Shooting the Rapids at Pagsanjan Falls (Pagsanjan and Cavinti, Laguna)

Pagsanjan Falls (see video)

The next day, after breakfast at our apartel, Jessica, Desiree, Ann, Joy, Jandy and I, with our guide Mr. Ramon Cabelo (retired municipal tourism officer), made our way to boat landing at Casa Chiesa for our “shooting the rapids” boat trip to Pagsanjan Falls, the star attraction of Laguna province. The site is under the supervision of the Parks and Wildlife Office of the Bureau of Forest Development.

Waiting for our boat ride at Casa Chiesa. L-R: the author, son Jandy Layug, Ms. Jessica Bez, Ms. Joy Tenedero, Ms. Julie Ann Zafe and Ms. Desiree Benitez

The falls is actually located at the rugged highlands of Brgy. Anglas in Cavinti, 3 miles outside Pagsanjan town, where it is called Magdapio Falls.  However, the only passable route to it is the Bumbungan River of Pagsanjan. Pagsanjan Falls drops water from Cavinti River which is crossed by the overflow spillway on the road going to Lumot.  Facing upstream, the left bank of the river belongs to Lumban and the right bank belongs to Cavinti.

The legend of Pagsanjan Falls:

According to legend, there was only the river and no falls.  There were two brothers, Balubad and Magadapio, who lived by the river.  One day, the river dried up, the land dried up and plants and trees died.  Balubad, the weaker of the two brothers, eventually died.  He was buried near the mouth of the lake at the foot of the mountain (now called Balubad).  In his thirst, Magdapio went up the gorge with his bamboo stick to survey the area.  Finding it dry, he cried out in anger, hurling the stick at the rocks.  Water soon gushed from where the stick struck the ground and soon flowed in a torrent forming the falls. Magdapio fell on his knees and thanked the Lord.  He drank the cool waters and regained his strength.

The first written account of a trip to the falls was written by American trader Joseph E. Stevens from Boston who made the trip on March 22, 1894, Holy Thursday.

The boat landing

We decided to “shoot the rapids” early morning to avoid the rush of excursionists from Manila. The boat ride fee comes up PhP1,250 per passenger (includes personal injury insurance, hospitalization insurance, expenses for the helmet, life jacket, seat cushion, and a Cavinti entrance fee of P250 which entails a bamboo raft ride), with a maximum of three passengers per boat.

All suited up and raring to go

We were all required to wear life vests and a sports helmet or hard hat as the boat sometimes moves close to big rocks which your head might hit.  Also, falling objects, such as small stones, may fall down from atop the gorge.  Our boats were provided with seat cushions for our seating comfort. The boat had no outrigger so getting into our boat required balance.

On our way ……

Joy, Jessica and Ann rode on the first boat, with bankeros (boatmen) Russel Abary and Jeffrey Leron, while Jandy, Desiree and I rode the second with Antolin Penaloza and Roderick Equiz.  The four were among 1,974 registered bankeros in the town.  To be certified, every boatman must undergo rigorous training of at least one month. Our boatman already had 20 years experience behind him.

Picnic huts along the riverbank near first rapids

Our rather slow river journey upstream to the falls started from Brgy. Pinagsanjan, near Magdapio Bridge. Our long fiberglass bancas were initially towed by a motorized banca to the first set of rapids.

The rapids of the Bumbungan River

Our journey upstream was to last more than an hour. Our two boatmen had to paddle against the current to push the boat or use their feet to kick the rocks and propel the boat.  We were constantly reminded to keep you hands inside the boat as you could easily lose a finger here.

Negotiating the rapids (see video)

At places where the rocks were too many and the water too shallow, our boat slid over steel pipes placed at proper intervals.  Along the way, we made a stopover at Talahib Falls in Sitio Talahib, Brgy. Caliraya (Lumban), about 900 m. downstream of Pagsanjan Falls, to admire its natural beauty.

Our journey made easier by steel pipes

Talahib Falls is also called First Falls while the Pagsanjan Falls is called Main Falls. Before reaching the gorge and Pagsanjan Falls, our boatmen had to to negotiate the extremely deep waters of a broad bend or curve of a river locally called Kawa-Kawa.

The legend of Kawa-Kawa:

According to legend, the muddy bottom of Kawa-Kawa contains a giant bell whose thunderous peals frightened little children and pregnant women many years ago.

Talahib Falls

The author and son Jandy

The deep, magnificent gorge, hemmed by rocky cliffs 300 foot high, has lush tropical vegetation of vines, wild orchids and ferns. Its huge, natural swimming pool is clean, deep and very cold.  The impressive 91-m. high falls is actually a series of five falls, one after the other in magnificent gradation.  Two of them are close to each other and the last of the quintet is at the base.

On board our bamboo raft at Pagsanjan Falls

Behind the falls is the dark and mysterious Devil’s Cave or “Cave of the Demons” (so named because of the opening’s devil-like face profile).  To get behind the falls, we all boarded a bamboo raft were raftsmen pulled on a series of ropes laid across the lagoon. Once at the far end, we had a glimpse of another cascade on top of the Main Falls. Another rope guided the raft behind and underneath the falls to the Devil’s Cave.

Inside Devil’s Cave

The 5-km./2-hour “shooting the rapids,” the climax of the visit, is the actually the thrilling downstream return trip.  Our boat wound through boulders as we passe the 14 relatively safe but roaring rapids of the Bumbungan River.

The bankeros skillfully maneuvered our boats between rocks, alternately using their paddle or their feet. After the last set of rapids, our bancas  now joined a convoy towed by a motorized banca back to the Casa Chiesa boat landing.

Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Pagsanjan, Laguna)

Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe

This church was first built in bamboo, wood and nipa by Father Agustin de la Magdalena in 1687 using forced labor. In 1690, it was replaced by a larger and more solid adobe church with a red-tiled roof with the help of Chinese Miguel Guan-Co and Aguacil Mayor Alfonso Garcia.  From 1847 to 1853, it was improved by Father Joaquin de Coria, who engineered the stone belfry and Romanesque dome. and its transept added in 1872 by Fathers Serafin Linares and Cipriano Bac.

PHC Plaque

On March 15, 1945, during World War II, the church was heavily damaged by American bombing.  After the war, it was reconstructed, without the original dome, with the help of Pagsanjenos from Manila under the leadership of Engr. German Yia and Dr. Rosendo Llamas. In 1965, it was again restored under Lipa Archbishop Alejandro Olalia and, on April 6, 1969, Bishop Pedro Bantigue blessed the rebuilt church and consecrated the main altar.

Plaque with Decree of Erection as a Diocesan Shrine

In 2012, the church was declared as the Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe by the Diocese of San Pablo. From 2013 to the present, further renovations were carried out, including the church patio and construction of the choir loft and church gate.


The church’s three-level Early Renaissance facade has a semicircular arched main entrance with portico flanked by square pilasters and semicircular arched windows at the first level; a row of three semicircular arched choir loft windows at the second level; and a triangular pediment with semicircular arched statued niche at the tympanum flanked by rounded Tuscan columns and crowned by a triangular canopy (above which is an oculus).  On its left is a three-storey, square bell tower with open semicircular arched openings and topped with a dome.

The church interior

The church houses the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The original image, a gift from Mexico, was stored in the main altar on December 12, 1688 but was destroyed during the American bombing.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe

In 1958, Mexican Catholics donated a life-size image of the Virgin made by Ramon Barreto, a noted sculptor from Toluca.  Another image, sculpted by prominent Manila sculptor Maximo Vicente, is housed on the main altar.

Capilla del Tilma de Guadalupe

The Capilla del Tilma de Guadalupe, a side chapel near the altar, houses an image of San Juan Diego, a replica of the tilma of the Our Lady of Guadalupe and a stone relic from Tepeyac HillMexico City, the site of the 1531 apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The chapel also has a mini-museum containing liturgical vestments of Pagsanjeño priests.

Liturgical vestments of Pagsanjeño priests

Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe: National Highway, Pagsanjan, Laguna. Tel: (049) 808-4121.  Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe: December 12.

How to Get There: Pagsanjan is located 102 kms. from Manila and six kms. from Santa Cruz.

Arch of Guadalupe (Pagsanjan, Laguna)

Arch of Guadalupe: western facade

The Arch of Guadalupe, also called Arco Real or Puerto Real, is the imposing town gate.   To express gratitude to their patroness, the Our Lady of Guadalupe, from protecting the town from bandits in 1877, the people of Pagsanjan built this arch, through forced labor or polo y servicio, from 1878 to 1880 under the supervision of Franciscan Fr. Cipriano Bas and Don Manuel de Yriarte.

Eastern facade

With permission from the National Historic Institute (now National Historical Commission of the Philippines), the arch was restored under the supervision of Engr. Tito Rivera and was completed on May 25, 1975.

The word “Pagsanjan” with “1878-1880” below it. Above it are two Castillan lions and the royal coat-of-arms of Spain

Made with adobe stone, lime and carabao milk, it has three Roman arches, the taller central arch flanked by paired (single at the ends) Tuscan pilasters (on the western facade only), and is topped by two Castillan lions guarding Spain’s royal coat-of-arms (or escutcheon). The word “Pagsanjan” and “1878–1880,” the years of its construction, are written below it on the upper part of the gate’s western facade.

PHC PLaque

Arch of Guadalupe: National Highway, Pagsanjan, Laguna

How to Get There: the arch is located along the National Highway to Sta. Cruz, at the western entrance of the town, leading to Rizal Street (formerly Calle Real).

Church of St. John the Baptist (Calamba City, Laguna)

Church of St. John the Baptist

The Church of St. John the Baptist was originally built in 1859.  Its original altar (as well as original baptismal records and canonical books) was burned on September 28, 1862  but was immediately rebuilt by Fr. Leoncio Lopez.

The author with son Jandy

On February 12, 1945, during World War II, the church was burned by the Japanese. After the war, it was rebuilt by Fr. Eliseo Dimaculangan.

The 3-level Baroque facade


The 3-level Baroque façade has a semicircular arched main entrance flanked by fluted pilasters, semicircular arched stain glass windows (St. Dominic and St. Lorenzo Ruiz) and twin, 4-storey (square in the first two storeys and hexagonal for the upper two) bell towers topped by a dome. The choir loft level has a small circular, stained glass window while the broken pediment’s raking cornice has undulating lines.

The church interior

The retablo and main altar

Jose Rizal was baptized at its baptistery on June 22, 1861 by Fr. Rufino Collantes and his godfather Fr. Pedro Casanas.

The baptismal font

The original baptismal font, recognized as a National Historical Landmark (Level 1), including original church items and reliquaries during Rizal’s time, have been preserved and refurbished.

PHC Plaque

Displayed on the left side of the baptistery entrance is a transcript of Rizal’s existing baptismal record issued by Fr. Leoncio Lopez.

Transcript of Rizal’s existing baptismal record

At the right side of the church, facing the entrance, is the Garden of Gethsemane, a small garden with sculpted, life-size images of the Stations of the Cross and a Well of Repentance (Balon ng Pagbabalik Loob).

Garden of Gethsemane

Church of St. John the Baptist: J.P. Rizal cor. Mercado St., ‎ Poblacion 5. Tel: (049) 545-1565.  Feast of St. John the Baptist: June 24.

How to Get There: Calamba City is located 53.3 kms. (a 1.25-hour drive) from Manila and 46.5 kms. (a 1-hour drive) from Santa Cruz. The church is located across the plaza and adjacent to Rizal Shrine.

Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery (Laguna)

The Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery

The Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery

From the Church of St. Bartholomew, Jandy, Maricar, Violet, Lanny and I left the town proper. Just 2 kms. out of the town is the Baroque-style, 1-hectare Underground Cemetery.  The first and only one of its kind in the country, it was built in 1845 by Franciscan Fr. Vicente Velloc. This would be my second visit, having done so 15 years ago. We parked the Toyota Revo at the Shell service station across it.

Plaque installed by National Historical Institute (NHI)

Plaque installed by National Historical Institute (NHI)

The scrollwork-decorated octagonal red brick walls,  18 ft. high arch and 2 elaborate wrought iron gates were still there and remain quite impressive.  The enclosed circular garden is surrounded by 240 (120 on each side) above-ground, apartment-type niches similar to Manila’s Paco Cemetery.

The scrollwork-decorated octagonal red brick walls and 18 ft. high arch

The scrollwork-decorated octagonal red brick walls and 18 ft. high arch

Maricar, Violet and Lanny

Maricar, Violet and Lanny

The oldest niche is dated 1886 and the last interment was in 1982, nine years (August 1, 1973) after it was declared as a National Historical Landmark by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 260 (with amendments on June 11, 1978 by virtue of Administrative Order 1505). Its historical marker was only unveiled on October 24, 1981.

The above ground crypts

The above ground crypts

Underground Cemetery (9)

Traversing the red tiled walkway, we entered the dome-like cemetery chapel, used for requiem or funeral mass, which was built in a strange arabesque style and has blue and  white tiles. Inside is the Sto. Entierro, the glass bier of the dead Christ. The planked ceiling which was water-damaged during my first visit was now partially repaired.

Father and son in front of the chapel

Father and son in front of the chapel

The interior of chapel

The interior of chapel

We went down one of the two stairways leading 15 ft. down to the underground crypt which contain 36 tombs (housing the remains of Spanish friars and prominent people), arranged in 4 walls with burial plaques.   Unlike my first visit, I was now allowed to take pictures (but no flash).  Back at the chapel, we signed the customary guest book and left.

The underground crypts

The underground crypts

Underground crypt

Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery: Brgy. Bambang, Nagcarlan, Laguna.  Open Tuesdays to Sundays. Admission is free.  Donations are needed and welcomed.

Church of St. Bartholomew (Nagcarlan, Laguna)

From Liliw, Jandy, Maricar, Violet, Lanny and I continued on our way to the next Laguna  town of Nagcarlan.  This historic mission town was founded in 1583 by Franciscan Fr. Tomas de Miranda (known in history to have planted the first grains of wheat in the country). It became an independent municipality in 1595.  This would be my second visit to this town, my first being 15 years ago (April 4, 1999).

Church of St. Bartolomew

Church of St. Bartholomew

Church of St. Bartolomew (6)

As such, I was excited to revisit the town’s prominent landmarks – the Church of St. Bartholomew and the Underground Cemetery, both of which were featured in my articles written for the defunct  TODAY (now Manila Standard TODAY) as well as in my first book “A Philippine Odyssey: A Collection of Featured Travel Articles” (New Day Publishers, 2005) and a previous blog entry  in B.L.A.S.T..  My photos of these places were taken with roll film then.

The church interior

The church interior

Being a long time ago, a lot has changed with the town.  For one, there were now many one way-streets and it took some time, and patience, before we reached the church located opposite the market but far from the municipal hall (which is nearer to the Underground Cemetery).

The church retablo

The church retablo

Violet, Jandy and Lanny at church entrance

Violet, Jandy and Lanny at the church entrance

Restored in “Laguna Baroque” style by Fr. Vicente Velloc (the same priest who built the Underground Cemetery), its impressive brick facade features super-positioned orders consisting of coupled columns on the first level and single columns (reaching only halfway on the walls) on the second.  Its pediment has a Baroque-inspired slightly curved raking cornice.

The unusual 4-storey bell tower

The unusual 4-storey bell tower

The unusual, 4-storey bell tower, built by Fr. Fernando de la Puebla,  is topped by Muslim-inspired crenelations.  Unlike in Pagbilao (Quezon) and Majayjay, we weren’t able to climb it as the door leading up to its stairs was locked.

The plaque installed by the National Historical Institute (NHI)

The plaque installed by the Historical Research and Markers Committee

How To Get There: Nagcarlan is located 102 kms. from Manila, 106 kms. from Sta. Cruz and 8.7 kms. from Majayjay.

Church of St. John the Baptist (Liliw, Laguna)

After lunch at Liliw Fast Food, I took advantage of a lull in the rain and walked up the road towards the town’s red brick and adobe Church of St. John the Baptist.  This church was first built in wood in October 1620, rebuilt in stone from 1643 to 1646 but was partially destroyed during the July 18, 1880 earthquake.  The church and convent were reconstructed in 1885 but partially burned on April 6, 1898.

Church of St. John the Baptist

Church of St. John the Baptist

The church’s elegant, 3-level Baroque-style facade, divided by superpositioned columns into 7 segments and extending up to the pediment, has a semicircular arched main entrance finished with irregularly cut block of stones surmounted by layers of bricks, a bas-relief depicting the Baptism of Christ by St. John the Baptist on the second level  and a centrally located statued niche on the undulating pediment.

The church's three retablos

The church’s three retablos

On the right is the immense, moss-covered, 3-storey bell tower covered by a dome and topped by a tower.  It has a good view of Laguna de Bay. Inside the church are retablos (altar backdrops) finished in gold leaf. The  4-level retablo mayor (main altar) at the center contains 13 niches housing statues of saints. The center of the lowest level contains the tabernacle. The two side retablos houses 4 niches of saints. A stained glass dome is located above the main altar. Regretfully, the ceiling of red brick and mahogany-finished wood was painted white.

The dome above altar

The dome above altar

Before leaving, I entered a small passageway to the left of the main entrance to visit the Capilla de Buenaventura, a small chapel dedicated to Franciscan Fr. Pedro de San Buenaventura, author of Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala, the first Tagalog dictionary which was printed in Pila, Laguna in 1613. His image is enclosed in a glass case which is believed to be 500 years old. Here, I lighted a bundle of 7 multi-colored candles which I bought for PhP40.  On the right side of the church’s entrance is the church’s Perpetual Adoration Chapel.

Capilla de Buenaventura

Capilla de Buenaventura

The church’s grounds, developed to promote Christian teachings for pilgrims, has a patio with a white-painted statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus flanked by several whitewashed statues of different saints, the child Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

The church's patio

The church’s patio

Church of St. John the Baptist: Poblacion, Liliw 4004, Laguna. Tel: (049) 563-3511 and (049) 234-1031.

How To Get There: Liliw is located 110 kms.  from Manila and 17 kms. from Sta. Cruz.

Church of Pope St. Gregory the Great (Majayjay, Laguna)

From Lucban, we finally crossed the Quezon-Laguna boundary, into Majayjay where we made a short stopover at the town’s Church of Pope St. Gregory the Great.  This would be my second visit to the town, having done so 12 years ago (October 13, 2002) with Jandy. This Augustinian-built church is now listed, by the National Museum, as a National Cultural Treasure.

Church of Pope St. Gregory the Great

Church of Pope St. Gregory the Great

Side of the church

The moss and vine-covered side of the church

I featured the town and its church in my article Hay Hay! Majayjay which appeared in TODAY (November 10, 2002) and a previous B.L.A.S.T. blog entry. Its unusually tall, stone and brick colonial Baroque facade, with its  6-m. thick adobe walls (though still covered with unsightly vines and moss), was still impressive even after all those years.

The church's long rectangular nave

The church’s long rectangular nave

The plaque installed by the National Historical Institute (NHI)

The plaque installed by the National Historical Institute (NHI)

During my first visit, I wasn’t able to explore the church interior in detail as a wedding was ongoing at that time.  This time there wasn’t any wedding as we walked the azulejo-tiled floor of the 60-m. long and 17-m. wide, rectangular nave, admiring  the antique relief statues of saints lining it, the wooden balconies above it on both sides, an elaborately decorated wooden pulpit accessed by a stair, a Sto. Entierro, and the 3 elaborate retablos (altar backdrops) with its pantheon of saints.

The 3 impressive retablos

The 3 impressive retablos

The wooden pulpit

The wooden pulpit

Violeta, Lanny and I were also able to go up the hexagonal bell tower, via the choir loft, just as we did in Pagbilao. Jandy and Maricar stayed behind.  Of equally huge proportions as the church, the  bell tower was supported by unusual 16.5-m. high solid buttresses. The catwalk above the ceiling (called langit-langitan), leading to the crossing above the transept, can no longer be accessed as it has deteriorated.

The dome above the altar

The dome above the altar

Violet and Lanny climbing the stairs going up to the bell tower

Violet and Lanny climbing the stairs going up to the bell tower

Unlike the bell tower of Pagbilao, the stairs going up was sturdy concrete with steel railings.  And just like in Pagbilao, we also had a commanding view, upon reaching the top, of the town as well as Laguna de Bay . The tower had 5 century-old bells. its main bell was said to weigh about 3,000 kgs. and its thunderous peal can be heard 3 kms. away.  

One of the church bells

One of the church bells

View of the town from the top of the bell tower

View of the town from the top of the bell tower

Church of Pope St. Gregory the Great: Poblacion, Majayjay, Laguna.  Tel: (049) 258-1012.

How To Get There: Majayjay is located 120 kms. from Manila and 18 kms. from Sta. Cruz.

Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (Sta. Cruz, Laguna)

Church of the Immaculate Conception

The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, first built by  Franciscan parish priest Fr. Antonio de la Llave in 1608 and enlarged in 1672 by Fr. Miguel Perciva with the addition of 2 wings (giving the church the form of a cross).  It was improved in 1850 by Fr. Juan Antonio Marzo who built the principal nave and convent and remodeled the 5 altars.  The church was destroyed during the July 18, 1880 earthquake and was reconstructed by Fr. Antonio Martin de Vidales in 1881 (assisted by Filipino Fr. Gregorio Ercilla, his coadjutor).

Church of the Immaculate Conception – Interior

On January 26, 1945, during the liberation in World War II, the church was partly destroyed by fire,  leaving only the walls and stairs of the convent.  The present church, a reconstruction in 1948 (through the initiative of Fr. Mariano O. Limjuco), now has an Early Renaissance facade with a pair of large pilasters supporting a plain pediment.  Inside is a bas-relief of the Stations of the Cross, a main altar with a stained glass rendition of the Blessed Mother and the apostle John watching over the crucified Jesus Christ and stained glass depictions of the Joyful and Glorious Mysteries.  On its left is its heavy, massive 3-storey bell tower topped by dome.

Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception: Pedro Guevarra Ave., Brgy. Poblacion, Santa Cruz 4009, Laguna.  Tel: (049) 537-0211.

Sta. Cruz: Laguna’s Provincial Capitol

Laguna Provincial Capitol

It was already late in the afternoon when Jandy and I arrived at Sta. Cruz town, Laguna’s provincial capital and one of the province’s 2 main route centers (the other is San Pablo City). The health, education, transportation, commerce and social services center for the entire province, Sta. Cruz also serves as the business and commercial hub particularly for the predominantly rural northeastern towns of Cavinti, Famy, Luisiana, Mabitac, Majayjay, Nagcarlan, Pakil and Pangil.

Sta. Cruz Municipal Hall

Formerly a part of Lumban, it became a separate municipality in 1602 and was made into the provincial capital in 1858, replacing Pagsanjan.  This town is made famous for its delicious kesong puti (salty white cottage cheese).  This native delicacy, made from carabao’s milk, is cooked in large vats to which salt and vinegar is added till it curdles.  The cheese is then fermented, strained and molded and then individually wrapped in banana leaves.

Church of the Immaculate Conception

Upon arrival at the town, I parked the Revo across the blue and white municipal hall at the town plaza.  The town’s layout seems to be broader than most Laguna lakeside settlements. Sta. Cruz, however, has no natural tourist attractions, only man-made.   Near the plaza is the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

Check out  Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception

Old Provincial Capitol Building

After merienda at a MacDonald’s outlet nearby, we proceeded to visit the Provincial Capitol Building along P. Guevarra St..  Also within the compound is the old provincial capitol.  Our visit to Sta. Cruz capped our Laguna joy ride and we proceeded on our 87-km. drive back to Manila.

Mayor’s Office: Municipal Hall, Poblacion, Sta. Cruz,  Laguna.   Tel: (049) 808-1008