Chapter 8a

The San Bernardino Straits Icon

April 6, 2022

Towards the end of August I started from Manila for Albáy in a schooner which had brought a cargo of hemp and was returning in ballast.

It was fine when we set sail; but on the following day the signs of a coming storm increased so rapidly that the captain resolved to return and seek protection in the small but secure harbour of Marivéles, a creek on the southern shore of Bataan, the province forming the western boundary of the bay of Manila.

We reached it about two o’clock in the night, after cruising about for 14 hours in search of the entrance ; and we were obliged to remain here at anchor for a fortnight, as it rained and stormed Negrito of Marivéles. The back of his head is shor; and he continuously for that period.

The weather obliged me to limit my excursions to the immediate neighbourhood of Marivéles. Unfortunately it was not till the close of our stay that I learnt that there was a colony of negritos in the mountains; and it was not till just before my departure that I got a chance of seeing and sketching a couple of them, male and female.

The inhabitants of Marivéles have not a very good reputation. The place is only visited by ships which run in there in bad weather, when their idle crews spend the time in drinking and gambling.

Some of the young girls were of striking beauty and of quite a light colour; often being in reality of mixed race, though they passed as of pure Tagal blood.

This is a circumstance I have observed in many sea-ports, and in the neighbourhood of Manila ; but, in the districts which are almost entirely un visited by the Spaniards, the natives are much darker and of purer race.

The back of his head is shorn ; and he wears gaiters of wild boar’s bristles.

FAIR NATIVES

The number of ships which were seeking protection from the weather in this port amounted to ten, of which three were schooners. Every morning regularly a small pontin* used to * From ponte, deck; a two-masted vessel, with mat sails, of about 100 tons burden. attempt to set sail; but it scarcely got outside into the open sea before it returned, when it was saluted with the jeers and laughter of the others. It was hunger that made them so bold.

The crew, who had taken some of their own produce to Manila, had spent the proceeds of their venture, and had started on their return voyage scantily provided with provisions, with the hope and intention of soon reaching their home, which they would doubtless have done with a favourable wind. Such cases frequently occur. A few natives unite to charter a small vessel, and load it with the produce of their own fields, which they set off to sell in Manila.

The straits between the islands resemble beautiful wide rivers with charming spots upon the banks inhabited by small colonies ; and the sailors generally find the weather get squally towards evening, and anchor till the morning breaks.

The hospitable coast supplies them with fish, crabs, plenty of mussels, and frequently unprotected cocoa-nuts. If it is inhabited, so much the better. Indian hospitality is ample, and much more comprehensive than that practised in Europe.

The crews are accommodated in the different huts. After a repast shared in common, and washed down by copious draughts of palm-wine, mats are stretched on the floor; the lamps-large shells, fitted with rush wicks—are extinguished, and the occupants of the hut fall asleep. Once, as I was sailing into the bay of Manila after a five days’ cruise, we overtook a craft which had sailed from the same port as we had with a cargo of cocoa-nut oil for Manila, and which had spent six months upon its trip. It is by no means uncommon for a crew which makes a long stay in the capital to squander the whole proceeds of their cargo.

At last one evening, when the storm had quite passed away, we sailed out of Mariveles. A small, volcanic, pillar-shaped rock, bearing a striking resemblance to the island of the Cyclops, off the coast of Sicily, lies in front of the harbour. We sailed along the coast of Cavité till we reached Punta Santiago, the south western extremity of Luzon, and then turned to the east, through the fine straits that lie between Luzon to the north and the island of Bisaya to the south. As the sun rose, a beautiful spectacle presented itself. To the north was the peak of the Taal volcano, towering above the flat plains of Batangas; and to the south the thickly-wooded, but rock-bound coast of Mindóro, the iron line of which was broken by the harbour of Porto Galera, protected from the fury of the waves by a small islet lying immediately before it. The waters around us were thickly studded with vessels which haul taken refuge from the storm in the ports of Bisaya, and were now returning to Manila.

These straits, which extend from the south-east to the northwest, are the great commercial highway of the Archipelago, and remain navigable during the whole year, being protected from the fury of the north-easterly winds by the sheltering peninsula of Luzon, which projects to the south-east, and by Samar, which extends in a parallel direction ; while the island of Bisaya shields them from the blasts that blow from the south-west, The islands of Mindoro, Panáy, Negros, Cebú, and Bojól, which Nature has placed in close succession to each other, form the southern borders of the straits; and the narrow cross channels between them form as many outlets to the Sea of Mindoro, which is bounded on the west by Palauan, on the east by Mindanao, and on the south by the Sulu group. The eastern waters of the straits wash the coasts of Sámar and Leyté, and penetrate through three small channels only to the great ocean ; the narrow straits of San Bernardino, of San Juanico, and of Surigáo. Several considerable, and innumerable smaller, islets lie within the area of these cursorily explained outlines.

A couple of bays on the south coast of Batangas offer a roadstead, though but little real protection, to passing vessels, which in stormy weather make for Porto Galera, in the island of Mindóro, which lies directly opposite. A river, a league and a half in length, joins Taal, the principal port of the province, to the great inland sea of Taal, or Bombón. This stream was formerly navigable ; but it has now become so sanded up that it is passable only at flood tides, and then only by very small vessels.

harrow st explained taller, islam. Of Surigás

The province of Batangas:

  • supplies Manila with its best cattle
  • exports sugar and coffee.

A hilly range bounds the horizon on the Luzon side. The striking outlines of which enable one to conjecture its volcanic origin. Most of the smaller islands to the south appear to consist of superimposed mountainous ranges, terminating seawards in precipitous cliffs.

The lofty and symmetrical peak of Mount Máyon is the highest point in the panoramic landscape. Towards evening we sighted Mount Bulusán, in the south-eastern extremity of Luzon.

We turned northwards and sailed up the straits of San Bernardino, which separate Luzon from Sámar.

The Bulusán volcano, “which appears to have been for a long time extinct, but which again began to erupt in 1852,”* is surprisingly like Vesuvius in outline. It has, like its prototype, a couple of peaks. The western one, a bell-shaped summit, is the eruption cone. The eastern apex is a tall rugged mound, probably the remains of a huge circular crater. As in Vesuvius, the present crater is in the centre of the extinct one. The intervals between them are considerably larger and more uneven than the “Atrio del Cavallo” of the Italian volcano.

The current is so powerful in the straits of San Bernardino that we were obliged to anchor twice to avoid being carried back again. To our left we had continually in view the magnificent Bulusán volcano, with a hamlet of the same name nestling at the foot of its eastern slope in a grove of cocoa-trees, close to the sea. Struggling with difficulty against the force of the current; we succeeded, with the assistance of light and fickle winds, in reaching Legaspi, the port of Albáy, on the following

evening. Our skipper, a Spaniard, had determined to accomplish the trip as rapidly as possible.

A NATIVE SKIPPER

On my return voyage, however, I fell into the hands of a native captain ; and, as my cruise under his auspices presented many peculiarities, I may quote a few passages relating to it from my diary.

The skipper intended to have taken a stock of vegetables for my use, but he had forgot them. He therefore landed on a small island, and presently made his reappearance with a huge palm cabbage, which, in the absence of its owner, he had picked from a tree he cut down for the purpose.

On another occasion the crew made a descent upon a hamlet on the north-western coast of Leyté to purchase provisions. Instead of laying in a stock for the voyage at Tacloban, the sailors preferred doing so at some smaller village on the shores of the straits, where food is cheaper, and where their landing gave them a pretext to run about the country. The straits of San Juanico, never more than a mile, and often only a thousand feet broad, are about twenty miles in length: yet it often takes a vessel a week to sail up them ; for contrary winds and an adverse current force it to anchor frequently, and to lie to for whole nights in the narrower places.

Towards evening our captain thought that the sky appeared very threatening, so he made for the bay of Návo, off Masbáte. There he anchored, and a part of the crew went on shore. The next day was a Sunday; the captain thought “ the sky still appeared very threatening ;” and besides he wanted to make some purchases. So we anchored again off Magdalena, where we passed the night.

Elefante

On Monday, a favourable wind took us quickly past Marinduque and the rocky islet of Elefante, which lies in front of it.

Elefante is an extinct volcano. It looks somewhat like the Yriga, but is not so lofty. It is covered with capital pasture, and its ravines are dotted with clumps of trees.

Nearly a thousand head of halfwild cattle were grazing on it. They cost $4 each. Their freight to Manila costs as much more, where they sell for $16.

They are badly tended, and many are stolen by the passing sailors.

My friend the captain was full of regret that the favourable wind gave him no opportunity of landing. Perhaps I was the real obstacle.

“They were splendid beasts! How easy it would be to put a couple on board !

They do not have any real owners. The nominal proprietors were quite unaware how many they have. The herd was continually multiplying without any addition from its masters.

A man lands with a little money in his pocket. If he meets a herdsman, he gives him a dollar, and the poor creature thinks himself a lucky fellow. If not, so much the better. He can do the business himself; a barrel of shot or a sling suffices to settle the matter."

As we sailed along we saw coming towards us another vessel, which suddenly executed a very extraordinary tack; and in a minute or two its crew sent up a loud shout of joy, having succeeded in stealing a fish-box which the fishermen of Marindúque had sunk in the sea.

They had lowered a hook, and been clever enough to grapple the rope of the floating buoy. Our captain was beside himself with envy of their prize.