Culion Island/Burog Shoal - Coron Island Tour Review Part 4

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Day 4 is supposed to be our free day. We had three options: Stay at the lodge, go back to the Coron Island Tour, or get a boat and go somewhere else. Firstly, I had no intention of climbing the steep cliff to Kayangan lakeagain. And since the town of Coron's not exactly the type of place that you can hang about sober without getting bored after five minutes, we decided to go for a custom day tour to an island called Culion. The island got mentioned the day before by our tour guide. She said that there were WW2 articles to be found there, which I am a total sucker for, and leper colony memorabilia, which I am not. Anyway she did mention that it was no longer an active colony and that there were even old WW2 era aircraft in the island. I. just. had. to. go.

Sadly, there weren't any trips going to that island that day and our only option was to hire a special trip just for me and Anna, and anybody who might want to join us. The fee was a bit steep at 5k for the entire day - but since I figure that I might have only once chance to do this so I agreed anyway. The travel agency found a boat who'd take us there, but there'd be no tourguide. The travel agency did say that the boat captain grew up in Culion so he'd be happy to take us around.

As it turns out, the boat that would take us to Culion was the same boat that we rode before, together with Captain Edi (made memorable by his the-boat-wont-sink-too-much) and his mate whose name escapes me at the moment. Edi looked excited to go back to his hometome, and confessed he didn't get to do that very often.

Before we left, I was happily looking forward to eating lugaw, which was a staple in the breakfast buffet of Coron Eco Lodge but as it turns out, they didn't have it that day, and instead offered a single premium -silog meal from their menu in lieu of the rice porridge, eggs, and bread we've been used to. The tapa was awesome, which I imagined came from the ranches we passed by on the way from the airport a few days back. It was only a slight disappointment to not eat lugaw. The disappointment, however, didn't stop there.

The weather
 was only slight better than the day before. Rain pelted us during the hour-long trip, but not as much as the day before. Having the boat to ourselves also meant we could stay at the far back instead of getting jizzed at nature up front. Since it's a long trip, I asked about our itinerary. As it turns out, there were no WW2 weapons, or airplanes, or anything in Culion. I don't know even today if that was just me hearing shit, or if the tourguide just wanted to screw with my head - either way, I'd only be looking at the leprosarium part of Culion, which to be honest, I didn't really look forward to all that much.

When we finally neared the island, my opinion of the place completely changed. Culion is that one town, close to a tourist spot but not really famous enough to be one, that it actually preserves the feel that it's a fully sustained, pollution-minimal island community. Like, I've seen a lot of docks in my life and it's pretty safe to say that there's no dock as clean and as ALIVE as that of Culion. There were corals, large fish, and even starfishes practically living underneath the boats. The water was crystal even to a depth of 8 feet. It was crazy. Were it not for the fact that I didn't want to be walking around in a hospital sopping wet, I'd have dove in.

After a brief coffee break, we rode a trike up the side of Culion's mountain towards the town center where the hospital and museum is located. On our way, Edi either greeted or was greeted by pretty much every other person we came across and he looked really happy for it. That proved his tall claim that everybody knew everybody in Culion.

Just above the town, a large caduceus (staff and snakes) symbol is carved into the mountain's face reflecting the strong medical history of the island, as well as the current state-of-the-art facilities that are actually better than both Coron's and Busuanga's. Edi told us that whenever there are emergencies in either Busuanga or Coron, they'd either move the patient by boat, by chopper or by plane to Culion for treatment. That's pretty much Culion for you. A real provincial town with a creepy past and a kickass hospital system. Add an internet connection to the package and I'd say it's a really nice town to retire in.

The museum was closed when we got there. Apparently the guy in charge went home to cook lunch, owing to the fact that the museum wasn't exactly a tourist magnet, so we had to wait a while. I walked around and realized that the architecture of the hospital little changed from the early American style construction that I saw in the older buildings of our school, and in Philippine General Hospital. The museum itself had a large pillared Southern-style frontage.

Inside, we were treated to a ten minute video in a dark viewing room on the first floor. It gave us a short summary of Culion's history, mostly as a leper colony. I was just glad the film didn't last long. The room was a bit damp and tad too creepy for my taste.

The exhibits on the first floor were mostly photographs and relics of Leprosy research. One of the rooms contained microscope slides they used for checking diseased tissue. Which I touched. And didn't realize what an idiot I was until a bit later. Upstairs were more antiquated equipment, which were oddly 'round the same model type as the science lab stuff we had back in our school. At this point, I'd like to confirm that my school had half of its equipment stuck in the American Occupation era. There was a money exhibit, including money that was exclusive in Culion, because really, when half of your citizens have an infectious disease that cause your flesh to slowly die and rot off while you're still alive, you'd want money that goes around to stay around.

There were also preserved animals and the like, which Anna took really fondness of. Me, I still prefer my preserved animals in the form of dried squid and bagoong.

After the museum visit, we walked around town. Most of the American-era buildings were still around, although their functions were very much different now. We didn't fully cover the town, and I declined as nicely as I could in taking Edi's offer to walk us around the only part of Culion were there were still actual lepers. I suddenly thought about the sores in my feet from the frequent rubbing of the straps on my sandals which I never took off even when I swam.

We visited the church next, which was made of cement blocks strengthened with coral. The final result was beautiful, but I thought had it been any other type of animal skeleton, the result would've been ten times more horrifying (or cool, depending on how you like your places of worship)
we weren't able to get inside because the place was closed for the day, but we went to the side where the ruins of the oldest fort was. There was barely any trace of the fort left, save for the last rampart and a bronze cannon barrel that was still pointing out at sea.

It was amazing to think that once upon a time, they had to build this fort, at the expense and labor of hundreds of workers, to ensure that nobody (most especially the moro pirates) would invade the island, whence nowadays, it's hard enough to convince people to even go within the vicinity of the place. 

It was about 12 noon when we headed back for the boats. We headed for a lone dock sitting in the middle of the waters a couple of kilometers from Culion. When we got near we realized that it didnt even have boarding ladders yet so we were forced to anchor somewhere nearby. Edi called the place "Burog" and we had to eat our lunch on the boat.

As for lunch, to put things into context, we paid about 800 pesos for the food that we at at Kawayanan the night before, which consisted of a piece of small fish, a solitary crab, a couple of shellfish and some rice. This time, we paid 600 pesos for the same food that was served to our group in Banana Island the day before, minus the five other people on the boat to share it with. There was one large fish, five crabs, mango salad, rice and too many bottles of soft drinks. I wanted to go back to Kawayanan and show them the pictures and tell them how much they screwed us over the food.

We convinced Edi and Estong to eat some of the food as we could not magically consume food intended for a house warming party while not dying midway. We rested for about fifteen minutes, which was about as long as our urge to dive into the water could be restrained without any handcuffs involved.

I went in first by sitting at the boat's deployed ladder and then slidding off. I'm forever thankful that I did not jump, because as it turns out, I was just above what probably was a sea urchin rave party, with the three inch long spikes barely three feet below the surface waiting to fuck somebody's week up. I swam a bit more, and I think it was a minute into the swim that I realized that Culion's greatest asset is the one that they actually never really mention in the ads. Burog is a majestic coral reef sitting a few feet below the surface of the water containing fish and other marine life you normally have to dive for in other places. It made Banana and Malcapuya islands look desolate by comparison. And you could nary see a dead coral because there was simply nobody there to spoil it. It was then that I understood why Edi was so careful in tossing the anchor overboard when we first came.

In a way, I felt a bit sad, because there'd be so many other beaches, snorkeling sites that I'll be going to in my life, but few will ever be able to match what we just saw in Burog.

After swimming for an hour or so, Edi told us that we should start heading back to beat the strong waves. It was a bit sad to leave the coral reefs already but given the rains that we experienced in the morning, the last thing we'd want is accompanying sea waves to make it more festive.

On our way back, we passed by a lot of floating balls arranged in gridlike formation. Edi told us that they were pearl farms whose produce were sent to Japan for processing. He used to work for those farms before he joined the tour group, and told us his daily salary and how much it grew when he transferred, which was still smaller than my taxi fare to work. Edi did mention that it was manageable, not considering the long list of utang he had in their neighbor's sarisari store, though I felt that I was somewhat shortchanging him for what he was doing for us that day.

We encountered one of the floating balls while one our way, and Estong grabbed it for Edi. He looked too happy to get a floating ball so I asked what they were going to use it for. Turns out the same people who lost the float bought it back when they went astray.

For our last trip, Edi made us chose on whether we want to go to a beach or a shipwreck. I wanted to go to the shipwreck, while I felt Anna wanted to go for the beach. We went for the shipwreck. I guess she understood how badly I wanted to have something WW2-related for this trip given the fact that I had already my expectations dashed by the museum earlier.

The shipwreck was just as deep as the one in Coron Island. There were SCUBA divers about, but this time around the water was not as stinging as before. Also, it kind of felt comforting knowing there were other people around while diving towards something that killed people many years ago. Braving my usual limits, I hit 15 feet for the first time and got to grab on to the front crane in the hull of the boat where the sun was still able to pierce the water. It felt glorious.

We didnt stay around for long, as my lungs quickly tired out from the forced, unassisted dives. Edi bade the divers off and headed back for Coron. The weather was not as bad as the morning, though it was still raining. Since we were a lot lighter and this time a bit earlier, we got off from the same Pier that we left. The bad part is that the pier had a fixed height so this time, we had to walk towards the sea wall and then mantle over it. I barely cleared the wall. Anna understandably had a much harder time and had to clear it by being pulled by two other people.

Before we parted, I gave Edi 600, and his boatman 200. I explained that they're not tips, they're fees that I'd have paid had there been a tourguide included in the package. Edi was teary eyed and told me it was a very big deal for both of them. I told him they were for the long lists of "utang" they had in the store.

After resting for a while, Anna and I went to this weirdly-named resto called Mannikin Pis, which we later learned was Dansk for The Pissing Statue, a famous Danish Landmark. After our experience in Kawayanan, we decided to do research this time for highly recommended restos in town. For some reason Mannikin Pis was the only place that didn't have detractors and only hand songs of praises online.

And for good reason, apparently.

I ordered tomato-sauced spaghetti while Anna ordered a burger patty/fries combo. Both were so awesome that we instantly regretted not having eaten there earlier. The price was both below 200 pesos each, which considering the serving size (and taste!), would've still justified an above 200 peso price. The place was cozy and the service was extremely nice. If ever I'd be going back to Coron I'd probably dine there exclusively. For a restaurant that had piss in its name, I loved it.

Anna insisted on dessert afterwards. We had chocolate pudding and it was just as nice as I imagined. Anna told me how much she enjoyed everything that's happened so far and I felt the same way. It was at that moment I felt that our trip to Coron was finally complete.

What was supposed to be a sidetrip on the way to El Nido (which was a stupid plan from the get go) ended up as an experience that was much better, unpredictable, exciting, and overwhelming that despite its shortcomings, I could easily rank up with the best trips that I've ever had in my life.

So if one day, while looking at a CebuPac Seat Sale you're wondering, is it possible to get to El Nido by booking a flight to Busuanga - the answer is NO, it is not possible. But book it anyway.

It will be one decision you will never regret. 


Anonymous said...

Hi. I enjoyed your blog of Coron. You can reach El Nido via supercat from Coron - 4 hour trip.

alvin said...

Great article Jet!

Now I really want to return to Coron and visit Burog. Why did my google-fu missed this place?!


Google hates my site now like a red-headed stepchild routinely sent to the attic. Thanks for dropping by!


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