It was a hot and humid day in the Philippines for 25 Sailors of C7F/USS Blue Ridge to embark on a Morale, Welfare and Recreation coordinated tour of the Pagsanjan Falls.
On our 80 passenger bus we swung through Manila onto the main highway and proceeded on our adventure. Throughout the drive we witnessed the hustle and bustle of a big city mixed with the rural country side and vast mountains of the Philippines — simply beautiful. At a pit stop, the tour director gave us local Mangos — delicious.
We arrived at our destination a little over two hours after we departed the pier, where we were treated to an amazing variety of local cuisine for lunch — fresh clam chowder, pancit, lumpia, gilled asparagus, fried chicken and fresh fruit. The group enjoyed fresh beverages as well, before we made our way to the river.
We got into our canoes — hand carved from trees — with two watermen aboard to lead the way. We were towed as a group about 2-3 miles up river by a traditional Filipino boat, called a banca boat. The river was as wide as any big river in the U.S. The water was cold and the sun was hot. Everyone was snapping photos and taking lots of video. Along the way, we were greeted by locals on the riverbank and kids jumping from trees. Once we got to a fork in the river the watermen took over. They paddled up river against the current. The transition in scenery was amazing as we traveled through rapids surrounded by sheer cliffs of about 200 foot high walls. The sun was completely blocked. One hour after we left our start point, we reached the falls.
We all got on a boat made from bamboo trees. Four gentlemen pulled us across to the falls. Spanning 70-80 feet up spewing about 1 millions gallons of cold water a minute, the falls were amazing. We went right up to it and it felt like we were in a wind machine as we were getting soaked — it was awesome. We entered a cave, where we were allowed to jump in the water for about 5-10 minutes. Then back onto the raft for the return trip.
Going down the river was much faster; we were all wet, a little sun burned but very grateful of our adventure. We high fived kids on the way back, we watched as families enjoyed a lazy Sunday along the river, and we were in awe of their pure happiness.
What did we learn about this experience? I had a very nice discussion with some of the junior Sailors on our tour. They pointed out how run down the houses were, how the wives were washing clothes in the river, how little the watermen were paid and so on. They said, “Master Chief they have so little.” I said “the view you have is they have little.” However, they are happy; The stuff we have is just stuff — the PS4s, the Xboxes, the iPads, iPhones, and so on. See at the end of the day the people we saw, the people we interacted with are very happy people. On this day, We made the U.S.– Filipino alliance stronger just by saying HI.