Friday, June 17, 2011

Coron, Palawan

There are several ways to find yourself in Coron, Palawan.

You have the option to catch a one hour flight from Manila, and while it's convenient - you're missing out on a lot of adventure along the way. If you have an aversion to airplanes, or just really love the deep blue sea - you have the option of going by boat. Don't expect a huge and luxurious cruise liner though, as I did, for the boat you catch probably won't be big enough for 15 people.

                                                                            The journey from San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, lasts about six to eight hours depending on weather conditions. Although stuffed to capacity with cargo, everything from rusty spoons to chicken wire, I am still able to stretch my (sea) legs - albeit on bags of rice and garlic. As it can be a tiresome journey, the crew are kind enough to share their lunch with the passengers. For hours at a time there is no land in sight, but rather than feeling helpless, I'm exhilarated by the experience. Even when the captain is zig zagging through treacherous waves, I can't help but smile and slap my thigh at the rise and fall of this small wooden banca.                                                                    

That's not to say I wasn't relieved when we finally reached land. Touching base in Coron, I felt instantly welcomed by the landscape of sheer limestone cliffs, tranquil waters and indeed civilization itself - a respite most welcome.

Once out of the boat and on dry land again, I bypass the gang of tricycle drivers and walk towards the Hollywood style 'CORON' lettering on the top of one of many mountains that surround the cityscape. The streets themselves are a winding maze, with a buffet of dive-shops, restaurants and bars to choose from. Proving once again that Filipinos are the most hospitable bunch in all of Asia, I'm welcomed to Palawan a whopping seven times, just en route to my hotel.

After a few days of relenting, I give in and do something touristy. I opt for a day of island hopping, and within ten minutes i'm sitting on the banca and awaiting adventure. With a firm prod of a mighty bamboo pole, the captain of the ship sets sail. The motor coughs and splutters into life like a pack-a-day smoker as we leave Coron harbor for a day of snorkeling through corals in and around the shipwrecks of WW2 battleships. The air is no longer heavy and humid, as we bid a silent thanks to the gentle sea breeze.

It's still true, even in this day and age of wireless internet and talking toilets, that we know more about what goes on in outer space, than we do in the depths of our mysterious oceans. The coral reefs here resemble an underwater forest of sorts, complete with trees, bushes and grass (so to speak). The first life form that I spot underwater is a starfish the size of Shaquille O'Neal's hand, but with fat sausage-like fingers. A tremendous shade of shimmering blue, I watch it sit idly by, clinging on to a rock face. 

As I rise to the surface to rinse my goggles, I'm followed upwards by a shoal of flying fish. I watch them glide atop the water, like skipping stones on a lake, before they submerge once more. No doubt due to the sunken ship, this cove of corals is a protected area, offering the chance to see fish both big and small. What catches my interest though, is a puffer fish, both the shape and color of a pineapple.

No doubt seeing me as a threat, it seeks refuge out of harm's way in a coral crevice. I watch its head darting out every once in a while, just to watch me watching it. I take a break from swimming to sprawl myself on the sand beneath a coconut tree. It is then and there that i'm reminded of a statistic that lists falling coconuts as the most likely way to injure yourself in Palawan. It beats being knifed on a train carriage in Perth, but I think for now, I'll find shade elsewhere.

The skeleton wreck of a Japanese battleship from WW2 is just as the name suggests. All that remains are the bones of a once great warship. The hull is encrusted with shells, and slowly but surely it is becoming part of the sub-aquatic furniture. The surrounding waters are the murkiest shade of navy blue and the atmosphere is more than a little somber. After several attempts, I succeed in touching it, if only briefly. Seeing as how this is my first attempt at free diving, and it's ten meters below the surface - I'm glowing with pride nonetheless =)

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