skull Getting wrecked and sick skull
skull Coron and Palawan, Philippines skull

Coron Town

December 10

We were headed to Coron Town, not Coron Island – yes very confusing. Most of the time people just say Coron and usually mean Coron Town…most of the time. This area, a small group of islands off the northern tip of Palawan, is famous for its World War ll wreck diving. In September 1944, a fleet of Japanese ships hiding in the harbor were sunk in a daring raid by the US navy. Those 10 well preserved ship wrecks are what we came to see.

We arrived a few hours later, breezed through the airport (how will I ever handle North American air travel again?!?) and went looking for a van. Yes, a van. We were told that a few vans would be around to shuttle us to town; we just needed to tell them our hotel. We walked out and told a guy we needed to go to Coron Town. Without a word he took my bag and walked to a van. I got in and once it was packed to the brim we left. This is the point where I think most travelers would get nervous. So far the driver hadn’t said one word to us, the van was unmarked and it was starting to get dark. Even I, a fairly experienced traveler, was a bit anxious. We drove for about a half hour and the van pulled over to drop some people off. James got out and told the driver the name of our hotel. Slowly the van dropped everyone off until we were the last ones…then we headed off the main road onto dark unlit streets. Now, I don’t want to build this up into something it’s not (like the guy Chris told us about – making it this crazy adventure where it’s not) but I wanted to try to explain that even we (me) sometimes get a bit nervous in new places. A few blocks off the main road our driver pulled over – right in front of our hotel. The butterflies in my stomach stopped fluttering.

We were greeted by the very friendly owner. After a few minutes of chatting we found out he’d lived in Toronto for a few years. Cool! In no time at all we were checked in to our new & very clean hotel room. We prefer to stay on site for diving (but it’s often not in our current budget) but the hotel at the dive shop wouldn’t answer our emails…and we all know my feelings on that!

It was still fairly early so we headed to the dive shop to get some information and sign up for diving. In the 15 minutes it took to walk to the shop I fell in love with Coron. Often dive destinations have great diving but the city isn’t fantastic; you are stuck in a town with nothing, or its crazy expensive, or unsafe, or dirty, or…..but my favorite diving is when the diving and the destination are both amazing. Coron was this wonderful mix. We talked a bit with the American dive manager and signed up for the next day. Then had a quick bite to eat in the restaurant before heading home for some sleep. We’d had a few long days and I was (as usual) exhausted.

Dive Boat

December 11, 12, 13 Over the next few days we did some great diving with a fun group of people. There were two Australian girls (traveling together) and two Canadian guys (not traveling together, a German guy and a French guy, that we hit it off with. They were all young and beginner divers. We’d been diving in some high end places which seemed to attract older experienced divers – who sometimes took the sport way to seriously. I’d never do anything unsafe or dangerous but I think diving should be fun, laid back and it shouldn’t matter if your equipment is your own or rented, if you are a dive master or just open water or how graceful you are underwater (a short pause to stick my tongue out at James). They were all excited about just getting in the water, and that’s how it should be. The diving was pretty good too; some decent wrecks with a little bit of plant and fish life. It was also cheap; about $75 for 3 dives, a delicious hot lunch (that was cooked on the boat), pop & water and after diving was finished BEER! The first day I stepped onto the boat after my third dive I had a cold beer in my hand before I’d taken off my gear – how amazing is that? Every shop should do this (hint hint – to all those who are reading).

Barracuda Lake

Below I’m going to briefly list the wrecks we did and there are more pictures and information on www.nibsy.com. One dive I have to comment on though is Barracuda Lake. Our boat pulled up to a small bay of a tiny island, we got geared up, back rolled into the sea, swam to a wooden dock and then climbed (gear and all) up a small hill and down the other side to the lake. It got its name because one single barracuda that lives in the lake; not much else does so it is very deceiving. Barracuda Lake is a reverse thermal lake, or in simple so Susan can understand terms, it’s hot on the bottom and cool on the top. At the top it’s a cool 28 degrees Celsius (for this part of the world) and stays that way until about 14 meters. Here you can see a wiggly line (visible thermocline) that separates that cooler water with hotter water, around 40 degrees Celsius. I’ve seen a visible thermocline before, and it’s cool, but the difference in water temperatures was slight, I could feel it, but only a degree or two. As you swim down deeper the water gets hotter. I actually found it a bit too hot. Normally hot water should rise, right? The lower water contains considerable limestone salts, which creates heat and warms the water.

Science aside, the place was beautiful and unique. Huge limestone cliffs, starting at the bottom of the lake rose up and all around crating a bowl of sorts. Below water it was spooky, almost like you’d imagine an alien planet would be like. The bottom had a few feet of silt covering it.

Playing in the silt and with the lake fish
(Click on picture for link to videos, appx. 5.2MB and 1.3MB)

When we had descended the lake was empty but as we surfaced we were surrounded by snorkelers. I was staring at a tiny creepy see through crab when a snorkelers dove down and startled me… like an alien planet with aliens coming to get me.

After the dive we (gear and all) climbed back up and over the small hill and swam to our boat. The little bay had filled up with boats and it was like swimming through a boat parking lot; I had a hard time finding my boat – they were all blue and white from the bottom.

The evenings were just as fun! We had dinner with the divers from the boat and we all talked about diving and traveling. The French guy had visited Canada a few years ago and did a hike in BC that I’d never heard of but is now on my to do list, funny to learn about your own country from a foreigner – and a bit embarrassing.

Side Note: I don’t usually enjoy making fun or laughing at people, with them yes, but not usually at them – it’s just mean. But…we were moored with another boat that had just finished the dive we were about to do. We back rolled in and swam past the other boat to the mooring line. As we swam past their BBQ lunch was blowing in my face and, even though I’d just had my own delicious lunch, it smelled amazing and made me hungry. I started to joke with the divers to save me some. Then we got talking- yes I swim slow – and I asked how the dive was? Some guy was strutting on the beams of the boat and did a “meh”. Oh, really? The rest of the group all smiled and said they loved it. The strutter sort of shrugged his shoulders – like I’m too cool for you – and slipped on the wood beam falling forward and cracked his head on the boat before falling in. Now before you get all excited, he was fine, just a bump on the head and a bruised ego. But…you have to admit he had it coming. James was trying to hide how hard he was laughing I think he almost drowned. It was sweet justice, cocky a-hole.

The dives:

Irako- A refrigerated provision ship of the Imperial Japanese Navy Fleet.
Kogyo Maru- A navy auxiliary ship.
Akitsushima- Warship
Okikawa Maru- Oil Tanker
Lusong Gunboat- A gunboat (duh!)
Tangat Wreck- A Japanese freighter.
Morazan Maru- A Japanese freighter.

On the last day of diving James started to feel ill. During dinner I missed the couple sign that said “I’m ready to go, NOW”. When we finally left I turned to him and complained that he was a bit rude. He gave me a funny look and I realized he looked awful. I felt his head and he was burning up. That thing he has seemed to be back, and quicker than usual. Since Mulu he gets sick, flu like symptoms, every few weeks and I am sure he has Malaria. We went home and the hotel staff made him jasmine tea. I spent the rest of the night with grumpier than normal James; trying to get him to take cool showers and putting a cold facecloth on his head. He was burning up worse than normal.

Still love seahorses

December 14

In the morning James’ fever was down a bit but he was really tired. I got him some more tea and decided I’d let him sleep. I went to the dive restaurant; they had a beautiful view of the sea. My plan was to blog and enjoy a cup of coffee but that didn’t quite happen. When I got to the restaurant the Ozzy girls and the Canadian guys were having breakfast so I joined. All but the Mike, from Canada, were catching flights and we chatted until they left. Then Mike and I somehow talked for a few more hours until a slightly green colored James came for small bite to eat. We all had lunch, James went back home to bed and Mike and I managed to talk a few more hours. Thankfully (said with a smile) he left for a nap and I did get a bit of blogging in. I started to get hungry again (could it be supper time already?) and decided to go find James.

As I walked into the hotel a staff member told me James was on the roof. Yikes! On the roof there was a restaurant (with an amazing view!) and the owners family and friends who were celebrating Christmas and had so very nicely invited us as I walked out this morning and I omg! completely forgot. Crap! How could I have forgotten? I love stuff like that! I ran upstairs and found a still slightly looking green colored James surrounded by a dozen or so people. If looks could kill….he had been sound asleep when a knock at the door woke him. It was the owner reminding him to come for the BBQ on the roof. So he went. The food was amazing and I got a tiny taste, thankfully. James did get me back. The custom is to pass a bottle of rum around the table and all take turns doing a shooter. James had told them I would do his shots because he wasn’t feeling well. Another Yikes! Mike and I had switched from coffee to beer right after James left, the last thing I needed was SHOTS! Oh well…I didn’t want to insult. Luckily they let us leave after 4 or 5 or maybe it was 6 shots….

Even in my slightly (HA! Slightly!) dizzy state I was happy to hear that James was now concerned about this reoccurring “flu”. We talked to the owner about seeing a doctor. His advice was to wait until we were in Puerta Princessa (our next stop) which was a bigger city and had better health care. His brother could make James an appointment. His brother also owned a hotel so we made a reservation and he offered to pick us up from the airport. That way, they said, James might be able to see the doctor the day we arrive. His brother’s hotel was a bit more expensive but they gave it to us for the same price. If I haven’t mentioned yet…I should… the Pilipino people are so kind and generous. Very few people, even in the service industry, seem to be out to “get us” and I feel like a person not a sheep or a walking bank machine. Almost everyone we meet seems to be happy to see us, happy we are visiting. So far I’d say it doesn’t quite have the big ticket items other SEA countries have (temples, Angkor Wat etc.) but it is turning out to be one of my favorites – and it’s all because of the people.

We finally stumbled to our room; James from exhaustion me from the shots. I felt a tiny bit guilty that I’d had such a relaxing day while James suffered. It didn’t last long…I was sound asleep in 5 seconds flat.

December 15

The owner had friends flying on the same flight as us so he offered us a ride to the airport (see, that wouldn’t happen everywhere!). I had just enough time after check in to enjoy a hot coffee before our plane was boarding. Again…I was sad to go, I had really enjoyed Coron.

Soon we were landing and on our way to the hotel. Puerta Princessa was quite a bit bigger than Coron with a population of 210,508 people; Coron only has a population of apromixaly 32,000. Puerta Princessa is the capital of Palawan, an island province along Philippines west coast of the Philippines. It felt more like a city and didn’t have nearly as much flavor as Coron.

We checked in and James went to his doctor’s appointment; it was right in the same building as the hotel. After a short talk with the doctor she decided he needed blood work…so off we went to the hospital. We easily found the blood taking people and in no time at all James was done. He was a bit embarrassed when I put on my facemask (that I keep in my purse) but I wasn’t taking any chances, besides almost everyone else was wearing one.

After the tests we decided to go to dinner. We took the recommendation of the hotel and had a good western meal. By the end of dinner James was tired (or maybe I was, I was still a bit “groggy” from yesterday) so we went home for tv and air con.

December 16

We had to wait around for James’ results so we decided to do a bit of sightseeing around Puerta Princesa. We signed up for a tour, we were both feeling a bit off and it was pretty cheap.

The tour started (late because we were waiting on a couple that never showed) at a crocodile farm. It was okay, but a little sad. I think, because I really don’t know enough about crocs to know if living in a green with moss shallow concrete pool is a bad thing. Maybe as long as they are being fed they don’t care.

Croc farm

Next we waited, again. This time the no-show couple showed up as the rest of us finished our tour. So we got to wait in the van for them.

Prison Farm

After our hot wait we went to visit a modern day Penal Colony. There are no walls or fences and very few guards. We drove past farm land and tiny bamboo huts that the guide told us was part of the colony. We drove up to a small guard house and were waved in by a smiling guard. We drove slowly down a beautifully manicured road, lined with painted cement and wood fences and colorful flowers and trees. Is this really a prison? It is, and apparently it works.

It is a simple lifestyle of farming, fishing and carpentry, although the inmates can earn some money selling handicrafts they make themselves to tourists. They can’t go off the grounds and the threat to be shipped back to a Manila jail assures they don’t. This fear also encourages the inmates to follow the other rules and policies. This place is calm, tranquil and promotes rehabilitation unlike in Manila where gangs rule and everyone is nervous of riots, fighting and untimely injury or death. I don’t think the threat is the only thing keeping them here though. The chance to start a new, cleaner life, surrounded by mountains and fresh air and learn life skills is a huge incentive. Most of the prisoners are from poor families who lived in the slums of Manila, and a large number of these are children of single mothers – a sad by product of the war.

The colony is pretty much self-sufficient. We could see farm land, cows, chickens, churches, sport facilities, elementary schools…it looked pretty nice. The colony was started in November, 1904. For a few years they would grant land to inmates who had completed their time but wanted to stay. Female prisoners are not allowed, but often inmates do marry and have children who move to the colony. They no longer grant land, or soon it would be all given away. Today there are nearly 2000 prisoners and they are divided according to how long they’ve been in, by the color of shirt they wear. New prisoners live in barracks and long termers in bungalows or huts. It was interesting to see. I’m not sure it would work in North America.


We stopped next at a privately owned butterfly garden that was pretty impressive. It was filled with beautiful butterflies and dragon flies. When our time was up (we were moving quickly due to the late arrivals) everyone but the late arrivals were ready and waiting in the van. The tardy couple were gift shopping. By this point I wasn’t feeling well and was getting grumpier by the minute.

Next we went to a weird bakery/park. I think it was first a bakery that turned into a crazy theme garden complete with colorful birds. I wished we’d had more time (and I was feeling better) because it was a nice spot for a picnic. James and I split a bag of cookies and headed back to the van…yup, to wait. This was getting so annoying. We’d now spent as much time waiting in the van as we had on the actual tour.

Weird Bakery

The van then did the usual stops at a gift store and then a market. By this point James was feeling tired and I was feeling even worse. The tour guide (poor thing) explained that the tour was already over but she’d wait 15 minutes for anyone who wanted to take a quick peek in the market. I knew I wasn’t feeling well when I suggested we return to the van early. Sitting in the van you could see a bunch of busy fast food places. I commented it would be nice to grab something quick to take back with us – but we would never have time. HAHA The tour guide returned after 15 minutes and we….waited. She was a bit anxious to leave the others, they said they’d be back and wanted the ride to their hotel. About 15 minutes later they returned – bags full of fast food in their hands! I lost it and finally said something about waiting all day. Their response was “but we are hungry”. UGH! Well we can’t have you going hungry now can we!?! I almost bit right through my tongue, I knew I was cranky and didn’t want to be a total bitch.

After we got dropped off we went for a quick bite and headed home. We were both feeling horrible and couldn’t wait to get into bed.

December 17 & 18

I’m not sure when, but sometime in the night my stomach started to churn. Then it got worse. I slept in hoping it would just go away. Never one to turn down free food I finally got up and followed James across the road to the café that provided our free breakfast. I sat down, took one look at the noodle breakfast menu and almost vomited on my feet. I grabbed the room key and flew out. James was surprised, and a bit impressed I think at how fast I made it across the busy road without getting smoked. I’ll leave out the gory details and just say that I didn’t leave the room for over 48 hours. The first day I figured I’d just sleep it off…by the second I thought maybe not.

The first day I slept through we had planned to do a tour to the underground river. I was so sick that for the first time this trip I couldn’t go. I could not leave our room. James went without me and said it was okay but a bit anticlimactic after the build-up. It’s on all the lists of what to see when in Philippines and the locals rave about it. I’d say go if you are here and have a free day, otherwise – like me – you could skip it.

Somewhere in here James went for his test results and was told he had a long term infection. Again, I won’t go into the gory details but I lost the bet, he didn’t have Malaria. He was given a bag full of pills, some that looked like horse sized pills, that would take care of it. I didn’t completely understand what he had but was glad it was being taken care of.

Not at our best

December 19

We were supposed to catch a bus to El Nido this morning. Before our alarm went off we were both up. There was a bad typhoon in the south and James checked on line to see if it was affecting El Nido. We wanted to do sea kayaking there. The weather channel and news reported high winds, rain and mud slides all over Palawan (the island we were on, El Nido being at its most northern tip). Ahh, yeah that might affect our sea kayaking. I sighed, rolled over and went back to sleep. No El Nido for us.

James finally convinced me to leave the room to get some fresh air, but I suspect it was to get some fresh air into our room. We walked down to a strip mall and he patiently let me shop in a few of the gift shops before we had lunch. After just a few hours though I was beat and headed back to bed. This is the sickest I’d been this whole trip. We had some antibiotics on hand for this type of thing but James was still worried. I promised if I wasn’t better soon I would take a turn seeing the doctor.

December 20

I woke up shaky but feeling a bit better. I still didn’t have much of an appetite and didn’t feel all that energetic, but I think I was on the mend. We didn’t stray far from the hotel. We had a flight booked for December 22 which didn’t leave us much time to travel very far from POP, not to mention I was still pretty weak. I watched tv and James played on the computer. I was extremely thankful we were in a new hotel that was spotless, air conditioned and had a big flat screen tv while sick. I was also grateful that James went and got me food and water. I’m not sure how I would have survived alone, the poor hotel staff (who were just as unbelievable friendly as the Coron staff) would have found me dried up on the bathroom floor.

December 21

I had a bit more energy today, and it’s a good thing! The markets in POP were full of bargains. They had some decent jewelry, especially pearls. I still wasn’t well enough for our free breakfast (even the thought of cold breakfast noodles made my stomach churn) but I was well enough to walk to the market and take a look around. On the way we found a fast food chain selling western deep fried crap, ahhh yes, just what my body needed. We were only gone a few hours but it did feel good to get out. I think I might make it.

Prev. Home Next