Chapter 7a

Laguna Icon

April 10, 2022

My second trip was to Laguna. I left Manila at night in a banca.

A banca is a boat made out of a hollow tree, with a vaulted bamboo roof which was so low that it was almost impossible to sit upright under it. The banca-builder appeared to have neglected to consider sitting inside.

A bamboo hurdle placed at the bottom of the boat protects the traveller from the water and serves as a couch.

Jurien de la Gravière* compares the banca to a cigar-box, in which the traveller is so tightly packed that he would have little chance of saving his life if it capsized.

The crew were 4 rowers and a helmsman. Their daily pay was 5 reals apiece, in all four and a half thalers, high wages for such lazy fellows in comparison with the price of provisions, for the rice that a hardworking man ate in a day seldom cost more than from 1-1.5 silver groschen (in the provinces often scarcely 3 pence), and the rest of his food (fish and cabbage), only a penny.

  • Voyage en Chine.

We passed several villages and tiendas on the banks in which food was exposed for sale. My crew, after trying to interrupt the journey under all sorts of pretences, left the boat as we came to a village, saying that they were going to fetch some sails; but they forgot to return.

At last, with the assistance of the night watchman, I succeeded in hauling them out of some of their friends’ houses, where they had concealed themselves. After running aground several times upon the sandbanks, we entered the land and hill-locked Lake of Bay, and reached Jalajala early in the morning

The Pasig forms a natural canal, about 6 leagues long, between Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay. The latter is a freshwater lake, 35 leagues in circumference, that washes the shores of three fertile provinces, Manila, Laguna, and Cavite.

In the past, large vessels full of cargo used to be able to sail right up to the borders of the lake. Now, they are prevented by sandbanks.

Even flat-bottomed boats frequently run aground on the Napíndan and Taguig banks.*

Were the banks removed, and the stone bridge joining Manila to Binondo replaced by a swing bridge, or a canal made round it, the coasting vessels would be able to ship the produce of the lagoon provinces at the very foot of the fields in which they grow.

The traffic would be very profitable, the waters would shrink, and the shallows along the shore might be turned into rice and sugar fields. A scheme of this kind was approved more than 30 years ago in Madrid, but it was never implemented.

The sanding up of the river has, on the contrary, been increased by a quantity of fish reels, the erection of which has been favoured by the Colonial Naval Board because it reaped a small tax from them.

  • According to the report of an engineer, the sandbanks are caused by the San Mateo river. It runs into the Pasig at right angles shortly after the latter leaves the Lagoon; in the rainy season it brings down a quantity of mud, which is heaped up and embanked by the south-west winds that prevail at the time. It would therefore be of little use to remove the sandbanks without giving the San Mateo, the cause of their existence, a direct and separate outlet into the lake.

Jalajala, an estate which occupies the eastern of the two peninsulas which run southward into the lake, is one of the first places visited by strangers.

It owes this preference to its beautiful position and propinquity to Manila, and to its fantastic description by its former owner, De la Gironnière. The soil of the peninsula is volcanic ; its range of hills is very rugged, and the watercourses bring down annually a quantity of soil from the mountains, which increases the deposits at their base.

The shoreline, overgrown with grass and prickly sensitive-plants quite eight feet high, makes a capital pasture-ground for buffaloes. Behind it broad fields of rice and sugar extend themselves up to the base of the hills.

Towards the north the estate is bounded by the thickly-wooded Sembrano, the highest mountain in the peninsula; on the remaining sides it is surrounded with water. With the exception of the flat shore, the whole place is hilly and overgrown with grass and clumps of trees, capital pasture for its numerous herds,-a thousand buffaloes, one thousand five hundred to two thousand bullocks, and from six to seven hundred nearly wild horses. As we were descending one of the hills, we were suddenly surrounded by half-a-dozen armed men, who took us for cattlethieves, but who, to their disappointment, were obliged to forego their expected chance of a reward.

Beyond Jalajala, on the south coast of the Lake of Bay, lies the hamlet of Los Banos, so called from a hot spring at the foot of the Makiling volcano.

Even prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, the natives used its waters as a remedy,* but they are now very little patronised.

The shore of the lake is at this point, and indeed all round its circumference, so flat that it is impossible to land with dry feet from the shallowest canoe. It is quite covered with sand mussels. North-west of Los Banos there lies a small volcanic lake fringed with thick woods, called Dagátan (the enchanted lagoon of travellers), to distinguish it from Dagát, as the Tagals call the great Lake of Bay.

I saw nothing of the crocodiles which are supposed to infest it, but we put up several flocks of wild-fowl, disturbed by our invasion of their solitude. From Los Banos I had intended to go to Lupang, where, judging from the samples shown me, there is a deposit of fine white silicious earth, which is purified in Manila and used as paint.

I did not reach the place, as the guide whom I had with difficulty obtained, pretended, after a couple of miles, to be dead beat. From the inquiries I made, however, I apprehend that it is a kind of solfatara. Several deposits of it appear to exist at the foot of the Maquiling.†

On my return I paid a visit to the island of Talim, which, with the exception of a clearing occupied by a few miserable huts, is uninhabited and thickly overgrown with forest and undergrowth. In the centre of the island is the Soson-Dalaga (maiden’s bosom), a dolerite hill with a beautifully formed crest. Upon the shore I

  • They take baths for their maladies, and have hot springs for this purpose, particularly along the shore of the king’s lake (Estang du Roy, instead of Estang de Bay by a printer’s mistake apparently), which is in the island of Manila.— Thevenot.
  • “One can scarcely walk thirty paces between Mount Maquiling and a place called Bacon, which lies to the east of Los Banos, without meeting several kinds of natural springs, some very hot, some lukewarm, some of the temperature of the atmosphere, and some very cold. In a description of this place given in our archives for the year 1739, it is recorded that a hill called Natognos lies a mile to the south-east of the village, on the plateau of which there is a small plain 400 feet square, which is kept in constant motion by the volume of vapour issuing from it. The soil from which this vapour issues is an extremely white earth ; it is sometimes thrown up to the height of a yard or a yard and a half, and meeting the lower temperature of the atmosphere falls to the ground in small pioces." - Estado geograph, 1865.


found four eggs containing young crocodiles. When I broke the shells the little reptiles made off.

Although the south-west monsoons generally occur later in Jalajala than in Manila, it was already raining so hard that I decided to go to Calauan, on the southern shore of the lake, which is protected by the Maquiling, and does not experience the effect of the rainy monsoons till later in the season. I met M, De la Gironnière in Calauan, the “gentilhomme Breton ” who is so well known by his thrilling adventures. He had lately returned from Europe to establish a large sugar manufactory. His enterprise, however, was a failure. The house of the lively old gentleman, whose eccentricity had led him to adopt the dress and the frugal habits of the natives, was neither clean or well kept, although he had a couple of friends to assist him in the business, a Scotchman, and a young Frenchman who had lived in the most refined Parisian society.

There were several small lakes and a few empty volcanic basins on the estate. To the south-west, not very far from the house, and to the left of the road leading to San Pablo, lies the Llanura de Imúc, a valley of dolerite more than a hundred feet deep. Large blocks of basalt enable one to climb down into the valley, the bottom of which is covered with dense growths. The centre of the basin is occupied by a neglected coffee plantation laid out by a former proprietor. The density of the vegetation prevented my taking more precise observations.

I found another shallower volcanic crater to the north of it. Its soil was marshy and covered with cane and grass, but even in the rainy season it does not collect sufficient water to turn it into a lake. It might, therefore, be easily drained and cultivated. To the south-west of this basin, and to the right of the road to San Pablo, lies the Tigui-mere. From a plain of whitish-grey soil covered with concentric shells as large as a nut, rises a circular embankment with gently-sloping sides, intersected only by a small cleft which serves as an entrance, and which shows, on its edges denuded of vegetation, the loose rapilli of which the embankment is formed.

The sides of this natural amphitheatre tower more than 100 feet above its flat base. A path runs east and west right through the centre. The northern half is studded with cocoa-palm trees and cultivated plants; the southern portion is full of water nearly covered with green weeds and slime. The ground consists of black rapili.

From the Tigui-mere I returned to the hacienda along a bank formed of volcanic lava two feet in thickness and covered with indistinct impressions of leaves. Their state of preservation did not allow me to distinguish their species, but they certainly belonged to some tropical genus, and are, according to Professor A. Braun, of the same kind as those now growing there.

There are two more small lakes half a league to the south-east. The road leading to them is composed of volcanic remains which cover the soil, and large blocks of lava lie in the bed of the stream.

The first of the two, the Maycap Lake, is entirely embanked with the exception of a small opening fitted with sluices to supply water to a canal ; and from its northern side, which alone admits of an open view, the southern peak of San Cristoval may be seen, about 73° to the north-east. Its banks, which are about eighty feet high, rise with a gentle slope in a westerly direction, till they join Mount Maiba, a hill about 500 feet high. The soil, like that of the embankments of the other volcanic lakes, consists of rapilli and lava, and is thickly wooded.

Close by is another lake, that of Palakpakan, of nearly the same circumference, and formed in a similar manner (of black sand and rapilli). Its banks are from thirty to one hundred feet high. From its north-western edge San Cristoval lifts its head 70° to the north-east. Its waters are easily reached, and are much frequented by fishermen.

About 9am I rode from Calauan to Píla, and then in a north-easterly direction to Santa Cruz, over even, broad, and well-kept roads, through a palm-grove a mile long and a mile and a half broad, which extends down to the very edge of the lagoons.

These palm-trees produce brandy chiefly and not oil. Their fruit is not allowed to come to maturity ; but the buds are slit open, and the sweet sap is collected as it drips from them. It is then allowed to ferment, and subjected to distillation.* As the sap is collected twice a day, and as the blossoms, situated at the top of the tree, are forty or fifty feet above the ground, bamboos are fastened horizontally, one above the other, from one tree to another, to facilitate the necessary ascent and descent. The sap collector stands on the lower crosspiece while he holds on to the upper.

The sale of palm - brandy was at the time of my visit the monopoly of the government, which retailed it in the Estanco (government sale rooms) with cigars, stamped paper, and religious indulgences. The manufacture was carried on by private individuals; but the whole of the brandy was of necessity disposed of to the administration, which, however, paid such a high price for it that the contractors made large profits.

I afterwards met a Spaniard in Camarines who, according to his own account, must have made considerable and easy gains from these contracts. He had bought palm-trees at an average price of five reals apiece (they usually cost more, though they can be sometimes purchased for two reals). Thirty-five palms will furnish daily at least thirty-six quarts of tuba (sugar-containing sap), from which, after fermentation and distillation, six quarts of brandy of the prescribed strength can be manufactured. One man is sufficient to attend to them, and receives for his trouble half the proceeds. The administration pays six cuartos for a quart of brandy. My friend the contractor was in annual receipt, therefore, from every thirtyfive of his trees, of 360 x Ø x 6 cuartos = 404 dollars. As the thirty-five trees only cost him 21 dollars, his invested capital brought him in about 200 per cent.

  • Pigafetta says that the natives, in order to obtain palm-wine, cut the top of the tree through to the pith, and then catch the sap as it oozes out of the incision. According to Regnaud (Natural History of the Cocoa-tree), the negroes of Saint Thomas pursue a similar method in the present day, a method that considerably injures the trees and produces a much smaller quantity of liquor. Hernandez describes an indigenous process of obtaining wine, honey, and sago from the sacsac palm, a tree which from its stunted growth wonld seem to correspond with the arenga saccharifera. The trees are tapped near the top, the soft part of the trunks is hollowed out, and the sap collects in this empty space. When all the juice is extracted, the tree is allowed to dry up, and is then cut into thin picces which, after desiccation in the sun, are ground into meal.

The proceeds of this monopoly (wines and liquors) were rated at 1,622,810 dollars in the colonial budget for 1861. But its collection was so difficult, and so disproportionately expensive, that it nearly swallowed up the whole profit.

It caused espionage, robberies of all sorts, embezzlement, and bribery on a large scale. The retail of the brandy by officials, who are paid by a per centage on the consumption, did a good deal to injure the popular respect for the government.

Moreover, the imposition of this improper tax on the most important industry of the country, not only crippled the free trade in palms, but also the manufacture of raw sugar; for the government, to favour their own monopoly, had forbidden the sugar manufacturers to make rum from their molasses, which became in consequence so valueless, that in Manila they were given to the horses. The complaints of the manufacturers at last stirred up the administration to allow the manufacture of rum ; but the palm-brandy monopoly remained intact.

The natives now drank nothing but rum, so that at last, in self-defence, the government entirely abandoned the monopoly (January, 1864).


Since that, the rum manufacturers pay taxes according to the amount of their sales, but not upon the amount of their raw produce. In order to cover the deficit occasioned by the abandonment of the brandy monopoly, the government has made a small increase in the poll-tax. The practice of drinking brandy has naturally much increased; it is, however, a very old habit.* With this exception, the measure has had the most favourable consequences. - Santa Cruz is a lively, prosperous place (in 1865 it contained 11,385 inhabitants), through the centre of which runs a river, Although the day on which we passed through it was a Sunday, the stream was full of bathers, amongst them several women, their luxuriant hair covered with broad-brimmed hats to shade them from the sun. From the ford the road takes a sharp turn and inclines first to the east and then to the south-east, till it reaches

Magdalena, between which and Majaijai the country becomes hilly. Just outside the latter, a viaduct takes the road across a deep ravine full of magnificent ferns, which remind the traveller of the height—more than 600 feet-above the sea level to which he has attained. The spacious convento at Majaijai, built by the Jesuits, is celebrated for its splendid situation. The Lake of Bay is seen to extend far to the north-east ; in the distance the peninsula of Jalajala and the island of Talim, from which rises the Soson-Dalaga volcano, terminate the vista.

From the convento to the lake stretches an endless grove of coconut trees, while towards the south the slope of the distant high ground grows suddenly steeper, and forms an abruptly precipitous conical hill, intersected by deep ravines.

This is the Banajao or Majaijai volcano, and beside it Mount San Cristoval rears its bell-shaped summit.

Pigafetta mentions that the natives:

  • made oil, vinegar, wine, and milk, from the coconut.
  • drank a lot of the wine.

Everybody was occupied with preparing for a religious festival. , I betook myself, through Lucban on the eastern shore, to Mauban, situated amidst deep ravines and masses of lava at the foot of Mount Majaijai.

The vegetation was of indescribable beauty, and the miserable road was enlivened with cheerful knots of pedestrians hastening to the festival.*