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Discovering Coron

Despite the bad weather. Michael and I spent a weekend in the secluded island paradise of Busuanga, the largest island of the Calamian Group of Islands  lying between Mindoro  and mainland Palawan. Our Busuanga contact told us that the sea is always calm in this part of the Philippines, perhaps because of  the island’s unique position.  

img_0500_1large1Landing on Busuanga island is like being welcomed into a lush Australian savanna.  Shortly after we get off the Cebu Pacific propeller plane  and ride the van  to Coron town, we realize why. Riding with us is Raffy, who works with the  local tourism authority. He tells us a very interesting tidbits about his hometown and hands us a map of Busuanga.

The Busuanga airport is situated on the vast tracts  of land comprising the  Yulo King Ranch, purported to be the largest ranch in Asia. The estate was said to be confiscated from the Yulos by a former dictator who brought in and propagated carpet-like Australian grass to feed the Australian Brahman cows that roam freely in the ranch. The ranch has since been sequestered by the  government and is currently  run by Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries as a nature reserve.  

 

The municipality of Coron  is a 45 minute-drive from the Busuanga airport, which is said to still run on generators, because of the lack of electricity in the area. The very comfortable and scenic ride costs us Php 150 each.  Once in a while, we chance upon herds of  Brahmans harmoniously grazing side by side, unmindful of the  egrets playfully landing on their backs. There are local cowboys too, but they don’t dress like John Wayne here. 

 

Discovering Coron

Coron is a coastal town, with a population 30,000, where everybody has a welcome smile. Locals wave and smile at us as if we were close friends. We are informed that the town proper and Coron island are two different places. Coron town is the main town south of Busuanga, while Coron island is a 15-minute boat-ride away from town and is known for several World War II Japanese shipwrecks.

We check in at the highly recommended Amphibi-ko, a quaint bed and breakfast facing the ocean, which boasts of free wifi connection, a Japanese restaurant, a gym and for the adventurers,  land and water sports vehicles. Owned by a Japanese who married a Filipina, Amphibi-ko presently has only 2 rooms and more still under construction. We are welcomed by  Ina the front desk manager and we find out that we are the only guests there.  After showing us our rooms, she hails a tricycle for us.



We take a 5-minute ride around the busy town plaza and then dropped by one of the small cashew stores in town.  Coron is known for its delicious  cashew nuts. We learn later on that the  hardy cashew plant is one of the few plants that thrive in Coron’s acidic soil. Although there seems to be a lot of arable land in municipalities of Coron and Busuanga, we found no rice fields, which is peculiar for a Philippine province.

Discovering CoronThe crew in Golden Harvest Cashews ushers us into their small store and asks to try breaking apart a cashew nut by using this specialized cutter. I almost cut my fingers as I yank the lever to cut the cashew nut in half. Once cracked open, it is then sorted by hand, before it is roasted in garlic. We bought 250-gram packs for Php 100. They are also gracious enough to hand us 4 saplings of cashew plant for us to bring home. We learned later on that it takes at least 15 years for a cashew plant to bear fruit.  We sample the naturally sweet and crunchy nuts as we head for our next destination–Maquinit hot springs. 

Before that, our  thoughtful tricycle driver Mang Ed, with his sound system blaring classic Filipino hits, takes us on a detour to Nueva Street, to buy us  tickets for the spring. He asks us to buy here so we can get the local rate of Php 50 each, instead of the usual charge of Php 100 at the resort entrance.  It was a bumpy 45-minute ride. On our way to the hot springs, we notice that the soil here is rocky and reddish in color and reminding us of our trip to Spain. The volcanically heated spring is located on the foot of a hill partly hidden by mangroves that faces the open sea. We reach the place near sunset, which turns out to be the best time of the day to visit. This attraction is open until 10 PM. 

 

When we arrive, we see couples, families, both locals and tourists enjoying the warm water. We also see a lady in crutches dipping her injured feet into the small pool near the entrance. The 33 to 40 degrees C water must be therapeutic too. There are two hot pools near the spring and both cascade down into a larger pool. Water from this large pool, in turn,cascades down to the ocean.

 

I am quite surprised by the hot water that greets me at the large pool but pretty soon my body adjusts to the temperature. It is  a very relaxing dip. I will not forget the view as I floated lazily from the pool.  Michael and I take advantage of the healing properties of this sulfuric water by dunking our faces into the cascading mini-falls that divided the two pools. Instant sauna and facial! When we  alight from the springs, we do feel an improvement in skin texture. 

 

It is dark when we board our tricycle, but for the other guests at the springs, the party is just starting. Some have brought food and drinks bought from the local sari-sari (convenience store) store that sells goods  imported from Manila and thus the high price. Our tricycle gets stuck in the red mud and Michael goes down to help our driver carry the vehicle up a slope. That’s when we realized why they charge  Php 150 per person for this trip.

 

Although it rained the whole night as we slept cozily in our room on stilts at Amphibi-ko, we are greeted by the  early morning sun! The weather is perfect for visiting Coron Island, with its unique rock formations, caves, and dive sites. We join another Filipino couple from Manila along with Kiko, our boatman,  and two others. The view is breathtaking. I am almost disappointed that my DSLR cannot completely capture all this beauty. 

 

Kiko first takes us  snorkling at the Skeleton Wreck. Almost just 20 meters from the shore, the skeleton wreck is one of the Japanese warships sunken by the American troops in World War II. Since visibility was good this morning, the haul of the ship can be easily seen. It does look like skeleton with jagged edges jutting from the sides. Then, there is the teeming wildlife–corals, colorful fishes and other marine life. And this is just the first stop. I momentarily lose interest in the wreck when I realized that some soldier might have died there and turned to chase the fishes instead. As I swimming with the fishes,  a boatman rowed by our boat. It is from the local Tagbanua tribe and he is the caretaker of the site. The Tagbanuas  have  ancestral claim of the island. They been assigned by the government  to monitor each tourist attraction in Coron and are authorized to collect fees from every tourist for the site maintenanc. We are asked to pay Php 100 each to view the Skeleton Wreck. Mang — also gives us an impromptu  language lesson. I learned that fish in Tagbanua is “Iyan.” 

Tired from snorkeling, we find ourselves docking on the pristine white sands of Island 91, called so because high school batch ’91 had their reunion here. Michael and I  are both overwhelmed by the crystal clear water. The water was almost transparent! As I swim, I see white fishes, no make that translucent fishes, playing close to the shore. A school of them found lunch in what seems like a small white octopus which they are nibbling with delight. 


Soon, it’s our turn to have lunch. Kiko and his friends, who went to the market for us early this morning,  have prepared a delicious meal consisting of rice, fresh broiled fish, roasted pork liempo, Maya-maya fish broth, bananas and mangoes. I kid you not, it is one of my most memorable meals.  I almost never want to leave this idyllic island. 
 
Discovering CoronNext stop is the Twin Lagoons. We arrive at this cove fronting a small natural opening. We are pleasantly surprised two see at least 5 vessels filled with local and international tourists. And this is supposed to be off-season. Since the small entrance renders it impassable, Michael and I swam to the entrance. Some tourists brought kayaks and inflatable rafts. As we go deeper into this big lagoon which is surrounded by emerald-colored hills, we notice that the water is less salty and  smells  stagnant. There are also pockets of cold and hot water intermingling. We swim far into  to the edge of the lagoon only to discover that it opens to the wide into ocean. We feel like we were tricked to enter the small entrance for a Php 100 fee when we could have entered from the other end, but I guess there’s no thrill in that.  It was a beautiful stop nonetheless. 
 
Michael and I were the last ones to go up the boat. A few minutes later we were going down to explore the Kayangan River, acclaimed to the cleanest lake in the Philippines. A Tagbanua named Jason met us and he showed us a map of the lake, which is bordered by the limestone cliffs. We were told that we can only travel up to the small lake near the entrance. The big lake is located deep into the mountains where birds nest and is thus a protected sanctuary. An entrance fee of Php 200 is collected to help in the preservation of this nature wonder.  To get to the small lake, with visibility up to 15 to 20 ft., we had to climb up a steep incline. After a  challenging 15- minute climb, we reach a clearing that faces a lonely cave. It gives us a great view of the ocean.  

Catching our breath, we go down the slope to reach the beautiful lake below.    Since it rained the night before, the lake is swollen with water and it overflows to the bamboo walkway. The water is not as clear as we had hoped but we did see green swordtail fish swimming  by the bamboo planks.  Some families chose to have a picnic there. I just hope they will be careful with their trash. We linger there for a while, tasted the cool fresh water and just took  in splendid view. 

Our last stop for the day is Siete Pecados Marine Park, which is Spanish for “seven sins.” It is a group of seven islets surrounds an extensive coral reef. Even before we could dock, the caretaker of this attraction hurried to us in his small banca. His name is Agapito. He seemed sad because the rains have made the water murky.  We chose not to feed fish from the comforts of the boart, instead of diving into the water. Our boatman Kiko, a Coron native who used to worked as a fastfood crew in  Makati City, catches an angel fish with his bare hands. The reef is obviously teeming with marine life. He shows the fish to us before promptly throwing it back to the ocean. 

The sun is almost setting as we docked on the pier. Lined up on the dock are different resorts. We also see a new  hotel and boardwalk rising up. Things are coming up for Coron.

Discovering Coron

After freshening up, we walked up a flight of stairs to find Tapyas Road which leads up to Mt. Tapyas and it’s famous lookout point. The big white cross at the top of 210-meter mount beckons.  At the foot of the mountain are three boys selling cold drinks. Erwin, Emil and Eli decided to accompany us to the top. It takes exactly 718 stair-steps to get there. There are benches and railings for rest stops along the way. Emil impresses us by using the steel railings to propel himself up. Michael challenges the boys to a race to the top. Not even one-fourth of the way, he stops and laughs at his foolishness, while the kids zoom past him, without even looking back. Erwin, who is carrying a heavy cooler filled with drinks, reaches the summit first and gazes out triumphantly at us. It took another 15 minutes for us to get there. The magnificent view makes up for the tiring climb.  Michael and the boys have a bonding session, while I enjoy the sights
It was dark when we decide to go down. Since the lights were damage in the rain, we go down in total darkness, glad to have the boys for company.  We are  impressed by the politeness and helpfulness of these three pre-pubescent boys.  We notice as we are going down that each takes turn in carrying the heavy cooler. Without even saying a word, one takes the cooler from the other. They do this everyday to earn their school allowance. We reluctantly say our goodbyes at the foot of Mt. Tapyas and we promise to send them pictures of our time together. 
Hungry after a whole day of adventure, we walkup to a fishball stand to sample their fishball, kikiam and gulaman. The fishball vendor Nino is a Manilan who used to work in Mandarin Hotel, Makati. He decided to settle in Coron with his family. He likes the simple life here, he says. 
As we set out for Amphibi-ko, fat droplets fell from the sky and suddenly it was a heavy downpour! Fortunately, a tricycle passes by, saving us from getting completely drenched. We boarded the tricycle,  giggling like teenagers. The perfect end to our Coron adventure.
Estimated roundtrip airfare from Manila: Php 3,000


Estimated cost for a 3 days/ 2 night stay: P2,500 

Island Hopping tour: from Php 1000-1500 


For bookings and inquiries, contact 888 Ticketworld: trade888phil@yahoo.com.ph 
 
 


 
 
 

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