You’ve probably heard or read about or seen photos of Pagsanjan Falls. When I was very young, my parents went with friends and did what most visitors to Pansanjan do – “shoot the rapids”, the term used to describe the boat ride from the shore through the rocky Bumbungan River and onto the falls.
What most people don’t know is that Pagsanjan Falls is not really located in Pagsanjan but in the town of Cavinti, also in Laguna. And the falls is locally known as Magdapio Falls. A website dedicated to Pagsanjan quotes from a book by Gregorio Zaide. Okay, I’m not a Zaide fan in the context of history but we’re talking about folk legends so let me quote parts of the story.
Long, long ago, recounts one legend, there were no falls. There were only the foliaged highlands, the twin rivers, called Bumbungan and Balanac, and the alluvial delta (where the town of Pagsanjan now nestles). On the eastern bank of the Bumbungan River lived two old brothers named Balubad and Magdapio.
For many years, the two brothers enjoyed a rustic life of peace and happiness. But one day calamity struck. A terrible drought brought ruin and death. No rains came for successive months…
Balubad and Magdapio suffered immensely. Day and night, they prayed for rain, but the gods did not heed their prayers. The older and weaker of the two brothers, Balubad, died of thirst. Magdapio, with a sorrowing heart, buried him on the slope of the mountain overlooking the river delta. This mountain is now called Balubad.
Left alone in a waterless world, Magdapio agonizingly trekked to the upper region of the arid riverbed. He reached the high rocky cliffs, after an arduous journey. To his utter disappointment, he found no water.
‘Ye gods!’ he sobbed bitterly, ‘Where is the water?’ In despair, he angrily hurled down his big cane among the rocks. Suddenly, a spring bubbled on the spot where the cane fell. Rapidly it grew bigger. The fresh waters roared down the canyon walls, soon becoming a booming waterfall.
According to the same article, an apparently geographically clueless missionary visited the falls in 1902 and wrote about Pagsanjan Falls in a newspaper. The name stuck and that’s how this famous tourist spot has been known since.
Right, a famous tourist spot. And what is it like visiting this famous tourist spot? The town of Pagsanjan (the town, not the site of the falls which is Cavinti) is peppered with tourist police and billboards. Apparently, because people come looking for the falls in the town of Pagsanjan, there has to be enough tourist police to point them toward the right direction.
And the billboards? Are they for geographic navigation as well? Not exactly. Many are obvious campaign billboards with the face of Jeorge Estregan (a.k.a. E. R. Ejercito), Joseph Estrada’s nephew and son of deceased actor George Estregan. Others contain warnings that are reproduced in the official website of Pagsanjan:
“Don’t stop and deal with illegal boatmen flaggers running along the road. Go straight to any resort/hotel or visit the Tourist Information Center. Pagsanjan Falls boatride rate P1,000.00 per person, standard roundtrip rate. In case of emergency, harassment, overpricing, forced tipping by boatmen, call…” And phone numbers are provided.
Emergency? Isn’t that a strong word to use? Not really. See, we were among those clueless people who got lost last week. We were looking for La Corona de Pagsanjan and knew it was right by the river leading to the falls. We went to the town of Pagsanjan not knowing that the falls was located in Cavinti. Heck, I was still a gradeschooler the last time I was there. So, we had to ask for directions. We talked to the tourist police who were very helpful and we drove to Cavinti to look for La Corona. We left the main road and turned to a steep narrow lane that went down and down. When we got to La Corona, the guard told us that the scheduled re-opening in February did not happen and the place was still closed.
We drove up the steep narrow road from which we came. Where the narrow lane met the main road were two men in a motorcycle and they were partly blocking our way and trying to flag us. Smart, aren’t they? They knew we’d go looking for other accommodation once we found out that La Corona was closed. And they were already lying in wait. We would have been dead bait had we not read all the warnings on the billboards that we saw earlier. We didn’t even give them the chance to make eye contact with us. We just drove past them.
The question is how did they know where to find us? When we talked to the pair of tourist police, there was no one else within earshot. Did these men in motorcycle follow us or were they tipped by the tourist police? We’ll never know.
The presence of these shady characters is not unique to Pagsanjan. Their kind abound in most tourist areas. In Tagaytay where many visitors want to go on a boat ride to Taal Volcano, these roadside flaggers with their exorbitant fees are a dime a dozen. If it’s not a boat ride or a guided tour, it’s some other service. At the Cagsawa ruins, it’s a souvenir photo or booklet. All terribly overpriced. Some even wore some kind of ID to make them look “official.”
Unethical? Yes. Screwed up? Yes. Bad for tourism? Probably. Criminal? Not exactly. Tourism-related services do not fall within the label “basic commodities” so price ceilings cannot be fixed. In fact, if we consider the exorbitant prices charged by some resorts and hotels, they’d be in the same shithole as those illegal boatmen – they just charge more.
The bottom line? Be smart so you don’t end up being victimized.