(click here for photos)
Apologies for the delay in the postings. I’m actually back in the US right now, but I’ll continue to write about my experiences in the Philippines. In fact, I have more than 100 pages in my personal journal, and very few of them have been posted here!
I left off at the end of the January, when I had started to meet a lot of interesting people. Sometime in February, I joined my friends Nicole Fox and Brian Wright on a week-long trip to Coron, Palawan. Brian’s girlfriend, Liz Drotos, and his parents also joined us. Coron is part of the Calamian Archipelago, a collection of several small islands northeast of Palawan proper.
On the flight, I was surprised to see that almost everyone was a foreigner! There were Australians, Germans, and a few Americans. One guy was a very gregarious life-long bachelor from San Diego who had recently joined the Navy Sealift Command. He told everyone a lot of funny stories about his experiences on the high seas refueling battleships.
Palawan in general, and Coron in particular, is famous for its biodiversity and beautiful coral reefs. Furthermore, during World War II a surprise attack on a large fleet of Japanese warships left many wrecks around the islands. Consequently, Coron is considered one of the best places in Southeast Asia to experience wreck diving. Our group spent a day ‘island-hopping’ in a bangka, or double-outrigger motorboat, and snorkeling around the reefs. We saw thousands of fish, including lion fish and bat fish. While the corals were spectacular, and the beaches idyllic, I was somewhat disappointed to see damage to the coral from boat anchors. According to a local guide, the situation is even worse in the ecotourist mecca of El Nido, on Palawan Island itself. Furthermore, many of the beautiful white sand beaches were marred by the sight of trash or even glass bottles washed up on the shore.
On the next day, Nicole and I went SCUBA diving in some of the wrecks. I was afraid to go inside the wreck, having only the basic SCUBA certification, but the guide said, “walang problema!” so I did it anyway. We penetrated the hull of the Kogyo Maru at about 30 meters. It was surreal to see the shadows of huge guns and camouflage netting still preserved in the murky depths. Enormous schools of silvery fish lurked in the darkness as well. When we finally came out the other side of the ship, my heart was pounding with excitement. On the top of the ship were many corals and sea anemones. At last, we reached the surface and I said a prayer of thanks that I survived. I later discussed this with an Austrian friend who is an expert SCUBA diver and he was shocked that I went INSIDE the wreck. He said it is one of the most dangerous things to do underwater, and that I was lucky to be alive. The chances of getting snagged on a piece of metal, or blinded by the underwater dust and disoriented, without a clear path to the surface, are too high. While the Kogyo Maru was an experience I’ll never forget, I suspect it might be the last time I take the chance of
going inside a metal cage deep under water!
The final highlight of our time in Coron was getting to sit in on a rehearsal of the local band Tribu Calamianen. The group of about four men played a variety of instruments, including many different kinds of hand-made drums. They even let us try out the drums, and a trio of Spanish tourists joined in with dancing! We all bought a copy of their CD, and if you like you can even listen to one of their songs, by clicking the link here: Tapyas. The title of the song refers to the mountain directly behind Coron Town, which I climbed on the evening before my departure to Manila. Watching the sun set as fishermen’s boats returned to the harbor below, I wondered when I might return to this beautiful place.