What do you imagine when you hear someone say “ride the rapids”? If you’re a fan of National Geographic and Discovery Channel, you might flash back to some episodes where a couple of adrenaline-junkies are holding on to a rubber raft for dear life while maneuvering past giant rocks in the raging river. The ride to Pagsanjan Falls isn’t like that. Instead of that heart-racing imagery, you will get the calm and soothing (almost Zen) upstream ride in the Pagsanjan River as you make your way towards the falls.
The ride begins in the municipality of Pagsanjan, Laguna, 92 km. south of Manila. You will be hoisted onto a wooden canoe, where you will need to stretch your legs and balance your body to avoid tipping the boat. A pair of rowers will then work with each other to manipulate the boat against the current of the river, sometimes getting off to push, pull, and carry the canoe over rocks and man-made bamboo pathways designed to make the journey easier.
What’s even more interesting about the canoe rowers is that each pair is bound for life. That’s because the pairs have already developed their own rhythm for riding upstream since they were children. To change partners would mean a whole lifetime’s worth of adjusting again to the other person. “It’s kind of like marriage. But it’s easier to change your spouse than to change your rowing partner,” Ann Pablo Bechet from the touring service TriPinas jokes.
You will know that you’re already near the falls if you see the picnic groves and coconut trees getting fewer and fewer, replaced by various crawling vines, ferns, wild orchids, moss, and other small plants. The path also becomes narrower as you come across cliffs that go as high as 300 feet, as well as big rocks that the rowers will use to gently push against the river.
The peak of this experience, of course, is arriving at the Pagsanjan Falls itself. That’s when the serenity ends and the adrenaline goes back into the ordeal. The sound of the falls resembles a series of thunder strikes violently piercing the atmosphere and forming a natural static in your ear. Be sure to change into your swimming gear before you ride the balsa (wooden raft) towards the Devil’s Cave behind the falls. More important, be prepared to scream at the top of your lungs as the cold water comes at you from above. Imagine a high-pressure hose pointed at you, only bigger.
Unless you’re an experienced diver and swimmer, wear your life jacket when swimming in the natural pool at the base of the falls. It’s inevitable that you will struggle clumsily and shamelessly against the current. There’s also a line of rope you can hold on to so you don’t get swept away.
The Pagsanjan Falls blends tranquility and energy together for those seeking a pre-beach, fresh-water encounter.
Contact Ann Bechet from TriPinas if you want to ride the rapids. Email them at email@example.com.
-This article first appeared in Expat Travel and Lifestyle Magazine’s Summer 2011 issue.
All photos by Raydon L. Reyes