I must say rowing to Pagsanjan (pronounced as Pag-san-nyan) waterfalls at Laguna bay was much more fun than standing under it. Here is my take.
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“Gentleman first, please” I almost lost my control on those steps to the river. Till now I had always heard “Ladies first” and it has been well programmed into my system so when I heard these words while going down to sit on the boat, it took me off guard.
Okay, I let V to be the guinea pig this time. I adjusted my life jacket and helmet, consoled myself without arguing with the two boatmen. Oh wait ! Gone are the days of wooden boats; it was a locally built fiberglass canoe.
They helped us take our seats on the narrow canoe with me sitting almost on V’s lap and before I realized, our canoe was attached to a motorized canoe which appeared from nowhere. It already had some boats as its wagging tail and then we also became a part. The ‘engine’ canoe pulled us and two more boats got attached along the way. And so our boat train ‘chugged’ forward. 😀
Why motorized canoe? We were going upstream and the flow was strong. We were told the whole stretch was around 6 KMs. The river is not very wide and looked like a canal to me.
Can you see how relaxed our boatman is? One motorized canoe was pulling all the boats.
The atmosphere was very calm with only natural sounds of cruising of long canoes, whistling of cool breeze grazing through our faces, and our oohs and aahs. And yes, an old song of S D Burman “O re majhi” in V’s voice added to the flavour. The water was unclean because of incessant rains till the previous night.
There are only a few houses at the banks of the river. This leaves the nature to bloom at its best. I guess the people who live there can not afford houses anywhere else. We could see people bathe, wash clothes & utensils at the banks.
Children from these houses on both sides of the river waved at us and we waved back at them behaving like a president of a country going on a convoy. 😀
A lady selling cold drinks & chips on her floating shop came near & held our boat.
Once or twice some people came in boat (floating shops) with chips packets & cold drinks and tried to sell, if not for ourselves then for the poor boatmen. Aah ! The concern about fellow countrymen ! Further up were some more floating souvenir shops.
Rowing started & at a distance we see tax collector’s floating office.
The plus point of sitting in the front has its own advantages. I had full uninterrupted view and of course the camera. Occasional drizzles kept playing ‘who is faster’ game with me. But I was also smart… my camera was going in & out of the polythene bag, the moment drizzle started and stopped.
On our way, we also saw a tax collector on a floating platform who dutifully kept record of boats entering the arena and collecting taxes, since this area was protected by the environment department.
Rapids started ! Cameras went into hiding so you can’t see the rough waters.
After around 4 KMs the rocks in the river became very prominent and it was not a smooth cruising anymore. The motorized canoe disconnected from us and left us at the mercy of our boatmen.
But those two boatmen knew their job very well; took charge to take us further up. It’s a Herculean task to row against the flow but they had every skill needed for it. There was synchronization in their job.
V looked up and made a sound in awe of the sight. We had entered a narrow gorge ! Mountainous rocks covered with green trees and a small portion of sky peeping at us! The river became narrow and at some places there were blind turns and we wondered how far the Pagsanjan waterfall was. Not that we were scared, it was just that we didn’t want it to end. Raindrops & splashes continued to play with us.
Big rocks and blind turns awaited us.
From this point onwards there were strong rapids full of rocks and the boatmen had to literally step out of the unbalancing boat, push the rocks by their feet or step onto the rocks and pull the boat ahead with their hands. They knew exactly where & how slippery or sharp each rock was. Their job was so demanding that they took rest in between by sitting on a rock after locking our boat in place with another rock. Probably this is the reason they don’t take more than 3 passengers in one canoe.
We had stopped at a place where even if you yell at your loudest voice, you won’t be heard, it will get lost in those noise of powerful rapids. On both sides were high hills and sun was hiding behind the clouds. No cell phone connection either. Even acclaimed swimmers will think 3-4 times to take a plunge in that cold, rough water.
And then? Oh boy ! Huffing & puffing sitting on a rock Renalto asked me the most difficult question which had most simple answer ! “What do you think of this kind of job?” he looked straight into my eyes. Do you think I could have avoided or said anything in negative ? We were at his mercy and felt like rabbits in front of that human looking lion.
Fine enough. We also appreciate the hard work and we had anyway decided to give a few hundred bucks as tips. But before resuming his work, he made sure to convince us that we can not get away without doing so.
We started again. At this point the cameras went into hiding for two reasons. First, we needed both our hands to hold on to our boats to remain seated. Gosh ! why don’t they provide seat belts? Second, the canoes were rocking dangerously near the rocks and the splashes had decided to give us showers at their whims. Still V encouraged me to click occasionally, assuring & holding me from behind with both hands.
Any one who has seen the movie “Apocalypse now” can visualize the exciting canoe ride. Many scenes from this epic film were shot here and not in Vietnam or Cambodia.
There was no way I could have captured the whole length of waterfall without going further up.
This continued for two kilometers. Then came the waterfall !
Once you reach near it, your canoe is parked near the rocks and you wait for your turn to get into the bamboo raft which would take you under the waterfall. There is a lone shack at this point which sells hot coffee and some chips at some exorbitant price. There were other drenched tourists, mostly Koreans who had their taste of waterfall and now sipping hot coffee and clapping & singing some songs.
The shopkeeper came to us as well. We were warned by our hosts beforehand about the modus operandi of the boatmen and their partners in ‘crime’. These people coax you to buy chips packets for the boatmen who had just braved the turbulent water to bring you here. Once bought, the chips packets go back to the same shop and money changes hands.
Anyway, our turn came and we were asked to step onto that raft. We obeyed them like school kids whenever they asked us to stand or sit in a particular manner on the raft. It was tied to a strong rock lest it starts swimming away from its boring daily routine of ferrying people under waterfall. 😛
And there we stood under it. A strong waterfall coming straight down to meet the river before hitting us on heads. Fully drenched, we shouted in joy. But to me, the waterfall was not as interesting as the journey itself. The waterfall was a matter of just a few minutes and the show was over.
Later we came to know that this fall is called Talahib and there is another bigger waterfall further upstream around 1 KM which is actually Pagsanjan or Magdapio falls ! But it was closed for tourists because of some accident in recent past.
Return journey seemed very short and easy since now we were going with the flow of the river. I chatted with Renalto about their life & day to day activities.
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