I am not quite sure anymore how we came to choose the Philippines as a destination on our trip. But one thing I can say already, it was definitely a good decision. Although, consisting of over 7’600 islands, the country poses some challenge when it comes to figuring out which spots you actually want to visit. For a start, we skipped Manila completely. Firstly, because we have just come from a big city and secondly, Southeast Asian megacities aren’t what I would describe as pleasant.
With this in mind, we laid out a plan that made it possible to visit most of the places that we wanted to see without excessive back and forth air travel.
From Hong Kong we caught a flight to Busuanga Island, also commonly referred to as Coron, which is both the name of Busuanga’s main town as well as the Island just off Busuanga. Got it? – Good. Landing at the airport, which is really just a hut, we were greeted by a group of local drummers and locals hanging traditional handmade necklaces around our necks as a welcome gift. And although we neither organized transportation with our accommodation nor informed our flight or time of arrival, somebody was waiting with our names written on a cardboard and escorted us to the mini-van that took us across the island and to Coron town. Not a pretty town, but we were not here because of that anyway.
Right after checking into the Princess of Coron Resort, which sounds a lot better than it was, and I mean A LOT, we organized an island-hopping tour for the next day. We got up to a cloudy sky and it even started to rain while we had breakfast. Not the best start to a day on a small boat, but as is common in the tropics, the sun soon gained the upper hand and by the time we climbed from one boat to the next until we ended up in the right one, it was already time for us to apply some sunscreen. Surprisingly, there were no other western tourists on our tour, just a bunch of Filipinos exploring their own country; something we want to do more once we are back home.
The rest of the day we just kicked back and apart from a few strokes in the water and the odd step on land to have a look at a freshwater lake in the midst of one of the islands we let the boat people do their thing. We stopped in lagoons for swimming and snorkelling and at a few beaches, at one of which we had lunch that was cooked up in the back of our boat.
Barbara is not exactly a mermaid, so it took a little convincing for her to jump of the boat and enjoy a swim. It was going to be a short intermezzo; after just a few minutes poor Barbara got stung on her arm by some mean creature and her skin burned for the rest of the day. Nature is such a cynical little girl sometimes.
I heard about the diving of the coast of Coron before we got there, in fact, it was one of the main reasons we stopped there at all. The place is most famous for its wreck diving; seven Japanese navy ships have been sunk here during and after air attacks by the Americans in 1944. I wasn’t going to pass on the chance to get some wreck diving experience, and I’m glad I didn’t. I booked a full day with three dives at a local dive center called Neptune Dive Center. It was a small group of nice people that day and the dive master did his part to make it a great experience. He explained to us that the first dive site was Barracuda Lake, a lake on Coron Island. Its brackish water, a mix of fresh and salt water, create a unique thermos-cline that can be experienced visually and physically during diving. Visually, it is possible to see the border between the different layers as if it were a second, shimmering surface. Physically, the temperature difference of almost 10°C is very much noticeable and diving into water almost 40°C hot when you were already under water is a wondrous feeling. Oh sure, I almost forgot about the Barracudas.
Now, wreck dives, how cool was that?! Down at almost thirty metres you enter a sunken ship, gliding weightlessly through the dark corridors and closed spaces only lit by the little sunlight that made it down there and through a hole or crack and the torch in your hand. From time to time you encounter a few fish and once you get out of the dark there are so many different species and whole schools of them around you. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to get good footage at this depth without at least a red filter or serious camera lights. But even though I am a keen photographer, some things just have to be experienced and no picture is ever going to get close to the real thing.
During our stay in Coron, Barbara and I celebrate eight years of relationship. We looked up a recommended restaurant and headed there for a romantic dinner. Or at least that was the plan. Haven’t we been in Southeast Asia long enough to know better? Apparently not. After waiting for almost an hour for our food we inquired again with our waitress and she confirmed what we had suspected: our orders never made it to the kitchen. Slightly irritated we left and entered the next best place, which turned out to be quite a lovely place.
After we ate and paid we sat for a few minutes longer. We left when a gigantic cockroach climbed up the curtain just behind us.
Once again, I wrote way too much. Let’s see if I manage to keep it shorter in the following posts about Palawan.