“Ate, sige na, we’ll take it if you bring it down to Php 4,000.” Aimee smiled pleadingly as she unburdened her tanned shoulders of a huge backpack. Dark thick clouds shrouded the Palawan skies. We had just disembarked from a tiny Cebu Pacific aircraft, which arrived an hour late due to heavy rainshowers.
“Discounted na po yan ma’am. Actually the package costs Php 5,000.” asserted Cherry, who was perched on her desk inside the Be Cool Travel and Tours kiosk near the exit of the Francisco Reyes Airport in Busuanga.
“I think it’s a good deal.” I whispered. “Php 4,500 would cover our meals, airport transfers, two-day island tours and a three-night stay in Darayonan Lodge.” Exhausted, Mau concurred.
Covering their heads, Mau and Aimee ran into the van. Raindrops trickled into my eyes, blurring my vision.
Shadows fell on the gleaming wet roads as we headed towards the town of Coron. Outside, the neon streetlights lit the puddles that splashed as our van zipped through them. The hotel was 40 minutes away from the airport.
Darayonan’s amakan interiors and bamboo furniture reminded me of the houses in my hometown in Leyte. After checking out the swimming pool, we were ushered to our cozy room, which had four single beds, a private toilet, air-conditioning and a television. That night, the raindrops drummed heavily against the windowpane.
“We should have canceled this trip.” I grumbled. The rain, like a torrent of bullets unleashed by the angry skies, continued to pierce the foggy sea.
“Remember, it’s not always about the destination but the experience. Everything will be fine.” Aimee tried to cheer me up. Mau found us a carenderia a few meters away from the pier, where we watched the NBA Finals with rowdy boatmen while waiting for the weather to improve.
We hopped into our boat as soon as the skies hushed. As we headed towards Malcapuya Island, we passed by a black limestone island with a long stretch of towering cliffs. “Wow, that is beautiful!” exclaimed a lady from another group as she fumbled for a camera in her duffel bag.
We docked at the Malcapuya shore after an hour and a half. The clear turquoise waters gleamed despite the gloomy skies. The fine white sand beckoned. I threw my slippers back to the boat and let the soles of my feet sink into the wet sand. It felt good.
“Sir, Maganda ang view dito sa taas. Piktyuran ko po kayo dito.” Dudong, our bangkero, called out from a small cliff on one end of the shore. We followed him. A gentle breeze blew across my face, leaving trails of its salty smell. Small waves crashed against the rocks below. “A breathtaking spot, indeed!” I uttered, my eyes glued to the tiny bird floating motionlessly above us, like a kite. “This is a perfect spot for yoga poses. Why don’t we have Dudong take our photos?” I suggested. When I turned around, Aimee was already perched on a bamboo mat, in an impeccable crow pose, while Dudong lunged to take a good shot.
There is a concrete white house at a base of a hill. “The entire house if for rent for Php 10,000 a night.” Dudong said. “You can also bring your tents. Camping fee is Php 300, I think.” There are no other houses, just cottages and a store that sold young coconuts, where we had some after a few minutes of volleyball.
Lunch was hefty. Our boatmen prepared two grilled large fish, grilled pork, adobong pusit, crabs, ensalada and seaweeds. “Hala! We were craving for all these last night! Amazing ka talaga, Dudong.” Aimee exclaimed.
After lunch, we hopped back to our boat. “That’s the Banana Island, our next stop.” Dudong pointed at the foggy outline of an island nearby.
Banana Island is a small banana-shaped white-sand island 20-minutes away from Malcapuya. “This could have looked better in photos if the skies were clearer.” I muttered as I adjusted my camera settings. The water glimmered as it crashed against the white shore, inviting me to take a dip. Surprisingly, the water was warm and comforting despite the drizzle and the cold breeze.
Our last destination for the day was Isla Bulog, another small white-sand island. Aimee and Mau did some awesome yoga poses on top of some rocks that scattered throughout the island while I trekked up a hill for a breathtaking view of the shallow transparent water. “Can we check out that place?” Aimee pointed at the resort on the adjacent island. “Naku ma’am, its no longer open to the public. Private na po yan. I think a cottage per night would costs around Php 35,000.” Dudong explained. “Unless I win the lottery, I won’t be able to afford that.” We laughed.
“Good news, typhoon Emong has left. Bad news, typhoon Fabian is in Mindoro which is near us.” Mau announced as he switched off the television. We saved the tour around Coron Island for the second day when Mike, one of our friends from Manila, joined us. We were also hoping for a better weather but with the new typhoon nearby, we anticipated a heavy downpour.
“Naku Sir! Twin Lagoon is temporarily closed due to a dispute between the Tagbanua tribe and the local government.” Cherry said.
“Oh no! Of all the destinations I was most excited about the Twin Lagoon.” Mau murmured, disappointed.
“We are going to Barracuda Lake instead. Maganda din dun.” Cherry reassured as she handed us our goggles.
The lucent water at the entrance of the Kayangan Island mirrored the lush greens stemming out of the giant limestones. I was ready to jump off the boat when Mike pointed at a long-tailed jellyfish. “That is deadly!” warned Jun-Jun, our boatman that day.
We trekked up a slippery hill, approximately a 150 steps, to have a good view of the most popular karst of Coron Island. “Wow!” Our jaws dropped in unison, as our eyes feasted on the jungle-covered limestone cliffs scattered on the clear turquoise waters.
Aimee shrieked with excitement as we descended to the other side of the hill. Halfway, the crystalline Kayangan Lake gleamed conspicuously amid shrubs and tree branches. “Do you know that Kayangan Lake has been dubbed as the cleanest lake in the country?” Jun-Jun boasted. “This is so beautiful I want to cry.” I blurted. The glass-clear water, which is cloistered by huge jagged black limestones, flaunts stunning sharp-edged stalagmite formations underneath. “Amazing! The limestone walls below look like a castle from The Little Mermaid.” Aimee exclaimed as we swam with a school of tiny stick fishes under the rain.
The downpour continued when we jumped off the boat in Twin Peak Reef. Mau and I tussled with the current as we took photos of the brightly colored fishes swarming the luxuriant coral reefs on the floor. “Hey, you should check this out.” I called out to Mike who was chatting with a nice couple Red and Ced. “Everything below is brimming with color.” Engrossed, Aimee and I were dragged by the current away from the boat.
A few minutes after we left Twin Peak Reef, we were again greeted by giant black limestone cliffs, which nestled a small pristine beach. “This is Banol Beach. We will have lunch here.” Jun-Jun said as he hauled the boat up onto the shore. After a hefty lunch of grilled fish and pork belly, we did jump shots and yoga poses against a backdrop of ferocious-looking rock formations. We couldn’t resist the crystal clear water and the very fine white sand so we took a dip before we left.
We were supposed to visit CYC Beach, but the waves were getting rough. Instead, we proceeded to the nearby Barracuda Lake.
The rain pierced our skin like needles as we carefully trod the wooden steps meandering through a craggy cliff, leading to Barracuda Lake. “Wow! This looks quite like Kayangan Lake, only eerier.” Mike said as we cuddled ourselves. According to Jun-Jun, the lake was named after its elusive resident barracuda. Colossal and forested limestone cliffs cascading down to a clear emerald lake, approximately 40 meters deep, surrounded us. “Talon kayo dito para hindi kayo lamigin!” Jun-Jun invited us to join him. Armed with our life vests and snorkeling masks, we plunged into the brackish water, a combination of fresh and saltwater. “Mainit nga yung tubig, sarap!” I blurted as we swam back and forth, enjoying its warmth. Barracuda Lake is known for its thermocline, a transition layer between the warm saltwater and cold freshwater.
“Actually there are thirteen lakes in Coron but only two are open to the public now.” Jun-Jun said. “The indigenous Tagbanuas are very cautious and considers the island sacred, kaya marami pang mas maganda kaysa dito ang hindi nyo makikita.”
“Aside from fishing, the Tagbanuas also gather balinsasayaw’s nests, made of the bird’s saliva, from cliffside caves then sell it to restaurants which serves the expensive bird’s nest soup.” He continued.
While everyone was huddled around Jun-Jun, Aimee and I marveled at the stunning limestone walls and mammoth rock formations at the bottom of the lake, many of them obscured by the blue haze. Creepy, I thought.
On our way back to the town, Ced suggested that we visit Maquinit Hot Spring after. “Yes, I think it’s a good idea to go there after an exhausting day of swimming and island hopping”. Mike agreed.
Ced helped us find the freshest catch at the Coron Public Market. A wide variety of fish glistened on the tiles. “Magkano po ito?’ I pointed at a plump Unicorn Fish, which we had for lunch the other day. “Sixty pesos lang po ang kilo.” replied the attendant. “Sixty pesos lang?” I echoed in disbelief as I fumbled in my pocket for a few bills. We also bought shrimps and a large squid and had them cooked at a nearby restaurant for a minimal amount.
After negotiating with Daniel, the tricycle driver, we headed to the Maquinit Hot Spring with our freshly cooked dinner. Maquinit Hot Spring is 20 minutes away from Coron Town and the round-trip tricycle fare is between Php 300-400. We paid an entrance fee of Php 150 per person.
“This is one heartwarming experience, literally.” Aimee quipped as she lowered herself into a large pool that is warmed by a geothermal spring nearby. I flinched. The salty water was playing within 39 to 40 degrees Celsius, almost unbearable at first. “Baka maging tinola tayo nito!” Mike laughed. After a few seconds, my wearied body was leaning comfortably against the pool wall. The warm water contrasted the chilly night breeze.
“Let’s checkout the shipwrecks, please.” I begged my friends, who were unsettled about the idea. Typhoon Fabian hadn’t left yet. “The shipwrecks are far from here. It’s not advisable to go there now, sir.” Cherry discouraged.
Since the package we availed from Be Cool Travel and Tours only covered a two-day island hopping, we decided to rent a boat so we could visit the other sites nearby. A boat that could fit 8 passengers can be rented for Php 2,000. We had to bring our own food and a few hundreds for the entrance fees. “We can cook the food for you, bili nalang po kayo sa palengke.” Brandon, our boatman, volunteered. We, together with our newfound friends Red, Ced, Marvic and Shayne, picked up a large squid, lapu-lapu, chicken and everything else we needed for our little picnic at the public market.
A faint sunshine gleamed overhead when we reached Siete Picados. “This is one of the best snorkeling sites here in Coron. Mamaya mag fish-feeding kayo.” Brandon said. Around were seven rocky hills standing stalwartly amid clear sparkling waters. Myth says that seven children drowned in that area while looking for their parents. The seven islands sprouted after they died. “Grabe, para akong nasa aquarium.” Aimee said excitedly. A school of frisky striped fish swarmed us when Marvic released a handful of rice. We watched in awe as colorful fishes frolicked above a bed of flourishing corals.
“Dito nagshooting yung Dyesebel. Nagpunta dito si Dingdong at Cristine Reyes.” Brandon said while removing the innards of the large Lapu-Lapu we asked him to grill. “Diba si Marian yun?” Aimee retorted. “Ay oo nga pala.”Brandon laughed.
We then headed to the Hidden Lagoon, which is surrounded with giant densely forested limestones. The limpid water, which reflected the lush greens above it, was very still. “It’s eerily silent in here.” Mike said as he took our photos. Only the sound of crickets and the chirping of birds can be heard from afar. “It’s not safe to swim here now. Look at those large jellyfish.” Brandon warned.
We had lunch at a small white-sand beach called Atuayan, named after the Tuway (a variety of shell) thriving in the area. “Mas maganda yung Banol Beach. The sand there is finer.” I couldn’t help but compare. According to Brandon, there is a good snorkeling site nearby but the sudden outburst of rain prevented us from going.
“Punta nalang ulit tayo sa Barracuda Lake.” Ced suggested. We all agreed. We couldn’t seem to get enough of the mysteriously stunning lake. “I can stay here all day, the warm water is comforting.” Aimee said, floating on her back. “Akin na po camera ninyo, sir. Kunan ko po kayo ng underwater shots.” Brandon volunteered. Surprisingly, most of the boatmen in Coron can effortlessly handle a DSLR. “How come your underwater shots are better than mine?” I turned to him as I reviewed the photos. “Dapat kasi sir, palitan nyo ang setting sa Sports para kahit magalaw malinaw pa rin.” Brandon replied. We laughed. After giving tips on free diving, he skillfully took our photos as we attempted to reach the deep recesses of the lake.
According to my friends, Coron is one of those places tourists can visit repeatedly and still get the same sense of amazement. “It’s quite unfortunate that we came here during the rainy season. We missed so many sites.” I said as our van pulled over at the Busuanga airport the following day. “Well, at least we have a good reason to come back soon, di ba?” Mike lugged his bag out of the backseat. “Coron is still in my bucket list, I just can’t cross it out yet until I’ve seen the Twin Lagoon and the shipwrecks!” I replied.
There are so many enchanting sites in Coron. Aside from the mystical lakes and lagoons, bleach white beaches, gargantuan limestone cliffs and lush coral reefs, there are twelve well-preserved World War II Japanese shipwrecks, which make the Coron waters one of the best dive sites in the world.
“Let’s make sure we come back here during the summer, okay?” I insisted. “Sige ba! Basta text nyo ako pag may piso fare ha! I’m excited!” Aimee smiled as we walked towards the Cebu Pacific check-in counter.
How To Go To Coron:
1.) Book a flight to Busuanga through Cebupacificair.com or flypalexpress.com
2.) From the Nicanor Reyes Airport in Busuanga, ride a van going to Coron town. Travel time is around 45 minutes.
3.) For a hassle free vacation in Coron, contact Cherry of Be Cool Travel and Tours at (0929) 795 9819. She has a kiosk at the Nicanor Reyes Airport.