In spite of the date, which must have caused our two flat tires, we shot the rapids today, at Pagsanjan. Leaving Manila at seven this morning we arrived at the Plaza Hotel–an old house on the town square–where we had our Sunday dinner. That delicious meal consisted of fried fighting cock, underdone native potatoes and the ever present canned fruit. Not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings by drinking water from our own thermos, we ordered beer, which was lukewarm.
After lunch we changed into bathing suits over which we wore long toweling bathrobes. We had been warned of the savage sunburn you can get on trips like this, especially in the middle of the day and early afternoon. Our native boatmen escorted us from the hotel to the river, which, at that spot, was as filthy as all Philippine rivers where they flow near civilization. This one was not only filled with bathers, ponies and carabaos; thousands of floating coconut husks added to the general untidiness. Through this Ham and I were paddled, each in his respective banca, by the sturdy boatmen.
About a quarter of a mile upstream we rounded a bend and came upon the entrance to the gorge; a veritable travelogue scene. Green water churned over rocks between cliffs entangled with tropical foliage where monkeys chattered; kingfishers, flashing blue darts, pierced the air with their protests at our intrusion. All signs of human habitation had completely disappeared. Along the sides thin ribbons of misty water tumbled into the main stream, bringing with them cool drafts of air.
At each one of the six or seven rapids, our boatmen would get out into the waist deep water and struggle to get our canoes over and between the rocks against the surging current. After the first scraped knuckle, I practiced sitting carefully in the center of my little boat with my hands in my lap. Beautiful as it all was, I could not, for the life of me, put the return trip completely out of my mind. Then all thoughts were drowned by a thunderous roar as we reached the head of the gorge, where a double waterfall catapulted into a clear, deep pool.
While the boatmen rested, Ham and I dove into the pool which was delightfully cool and clean. By swimming cautiously around the edge of the falling water we were able to crawl into the cave which was behind the falls. Here the roar was like that in the Holland Tunnel when the truck traffic is heaviest. Even after we were well away from the noise we continued to shout at each other.
Our return trip was over almost before I was ready for it to begin. I had just gotten myself settled and was trying to work out some sort of toe-hold that wouldn’t unbalance us, when, with a swish and a swirl we hit the first rapids. Before I could get my breath we were deposited on calm water. Almost immediately we were joined by Ham’s banca, racing between the sharp rocks while the boatmen knelt in the bow and in the stern, smiling broadly as they wielded their paddles like lightning.
After negotiating the remaining rapids in the same startling manner we paddled out of the gorge into the hot, calm filth of the lower river, leaving me acutely grateful for the expert skill of our boatmen.