From Madras to Manila

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Los Banos and Pagsanhan

We set out one early morning headed to Los Banos, which is the Spanish word for ‘The baths’. I was very excited, quite naturally, at the prospect of going to places made famous by innumerable Victorian era novel s (BTW, do read Georgette Heyer if you like these kinda books. She is droll, and all her books have completely mad protagonists). So we arrived, Amit &I, a sleepy cousin and a very excited aunt at 9 am at a pretty, but non-descript town at the foot of McKinley. This is only time Lonely Planet ever let us down. They had highly recommended 2-3 hot spring resorts – all of them were extremely average places with extremely lukewarm water, and very sad hot water tubs (can’t bring myself to call them pools). We bravely persevered, though, going from one ‘resort’ (All homes, even ones the size of a studio apt have been converted to resorts) to another…in the hope of finding the perfect place to relax…not finding anything at all, we finally gave up at around 11 am.

We then drove to Pagsanhan, which is famous for its waterfall. We stopped by at Jollibee (the very worthy, omni-present local competitor to McDonalds ) to grab a bite. We started driving into the parking lot, when out of nowhere, atleast 10 men surrounded us waving and yelling ‘boat ride, boat ride, very cheap’ . Even my aunt, a hardened Indian, was a little stunned. All thru her trip she was enraptured by the legendary pinoy friendliness. This was menacing in comparison!

We eventually started on a narrow dirt path to the waterfalls with a bike (again waving boatride) in hot pursuit ….they followed us all the way and told us we were headed in the wrong direction. Our driver checked, and yes, we were on the wrong road. So we followed the bike(an unusual sight in Pagsanhan - its always the other way around)…we soon stopped in front of a run down building abutting the river…and pretty soon found ourselves agreeing to take a ride up to the falls in a canoe.

Apparently many tourists have been taken for a ride …everywhere we found signs with the official rate(660 person, 2 to a canoe) and a hotline to report harassment & forced tipping!

So we paid, and got in. As soon we did, the boatmen started off about how the fee does not include the boatmen’s pay. Amit made some witty remark about the canoe flying to the falls at 660 pesos…but sadly this was lost on the boatman. For the next 10 minutes, they went on abt the fees. When we said no, they got us to a ‘toll booth’ on the river asking us to pay. At this point I sorta lost it and pointed out the hotline number. After that, the boatmen stopped asking for more every minute. Request now came every 5 minutes!

But the irritating boatmen aside, the ride up was beautiful. The river winds its way deep into a gorge. Verdant green. Not too many tourists. Little canoe to take you places. Really Nice. See pic!

Ride downstream was spectacular – sort of quasi rapids & safe thrills of pseudo white water rafting. It’s an absolutely exhilarating experience, albeit a shirt one. I’ve been rafting before, this doesn’t compare but is highly recommended for a day tour or if u wanna take your folks. Safe fun.


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