In order to provide sailors some alternatives to the not very wholesome diversions of Olongapo, the Navy arranged group tours at low cost to areas away from Subic Bay. One of my most memorable experiences during those months was an excursion to Manila and then on to the mountain resort at Pagsanjan Falls. The first day we toured Manila with a guide who had lived through the Japanese occupation of World War II. At many of the locations where important events had occured, he had been a participant or witness. We stayed overnight in Manila and the next morning were bused up to the resort on the Pagsanjan River. The trip took us through some extremely scenic countryside. The Philippines is one of the most picturesque landscapes imaginable.
From the resort we went in sturdy, flat-bottomed canoes, two visitors and two paddlers per canoe, up the river to the falls. The lower stretch of river was like something out of Hollywood: huge lily pads with big flowers floating on the water; lush green bluffs rising to 100 feet or higher on both sides; trees at the edges of the bluffs with branches reaching far out over the river; vines hanging from the branches all the way down to the water, orchid-like flowers on the vines.
We came to a stretch of relatively gentle rapids, becoming more agitated as we proceeded upstream. Several times we had to get out of the canoes so the paddlers could portage them over rocky rapids. Finally, we arrived at a pool about 100 yards across. The water was churned and turbulent from the powerful inflow of the falls. The pool was surrounded on three sides by a horseshoe of rock walls about 150 to 200 feet high. At one point in the cliff face, about 70 feet up, a stream of water poured out, as if from a giant faucet, and thundered down into the pool. This was where the Pagsanjan emerged from underground and became a surface river.
The visitors swam and splashed and frolicked in the turbulent pool. If we tried to swim toward the falling water, we would reach a point where the water pushing us back was stronger than our swim strokes. When we’d tired ourselves out in the pool we got back into the canoes and started downstream, shooting the rapids. The paddlers warned us not to grip the edge of the canoe because we would be rubbing against rocks that would take our fingers off. Half a dozen times I thought we weren’t going to make it down in one piece as we hurtled straight toward a boulder looming in our way. But the paddlers knew what they were doing. At the last moment they would dig their paddles into the gravel bottom and swing the canoe broadside and around the boulder. As we returned to the lazy flow of the lower river I decided I was a fan of running rapids. It was exhilarating.
The only downside of this day was that my canoe mate and I were among the last to return to the resort and found the roasted pig had been devoured right down to a few greasy scraps. We could only scrape up a few veggies, a little rice and a piece of fruit. By the time we debarked back at Subic, several hours later, I was ravenous. I was able to scrounge something from the mess deck where they were serving “midrats” (midnight rations) for the late night watchstanders.