Saturday, December 30, 2006

Culion, Dark Past to a Bright Future

On our 2nd day in Palawan, we woke up early in the morning to catch the boat to Culion. There's a return boat at 4pm, so then again we had limited time. The boat is bigger and there were lots of passengers. The waiting time was a test of patience. We left at 9am, and after 1 1/2 hours we reached Culion Port. I was peeking though the heads of the passengers to view the island from afar.There's a big red church with Alpha & Omega sign on the left side, and a big white eagle sign on the right. I was a bit clueless about both and there was a thirst of discovery. At first, I thought oly a few people inhabit the place, but then I was wrong, the place is quite busy.

The sun was really up that day. With only few hours left, we saw  Busculin Tours and jumped right in. We knew the sites but we don't know how to get to each one of them. They offered us the historical walk and the visit to the watershed. We decided to walk, to get the feel of the place. Before when you say Culion, it emanates fear, because years ago, it's known to be the "Land of the Living Dead". It's a sanctuary for the Lepers but much progress and healing happened on the island. Now, it's quite leprosy free, only a few ones are left on the sanitarium. Infact, it became to be a general hospital, for all of Calamian group of Islands. Where locals get their medical attention. 2006 was the centennial of Culion. Imagine 100 years of events, of vast change and of kept history. When I viewed it from the boat, it reminded me of the Spanish sea side towns, the ones where small houses/buildings peak through lush background. It is picturesque. The port is still clean, according to the scientific explanation from my sis.

Ate Nel and her daughter Laarni, guided us through the walk. In olden times, the main archway divides the leper colony from the uninfected ones. There was a giant clam basin where they wash their  hands and feet with a solution while going in and out the Balala. Before it would really smell bad from the open sores of the patients along the streets. Then we went up to the museum, which they kindly opened for us, because it closed on Saturdays. We really appreciate their effort. Before the building was their laboratory. It's really a must to visit the museum. It will shed some light on the people who come to know Culion. There are lots of artifacts and the murals painted by the Culion artist, who before only paints for shirts. How cool is that. I can't forget the large mural showing the patients with their nurses in a big ward. The patients all have the same sad deep expression. You can even see how they lived their lives back then. I really look up to the people who helped them; the medical group, the priests/missionaries & the government. They gave up their lives to tend the needs of the sick. I could never measure up to their goodness. They say the highest form of love is to sacrifice your own life for the sake of others.

We went to the Church of the Immaculate Concepcion, there the body of their beloved Spanish Jesuit parish priest lie to rest. He lived from the 1900's to the the 90's. We walked up the fort overlooking the bay. It houses 2 canyons. At the rear of the church there is an insignia of Alpha & Omega. It's very unique and deep at the same time. The church is at the cliff, it was built by the Jesuits. Across the church, you can view the PHS/Eagle logo over the hills, with newly installed image of Christ. We passed along the hospital and the schools run by St. Paul sisters.

I had a deja vu of the plaza, I already dreamnt of it twice a long time ago. We also passed by the post office. Ate Nel told us how the letters are soiled with blood, how they were sealed off in a box and sprayed in solution for days before they were sent to patient's  benefactors across the globe. Also before, the leper colony have their own money,made out of aluminum coins. We also passed by the Jesuit seminary and the old nursery. It was really sad to just see how the children and babies get separated from their infected parents. A clear glass divides them in the visiting areas. They can't even touch their own children, fearing they would get infected. Before Leprosy was known to be contagious in a way, air born. But it wasn't. It takes 20 years incubation period, but medicine in modern times has its cures for all that.

After the historical walk, the Dino family drove us to the "watershed", the lush forest. It's pure nature and pure water streaming out of the mountain. The trees are huge and really old. The soil is rich. It's ideal for camping. We even saw a giant vine, no wonder Tarzan can swing from tree to tree. Of what I've seen, Culion has a very high potential. It has great natural resources. If we have more time we'd also be visiting the mangrove forest and the beaches along the smaller islands around it.

They are headed for progress. I just hope they'd be able to take care of their environment, because sometimes physical progress can be devastating. Culion is a place with great history and hopefully would have a great future. We are thankful for the Dino Family, an extensive realization of Filipino's warmth and hospitality. We became part of their family even if it's only for one day.

Coron Town

3rd day, last day, Sunday.

That morning, we hiked up the 700+ steps to Mt.Tapyas. We inhaled the fresh air and sweat a bit. The clouds overshadowed the town that day, so it was a gloomy. On top of Mt. Tapyas, we viewed the town of Coron, the surrounding islands, though it was only few compared to 1.7k islands of the Calamian Group of Islands. I haven't even explored half of it. hehe. 

The place is not touristy, if you come there don't expect  summer fads that some other island offers. If you come there, you become a part of the place or you become a spectator on their daily activities. It's gives a feeling of not being in a vacation but rather  you're just discovering a new place, a new home, and that new home has its plus points, like having a grand white sand beach some place nearby or just having fresh sea food everyday, just those perks. Establishments there sprawl along and towards the bay itself.

 From our trek to the mount we decided to roam around town. The place is busy because it was new year's eve. The market is packed.

That afternoon, after eating our hefty sea food lunch at SeaDive. We went to the hot spring, but just our luck. We travel far enough to be there and found out that it was closed. There was a big question mark on my head that moment. It was totally disappointing. It was a Sunday, family day, and holiday season with lots of tourists and it was close. It was a bad for their tourism. But then again, we cant have it all, we have to let go of the thought that they don't need machines for the spring to function because it was all "natural" and the fact that there were kids swimming in it. So WHY should they close it. Their reason was it was the holiday, they didnt have the hint that holiday calls for more tourist. hmmmp...

That night we went back home, bringing bunch of cashew nuts and dried fish with us.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Coron, Busuanga

Friday, we arrived 4a.m. at Coron. Not knowing where exactly is Seadive, a tricycle took us there. The tricycle in Palawan quite differ in design from the ones in Manila. The seating at the rear resembles the jeepney's.

A big lit up panaflex sign greeted us upon arrival at Seadive entrance. We passed through a narrow passageway and crossed a concrete footbridge towards the 3-storey building.  Seadive is located over the waters of Coron Bay, it was still dark and all we saw was the still waters, but when the sun rose, the vast image of islands/mountains appeared upfront.We waited for a few hours at the restaurant til opening. Bamboo cladded the whole restaurant and the furniture are of heavy hardwood. While we made ourselves comfortable, a group arrived. we met Mang Roberto, a tourist guide for 18 years, with the 3 foreigners. We had a short conversation with him. Having only a few days stay in Palawan, we asked him if he knew an alternative transpo to El nido, because there are no flights available the next day. He suggested renting a boat for  20k for 8 hours trip. We felt like we can't face that 8 hrs ordeal on a small boat, out at sea. So we had to carry on with plan b which is to stay in Coron, than the first plan of hopping from Coron-El Nido-Puerto Princesa. There was another way to get to El nido via ferry available on Tuesdays only.

It was about 9am when we got our simple room. When went to the resto to sched our boat for the island hop. The place was packed with foreigners,we were the only Filipino guests that moment. It was a bit odd; I've never felt foreign in my own land before. They seem to be so used to the place and we "are" the foreigners. They were there for diving. Coron is known for Japanese ship wrecks. We met up with Mang Bernie, hopped on our very white motor boat which is bigger and sturdier than the ones in Boracay. He took us to Coron Island which is made out of massive limestone formations. There are secret passages/lagoons between the rocks. It 's dramatic when we entered the Kayangan Lake; of still dark blue green waters surrounded by limestone walls. It has the title of cleanest lake in the Philippines for years. It's calming, grand and totally beautiful. Then, we had to climb up to the other side to Barracuda Lake which is really, really deep.  Coron Island has  7 lakes.

Our 2nd hop is at the Blue Lagoon,again quite breathe taking, and making you wish you wont have to go home. The water varies in color from light green to dark emerald. The place enchanted and I loved it. We stopped at a very shallow part. Upon the clear water, we saw new corals and sponges. The water is lucid from the spores, as if someone poured oil on it. Just sailing along the island takes much of our time, and it was fun as it is.

I loved the 3rd spot, Banol Beach. A white sand beach at the side cove of the island which is owned by the Tagbanua tribe who still takes care of the place. The sand is fine and the water calm. When we are about to go into the water, when the old folk told us to beware of sea urchins which he spears or fish out to sell. They thrive in the grassy portion. We got to see his half a drum catch. I've learned that pee can cure a sea urchins sting and as vinegar is to jelly fish. Though there wasn't any jelly fish that time. The beach is where we really had time to relax while soft clouds scattered the blue skies.

With few hours left we went to CYC island, out last stop. Mang Bernie brought us far out at sea where the water is waist high. It was fun, a full span of shallow clear water.

That night after the island hopping, we roamed around Coron Town.There are only few places to eat and shops close early. It gives you the feeling that it's not a time to be choosy when it comes to food, so we tried the eatery nearby. Owned by a family, we saw them with bird's nest(balinsasayaw). A very expensive Chinese delicacy used for Nido soup. It costs thousands per gram, depending on the grade. It's one of the products of Palawan. The nests are harvested from the very deep crevices of the limestone walls all around Palawan. It's a death defying job. They clean it and even the itsy-bitsy dirty part can be sold.

I bought some fruit from a stall and asked the lady if she knew how to get to Culion which is our itinerary for the next day. We had to take a boat at the port, which is only available in the morning. Most of the time we spent our time at the deck, looking at the sky, the bay and the town itself. the lighted "Coron" glows across the hills, just like the Hollywood sign, and a few span away you can spot the Cross of Mt. Tapyas. It's breezy, but the downside was the smell of piggy poop in the air. Well, that's life in a rural area, what can be more natural than that.