Coron, a Diver’s Dream (Palawan, April 2019)

Despite seeing many photographs of Coron’s abundant underwater biodiversity, I was still giddy, mainly because I just took free diving lessons and I couldn’t wait to put my skills to the test.

Day 1

  • Mt. Tapyas
  • Maquinit Hot Springs
  • Asia Grand View Hotel

We arrived at the hotel just in time for lunch. After a hearty meal, we checked in for a quick nap and spared no time after five-thirty to hike up Mt. Tapyas, from where we could look down on the stretch of Coron. At the summit, folks clad in Hawaiian shirts and denim jeans basked in the sunlight, some with a bottle of beer and friends, and some with just Ray-bans for company. We quickly realized that the island was used to tourists, with a reclaimed area for docking passenger boats up to three rows from the perimeter. Despite that, the backdrop invited awe, which happens to be my favorite human emotion–that which makes me feel small and insignificant, and that which fills me with blissful contentment. By the time we got to our starting point, it was already dark, just in time to make it to Maquinit Hot Springs before it closed at seven.

In it were a number of pools, between 32 to 36 degrees Celsius. It was too warm for my comfort, so after spending a good hour with my sister, we went back to the hotel where I swam a couple of laps before getting dinner.

Day 2: A whole-day island-hop with the family

  • Kawasan Lake
  • Twin Lagoon
  • Coral Garden
  • CYC Beach
  • Siete Pecados

It is a shame not to make island hopping a hobby as a citizen of this country. Enjoying the beauty of the Philippines should be everyone’s imperative, more than it is a right. We chose a best-selling tour that took us to five spots: Coral Garden, Twin Lagoon, CYC Beach, Siete Pecados, and Kawasan Lake.

Coral Garden was, indeed, a national treasure. I attempted to skin dive a few meters deep, but trouble equalizing made it impossible for me to linger a good while.

Kawasan Lake was our last stop. We walked up and down a few steps to an enclosure of water that is peaceful in turquoise. For a moment, we were the only ones there. We dove in and touched the bed of pure, white sand, and glided in the quiet water as warm as our bodies. It was one of the most blissful sensations I have ever felt, and it was only about time until a large party jumped in for a swim. Those ten minutes we had all to ourselves make one of my most cherished memories on the island of Palawan.

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Day 3: Another whole-day island-hop, this time, with strangers!

  • Lusong Gunboat Wreck
  • Pass Island
  • Lusong Coral Garden

On the second day of exploration, I was part of a joiners’ tour that sailed to see shipwrecks and the marvelous marine life that grew on them. We went to Lusong Gunboat Wreck, Pass Island for lunch, and Lusong Coral Garden.

I dove down to swim close to the majestic gunboat. There is something about being near structures under the sea that frightens me. Once again, it was a shame that I could only stay underwater for a few seconds because the sights were wonderful. It is true that the deeper you go underwater, the more surprises you find, and I couldn’t exclaim enough how being underwater evoked a deep sense of joy. I always feel like I belong, like I was made to enjoy the water.

While waiting for lunch in Pass Island, I had the time of my life swimming on a wide stretch of coral reefs. I spotted a school of baby barracudas, over a foot but less than a meter long. One little critter seemed to follow me around as I swam close to it, so I decided to play along with my camera in tow, only to realize, soon after a slight sting on my thigh, that I was in its territory, and I was rather being shooed away.

Our last stop was the best one. I hurriedly jumped underwater, sinus still stung from diving. The light waves and the afternoon current slushed against my skin, rapidly transporting my body in seconds. When I looked down, I spotted corals shaped like branches, or tabletops, or curly zig-zags like the human brain. I saw multiple colors, violet-blue, dark purple, salmon pink, and red-orange. I saw giant clams, and circles and oblongs with spores. They oddly resemble the invisible units of living species–bacteria and cells, which have indefinite shapes. There were sea coins and large lumps that looked like bruises.

I swam back and forth the long row for a good forty minutes until I could no longer feel one part of my head’s skin. That’s when the boatmen called us on board to head back.

That night, I had the most pleasant sleep, as my bed felt like the ocean, and the sheets were like waves. I thought about how exhausting yet blissful the day felt. Indeed, man’s soul is inclined to delight in nature’s enchanting beauty.

Day 4

  • Lobster King
  • Pearl hunting
  • Cashew hunting
  • Souvenir shops

On our last day, I went hunting for south sea pearls, cashews, and other souvenirs to take home.

We had dinner in Lobster King, an overrated tourist restaurant that I should have known better not to have gone to. The food was delicious but not remarkable, and the price we paid could have got us more and better if we opted for a local favorite.

It was a fantastic trip–I explored the islands with my family, got to take my long fins out for the first time, and I met wonderful new friends (from both land and sea!). More than anything, I got to spend time with mother nature again. I say this unashamedly and with full bias–the Philippines is a country unlike any other.

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