Scenic Splendors of Northern Luzon:
The Future Home of the White Man
in the Philippines
The Far East casts a spell over the hearts and minds of man, once drawn within the circle of her charm, so powerful and pervading that, though those of vigorous Saxon blood may tear themselves away from her soft allurements for a time, her subtle fascination, mutely appealing, draws them for all within her bondage.
| ...even as one admits the general attraction of the Archipelago, there are localities which become veritable gardens of Eden to the white man.
One cold bleak winter at home, one season of lifeless trees, shuddering in the fierce winds, one period of sleet and snow and slush, and the very harshness and despondency of existence creates, in comparison, a paradise of that distant land, where nodding fronds of beautiful palms and bending bamboo tower above an earth richly mantled in part-colored foliage, and fragrant with the incense of exotic flowers, kissed lightly by fluttering butterflies, and caroled to by brilliant-plumaged birds, and all this for an eternity.
No wonder that, once within the Siren's toils, man casts himself humbly at her feet, self-reproachful for ever having broken faith and promising to be forever her abject slave.
Perhaps no portion of the land of perpetual summer of the Far East appeals more strongly to the nature loverhe who would drift contentedly through lifethan the Philippines, and, even as one admits the general attraction of the Archipelago, there are localities which become veritable gardens of Eden to the white man.
Such a country is the Province of Lepanto-Bontoc, guarded by the lofty mountains of northern Luzon, a land where beautiful valleys lie nestled in the embraces of green and cloud-capped altitudes, where the diversity of scenery is a constant(2) daylight, and where the climate is a perpetual month of May.
Go with me over the high mountain trail from Cervantes to Bontoc, thirty miles away, and return by the lower or river trail for the same distance, and become forever a devotee of the charms and climate of what is truly the white man's Philippines.
Cervantes, the capital of Lepanto-Bontoc, has an altitude of 1700 feet and is perched on a treeless spur two hundred feet above an amphitheatre-shaped valley of 2000 acres of fertile bottom lands on the one side, while on the other the Abra river rushes seaward over a narrow rocky bed encompassed by superb mountains whose high and undulating ridges are clothed in wonderful greens, varying in hues like a chameleon under the changing conditions of clouds and sun and sky.
Bontoc, the only seat of civilization among a race of head-hunting Igorrotes, is a little over a thousand feet higher than Cervantes, but to reach it we pass over a densely timbered trail, at one point 6,500 feet above sea-level.
| At the foot of the declivity, boiling waters gush out of the rocks, from which the people of the town are supplied daily by the almost naked Igorrote water carriers, with hot water for their baths.
We must travel in the saddle or on foot in this region, as there is not a wheeled vehicle in the Province, and if there were, it would be useless in this country where the trails usually seek the highest level by climbing abruptly out of stream beds to the very crests of the ridges.
On leaving Cervantes, we plunge down to the level of the Abra river, which now rushes headlong and foaming over its bouldered pathway, under the impetus of the heavy rains of the season. At the foot of the declivity, boiling waters gush out of the rocks, from which the people of the town are supplied daily by the almost naked Igorrote water carriers, with hot water for their baths. Moored to the bank is a raft or balsa of bamboo canes, on which we trust ourselves to the swift current, under the skillful guidance of the Igorrote ferryman. The raft is first painfully pushed up a stream to the foot of the rapids, the water swirling between the lashed bamboo poles, and then, with a yell, the naked boatman shove her nose outward, jump excitedly for the long shoving poles and we are off, racing down steam toward the cataract below.
It seems by the sheerest good luck that we (3) succeed in poling in to the opposite bank, and the stern of the balsa sweeps downstream to within a few feet of the next boiling cauldron, as other Igorrotes lustily lay to on the balsa's howser from the vantage point of a big boulder ashore. The passengers who follow are not so fortunate, as the balsa goes cranky and seems to deliberately buck in the water and nearly turn-turtle, casting all the supplies an up-country Chinese merchant is taking home into the river. By the barest good luck, the Chino sticks on the raft, his usually solemn stolidity giving way to an ecstasy of fear until this balsa strikes the bank, when fear changes to a paroxysm of anger at his loss, during which he wildly gesticulates and anathemizes all the Chinese gods ever made in gibbering shrieks. Each little mountain pony swims bravely across, with only eyes and nostrils above the water, carrying an Igorrote astride.
It is six miles to the Igorrote village of Cayan, which is still marked as the capital of the Province on the maps, though the Spaniards gave it up a dozen years ago and moved to Cervantes. Some of the American officers belonging to this new-made government at Manila, do not yet know the difference, creating by their advice some amusing situations, as for example when they advised a school teacher just ordered to Bontoc to go to Vigan and take a carriage from there to Cayan, the capital of Lepanto-Bontoc, over the wagon road running up the Abra river. As there is no carriage road up the Abra, and the gateway to the Province is to be found from a coast-town fifty miles south of Vigan, the poor chap was a little bewildered.
| In the fastness of these hills, the American miners are delving
for copper and gold,
a mineral belt of such magnitude as
if in the United States
would send an army
of gold-crazed men
into the field.
Cayan is 4,500 feet high, and the lift from the river is accomplished in two hours' riding. As we steadily ascend, the Abra river valley unfolds. To the north lifts the pinnacled mountain of Tilad Pass, over which we enter the Province from the coast, and the twenty-five miles which intervene look but a step behind us; to the west, spreads the valley of Cervantes, flanked on the west by Mount Malaiya lifting its crest to the 8000 foot mark. To the north is Mt. Data, a great flat-topped ancient crater, supporting a lake on its summit and losing in the effect of (4) great elevation by its very massiveness, for its height is some 8500 feet, and further to the north and westward the range of mountains forming the watershed between the Agno river, which flows to the south, and the Abra which runs northward, rises in broken masses. In the fastness of these hills, the American miners are delving for copper and gold, a mineral belt of such magnitude asif in the United Stateswould send an army of gold-crazed men into the field.
The Ilocano Presidente and the Igorrote Vice-Presidente, flanked by all the Igorrote Councilmen, greet us at the Presidencia, hidden within a surrounding wall of dark green coffee trees, and beg that we will partake of the inevitable luncheon of rice and chicken, but as our first stopping point is to be Bagnen, ten miles further up the trail, we push on with the farewell shouts of our friends wafted from behind. A new panorama opens to the fore. Under giant Mt. Data spreads a rugged valley from whose center rises an isolated rock-ribbed hillseemingly lost from the surrounding family of well-regulated mountain ranges. Around its base we descry, through a faint bluish haze, the golden roofs of the grass-thatched Igorrote villages of the district of Banaao.
| ...and we have in our immediate foreground, far, far below usoften a full thousand feet downviews
of terraced rice fields, built tier upon tier up
by the toiling Igorrote agriculturist.
We are steadily climbing still, now winding along a great mountain side into deep and shaded recesses, where the tiny mountain rills leap joyously in great bounds down the rocky faces to join their brothers in the deep valley beneath, and then pushing far out onto the overhanging ridges, where, from each barren eminence new vistas of loveliness catch the eye. Mt. Data from another side develops huge waterfalls which pour, from his very flat-topped summit, cascades of sparkling waters in downward reaches of hundreds of feet, and the dashing spray is seen, even at this distance of ten miles, to rise in perceptible misty veils at the foot of the tumbled waters. The trail is of Spanish construction, and is a credit to the engineer who laid its sinuous course up the precipitous and stony front of the dome-shaped mountain we are now climbing. Higher and higher we go toward the final 6500 foot-level where the trail passes to the other side, and we have in our (5) immediate foreground, far, far below usoften a full thousand feet downviews of terraced rice fields, built tier upon tier up the mountainside by the toiling Igorrote agriculturist. Here and there tiny clusters of the worker's houses cling to the mountain side, veritable little jewels of scenic beauty, their yellowed dry grass roofs contrasting finely with the surrounding tall and feathery cones of curving bamboo and the dark green masses of squat broad-leaved bananas.
The rarer air is becoming gradually cooler, and the rocky mountain sides are now bedecked with exquisite Easter lilies, whose pure white slender flower bells are often eight to ten inches in length. There are a dozen other varieties of beautiful flowers of startling shapes and delicate colors, also blooming, but they sink into insignificance beside the stately lily whose huge flowers seem almost to spring from the ground itself, so fragile and tiny leaved is the parent stem.
At the summit the trail passes suddenly through an excavated gap from one side of the mountain to the other, and still another panorama breaks out before us, this time a view far down the Abra valley with Tilad Pass standing like a sentinel at almost the same level we have now reached.
In our immediate foreground are great tree ferns, with their mottled mossy trunks and graceful fronds spreading umbrella-like twenty feet in diameter. The timber has become a mass of dense hard-wood trees, as is usual on mountain slopes at high elevations in the Philippines, and the undergrowth is a tangle of ferns and flowering orchids. Incidentally, the orchids of this region appear in great variety and profusion, and in a day's travel in some sections, it is quite possible to secure fifty different fantastic flowers from as many species.
| At the foot of the declivity, boiling waters gush out of the rocks, from which the people of the town are supplied daily by the almost naked Igorrote water carriers, with hot water for their baths.
The trail winds for miles along the narrow mountain ridge, now narrowing down to a mere pathway with precipitous declivities on both sides, from which we gaze in either direction, on wonderful valleys, from which rise, in the far distance, bluish purpling mountain ranges, over which the cloud shadows chase one another, giving infinite change to the beautiful landscape with every moment. Now the (6) sun pours down in misty golden rays through a great rift in the clouds, and in its radiance some distant village arises in microscopic detail, to vanish an instant after in the next black mass of cloud-gloom.
We enter several miles of pine forests, and through the tops of the tall-shafted trees the cool zephyrs croon a wistful song, and shower down upon us the fresh spicy odor of balsam. Here life truly becomes worth the price of living.
We are going down again, more gradually than the ascent, and following a long declining spur of the main range. We sweep in and out in several great curves and then, five hundred feet below us and a mile to the fore, lies the town of Bagnan, 5,500 feet above sea, its houses scattered far and wide up the artificially terraced valley.
Here again the Presidente and Vice Presidente came to greet us, and we dismount for lunch. How they prepare a meal no longer arouses our curiosity, after having once watched native culinary methods; but the surprise always remains that in twenty odd minutes, one is invited to a table laden with steaming hot boiled rice, fried and boiled chicken, fried eggs, and fine flavored coffee of the country, sweetened with dark brown sugar. This is the regular bill of fare, sometimes modified in season by the addition of sweet potatoes and boiled or roasted young field corn.
The table was covered with the napery of the country, woven by Igorrote women from coast cotton into very aesthetic diamond patterns. Beside the cheap heavy crockery dishes appeared fine cut-glass tumblers, which the Presidente naively explained he had purchased from the Spanish padre at four dollars per dozen; they were worth at least that price separately.
| Its rays change a falling mist into a wide straight band of prismatic hues, several hundred feet high, the blazoned colors changing the landscape of trees and rocks
and foliage into violets and reds and yellows where they fall.
From the porch of the Bagnan Presidencia, which is perched on the edge of a hill, we could see our trail several hundred feet below us, winding down the opposite side of the valley.
Sagada, one hour and one-half travel, was to be our resting place for the night (7) and so we plunged down the abrupt slope, from the very door of the Presidencia, to gain the long level trail we had seen on the opposite side of the ravine.
From here to Bontoc we saw at almost every turn, magnificent mountain cascades. Here the water tumbled off the very crest of the mountain against the sky line, and tore madly past our very feet to pitch again down a wild chasm a few yards away; there another roystering torrent made its impetuous descent over two rock faces, silent as it slipped down the smooth surfaces, and roaring angrily in the great stone basin below.
The afternoon rain is coming up now, and the billowy, fleecy clouds, rolling on one another in confused masses, are changing from silvered sheen to the lurid purple blacks of imminent downpour. As we crowd around one spur-like promontory, a bolt of sunlight from the orb still high in the heavens, transfixes the base of the opposing mountain and lo and behold! Its rays change a falling mist into a wide straight band of prismatic hues, several hundred feet high, the blazoned colors changing the landscape of trees and rocks and foliage into violets and reds and yellows where they fall.
There is not the slightest suggestion of a curved rainbow, but simply a straight band of colors a third of a mile long, viewed by us from a point several feet above it. In a few minutes it has slowly faded away.
Perhaps the most wonderful piece of scenery on this beautiful trail is at our next turning, where we look down upon the Igorrote village of Lubuagan, surrounded by over two thousand acres of terraced and partially flooded rice fields. It is a monument to the antiquity of the place and to the tireless energy of its primitive builders. For a full three miles, the broad valley has been so modified by the hand of man that one can hardly imagine its pristine appearance. Entire hills in its center have apparently been lopped off and leveled to furnish earth for the diked rice paddies which slowly rise one above another to an elevation of five hundred feet. Not content with these engineering feats to secure sufficient food for the populace, the great mountain on the left, rising precipitously for a thousand (8) feet, has been walled up in endless camote (sweet potato) gardens, reaching almost to the summit, and down its sides pour a dozen streams of water turned from their original courses and brought to do service on the agricultural land by miles of irrigating ditches. One canal has been cut for eight miles along the high mountain side for the purpose of watering a single cluster of rice fields. One feels like taking off his hat to people who accomplish works of skill like these, even if their daily garb consists only of a four-inch wide ghee string.
The rain is coming on, driving down this beautiful valley, the clouds obscuring the mountain top, and swirling low down its sides in moist fogs, hiding here and there the meandering trail which clings to the rocky slope, finally passing out of this marvelous valley to the higher and near-by town of Sabangan.
| The trail runs in rivers
of water, and the little horses fight their way up its clayey surface, slipping, sliding, panting until at last Constabulary headquarters is reached and we are safely housed in the barren rooms of this hostelry.
We reach this town windblown and rain-soaked, for our leaky ponchos are not equal to keeping out the driving storm. The trail runs in rivers of water, and the little horses fight their way up its clayey surface, slipping, sliding, panting until at last Constabulary headquarters is reached and we are safely housed in the barren rooms of this hostelry.
Sabangan was at one time this Summer resort of Manila officialdom, and several Spanish buildings were erected to house them and also to provide covering for the clergy. It is ideally situated at the four thousand feet level, in a beautiful limestone country, whose serrated whitish masses rise everywhere, giving, in the dim light of evening, the effect of turreted castles of old.
Next morning, in the early sunrise, with deep blue sky above, we shove on for Bontoc, stopping long enough to discover what becomes of a big mountain stream which rushes somewhere a hundred feet below, into the very heart of the hill over which we are traveling. In the bewildering maze of ten foot grass and undergrowth, we push and stumble and fall down the hill to be finally confronted by a limestone bluff fifty feet high, and have still another view of the point at which this river disappears. We then laboriously clamber back and make a detour over the (9) hills and once more find our way down, this time to reach the rushing river.
It is impossible to proceed along the densely verdured banks, and there is nothing else for it but to plunge hip high into the cold flood and wade precariously in the strong current and rocky bed to the mouth of a limestone cavern.
Inside the noise of rushing water is deafening in its reverberations against the pearly walls of a great limestone vault, its ceiling festooned with stalactites, and extending, we feel quite sure, to within a few feet of the roadway from which we have just descended. We creep inward through the fast thickening gloom, realizing that vault upon vault follow in succession, and we hear the distant waters pounding downward in the inky blackness. We promise ourselves to explore this cavern, with the return of the dry season and low water, and regretfully climb out and upward to the road.
The trail from this point winds for several miles over the rolling limestone summit of the mountain, throwing up here and there craggy buttressed pink and white masses. There are great sinks in the land, filled with rich soil, of which advantage has been taken on every hand, by the Igorrote for agricultural purposes. The waters flowing from the surface disappear in subterranean passages in every depression, giving rise to the opinion that possibly, at some time, a new Mammoth Cave may be discovered.
| We have reached the country of practical Adam and Eve...but they must have been long since dismissed from the Garden, for they toil by the sweat of their brows for their subsistence from dawn to dusk.
We reach the edge of the limestone mountain, and zigzagging through huge verdure-festooned boulders, we begin the first descent toward the Bontoc river, seen in the far distance running as a silver thread between high-lifted and rocky slopes. The descent is torturous, weaving back and forth on the steep mountain side, now cutting a half circle to pass through an eyrie-hung Igorrote village, and now dropping staggeringly down a hill lined with irrigating ditches for the rice fields a mile away.
At the bottom of the gorge is the first bridge on the trail, crossing a torrential stream tributary to the Bontoc river, and built by Igorrote laborers. (10)
One more high steep hill and again down into a narrow defile and over a second bridge spanning a still wilder mountain stream, and we are within hailing distance of Bontoc. The last half mile of trail is blasted out of a rock wall sheer above the river for 150 feet. On the opposite bank and forward the terraced rice fields of the village are in view, and, swinging around the last corner of our journey, a broad fertile valley lies in front of us, terraced from end to end and cut by the roaring river which finds its outlet through the huge mountains to the Cagayan valley of northern Luzon. On one side of the valley lies Bontoc with its five hundred houses, picturesque in its filth and color, and on the other, Samoki, a sister town, equally large and dirty. Along the roadside gather the naked children to watch us go by, giving us a cheery greeting of "Good Morning" in English, which they are rapidly picking up in the public schools of the barrio. The houses are surrounded by dense-growing sweet potato plants, and the fat pigs grunt contentedly in their stone-lined pits, in such close proximity to the houses that the sleeping pens are, in fact, under the floor.
We have reached the country of practical Adam and Eve, for children wear no clothes, the men a ghee-string, and the women a small piece of cloth around the loins, but they must have been long since dismissed from the Garden, for they toil by the sweat of their brows for their subsistence from dawn to dusk.
Two days are spent in a great native canao or feast, the description of which does not belong to this story.
On the return trip we take the lower or river trail, miles away from the cloud-high pathway over which we journeyed to Bontoc, and to recount its marvels of scenic beauty, would be a tiresome repetition of the tale just told. Suffice it, that to the sound of rushing waters and darting crystal cascades, and the delight to the eye of stupendous flanking mountains varied by panoramas of mighty ranges rolling away, from vivid greens to distant hazy blues and purples, overhead billowing clouds and rare blue skies, and underfoot an exquisite panoply of mountain (11) flowers, over which tinted butterflies live out the short span of their brilliant lives, we journeyed homeward, our hearts singing the refrain that here truly is the land of White Man's Philippines.
Numbers in parentheses indicate pagination in the original document.
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