Tuesday, our division superintendent of schools, who is as new to Iloilo as we are, having come down from Manila on the same boat with us, gave us final instructions concerning the nature of our duties and notified us of our station assignments. It fell my lot to be sent to the pueblo of Janiuay (pronounced Hon-eé-wye) some twenty miles up from Iloilo, and we were informed that arrangements had been made for four of us to set out for our stations the following morning with a train of army escort wagons.
Next morning by 8.30 we had loaded our few belongings upon the escort wagons and were ready to set out. The drivers were none too friendly to us as school-teachers but friendly enough as Americans. Each wagon, although only half loaded, was drawn by four husky mules; for the rainy season is as yet in full swing and whatever roads there may have been during Spanish times have been so neglected during the period of hostilities that the mud is hubdeep most of the way. Our train consisted of six wagons all equipped with bows and hoods, which call to mind the pictures of the outfits that used to afford transportation for pioneers going out west. The wagons seemed light and frail, but they were really models of strength; for when they went down to the hubs in the mire, the mules snaked them right along just the same, and they stood the strain.
Speaking of mules, one of. the drivers, who went by the name of “Klondyke” (nobody seemed to know any other name for him), was able to get more pull out of his team than any of the others. It was all done without any fuss, or noise, or resort to the whip. It was merely a matter of encouragement, or exhortation, let us say. Klondyke’s vocabulary –the kind that mules appreciate (which recalls to mind the darky’s statement that the worse one talks to mules the more they are flattered by the attention paid them) –was rich, varied, and powerful; and the mules understood him and did their duty.
As we drove along, we got our first glimpse of the Philippine rural districts. It was a panorama of wonders every step of the way, despite the frequent torrential down-pours of rain. The people live in groups, or rather clusters, of houses, or shacks. The smaller groups are called barrios. Nearly all the habitations are built of very light materials, usually bamboo, and nearly all are roofed with nipa palm leaves or cogon grass. A never-ending procession of men, women, and children trudged along the road bearing their burdens to market somewhere; while many others, clad in nothing but a G-string and a wide-brimmed sadok, which serves both as sun-shade and umbrella, were busy working in the miry rice-fields. Still others drove heavy carts drawn by carabao, or water-buffalo. Once we saw a quilez (a two-wheeled passenger vehicle with springs and a square box top) drawn by a “trotting bull”. The only passenger was a black-cowled native priest, who was smoking a home-rolled cheroot full eight inches long and an inch in diameter.
Six months ago, the country through which we passed that day was still in a state of war and the charred ruins of many a barrio are still in evidence where the torch had been applied. A few miles out from Iloilo was a considerable area where stood the stumps of dozens of coco-nut trees that had been cut down by the solid shot coming over in that direction when Iloilo “got in the way” a couple of years ago.
By dark last evening, we had made sixteen miles, and we spent the night with a couple of army officers in the town of Cabatuan, lulled to sleep by torrents Of rain. This morning, after leaving one of our number at Cabatuan, the rest of us resumed our journey up country. About mid-forenoon, my steamer trunk and a few other odd packages were dumped none too gently at a corner of the Janiuay plaza, the escort train drove on, and I found myself, as it were, like Mark Twain’s city-bred dog, “in the midst of a vast solitude.”