We left early again this morning for Pagsanjan falls. Part of the movie “Apocalypse Now” was filmed there. To get to the falls we needed to get from Manila to the area around Pagsanjan, near Laguna. We were picked up by our driver, Al, at our apartment. Surprisingly we were all on time for the 6am departure (including Melody who had been out partying). Al was terrific in traffic and was eager to get us to Pagsanjan in good time. It was about a 2 hour drive down there, though not as pretty as our trip up north. The freeway took us to about 45km from Pagsanjan and we only had to pay one toll. The towns around Laguna were full of restaurants, hotels and roadside stands selling fruits, water toys and furniture. We got to Pagsanjan, a smaller village whose only claim to fame is its river. Al found us a place to catch a canoe to head to the falls.
Now, according to our guidebooks and the med students and residents we talked to, a trip should cost about P1000 or $12.00. So this is what we planned on. We got there and the guy started tacking on fees and charges that were just ridiculous. And we KNEW it was only because we were white people. We gave him a really hard time and even told him we’d leave. He came down in price but not very much – we ended up paying more like P13,330.00 instead of P8000 for the 8 of us. This made our money a little tight. We even asked Al if he thought it was fair, but you can’t trust what he says since he probably gets some commission for bringing us there in the first place.
Anyways, we loaded into canoes – 3 people in 2 canoes and 2 of us in the third canoe. Each canoe had 2 “banqueros” – guys paddling the canoes and guiding us to the falls. They were all very pleasant and we started out into the river. The river was super dirty, with people washing clothes, animals drinking etc, but as we got out of town it cleared up. We were towed by motor boat for the first part, until we came to the first rapid. The rapids are really just areas of lower water level that have been dug out for canoes to fit in. And by fit in I mean just barely – you really had to keep your hands inside the canoes in order to keep all your fingers. The banqueros were amazing though – they’d jump out of the canoe and push off with their bare feet on the rocks. All of them (there’s a huge number in the town) were born in the area and are probably related – they’ve been navigating the river since they were little boys. We had 16 rapids to go up – at times there were poles crossing the path so they could balance the canoes on them before pulling us upstream. We got to the halfway point where there was a small waterfall – the banqueros got a rest (and Erica spent P600 to buy them all some soda and snacks).
The river is in this deep gorge with jungle on both sides. Because we got started so early we were the only ones on the river, which was nice. It was raining for the first bit but soon the sun started to come out. It took us about 1 hour to reach the real Madgapio Falls. This giant waterfall dumps into a pool that we were told is 100ft deep. There was one other party there when we got there. We left the canoes and loaded onto these bamboo rafts. Two guys pulled us via rope UNDER the falls and into the small cave just behind them. (This part usually costs extra but we got it for free since we put up such a stink!) We were able to swim under the falls and enjoy the sights and sounds for about 20 minutes. Then they pulled us back over to the edge of the pool. The water pressure was incredible – and kind of painful. It was just an amazing experience. The ride down the river was much faster and the banqueros enjoyed the ride too. Sunshine came into the valley as we were leaving so we got some good pictures. All the villagers were out now to wave to us (“Enjoy the ride, Ma’am?”) and hordes of Japanese tourists were being loaded into canoes at various spots – some were just as excited to see us as they were to go to the falls. (And they were wearing helmets, jeans and long-sleeve T-shirts? Um, you kinda get SOAKED going under the falls!!)
When we got back to the car they tried to sell us pictures they had taken, most of us refused but Carol gave them the P100 and took one home. Al offered to take us somewhere, anywhere else (we had rented the car for the whole day but it was only 11 am) but we all just wanted to get home and shower. The ride back to Manila was a little longer because of traffic but we made it home by 1pm.
After a quick lunch we decided to try out Greenhills Mall. Now, this requires some skill since one has to take the LRT1 to the MRT3 and ride a ton of stops, then walk about 2km to the actual mall. We could have taken a cab (too expensive) or a jeepney (not too safe) but we hoofed it anyways. Greenhills Mall is known for their amazing selection of cheap clothes, knock-off purses and super cheap PEARLS. The pearls are imported from all over the Philippines, especially Mindinao in the south. We all had some fun and everyone bought something (some more than others, hmmmmm Megan!). We were getting hungry and we were all kind of sick of rice and Asian food so we broke one of my cardinal travel rules and ate at a McDonald’s. The food tasted AMAZING though, and cost less than $2. The McDonald’s also serves fried chicken, rice, spaghetti and Salisbury steak, just in case a Big Mac or Chicken McNuggets don’t do it for you. We ended with an ice-cream treat and then started the long walk back to the LRT. (FYI, cabs cost maybe a little less, but you have to bargain with the cabby, and traffic is HORRENDOUS on a Saturday so it would take just as long.) We are, however, getting really sick of being the only white people around. Everyone tries to get our attention to sell us things, or they stare, or point, or laugh – and it’s just weird since we’re not used to being so “popular!” There was one point where I really thought I was going to punch the next person to shove something in my face!
We got home and are settling in for bed. We realized again today that we saw the entire gamut of Filipino social class – from the homeless on our block to the people living in huts on the river, to the hordes of people buying and selling at the hundreds of malls in the city. Tomorrow is Chinese New Year so in addition to cars, horns, jeepneys, people, vendors and roosters, we're adding fireworks to the mix of our nighttime serenade! We’d also like to wish everyone back home a Happy Valentine’s Day!!!
(Bry – You are my One and Only. I love you and miss you – can’t wait to see you and share this beautiful country with you. –Your Abi)