over dusty streets and dirty quays. The English club occupied its usually central position in the commercial section of the city, and formed an oasis of refreshment in the midst of the thirsty desert of iron roofs surrounding it. And if any single stanza of verse could have been qouted to describe the feelings of a newly arrived guest, sitting in a long chair on the club piazza and looking off at the bubbling volumes of hot air rising from those roofs, it would have been that in which the poet say:

Where the latitude's mean and the longtitude's low,
Where the hot winds of summer pereiallu blow,
Where the mercury chokes the thermometer's throat,
And the dust is as thick as the hair on a goat,
Where one's throat is as dry as a mummy accursed,
Here leith the land of perpetual thirst."

The afternoon-tea hour is perhaps more carefully observed among the English business houses here than in the capital to the north, and we left the very good little club, with its billiard-tables and stale newspapers, to join one of the regular gatherings in the large office of a friend. But tea , toast, jam, and oranges had no sooner been set before us than the deep whistle of the Uranus sounded, and those of us who were going north had to make a hurried adjournment to the neighboring wharf. Then, as everybody on deck began to say "adios," and everybody on shore "hasta lavista," the stubby little captain roared out "avante" and our steamer started for Manila, two hundred and fifty miles away.

Next morning we got our first taste of the monsoon, and it came up pretty rough as we crossed some of the broad, open spaces between the islands.

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