Coron | October 2018
Manila. A packed metropolitan filled with smoke, rosaries and pork is all I know about the Philippines. I was born here, spent many of my summers here and rarely saw the rest of this country. There are a few places I visited, but I was so young I can only rely on photos and faint memories of little piglets and wooden carvings to make them feel real.
So it was only natural that I piggybacked a trip to Coron with my mom.
Five best friends from high school, their two daughters and three more family members visited the deep blue waters. After a 6am flight, we scrunched into a shuttle fighting sleep. As an eternal window seat woman, I watched the trees line the tops of the hills. They were like little mohawks. I watched the man made road turn into a rocky path made only by the shuttles driving back and forth. I felt us getting farther and farther away from any high-tech civilization. Ironically, everyone was on their phone and had a connection. And our hotel had wifi.
After a nap, we made our way to town and then… the climb to Mt. Tapyas. 724 steps. These steps weren’t fucking around. So it was really 724 steep steps. But hey, it was the perfect time to reach the top and see the sun set. I took a breath and remembered how I felt when I was on top of Veranazza looking down. Be present. Take your photos and then put it down. The air was warm and free. I can remember the different shades of dark smokey gray, wheat grass yellow, and the hues of the sky shift from a bright blue, to a sweet but striking orange, to a deep, velvet blue. The moon was full and bright.
Back down the 724 steep steps, a stint at the Maquinit Hot Spring to massage our legs, and dinner. As all Filipinos do, we love our food. Shared meals were obligatory for the entire trip. Eating with our hands was optional. Fresh fish was guaranteed.
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Early the next morning we met back up with Ezekiel, or as I called him, Zeek. He introduced us to his crew and our boat. This blue and white little guy would be our home away from home taking us from one island to a beach to a snorkeling spot.
While Bermuda felt isolated being so far from everything, Coron did not. Yes we were sailing in these incredibly vast waters, watching big limestone formations pass with no city skyline in sight. But there was a comfort I felt in Coron. Being on water calms me, and I could watch the waters shift from deep blues to light turquoise and wave all day.
We hopped from Quin Lagoon, CYC Beach, Vivian Beach and Siete Pecados.
I borrowed my god mom’s underwater camera. It was a new experience, learning to shoot underwater. Getting the composition I want while trying to stay still in the moving water. It was a new way of seeing how light hits. How everything looks holy because you see beams of light piercing through the waters. And then photographing people. In the moment I wasn’t sure why I kept taking pictures of people’s legs and feet, but one shot in post explained it. The water is so deep and so clear, that the word ‘floating’ was never more obvious to me. Here we are, just hanging out on the surface of this massive hole with no place to rest our feet in sight. Totally chill.
So, I can’t tread water. Also, I am intimidated by deep waters. If I can’t see the bottom, I slightly panic and don’t appreciate this loss of control. I had to mentally prepare myself weeks before because I wanted to do it all. I knew I could be heavily dependent on my life vest, but I wanted to also feel free of any nerves. My god mom is an expert scuba diver, so I asked her for any and all the advice. All she told me was “stay calm.” …cool….easy…right.
Stay calm. I just repeated it to myself every time I looked down and saw no sight of the bottom. I would take a deep breath and remember where I am and what I’m doing. I didn’t panic until I swam over some tall sea urchins on the way back from a little reef garden that Zeek led me to. That was my core workout for the day, folks. Hold your stomach up so you don’t get poked by some sea urchins.
I love mythology. Growing up I had a book about Filipino folklore. Zeek told us the story of how Siete Pecados formed. In Spanish, it means “seven deadly sins.” Rumor has it that seven sisters snuck out to swim. Not cool with mom. So they drowned, because maternal wraths are the worst. Years and years past and seven islands sprouted where they swam. Beautiful, right?
We sailed back to town and in the distance we watched a heavy rain come down. The air felt cool. Like the rain was sending a light mist. Or you know, the seven sisters’ mom spitting at us because her daughters’ graves are now a popular diving attraction.
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Day 2 we visited Barracuda Lake, Twin Lagoon, Banol Beach, the Coral Garden, and Skeleton wreck.
Our lunches were held on the small public beaches where no one lives, except for maybe the island cats and dogs. Little huts were built on the sides as an oasis to eat and take a break. Our crew and aunts bought fish early in the mornings so we had the freshest meals. Two of the best meals I will ever have. Warm rice, fresh fish and an open view of the endless waters.
Kayangan Lake is the spot with the obligatory instagram shot. Peaking through the trees, there’s the shot of the water with a limestone karst on the left, a long dock on the right lined with parked boats. We came early enough that we were the only ones making the way up and had enough time to take our own photos. Again, just like Cinque Terre I’ve seen this shot so many times that the magic has disappeared, and I keep moving to the Barracuda Lake.
This had the deepest water. It just kept getting bluer and bluer. When I had the camera again, I had a brief moment of wanting to be an underwater photographer. But then I remembered that I can’t function without a life vest, so how the hell could I possibly dive with such finesse without any care that this lake is 40m (or 131 ft) deep.
Sailing into Twin Lagoon may have been my second favorite moment (first is Coral Garden). I never saw Avatar but if I did, it probably felt like this but in real life and better. To the soundtrack of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September,” we turned the corner and met this massive lush green wall. I watched the shades of green get higher and higher. And all I could think was, “fuck, this is beautiful.”
It went from surreal to hilarious like that. To get to the other lagoon, we had to swim to a small crevice and climb a ladder to cross. Only it wasn’t swimming. We formed a 10 person long centipede, belly up as we were pulled by Zeek. There’s nothing else to do but laugh as you look up, watch the sky, as you slowly move to reach the ladder.
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And then came the Coral Garden. Again, we formed a 10 person long centipede, but this time belly down so we could watch the coral garden slowly pass under us as we’re being pulled. I’ve never wanted to grow more eyes until this moment. I didn’t want to miss any shape, color, texture, movement. Look to 1pm and see electric purple giant clams. Three pm, light pink hues of brain like reefs. Directly below and see a school of fish.
The other side fell off into the deep abyss, but along the edges were the dead reefs, a sad dusty yellow gray left to never grow again. It was heart breaking to see this side of damage, and a reminder to take care of our planet (enter all environmentalist soap box moments here, you’re more eloquent than I am. Looking at you Leo DiCaprio.).
We were nearing the end of our centipede viewing parade when all of a sudden I hear my mom yell, “Sea turtle! Sea turtle! On the left!” Heads craned and there he was. A small glimpse of a sea turtle, just passing by. I’m not sure if this was a good luck sign, but I pretended like it was.
After this it was all a blur. Being whisked away on our boat, sitting on the bow and watching everything pass. I never wanted to leave. I wanted to go back to the coral garden, find the turtle again and watch the reefs wave back and forth.
Not taken by me, but wanted to give a shout out.
1. Reference for our 10 person centipede | Credit: Our boat crew
2. Me in my happy place | Credit: My mom
3. The fam | Credit: Our boat crew