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.

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