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Published: January 18th 2011
1: Downtown Coron
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Karen and Outrigger
It was early in the day. You can tell because Karen is still smiling.
The plane was full of holiday makers. Mostly Filipinos with a smattering of westerners all headed south to the island of Busuanga about an hour’s flight via a twin engine turbo-prop. Flying into the island is not unlike the trip into Phuket, Thailand. Limestone karsks dominate the verdant landscape. The airport is small. Very small. The baggage handlers wheel the luggage from the plane to the terminal in hand carts and walk them in. There is a comfortable van that will transport you to the main town of Coron City about 45 minutes away via goat clogged roads. The cost for the ride is 150 Pesos (about $4 US) and the driver will drop you at your hotel of choice. Karen and I chose the Amphibiko Resort based on a recommendation we had received from an Australian woman. The hotel is small. Only 8 rooms. Very clean with TV, DVD player, A/C and hot water. The rack rate is 1,350 Pesos per night. We negotiated a for a week at 1,200 per night (about $28 US). The rooms are located along a wooden pier behind a small Japanese restaurant operated by the hotel. The rooms are in a stilt building over
Coron Boy On Bamboo Raft
This fellow came cruising by during our lunch on the beach.
the waters of Coron Bay. We are bracketed by Filipino families on both sides. They keep dogs, pigs and roosters in little pens attached to their homes. The sound of crowing roosters is constant. The pigs only at slopping time and the dogs are nocturnal creatures but most vociferous when they are out and about. The family to the east of us hosts a cock fight every Sunday morning which is well attended by young and old.
Coron City is a small town of about 10,000 residents. Most of the tourists here are Filipino. Few westerners about and those that are cover a broad spectrum of home countries, mostly European. The primary draw here are the views and the waters. Most visitors come for the diving. There are a plethora of dive operators in town. There is a small but active market about 5 minutes walk from every hotel in town. The main drag is called National Highway. A bit of a misnomer as the highway is a two lane affair. Boat operators offer island hopping tours to the various small islands in the bay. All day tours start at 750 Pesos (about $18 US). They include lunch and
Nice group of folks especially the Slovenians who brought a bottle of pear schnapps along.
admission fees. A visit to any island here involves paying the owner a fee of anywhere between 50 and 200 Pesos. Bring your own snorkel gear as rentals run 150 Pesos. Bring Pesos with you when you come. They do not accept credit cards nor travelers checks. Most of the money changers charge a 3% service charge to exchange money. There is a branch of the Bank of the Philippines on National Highway but their hours are limited. They have two ATM’s but they are inoperable when the electricity is down though they employ a generator during business hours.
There is no electricity on the island between the hours of 6 AM and 6 PM so having TV and A/C in your room is of dubious value. When the lights come on at 6 PM there is a veritable sigh of relief that sweeps the town. Stereos immediately start up at full blast and the karaoke bars go from zero to a hundred in ten seconds flat. Adding to the cacophony are the scooters and tuk tuk’s that serve as transportation for the locals. By 9 PM National Highway is a trough of carbon monoxide. The exhaust and traffic
Primary mode of transport on Busuanga.
noise can prove a startling hindrance to napping so make sure that if you’re the sleepy type that you secure quarters as far from the highway as you can. It’s a noisy town.
Most of the people here speak English and always wear a smile. Even when they haven’t understood a word you’ve said they will smile and nod their heads. This fact made for bumpy goings when Karen and I first got here. Hence this e-mail I sent to Noah a day ago:
Mom and I did the island tour thing today. I swear to God Noah, these little islanders can drive one to distraction. We booked an all inclusive tour package (snorkel gear, refreshments, lunch and beach admission fees) we get on the boat with 5 other people (2 Germans, 2 Slovenians and an old French guy that spoke Spanish) the boat heads out and stops at a pier 100 yards away and then the guy running the boat asks Mom and I if we have snorkel gear and we say no, of course not since Dolores at the tour desk told us it would be provided and he says no it isn’t but
Every Trike Has A Name
No trike would be caught dead on the street without a moniker.
I can rent it for you at 150 pesos apiece and I start getting mad and his face goes all bleary and blank like he just can’t wait for that San Miguel beer at the end of the day so we rent it and of course it’s so damned windy out Mom never gets in the water and I’m already thinking about getting the hell out of here and flying to Nam and we arrive at the first stop and I get in the water and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the finest coral bed I have ever seen in my life with happy looking fishies coming up to say howdy-do and forest green fan coral and brain coral heads 10 feet high and the sun starts to break through and then we go to a Hong like the ones we saw in Phi Phi but this one has a thermal spring feeding into it and it’s as warm as a spa and there are, like no boats in it and we have it pretty darn close to ourselves and then we stop at a perfect little beach cove for lunch and the boat guy grills a big ass
Local reprobates looking for a chance to practice their English
snapper with rice and fresh veggies and so now I’m re-evaluating my tolerance level for bull shit. This is my vacation. This is my life. Wish you were here.
Busuanga reminds me of what Phuket must have been like 30 years ago before the multi-nationals took it over. A guy could make a ton of money here in the tourist industry just by catching the Pesos the natives let sift through their fingers. The place is a no-brainer. We finally got settled into a downstairs room and distributed our gear in little piles around the room. Electronics here, books there, clothing here and here and here. The electricity schedule is a pain but at least this little notebook computer has a champ battery so Mom and I can pre-write our e-mails and upload them when the lights come on. At least there is that.
We’re sitting in the little terrace restaurant the hotel runs right on the main drag which is two lanes across and crowded with scooters and Filipino versions of Tuk Tuks (which all have names painted on their fronts like No Fear, Rock and Roll Animal, Blaze of Glory) and construction trucks all honking away
Grandmother spending time with her granddaughter during recess. Filipinos are very devoted to their offspring which is a good thing since they have so many.
and each one is fitted with glass pack hot rod mufflers that could drown out a Death Metal concert. The street is lined with open shops and acts as a catch basin for all of the vehicular carbon monoxide. The sea breeze clears it all out over night and then it starts again with dawn. It’s quite a show.
Today Karen and I took a long walk around town and discovered an area where trees grow tall and full. We stopped by the local school and watched the kids play in the Facility's big yard. Little boys used sticks to push scooter tires around in wide interlacing circles. A woman sat next to us with her granddaughter dabbing at her chin while the youngster ate a cup of ice cream. Outside the town hospital parents sat with their sick children on long tree shaded benches patiently waiting for their time with the doctor. Open stores line the street next to the school selling penny candies and school supplies. The place grows on you after a while.
Tomorrow we’re splurging and renting a boat and pilot for the day. We’re going to a lagoon accessed
Coron City Hospital
Very clean and orderly facility for medical care of the locals.
by an underwater tunnel. Inside you feel like you’re swimming in the bottom of a tall limestone barrel. A hot spring bubbles up and kisses your bottom. We’ll snorkel a reef teeming with thousands of fish and sea plants. We’ll eat lunch on a tiny white sand beach protected by limestone karsks and snooze under the sun while our pilot does the same on his outrigger. One leg hanging over the side with his toes dabbing the water. When we’re good and ready we’ll tell him to take us home and if God is smiling upon us and if the stars and planets are in perfect alignment, well then and only then, we might be able to take a hot shower in our room.
Our next stop will be the town of El Nido in north Palawan. We have to take an 8 hour boat ride to reach it. I have a feeling that we’ll both have pretty stout sea legs when we put the Philippines behind us.
Tips for Travelers:
Coron is not cheap by Southeast Asian standards. Budget $50 US for room and food. Add another $60 if you plan to dive.
Tourist food is available. Burger and fries can be had for 110 Pesos at any number of places around the market. Good Filipino food is to be found at Lolo Nonoy’s garden restaurant on National Highway. Karen and I ate great, filling food there last night for a total of 150 Pesos. High end tourist places abound near Coron pier. Having cloth napkins will set you back 300 Pesos and up per person.
Bank of the Philippines is 100 yards past Lolo’s on the other side of the street. Hours are 9 to 5 Monday through Friday.
All tour agencies sell at the same price. It is fixed so it makes little difference who you use.
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