MY first visit to Coron won’t be forgotten easily. Coron, the final leg in an interisland tour earlier this summer consisting of stops in Boracay and Cebu, organized by Philippine Airlines (PAL) and the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), showed an unspoiled part of the Philippines waiting to be discovered.
While billeted comfortably at the Coron Westown Resort, we were roused early to hop on to a boat that would take us to the islands around Coron. Our tour guide, Nash Torres, said as we left Coron proper that technically, the municipality known as Coron was moved to Busuanga Island, while the actual island of Coron was awarded to the Tagbanua people as part of their ancestral domain.
Our first stop was Bulog Dos Island, a small island with a hill and a sandbar. The water was clear, as it was in many of the spots around Palawan, but we remember this mainly for the photos we took of ourselves. The sandbar provides opportunities to appear as if one was walking on water, or just emerging from the water, so we could pretend to be like Venus emerging from the waves, or Fairuza Balk walking on water in the 1996 movie, The Craft. While our party included professional photographers, we noted that the best shot taken of us was by a local boatman, who had already been trained by the numerous tourists who had asked for photographs along that same sandbar.
Our next stop was Malcapuya Island, where a lunch of grilled seafood was served. This island was surprisingly crowded, with one part of it serving as an ad hoc port and the other side showing a white-sand beach and very clear waters. I noted how close the color of the waters around that island were to the tint of the aquamarine stone in the ring I was wearing — perhaps this was the same color the ancients saw when they named the stone.
Noting the small crowd on Malcapuya, we asked Richard Rimando, Municipal Accountant, and representative of Coron’s mayor, about tourist arrivals during the pandemic. He said that the pandemic lockdowns gravely affected their livelihoods, as tourism had been their main source of income.
They had first reopened the island in December 2021, more than a year after the island’s closure in 2020. He noted that in that first month of opening, only about 300 tourists flew in. As of March, however, he reported that the island has begun to welcome 200 to 300 tourists a day.
The tourism personnel that were affected by the island’s closure found other sources of livelihood around the island, he said, such as being employed by the local government for beautification projects and the like, in preparation for the return of the tourism industry. “Essential silang lahat eh (they’re all essential),” he said.
Our next stop was to the Twin Lagoon, hidden by ancient limestone cliffs dating back millions of years. While boats brought groups of 10 to the bigger lagoon, development here is minimal: a rope, and two ladders. That day, I conquered a personal fear of swimming in the ocean (I grew up reading about sea monsters). The first lagoon’s twin is separated by a smaller cliff with a tunnel which one can swim under to cross to the second lagoon. The water here, as explained by our tour guide, displayed both thermocline and halocline properties: thermocline refers to changing temperatures within the water’s layers, so one may feel warm or cold depending on where one swims. Halocline waters, meanwhile, are formed from layers of saltwater and freshwater, which are apparently easier found in ocean limestone formations.
The last stop was Kayangan Lake, which displayed crystal-clear waters (we could clearly see the bottom of the lake, which went down to about 20 to 40 feet, according to our tour guide). To go to and from the lake, one has to hike about 300 steps. Kayangan Lake’s views offered postcard perfect views of Palawan.
Our guide noted that Kayangan Lake was only one of two lakes that one can explore around Coron, despite the hundred or so lakes located in the area. This was because the other lakes in the area are protected for their swallows’ nests (which form birds’ nest soup, a delicacy and a source of livelihood for the indigenous people), and the Tagbanua’s ancient beliefs. They believe that some lakes are protected by an ancient creature resembling an octopus but with only five tentacles, and thus must not be disturbed (so much for our fear of sea monsters).
The sacred lakes were marked on a map with depictions of the creature. Still, we enjoyed our time in this open lake, and we played the soundtrack to Moana as we left it, the cliffs forming a natural harbor.
They say that to love something, one has to know it; and now, knowing Coron and its treasures, one suddenly gets a sense of pride and protectiveness for it. Perhaps people should visit the islands more often to get a sense of what Filipinos should care about and stand for. — Joseph L. Garcia