coron island tour: the gateway to iraya

Our trike parked in front of the Coron Eco Lodge as we gulped the remains of instant goodness from our coffee-cups and downed the last morsels of scrambled egg sandwiched in hot pan de sal. It was time to take on the waters of Coron in a not-so-perfect weather. But who wouldv’e thought that something perfect would come out of that. After all, great things can come out of mediterranean cruise ideas running in our heads; but the Coron island tour bore better things toward the end.

Being there the second time with friends with similar close-to-non-existent swimming skills as me (except for Ron who can swim like a merm- walrus…) was enough to make Russel, our guide, hum the tunes of “Rock the boat, don’t tip the boat over” or he would have to risk his life three times over saving MarkyLauren, et moi.

As if by nature’s humor, we felt expelled from the belly of Coron port to the almost open sea as we headed out to explore the islands that stand ruthlessly majestic like sentries. The water was calm and had started to take on the color of the sky, erasing the gloom of the morning that was.

A few minutes into the trip and our guide pointed his fingers over a cluster of islands that seemed to be misplaced by some cosmic joke… Although the floating boulders borrow the face of Coron Island, they were some distance from it. Russel started weaving this lore about seven sisters wanting to leave the belly of their mother to explore what is beyond their eyes can see. They were forbidden, of course. But like all romantic stories of defiance, they disobeyed their mother’s wishes and sailed off, never looking back. In the calmness of the ocean came a storm that would threaten Manila (which is 34 meters below sea level) into oblivion. Dark clouds and heavy rains wreaked havoc upon the sisters’ boat and eventually drowned the headstrong ladies of the land. When the sun shone, seven islands emerged where the sisters were believed to have died; and since then, the group of islands were known as Siete Pecados, Spanish for “Seven Sins”.

Yes, I know… It was not a very good story to tell when you are bobbing on waters on a small pump boat…

A little anxious, I strapped on my life jacket, snorted air to secure my goggles, bit my snorkel, and carefully slipped into the water. Like my previous snorkeling experiences, It took about 5 minutes for me to get used to the wretched currents before I totally gave up flailing my hands (my version of swimming) and grab on to the Russel’s lifesaver. From that point on, I let him drag me around the area to enjoy the rich marine life. Corals were so diverse that I thought I was in a different part of the area until I almost bump into our boat. Fishes swarm around our feet, nipping the dead skin cells off of our tired legs. I saw so many colors that I could’ve sworn I was seeing Christmas in September.

After getting our eyes’ fill of vibrant – bordering psychedelic – colors, we moved closer to the wedged-shape island of Coron. At face value, one would think it’s a ginormous slab of limestone with flora sprouting randomly out of its uneven crevices. But as we felt the tip of the boat was about to hit the towering wall, a clearing presented itself. As we were lead towards a winding water path enclosed by permian limestones which, according to UNESCO, originated during the Jurassic period; Russel told us that Twin Peaks’ surrounding water (that’s where we were headed), including the Twin Lagoons, was made up of 70% fresh water coming from the limestone and 30% salt water coming from the ocean.

After an insane amount of pruning, we headed for Banol Beach and to our much awaited yosi break. As we took refuge in a makeshift hut with lined bamboos for seats and tables, the unmistakable smell of grilled pork wafted in the air and carried us to the dining table set by Russel and his trusty assistant. I did not mind putting out my half-smoked cigarette for this – fresh crabs, ensaladang talong, grilled mackerel, and my ultimate beach munchies – inihaw na baboy. We caved in to longing and hunger. Silence, during that meal, was absolutely golden…

With our energies revived,  I found eagerness in wearing my life jacket again. And yes, Russel had to imbibe his inner David Hasselhoff and tug me all the way to the tip of the Skeleton Wreck. THAT was mental. Bombed by the Americans during WWII, all that remains of this 25-meter Japanese boat is its steel hull. So very Pirates of the Caribbean-ny, if you ask me.

But something appeared, rising from the darkest of blue. It was as if I got warped in an enchanted dimension where there is no reality but dreams, my dreams, that took form. A giant turtle appeared, swimming serenely. Its load was as close to weightless. I was so drawn to it that I followed it  (well… ok, Russel was there guiding me) until it disappeared into the darkest of blue.

Coron assaulted my senses like no place ever did before. And as I lose the weight of my life jacket and succomed to exhaustion, the words of a mermaid-author ran in my head as we go back to shore…

Once the turtle was small and blue-black, shiny like polished stones. It was an unusual creature even then; it had a most important task. It bore on its back the dreams of Iraya’s dead children as it dived to the navel of the sea. Here, it buried little girl and boy dreams that later sprouted into corals which were the colour of bones. After many funerals, it began to grow bigger and lighter in colour; eventually it, too, became white, bone-white. ~White Turtle by Merlinda Bobis


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