Nature Trip to Coron

Nature Trip to Coron 
By Walter Ang
September 12, 2001
Philippine Daily Inquirer

2bU! arrived as the sun was setting into the earth, casting a glow across the clouds. After landing in Busuanga Island (found at the northern tip of Palawan) via a 19 seater Seair plane, we took an hour jeepney ride to Coron town. We used air, land and, finally, water transportation (a 5 minute boat ride) to reach DiveLink Resort.

Nestled into the hillsides of Uson Island, the bright yellow color of the resort's jetty was already visible from afar. Welcomed by the indefatigable resident manager Maween Reyes, we shared dinner and stories that night. Buffet was served in a charming miniaturized boat as 2bU! and other members of the media were told of the exciting activities that were lined up for us.

In the light of the morning sun, we were able see our cottages in their full Caribbean colors of red, blue and yellow (as are even the bathrooms tiles). Cristina Matta (whose husband Noel co-owns the resort along with Bobong Velez and Henri Blasckiewicz) said the colors were chosen to make the resort "a happy place." The cottages, with endearing fruit names (I stayed in Buko), contain no aircons and television sets. "And they can never, ever have one," said this gracious lady. "The lack of amenities is meant to encourage guests to come out and bask in nature."

Treasure hunting
Dapper Noel Matta, who also heads the security committee of the Palawan Provincial Tourism Council, gave us the lowdown on why Coron is such a hotspot for divers. In 1944, as the second World War was coming to an end, freight ships of General Yamashita docked in Coron.

The ships supposedly carried treasures that the Japanese army looted from Indochina (Cambodia, Myanmar, Burma). Some were even disguised as Red Cross ships but Gen. William ''Bull'' Halsey sent his planes to bomb them anyway since Japan never signed the Treaty of Paris.

There are now 37 total wrecks with 14 diveable sites ? certainly a haven for divers and treasure hunters. We were told of fake "treasurehunters" who buy cheap vases, allow coral to grow on them for about three months and claim these "artifacts" were scavenged from the wrecks. Caveat emptor!

And speaking of buyers beware, since the tourism scene in Coron is pretty much still in its infancy, have the resort arrange any tours or diving trips you wish to take. They know which establishments and operators are reliable and safe. You wouldn't want your day ruined by hooking up with inexperienced or unsavory characters.

Even if Coron is a divers' hotspot, it accommodates non-divers as well. Our multi-talented guide Robert Agusto prepared a whole day of non-diving activities. We started off with swimming at the Twin Lagoons where the water was a clear, rich blue. There were magnificent limestone cliffs all around us; giant monolithic sentinels guarding us as we swam.

Next up was kayaking at a lush, picturesque mangrove that was so serene and teeming with a silent energy. For a city slicker like me whose main form of exercise is channel surfing, the kayaking was quite a workout for my biceps and triceps!

Nothing will compare, however, to Kayangan Lake, an Hall of Famer for being one of the cleanest lakes in the country. This fresh-water lake is accessible by a short climb up a small hill, then down again. When I caught a full view of the lake on my way down, I had to stop in my tracks. It was just oh-so-beautiful.

There we were, appreciating this piece of untouched nature. The silence punctuated by our "Oohs" and "Ahhs." All day long, you could hear people say "Ganda, ganda!" ? and you could only nod in agreement. It was wonderful to just bob contentedly in the water with our orange life-vests (aside from the safety, you needn't tire yourself out so you can concentrate on looking at the sights).

We kept joking that this would be a perfect spot to shoot a porno movie. Both Maween and Robert seem to recall that someone already did. It was supposedly called "Bakit May Pakpak Ang Ibon" ("Why birds have wings," but the sexual innuendo is completely lost in the translation.)

To the ends of the earth
Last stop for the day was Maquinit Hot Springs where we settled down in the fantastic hot salt-water. There we soothed our muscles ? so unused to that much physical activity. And as the sun was setting yet again, I thought to myself, "So this is what an eco tour is like!" You hear about it all the time, but when you actually get to see nature at its best, you gain a deeper appreciation for the word. More people should get to see Coron; let's just hope they keep it clean!

Foreign tourists, mostly Italians and French, have come to visit Coron's beauty, but its guests are still primarily local tourists. The owners are appreciative of the WG&A vessels now plying the Coron route. "For around P6,000, you leave Manila Friday night after school or work and rest on the ship. Spend two days here with all meals and tours inclusive. You leave Coron Sunday night and arrive in Manila early Monday morning. It's great for the weekend market." For those without sea legs, Seair flies to Busuanga from Manila and Puerto Princessa.