For Love of Coron

There’s no other way but to be in the dark depths…

“Sorry, our flight to Busuanga is cancelled due to sunset limitation!”

That was during our last trip to Coron  17 months ago but we were unfazed, we still went for the trip few hours later aboard the Super Ferry boat.  Undoubtedly, it was a memorable trip and it is always a joy to be back in one of my favorite places up north.  Obviously I love Coron, it is an enchanting town I keep coming back again and again.  I was simply thrilled we were back shortly than original plans.

Taking the last evening flight from CdeO, I waited seven hours for our early morning flight, to be sure from the sunset limitation.  My lack of sleep had taken its toll, I doze off as we got airborne.  The summer heat greeted us as we taxied the air strip to the terminal, we were favored again with the good weather!  With the roads completely paved to the town, the trip was shortened to 45 minutes – the road network is almost completed, definitely a good improvement for the local economy.

Island Pleasures

Seadive Resort has been my favorite refuge but Angel had it arranged at Corn Ecolodge, a new boutique hotel right down town, accessible to any point of interest in the town.  Wanting to make most of our time, we headed to Seadive to arrange for morrow’s dive trip and to get a boat for an afternoon spot hopping.  Kogyu Maru is the last shipwreck in Bacuit Bay we haven’t explored, so we were thrilled it was scheduled for the morrow, with Irako Maru and East Tangat Wreck it was a perfect combination for the next day’s descent unto the depths.  And we are more fortunate we had a cheaper boat fee as three foreigners (based in Kenya) joined us the afternoon hopping, letting us decide the best proverbial sites to visit.

Active marine life in Siete Pecados Marine Sanctuary

We choose Kayangan Lake/Cove, Atuwayan Beach, Skeleton Wreck and Siete Pecados – in that order.  I knew visiting these spots brings heartwarming memories when I first set foot in Busuanga five years ago with DIY friends.  This homecoming is my 5th year anniversary in Calamianes group, also my 5th visit to the town.  I guess I never go tired of savoring its nature wonders and pleasures.  I think the same sentiment is true for the three Kenyan tourists with us.

The trek and the overwhelming view in Kayangan Lake and Cove, the quiet white beach and pristine waters  in Atuwayan which was all to ourselves, the rich marine life in Skeleton Wreck as well in Siete Pecados Marine Sanctuary have filled up our afternoon we barely made it to Mt. Tapyas.  Angel and I agreed earlier for the climb to get a glimpse once again of our favorite hill sunset.  We rushed up, the urging of the golden panorama stirred our desire to reach the summit before the sun hid from our sight – chasing our sunset!  We stood there with our big smiles watching the horizon in its golden splendor until it ebbed down in the vast ocean yonder.  We lingered a little longer until it gets dark waiting for the big white cross to light up, creating a warm glow in the mountain top.  We descend slowly, the moon perfectly lighting up our way down the steps.

Exploring the Dark

The dive shop was already filled with people when we got there the next morning, as usual we were joined with foreigners – a Dutch and American.  Boris (the Dutch) went with us with DM Rene, just perfect as we’re not crowded.  We cruised for an hour for Irako Maru, the cheery sunny weather was just perfect for good visibility.  We did the giant step but the water in the area was choppy, I requested for a brief rest as I got hold of the bouy line. We slowly descend, it was all hazy and there was nothing in between until we caught sight of some solid form.

Descending through the bouy line

As a kid, one of my great fear is the dark but now have dramatically outgrown it,  mystery of the darkness consumes my sub-conscious.  Somehow, wrecks always captivate my senses – there is that urge to rush what’s inside.  We went inside penetrating the darks searching every corner with my torch, for what?  Again, I got distracted I barely noticed the marine life and failed to take any photos.  I was too engrossed handling my torch as we go through compartments, rooms and corners. Practically we have explored more of the vast Irako compared last time, at 37.7m we went deeper inside the wreck.  Our DM signaled for the bouyline just in time that my NDL went 2 minutes.

The light at the end of the tunnel

We cruise leisurely for our next site still within southeast side of Lusong Island  while having our early lunch, as our surface interval. Kogyo Maru is a new site for us , at 158m long it’s another big ship slightly larger than Irako although slightly shallower.  The water was still choppy and I need to steady myself again with the bouy line until we descend slowly.  Just like the others, its body is encrusted with corals with tropical fishes hovering, many specie of soft corals hanging and tangling the steel bars.  Following DM Rene, we penetrated the narrow passage one after the other, Angel behind me as last in the row.   We did find thousand of bags of cement turned rock hard pillows, further we found too thousand rolls of interlink wires now fossilized.  We continued to explore all possible passage until we come out of a hole and swam a bit over the wreck.  We ascend back at the bouy line after 40 minutes with my air still at 110 bars.

Over the shipwreck

We cruise to Tangat Island for our last site of the day, East Tangat Wreck is believed to be either a tugboat or an anti-submarine craft listing to starboard down a sandy slope.  I was grateful that the water was calm already when we got there, a respite from two previous sites being rough on surface.  This small wreck still has narrow passages worthy to be penetrated as conclusion for the day’s descents. Once we lost our DM and as we waited, emerged shortly from a small hole beside the wreck, Angel and I averted our attention to the opposite side and they quickly vanished in the dark.  We found soft colorful corals on its sides, spotted too nudis, sea squirts and huge flatworm. The mast was also encrusted with soft and hard corals. At 40m length, it wasn’t difficult to cover the whole stretch surveying the sides, actually we circled it three times just enjoying the marine life with calm and shallow waters.  We surfaced after 48 minutes with my air still at 140 bars.

Exploring a wreck is always a joy!

It was amusing as I swam back to our boat, when the crew from other boat we passed asked (in Visayan) our DM if I am Korean, laughingly I answered back I am Filipino and speak Visayan.  I can’t blame him, since most if not all clients of dive shops are foreigners.  We cruised back to town with happy faces!  Later we treated ourselves with a sumptuous dinner at our favorite Coron Bistro.

Incessant Passion

Sometimes there is that force inside us that drives one to go frontward , we promised ourselves in October 2011 to visit the islands after five years but we made it after seventeen months, apparently our love for Coron led us for an earlier schedule. Coming to Coron is not cheap, I spent the night at the terminal lacking sleep but it wasn’t a hindrance.  I got blues both in my arms due to the choppy waters but don’t mind it at all.  All for the love of the depths.

Then again, I still have reasons for another visit to Coron – many reasons to explore the eastern side of the islands.  May be after five years we will. May be, who knows…

NB.  Underwater photos courtesy of Angel

Revisiting Coron…

against blue sky

Heading for Calamian

My fascination in Coron has never been put to rest, after two trips last year I still wanted to get back for one lofty reason – to dive and exhaust the remaining wrecks in Calamian. The excitement and challenge in exploring the monsters is nagging my subconscious. So catching our schedules and considering the weather, Angel and I planned for a return to Coron. And as usual there was much to attend to at work, but time management and organizing things have become an art to accommodate more important pursuits much less my dive trips. And I did forego other schedules – exit conference, AGAP convention in Bacolod, meeting in CO, World Food Day celeb at the office and our community Sunday assembly. Arriving midnight from work travel and packing up for over an hour, I slept late but have to wake up early the next morning. I have to be at office for important instructions, then rush at the nearest ATM for my cash needs!

Sitting at the pre-departure area, I was thankful all passengers were strangers. I still wanted my out of town trips to be quiet and discreet possible. The Lord have heard our prayers for a good weather, it was a bright sunny morning! There were few air pockets as we approached the metro, as we hover I was imagining body of waters after the flood & typhoon, of course there was none! Well, that’s the magic of the media, those watching the tv innocently thought there’s a big flood in the metro. This time, there wasn’t much smog I saw, it was clearer I think – maybe the typhoons and monsoon rains have washed away the pollution a bit! J Surely, there’s always a purpose even in misfortunes, for the better.

I have much time to spare, our flight was still at 3pm, so I went to the airport café (Terminal 2) and took my brunch leisurely. After my people watching at the terminal I took a cab for Terminal 3 and waited for the counter to open. By chance, I struck up conversation with waiting passengers for Cagayan de Oro – just like me, proud Mindanaoans! J I waited for Angel until he called up, catching up from work. I boarded the bus last, obviously all are looking at me. L I climbed up with Angel on the aircraft – a Bombardier Q300 – a small plane but I guess better than the Dornier. We were seated apart and having one near the EXIT – I learned being one I have responsibilities in case of emergencies, I was given the assignment to read the instruction card – I thought I would just lean on my seat relaxed while watching the magnificent sights below. Getting on a small plane is lot better because you get a better and clearer aerial view of the islands – at 12000ft elevation. It was bit drizzling and there were air pockets again when we approached the Calamianes – now I found the air pockets entertaining, the feeling of the craft going up and down is exciting! J The view is splendid – the scattered islands, the calm sea, green mountains, white beaches – so serene, so laid back. I caught sight of Banana Island, the herd of cattle at the ranch, the new airport building. We touched down smoothly at the airstrip – bit washed by the drizzle. Indeed, the Bombardier is lot better….

Great Escape

We took the aircon PAL Express shuttle van for the town – not jeepney anymore! Going through the roads, I was impressed that the network is almost 75% cemented, last year it was just a dirt road and it was so dusty and following another vehicle seemed like a curse! The view was breathtaking, the country scenery felt like Bukidnon, I was pointing out to Angel the cattles grazing on the meadows with the herons picking by the side – simply beautiful! The van dropped us at Seadive Resort past 4pm – the travel was much shorter compared last time. There’s nothing much improvement in the town proper, things are quite the same. As soon as we got our room, it felt like we wanted to start off our adventure! J But have to make calls first back at work to put things in order. WE went to the diveshop to arrange for the dive trip – the European owner attended to us: sites, equipments, time, filling up “Dr. No” form and requested for DM Nonoy as our dive master. We brought our own gears (except mask) so everything would be intact in the crates. I found myself smiling with Akitsushima, Okikawa & Lusong Gunboat as dive site for the morrow. J I was telling Angel we’re so blessed with good weather!

It felt good to be back in Coron, last year I was left alone for my dive after all DIY friends (Batch 9) left. I bought the fish id at the front desk I was eyeing last time, it was just too expensive but now I found it necessary – after more than a year. As planned we went to Coron Bistro for our dinner, I was telling Angel I felt intrigued to try dining with them – the pizza daw is yummy! We’re both famished already… The staff was just friendly and had our Hawaiian Pizza quick, we didn’t wait long – I commended it’s too quick. Other diners were foreigners indeed, but the food was just great – pizza, garden salad & fruit shakes – Angel and I enjoyed it a lot. The small pizza was large – I burped with the three slices I got! J My headache (for lack of sleep) mysteriously gone even before we had our dinner…

Akitsushima, Okikawa & Lusong Gunboat Plus Maquinit Hot Springs

As usual I was up earlier the next morning for the preliminaries – my contacts, setting up the uw cam and packing. We got ready for the day about 7am, and went out side the resort and had our breakfast at a carenderia – cheaper and quicker we thought. We found out DM Nonoy can’t make it with us so we had DM Jaime instead, we had one joiner – Jan, a Danish national. The cheery weather was just too perfect for our dive! J We were transported by a speed boat to the dive boat and cruised for over an hour until near Manglet island – we assembled our gears on our way…

We had a briefing from DM Jaime before our first descend at Akitsushima, it’s a deep dive and we need to hold on to the bouy line for the descent, and must stay close to the buddy. Again, it was hazy at first and as we go deeper we sighted fishes until we saw it – like a monster lying there! We followed DM Jaime, going inside chambers, crevice, and square-like opening. It was dark but our torches served us well. It was devoid of any equipment, just the structure now. It was one of the few true warships among the wrecks. We went around, went outside and sighted the broken crane, hole left by canon, part when guns had been, etc. We ascend after 35 minutes at 114 feet as deepest! Angel and I smiled to ourselves – it’s our deepest so far. J

On our surface interval, we cruise to next site south of Concepcion Village near the Pearl Farm. We had our lunch too which I found too early, we need to wait for another hour for our next descent. In between I called up Gay whom I had three missed calls, as usual the first question was my location – arrrghh! Why is it that there’s always someone who’s tracing me?

DM Jaime take out 1 kilo weight from me – so now I only have 2 kilos weights – an improvement I guess!

leaf like nudi
We had our briefing again and geared up for Taiei Maru – an auxiliary oil tanker of the Imperial Japanese Navy. It sits almost level and had maximum depth of 85 feet. This time, Rommel was tasked to lead and DM Jaime at the back watching and following us. But there was much to see in Taiei – going through chambers, the deck, and inner part of the ship. Penetrating the wreck is exciting – going down a hole, square-like opening and dark passageway. It felt so free floating, flapping fins must be with care not to touch anything and without disturbing the silts. The fish life is more abundant here and fortunately, we spotted the lone sea turtle but swam away so quickly. Oversized grouper, giant humphead parrotfish, lionfish, puffers, lot of nudis, giant clams, super big nudi swimming, fusiliers, sweet lips and lot more – it was simply beautiful! We ascend after 45 minutes with big smiles…
patterned nudi

We cruised for our last dive – now I always go for three dives, lesser than that is somewhat bitin. Actually the third site is a wish granted – I snorkeled twice on this site and once found divers enjoying photography while I was just on the surface. I was hoping to dive here as relaxation being too shallow – the maximum depth is only 12 meters. We descend again after an hour interval, but instead of going through the wreck we swam to the surrounding marine life. I guess we need to follow the DM – a basic rule for safety. We spotted trash and stumbled upon a fishing line, but don’t have the equipment for cutting, Angel picked up some but wasn’t able to take all – our DM is getting far already. The environmentalist in us is hurting… There was hard corals, basket sponge but didn’t find any sea fan or star feather. After the safety stop, Angel and I chose to stay longer and explored around while Rommel and Jan ascend ahead. It felt so liberating just swimming and floating amongst underwater life – the little mermaid in me is rejoicing!

We cruised back to town feeling so pleased of our escape from the upland J. As we got back at the resort, we arranged for the morrow’s hopping but after we canvassed outside. J It was so tiring and as planned we headed for Maquinit Hot Springs after haggling for the round trip fare. It was so relaxing but had to leave sooner as we were famished already.

To reward ourselves for a full day, we had dinner at the resort with their special menu for the day – mackerel in tartar sauce and crème caramel for dessert – yum! But I guess I was too exhausted because after I laid my back on the bed I drift off to sleep… Zzzzzzzzzzzz….

Hopping Around

We attended mass the next morning at the St. Augustine Church and waited almost 9am for our boat, Rommel happened to be our host for the day – the weather is so perfect! We had our first stop at Twin Lagoon to catch up with low tide, we remembered Sohoton as we got to the area – rock islets covered with vegetations. When I first came here, I was so fascinated with the inner lagoon. The water level was just on the opening so we need to skin dive to go the other side but my snorkel was kaput. We swam up in the inner lagoon but didn’t stay much long.

We went next to Banol Beach – a beautiful white sand beach, we stayed longer here. The immaculate white sands look so peaceful and idyllic and there were no people when we got there. We leisurely took our lunch at the beach hut, Rommel entertained us with his stories. J It felt so luxurious I felt so spoiled! I keep looking up the limestone cliffs as we dipped in the turquoise waters…

skin diving!
Another highlight was our next stop at Skeleton Wreck, I felt that familiar rush to skin dive the wreck. Angel and I geared up for our exploratory skin diving, the visibility was just too good. We splashed unto the water, swimming and diving like kids. We took turns as we need to handle the cam steady enough for the photos. J

We chose Siete Pecados as our last site, we wanted to see again the rich marine life in the sanctuary. But our spot was not good enough, instead of the colorful corals I saw rubbles and dead corals. But large banded angelfish came near our boat with other juveniles. They were so friendly it came near my hand perhaps looking fro food. We played with the angelfish for awhile and swam coyly near the boat, Angel practicing to swim properly. J Finally, we cruised back to the resort to wind up our leisure for the day.

We bought wreck stickers, have our logbooks stamped at the diveshop and updated our logbooks. We had our dinner again at the resort, every end of the day we’re so famished but sorry the food wasn’t yummy enough for our taste – Angel and I agreed on that, we remembered our faves at Margie’s and Bigby’s! After packing up, Angel bid bye and left to catch with his boat back home….

Towards Home Again

Wake up earlier the next morning for final packing up, had my breakfast about 7am. I need to be ready as the van will leave for the airport at 8am. I turned over my key and was thankful that the driver helped me with my gear bag to the van – truly there are angels around me. I checked in and got the chance to buy something for pasalubong at the shop, I even got the chance to have some photos at the airport.

The plane was on time and the trip was smooth except for some turbulence when we got near the metro but I enjoyed airpockets now. We arrived on time, got a yellow taxi for Terminal 2 and rushed to check in for my flight back home. Thankfully I didn’t see anybody I knew at the airport, at least I don’t need to talk much. J Waiting for our boarding I took something for lunch – expensive but I don’t have the time to get down into the café.

Sitting on the plane on my way home, I can’t help praising God for his goodness – again He arranged all things perfectly, always. Smiling how I am enriched with the pleasure of experiencing again nature’s wonders and sharing with my buddy Angel. I’m looking forward for our next trip 🙂 . We touched down smoothly at CdO airport, arrived home perfectly sane and bracing myself for full days at work ahead. The little mermaid in me lurking back in my innermost self….