Getting ship wrecked in more ways than one on Castaway Coron


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Asia » Philippines » Palawan » Coron
May 2nd 2013
Published: May 12th 2013
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It was with a heavy heart that we set sail from the port of El Nido for supposedley the 6-7 hour boat journey to the island of Coron, which is famous for it's Japanese wrecks and diving.

The journey started well enough; we quickly bagged a space on the open air top deck and got talking to a nice Canadian couple (Kevin and Brandie) and a girl from America (Frieda) and just relaxed in the sun. After an hour or so, passing some of the most breathtaking landscapes we have seen to date, we were served a basic lunch of noodles/spaghetti and soft drinks. We were informed that as there was a fairly strong current the journey would take a further 8 hours, although this was not a problem as we were enjoying the ride - even if it was starting to get really hot sitting in the direct sun. The next 5 hours passed quickly enough, especially when we got talking to an eccentric local tour guide called Edmondo whom was constantly trying to sell us various boat trips in Coron (always with a smile and a joke). We had decided to make the best of our time in Coron instead of feeling down about leaving El Nido, and so arranged to go on a 2 day/1night boat trip with him to some difficult to reach islands, which sounded like paradise.

We were in open water only a couple more hours from Coron when there was a loud crack followed by a wheezing noise and the power cut out. Thinking the boat engine had stalled and we would be here for a few minutes, we were all thankful for the break and jumped into the sea to cool off, but after 30 minutes it was clear that there was a serious problem. An hour turned into two, which soon turned into three, and with no information at hand some people were starting to worry. Through broken Filipino/English we managed to acertain that the rotor blade of the boat had come away and the axis were no longer inline - we were officially shipwrecked, on the way to probably the most famous wreck graveyard in the world. To make matters worse; a) The boat radio did not work, b) No one could get any phone reception in the middle of nowhere and c) The archaic map that the boat captain had (which he was using to work out our position) resembled the Map of Middle Earth from Lord of the Rings.

After a good 3 hours of floating at sea, in the boiling sunshine without any food or drinks (as they had all run out), the sun began to set and the boat captain informed everyone that he had some good news and bad news. The good news was that a rescue boat was finally on it's way . . . the bad news however was that it wouldn't be allowed to tug us all the way to Coron as it was getting too dark and the coast guard wouldn't allow it, so we would be taken to small fishing village/island in the middle of the sea and have to spend the night sleeping on the boat! At first we thought he must be joking, they can't force 50 people to sleep on a boat with no supplies, but when we realised he was serious we actually looked forward to this little adventure, although we felt sorry for the Canadian couple who had booked and paid for a luxury hotel on Coron as it was the last night of their holiday. We made it to a tiny island at gone 7pm and were told we could get off the boat if we wanted to. We were all in need of getting on to dry land at this point so climbed off the boat and wandered into the small village on this island in the middle of nowhere. I don't think the locals here had ever seen tourists before as everyone stopped to stare at us as we went to the one shop to buy some water and also some rum, as we thought we might need a drink to get through the night! We tried to find somewhere to eat but instead came across a house with a few ladies inside singing Karaoke in the garden, a favourite Filipino activity, and it wasn't long before they invited us all in to join them. This Karaoke machine wouldn't have looked out of place in London - it was huge, brand new and had every song imaginable loaded into it, it must have cost a fortune. After watching the women sing a few songs, they encouraged us to have a go, and although he was hesitant at first, it wasn't long before Scott was into his stride belting out 'My Way' like a pro - who knew he was so talented?! Within a few minutes, the whole village was crowding round the garden as word had got out that there were some westerners in town; photo's were taken, toasts were made and the rum was gone in no time. We all sung various songs (quite badly) and the locals loved it, especially the older women who Scott serenaded throughout the evening. Before we knew it 2 hours had passed and we thought we should get back to the boat so headed back and climbed aboard, but after a while Scott had rounded up some new troops and it was back to the karaoke for some more tunes! This time the women from the house had gone to bed, but a couple of the younger girls took us round the corner, opened a shed-type-shop which was empty inside except for...yes, a brand spanking new Karaoke machine! So a few more hours were filled singing cringe classics and generally having a lot of fun. It was a fantastic night and a really great (if surreal) experience which money couldn't buy, and its things like this that make travelling so special. Finally back on the boat at 1am it was time to make our beds with a few life jackets and try to get a few hours sleep...

At 6am we were woken by Edmondo yelling 'good morning everyone, time to wake up, the other boat is here to take us to Coron!' Ever the joker we all ignored him and tried to sleep some more but when we glanced up there actually was another boat there, so we all got our stuff and filed onto it for the last leg of this crazy journey. Arriving to Coron town at 10am, a full 26 hours after leaving El Nido, we were all shattered and in need of showers. As we had arranged a boat trip with Edmondo (for the next day), we went to a guesthouse he had recommended to us which was basic but clean and cheap and run by some lovely ladies where we had much needed showers and a nap. That afternoon we checked out the town, which wasn't too impressive but had some good food options, and had some lunch, before getting an early night in anticipation of our trip tomorrow.

We had an inkling that Edmondo was slightly annoying when we were on the boat, but he was funny and nice so pushed the feeling aside, however when he knocked on our door at 7am the next day (instead of the agreed 8.30am) yelling 'good morning are you ready for our trip' we got the feeling that spending the next 48 hours with him would get quite difficult. Anyway, we were excited to see these islands so got up and headed outside to meet him, which is when we found out that it wouldn't be just us three on the trip as we had thought, but also the assistant boat boy (Joy) from the day before who he had be-friended, plus an actual boat captain(Ariel)...we had been led to believe that he was the boat captain (especially when he showed us 'his' boat the night before and boasted about all the trips he had done with people), but no matter, the more the merrier. This got a bit awkward when we were in the market buying food for the next 2 days as he kept hinting that we didn't have enough fish/rice/salad etc, as in we were expected to feed everyone and not just ourselves, but it was quite cheap so we sucked it up and bought plenty of food, including pork steaks, tuna, a white fish, red snapper and loads of rice, salad, fruit and veg. When he said for the 8th time though that it would be good to have more rum and that the captain liked cigarettes and did we have enough rice, we had to tell him that we wouldn't be buying anything else now, and if he or they wanted things like that they had to buy it themselves. He was being too cheeky and getting on my nerves and we hadn't even set sail yet! Anyway, we finally got on the boat and the 5 of us headed out to sea.

As we got out of the swampy docks and into the open water we began to see the clear blue waters that we had heard about, and a couple of hours later as we moored at Malcapuya island and stepped onto the white sand, we were really happy we had come here. We paid the fee of 200 Peso's pp, which you have to do on all beaches in this peninsular, and admired the views. Any worries we had about not finding nice beaches around Coron instantly vanished - the beach was gorgeous, with soft sand and turquoise waters, and best of all only a few people were on it so we kind of had it all to ourselves. We spent the day sunbathing and snorkelling just off the house reef which was great, although I got stung in the face by a jelly fish and a trigger fish tried to attack Scott again, but the underwater life here was so untouched it was really amazing. Joy and Ariel cooked some of the food we had bought (we weren't sure where Edmondo was) and we had a delicious fish/rice lunch on the sand before napping in the afternoon.

There were 3-4 cottages on the beach owned by the caretaker and his family which you could rent for the night, and although they included a mattress and a fan they were basic and we thought they were too expensive at 1,400 Peso's (£22) - we hadn't even spent this on a nice a/c room in the Philippines so didn't want to take it, and as we knew this situation before we told Edmondo when we first arranged the trip that we couldn't afford the cottages and he had agreed we could sleep on the beach or the boat. Now we had spoken to Edmondo twice already about sleeping arrangements for that night so when he appeared at around 4pm asking us if we were taking the cottage we were quite annoyed and told him no we would sleep on the beach or the boat as agreed. He then said we weren't allowed to sleep on the beach, but as it was now high tide the boat was stuck there for the night so it was like we didn't have an option, but we were adamant with him that we weren't taking the cottage. If we had our doubts that he had done these kind of trips before, we were almost convinced now that he had not, as otherwise surely he would have known that we weren't allowed to sleep on the island and told us before the boat got stuck that we had to move somewhere else for the night? He was really frustrating us. We left him to sort it out with the caretaker and walked around the beach as the sun was setting which was amazing as we were now the only ones here so it was pretty special. We got back to Edmondo and he said we could sleep on the beach now but on the other side of the island...ok great we thought.

Once again Joy and Ariel prepared a great dinner for us (who knows what we would have done if they weren't there, as Edmondo clearly wasn't going to do anything) and as we had bought so much food there was enough for everyone, plus we had some rum and coke which was a nice way to end a lovely day. As they went back to the boat for the night, the three of us walked round to the other side of the beach which was really rocky and pitch black, until we found a spot for the night. We laid out our sheets and towels and listened to some music on the I-phone which was nice, then as we tried to go to sleep, Edmondo started to sing...and did not shut up for a good 45 minutes, by which time I was cursing Scott for bringing the rum as he was clearly drunk and beyond annoying. If we made a slight noise to get him to be quiet, he would take that as a sign we were awake and begin rambling and talking rubbish, repeating himself and telling stories from earlier in the day but with enhancements (he was making stuff up), then he asked where the rum was as he wanted more, but we told him it was all gone as we didn't want him to drink anymore. It got to the point when we had to tell him we were tired and could he please be quiet so we could sleep! Finally he got the hint and as we finally got to sleep, he said he couldn't sleep on the beach, he had always slept on boats, and he had more rum on the boat, and so he was going back to the boat and would see us in a few hours. All our stuff was on the boat plus this beach was completely deserted and we were a bit freaked out anyway by some of the noises we could hear, so we gathered up all our things, trekked back over rocks and god-knows what else in the dark and went back to the boat with him...where he then said 'actually I'm going to sit with the caretaker then sleep on the beach here' - are you serious?! We were so angry with him at this point we just ignored him and got on the boat, where thankfully Joy and Ariel had finished the other bottle of rum so he couldn't have anymore. Needless to say we hardly slept as the boat was small and the wooden deck wasn't very comfortable, but after just a couple of hours the engine started and as we sat up wondering what was going on, Edmondo smiles and says 'good morning! We are moving the boat to another island now but you will have to pay the fee if you want to sleep on the boat still'. It was 4am, pitch black, and we were tired, not to mention we were supposed to be going to Banana island that day so weren't about to pay a fee to another island just to sleep on the boat off it. The look we gave him said it all and Scott told him in no uncertain terms we would not be paying yet another fee, only the Banana island fee, and we tried to go back to sleep.

As the sun was rising we couldn't sleep much more and so we sat bleary eyed watching it (it was actually stunning, turning the sky all sorts of pink/red colours) until it was light and we could get to Banana island. We couldn't even speak to Edmondo at this point so when we pulled up we just got off the boat and found a little spot on the sand where we could get some sleep - obviously as it was so early no one else was on the island except the caretaker, so we felt like proper castaways on our own little desert island, which doesn't have any accommodation on. It was gorgeous and after a lovely nap we woke up to full sunshine and blue skies. This was like a dream it was so amazing! Sand even whiter than the day before in a crescent shape, and crystal clear shallow waters just beckoning us in, we spent hours here enjoying these blissful surroundings and even though Edmondo had really annoyed us we were so pleased we had done this trip and got to see these remote islands. You can visit both these islands on a day trip from Coron, but it costs about 1200 Peso's per person and would be quite rushed as they are 2-3 hours away from Coron. We hired a private boat for 2000 Peso's and spent a further 500 Peso's on food, plus the island fees, so it didn't work out that much more and we had all the time we wanted on both islands which were truly magical and recommended. At around 3pm we headed back to Coron Town, glad to be saying goodbye to Edmondo who was a nice enough guy but not the full ticket and really tested our patience over these two days. However, we loved visiting Malcapuya and Banana island and have to say they are two of the most incredible beaches we have ever seen and are well worth going to.

We still had two full days in Coron after the trip and had decided to spend one of them on a short boat cruise around Coron island, and the other diving the famous ship wrecks. The boat trip was called 'trip A' and it stopped at a few different points for snorkelling, which was very good (we saw some huge colourful parrot fish as well as lots of Nemo fish), a small beach where randomly there was a cat who we gave lots of water too as he was so thirsty but otherwise healthy (apparently the security guard brings his cat with him each day?) and an impressive lake, Kayangan Lake, which had a viewpoint at the top offering great views over the bay and the turquoise water below. Lunch was included on the trip and it was only 600 Peso's including all fees, so a good deal and we had an enjoyable day. There were a few variations of this trip which you could book at any of the travel shops in town and we probably would have done another one if we had any more time here. Last but not least for our time in Coron, Scott chose to dive a few of the Japanese shipwrecks on the final day, which turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip...

Having read and researched a lot about the shoddy dive operators in Coron, I felt it was important to choose an outfit I was comfortable with, especially considering some of the depths are 40m plus. I cannot recommend RockSteady Divers highly enough. Great guides, new(ish) equipment, fantastic boats and great lunch. I choose the 3 dive package and my only regret was that I did not have time to do a few more. Getting up at the crack of dawn, I had arranged to meet the boatman and other divers directly at the pier and we were soon heading out to our first dive site which was around 90 minutes from shore.

Olympia Maru was a Japanese freighter ship which was sunk September 1944 during the second World War. It sits at around 30m and is 122m long and 17m wide. Jumping into the water and decending down, it wasn't long before we could start to make out the faint outline of the ship. We passed a huge shoal of Lion Fish before coming to a small opening in one of the cargo holds. Now before we had got into the water, our guides had informed us that it was not compulsory to penetrate the ship and we should only do it if we were comfortable in tight spaces. Luckily all of my group were up for it and the next 45 minutes turned into one of the most eerie and exciting dives I had ever done, especially as we had to use a small torch to see where we were going.

Out of the water for some lunch and to let our nitrogen levels decrease, the second dive wreck is known as Taiei Maru (although the actual name is not fully known). This ship is lying on it's side and has one long swim through where we swam from bow to stern. There were also a couple of boiler rooms which we got to check out, an old machine gun station platform, and a fully encrusted boot which was cool to see. The top of the wreck was covered in amazing coral and we saw huge sweetlips, scorpion fish and puffer fish.

The last of the dives was at Barracuda Lake, which is known as the craziest dive site in the Philippines and one of the top lake dives in the World. The dive starts with a difficult mountain climb in full diving equipment over sharp limestone cliffs. The climb only takes 10-15 minutes and is definitely worth it. The scenery around the lake is spectacular and the under water terrain has been likened to flying over the surface of the moon. The top 4-8 meters is warm fresh water. Below 8 meters the water is salt. There are dynamic changes of water temperature in the lake with temperatures ranging from 28 to 38 Celsius. You can even see the thermoclines at 4-8 and 14 meters. You can have the top half of your body in boiling water whilst your legs are in freezing cold. At the bottom of the lake, there is very soft mud/sand and we had good fun playing around completely submerging our whole heads and arms. We then got to swim through an under water cave which was amazing especially when passing through different temperatures. Although there wasn't too much marine life, we got to see hundreds of shrimp and quite a few small catfish. It was a very fun and different dive, for anyone coming to Coron to dive, this should be top of the list.

Coron turned out much better than we had hoped and was a great way to finish up our time in the Philippines. We can't believe we only have just over a month left . . . Better make the most of it.

S&V's Travel Info & Tips:

General Info: Approx 64 Peso's to £1.

Transportation: We paid 1700 Peso's for the boat journey from El Nido - Coron which we booked through The Alternative in El Nido.

Food: Food was expensive in Coron (maybe because its popular with Korean and Chinese tourists?) but we found a great little place called Illoy's Nonyo which served good Filipino food such as grilled chicken, pork belly, noodles and rice at low prices. Also WM Diner was nice for breakfast (either pancakes and coffee for 65 Peso's or Tapsilog, a Filipino breakfast of marinated beef, rice and a fried egg, for 70 Peso's). We ate once at Sea Dive but it wasn't that good and it was pricey, although they have free wi-fi.

Accomodation: Cheap and cheerful rooms with AC at Coron Reef Pension House for 600 Peso's a night, just off the main road.

Other observations:

x) Although diving is clearly the main activity here, those looking for island hoping and beach activity should not completely overlook it.

xx) Diving in Coron is fairly cheap - 2 Dives usually cost 2200 peso's, whilst a 3 dive package with lunch, full equipment, 1 soft drink and 1 beer at RockSteady Divers costs 3000 pesos.

xxx) There are only 2 ATM machines in Coron - one which only accepts Visa and the other was often out of service.


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13th May 2013

Stunning !
Paradise at its best ! :)
13th May 2013

Shipwreck surprises
What an adventure! Glad it all turned out to be fun and exciting. I might have fed Edmondo to the fishes.
13th May 2013

really beautiful
while we enjoy good weather here in UK, I would much prefer to be traveling in the Philippines of course haha so lucky, you two!!! I just added Coron to our list. cheers, Beata
20th May 2013

Planning to go there
Would also love to go to Coron. Thanks for sharing .
1st June 2014

lame (and possibly fake) tour guide
hey! we just went to Coron last month and we were so in love with it! definitely the best place in the Philippines that I've been to so far (haven't been to El Nido yet). it's just a shame to hear about your experience with that Edmondo who was claiming to be a tour guide. just an advice from someone from the Phils, be very cautious about getting tours from those people approaching you out of nowhere and bugging you about tours. personally, i never get tours from them. i check for recommendations from a trusted online forum to know which tour agency to get and we were definitely very happy with our experience.

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