The Former Philippines thru Foreign Eyes
By Fedor Jagor et al
Public Domain Books
[Change of season.] During the whole time I was confined to the house at Daraga, the weather was remarkably fine; but unfortunately the bright days had come to an end by the time I was ready to make a start, for the north-east monsoon, the sure forerunner of rain in this part of the Archipelago, sets in in October. In spite, however, of the weather, I determined to make another attempt to ascend the mountain at Bulusan. I found I could go by boat to Bacon in the Bay of Albay, a distance of seven leagues, whence I could ride to Gubat, on the east coast, three leagues further, and then in a southerly direction along the shore to Bulusan. An experienced old native, who provided a boat and crew, had appointed ten o’clock at night as the best time for my departure. Just as we were about to start, however, we were told that four piratical craft had been seen in the bay. In a twinkling, the crew disappeared, and I was left alone in the darkness; and it took me four hours with the assistance of a Spaniard to find them again, and make a fresh start. About nine o’clock in the morning we reached Bacon, whence I rode across a very flat country to San Roque, where the road leading to Gubat took a sharp turn to the south-east, and presently became an extremely bad one. After I had passed Gubat, my way lay along the shore; and I saw several ruined square towers, made of blocks of coral, and built by the Jesuits as a protection against the [Moro pirates.] Moros, or “Moors"–a term here applied to the pirates, because, like the Moors who were formerly in Spain, they are Mahometans. They come from Mindanao and from the north-west coast of Borneo. At the time of my visit, this part of the Archipelago was greatly infested with them; and a few days before my arrival they had carried off some fishermen, who were busy pulling their fish-stakes, close to Gubat. A little distance from the shore, and parallel to it, ran a coral reef, which during the south-west monsoon was here and there bare at low tide; but, when the north-east wind blew, the waves of the Pacific Ocean entirely concealed it. Upon this reef the storms had cast up many remains of marine animals, and a quantity of fungi, amongst which I noticed some exactly resembling the common sponge of the Mediterranean. They were just as soft to the touch, of a dark brown tint, as large as the fist, and of a conical shape. They absorbed water with great readiness, and might doubtless be made a profitable article of commerce. Samples of them are to be seen in the Zoological Museum at Berlin. As I went further on, I found the road excellent; and wooden bridges, all of which were in good repair, led me across the mouths of the numerous small rivers. But almost all the arches of the stone bridges I came to had fallen in, and I had to cross the streams they were supposed to span in a small boat, and make my horse swim after me. Just before I reached Bulusan, I had to cross a ravine several hundred feet deep, composed almost entirely of white pumice stone.
[Bulusan.] Bulusan is so seldom visited by strangers that the “tribunal” where I put up was soon full of curiosity-mongers, who came to stare at me. The women, taking the places of honor, squatted round me in concentric rows, while the men peered over their shoulders. One morning when I was taking a shower-bath in a shed made of open bamboo work, I suddenly noticed several pairs of inquisitive eyes staring at me through the interstices. The eyes belonged exclusively to the gentler sex; and their owners examined me with the greatest curiosity, making remarks upon my appearance to one another, and seeming by no means inclined to be disturbed. Upon another occasion, when bathing in the open air in the province of Laguna, I was surrounded by a number of women, old, middle-aged, and young, who crowded round me while I was dressing, carefully inspected me, and pointed out with their fingers every little detail which seemed to them to call for special remark.
[Storm damage.] I had travelled the last part of the road to Bulusan in wind and rain; and the storm lasted with little intermission during the whole night. When I got up in the morning I found that part of the roof of the tribunal had been carried away, that the slighter houses in the hamlet were all blown down, and that almost every dwelling in the place had lost its roof. This pleasant weather lasted during the three days of my stay. The air was so thick that I found it impossible to distinguish the volcano, though I was actually standing at its foot; and, as the weather-wise of the neighborhood could hold out no promise of a favorable change at that time of the year, I put off my intended ascent till a better opportunity, and resolved to return. A former alcalde, Peņeranda, was reported to have succeeded in reaching the top fifteen years before, after sixty men had spent a couple of months in building a road to the summit; and the ascent was said to have taken him two whole days. But an experienced native told me that in the dry season he thought four men were quite sufficient to open a narrow path to the plateau, just under the peak, in a couple of days; but that ladders were required to get on to the actual summit.
[Arrival of assistance.] The day after my arrival the inspector of highways and another man walked into the tribunal, both of them wet to the skin and nearly blown to pieces. My friend the alcalde had sent them to my assistance; and, as none of us could attempt the ascent, they returned with me. As we were entering Bacon on our way back, we heard the report of cannon and the sound of music. Our servants cried out “Here comes the alcalde,” and in a few moments he drove up in an open carriage, accompanied by an irregular escort of horsemen, Spaniards and natives, the latter prancing about in silk hats and shirts fluttering in the wind. The alcalde politely offered me a seat, and an hour’s drive took us into Sorsogon.
[Albay roads and bridges.] The roads of the province of Albay are good, but they are by no means kept in good repair: a state of things that will never be remedied so long as the indolence of the authorities continues. Most of the stone bridges in the district are in ruins, and the traveller is obliged to content himself with wading through a ford, or get himself ferried across upon a raft or in a small canoe, while his horse swims behind him. The roads were first laid down in the days of Alcalde Peņaranda, a retired officer of the engineer corps, whom we have already mentioned, and who deserves considerable praise for having largely contributed to the welfare of his province, and for having accomplished so much from such small resources. He took care that all socage service should be duly rendered, or that money, which went towards paying for tools and materials, should be paid in lieu of it. Many abuses existed before his rule; no real services were performed by anybody who could trace the slightest relationship to any of the authorities; and, when by chance any redemption money was paid, it went, often with the connivance of the alcalde of the period, into the pockets of the gobernadorcillos, instead of into the provincial treasury. Similar abuses still prevail all over the country, where they are not prevented by the vigilance of the authorities. The numerous population, and the prosperity which the province now enjoys, would make it an easy matter to maintain and complete the existing highways. The admirable officials of the district are certainly not wanting in good-will, but their hands are tied. Nowadays the alcaldes remain only three years in one province (in Peņaranda’s time, they remained six); their time is entirely taken up with the current official and judicial business; and, just as they are beginning to become acquainted with the capabilities and requirements of their district, they are obliged to leave it. [Handicapped officials.] This shows the government’s want of confidence in its own servants. No alcalde could now possibly undertake what Peņaranda accomplished. The money paid in lieu of socage service, which ought to be applied to the wants of the province in which the socage is due, is forwarded to Manila. If an alcalde proposes some urgent and necessary improvement, he has to send in so many tedious estimates and reports, which frequently remain unnoticed, that he soon loses all desire to attempt any innovation. Estimates for large works, to carry out which would require a considerable outlay, are invariably returned from headquarters marked “not urgent.” [Funds diverted to Spain.] The fact is not that the colonial government is wanting in good-will, but that the Caja de Comunidad (General Treasury) in Manila is almost always empty, as the Spanish government, in its chronic state of bankruptcy, borrows the money and is never in a position to return it.
[Sorsogon earthquake.] In 1840 Sorsogon suffered severely from an earthquake, which lasted almost continuously for thirty-five days. It raged with the greatest fury on the 21st of March. The churches, both of Sorsogon and of Casiguran, as well as the smallest stone houses, were destroyed; seventeen persons lost their lives, and two hundred were injured; and the whole neighborhood sank five feet below its former level.
[Casiguran.] The next morning I accompanied the alcalde in a falua (felucca), manned by fourteen rowers, to Casiguran, which lies directly south of Sorsogon, on the other side of a small bay, of two leagues in breadth, which it took us an hour and a half to cross. The bay was as calm as an inland lake. It is almost entirely surrounded by hills, and its western side, which is open to the sea, is protected by the Island of Bagalao, which lies in front of it. As soon as we landed, we were received with salutes of cannon and music, and flags and shirts streamed in the wind. I declined the friendly invitation of the alcalde to accompany him any further; as to me, who had no official business to transact, the journey seemed nothing but a continually recurring panorama of dinners, lunches, cups of chocolate, music, and detonations of gunpowder.
[Quicksilver.] In 1850 quicksilver was discovered on a part of the coast now covered by the sea. I examined the reported bed of the deposit, and it appeared to me to consist of a stratum of clay six feet in depth, superimposed over a layer of volcanic sand and fragments of pumice stone. An Englishman who was wrecked in this part of the Archipelago, the same individual I met at the iron works at Angat, had begun to collect it, and by washing the sand had obtained something like a couple of ounces. Somebody, however, told the priest of the district that quicksilver was a poison; and, as he himself told me, so forcibly did he depict the dangerous nature of the new discovery to his parishioners that they abandoned the attempt to collect it. Since then none of them have ever seen a vestige of mercury, unless it might be from some broken old barometer. Towards evening Mount Bulusan in the south-east, and Mount Mayon in the north-west, were visible for a short time. They are both in a straight line with Casiguran.
[Sea’s encroachments.] Every year the sea makes great inroads upon the coast at Casiguran; as far as I could decide from its appearance and from the accounts given me, about a yard of the shore is annually destroyed. The bay of Sorsogon is protected towards the north by a ridge of hills, which suddenly terminate, however, at its north-eastern angle; and through this opening the wind sometimes blows with great fury, and causes considerable havoc in the bay, the more particularly as its coast is principally formed of clay and sand.
[Pirate rumors and robberies.] When I reached Legaspi again in the evening I learnt that the alarm about the pirates which had interrupted my departure had not been an idle one. Moros they certainly could not have been, for at that season none of the Mahometan corsairs could reach that part of the coast; but they were a band of deserters and vagabonds from the surrounding country, who in this part of the world find it more agreeable to pursue their freebooting career on sea than on land. During my absence they had committed many robberies and carried off several people. 
[Real pirates.] The beginning of November is the season of storms; when water communication between Albay and Manila entirely ceases, no vessel daring to put out to sea, even from the south coast. On the 9th of the month, however, a vessel that had been given up for lost entered the port, after having incurred great perils and being obliged to throw overboard the greater part of its cargo. Within twelve days of its leaving the straits of San Bernardino behind it, a sudden storm compelled it to anchor amongst the Islands of Balicuatro. One of the passengers, a newly-arrived Spaniard, put off in a boat with seven sailors, and made for four small vessels which were riding at anchor off the coast; taking them for fishermen, whereas they were pirates. They fired at him as soon as he was some distance from his ship, and his crew threw themselves into the water; but both he and they were taken prisoners. The captain of the trading brig, fearing that his vessel would fall into their clutches, slipped anchor and put out to sea again, escaping shipwreck with the greatest difficulty. The pirates, as a rule, do not kill their prisoners, but employ them as rowers. But Europeans seldom survive their captivity: the tremendous labor and the scanty food are too much for them. Their clothes always being stripped off their back, they are exposed naked to all sorts of weather, and their sole daily support is a handful of rice.