The islands around Coron harbor a little secret not obvious on the surface. Pun intended. The Busuanga island group is home to Academy-award-winning underwater scenery. (Obviously I made up the award, but it’s truly deserving!) I spent my precious few days there constantly breathless.
Thanks to a karmic, pay-it-forward, good-will-to-all platform known as Couchsurfing.org, I was hosted by a local man — M.J. He’s escaped the corporate rat race in exchange for the quiet, simple life. So simple that we just crashed on yoga mats in his little studio each night. He said he could never let his mother see just how basic his living conditions are right now as he works on getting his tourism business off the ground.
He and I were peas in a pod with perfectly matched ideas about what having guests should be like. Just as I have chosen to do unto the strangers I’ve hosted in the past, so did MJ choose to hook me up with good businesses, recommend the coolest places, show me around town on his scooter, and introduce me to several dining spots. He even endured half an evening of karaoke for me (being probably the only Filipino in the world who doesn’t ADORE the past-time). Thank you!
We were up bright and early, since my first day in Coron was also my last chance to SCUBA dive. It could be nothing less than divine intervention that — as MJ was whisking me to the pier to catch my dive boat — I heard my name come floating from the sidewalk behind me. It was my compatriot from the previous day’s grueling journey, standing there in little blue shorts only a Spanish man could pull off. I would have bet good money that his request to join my dive trip would be firmly rejected by Rocksteady Dive Shop. After all, when I showed up nearly an hour previous, the shop master told me he was already working on borrowed time and to hurry up and try on my gear. I would have lost the bet. Their solution to satisfy this truly, truly late-comer? Just put the tardy kids in a group of their own!
This meant losing the dive guide I’d been looking forward to — Ronaldo – and getting stuck with a kid by the name of Dino who looked like he couldn’t be less excited about going diving with us. I tried to cheer him up and convince him that we’d be fun (while quizzing Ronaldo about “How exactly is it a good thing that we’re going with this kid and not you — the seasoned vet?). My efforts were not in vain. Finally Dino cracked a smile and said, “I am really glad to go diving with you today!” SCORE!
They day turned out perfectly. Dino was amazing. The dive sites were amazing. The weather was amazing. The food was amazing. Being one of two divers in our group (usually I’m one of three, four, eight…) was amazing. Have I ever had this much fun?
Our first stop was virgin territory for me — my first “wreck” dive. The Japanese had turned this captured British vessel into a cargo ship, and then the American forces figured out where the Japanese were harboring their fleet and promptly bombed and sunk several boats. Wreck diving has a cult-like following. I’m not a good candidate for membership. When I first heard that this was one of the coveted diving experiences, my first thought was, “Why?” A ship rich in history like the Titanic, sure! But some heap of sunk and stripped metal… why, exactly? So you won’t be surprised to hear that I was more fascinated by the things growing on the ship and the fishes swimming around the ship than I was the ship itself.
Next up was Barracuda Lake — a true jewel in Mother Nature’s crown. This secret paradise is tucked behind striking karst towers. Some kind souls cobbled together crude wooden access steps — much better than just climbing up over the sharp karst fingers while wearing a heavy dive kit. The view over the lake is breathtaking — like entering one of the world’s greatest cathedrals via its balcony. We worked our way down to the water where our only company was the towering cliffs. There are several layers of water in Barracuda, ranging from room temperature at the surface to hot-tub-hot in the geothermal depths.. Most impressive: underwater the cathedral-like formations continue! It was my first dive without a wetsuit and in brackish (less buoyant) water, and I loved it!
The final spot of the day, “Twin Peaks,” was like an advertisement for breathtaking Philippines diving. I could talk for hours about all the vivid colors and textures, the fascinating creatures, the intensely complex ecosystem. This is a seen-to-be-believed kind of place. The sense of wonder and joy that normally rushes through me upon reaching the summit of a grueling mountain climb was present in this ocean garden. And all I had to do was jump in!
How did I follow up the perfect day? With a perfect night! A string of happy coincidences meant that somehow I was still at the dive shop drinking beers and dripping from my fresh-water-hose-shower nearly two hours after our trip had ended. One thing led to another. Soon Dino, his adorable little girlfriend Eula, Roberto, MJ and I commenced one of the best karaoke evenings I’ve ever had. Being basically the only group at the bar, we dominated the microphone. It’s the first time I’ve been out with an entire group of people who unabashedly like to sing (MJ played the token karaoke-hater roll). My vocal chords didn’t heal for a week!
The next morning, two Finnish friends of MJ’s, Roberto, and I jumped back on a boat to be whisked from one white-beach-palm-tree-blue-water-paradise to another. The snorkeling was killer — almost as good as the diving from the day before. And we finished out the day by swimming through a tunnel in a mangrove patch to a hidden hot spring. (Toby — you would have died!) Of course I capped off the evening with the three S’s of pleasure — sandwich, salad, and sleep!
I was sad to have had such limited time in Coron, but the bright side is — now I have to go back! ♣