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A grand view of Coron

Kayaking around the picturesque twin lagoon Photos by YVETTE LEE and AL LINSANGAN III  

Many places in the Philippines are stunningly shrouded in magic and mystery. One’s discovery of them elicits excitement. From mere excitement, a love affair of sorts is developed between the wanderer and the object of his or her wanderlust.

When I first set foot in Coron almost 20 years ago, I knew I would have a continuing dalliance with this island paradise in Palawan. Coron, then and now, is mysterious and riveting; its natural beauty is encompassing, let alone mesmerizing.

It was actually the international diving community who first put Coron on the world map. This is because of the 12 dive-able shipwrecks from the Japanese supply fleet from World War II. But as the word spread about the turquoise waters bounded by karst limestone peaks, deserted islands and beaches, non-divers started beating a path to Coron.

In retrospect, resorts catered mostly to the adventurous divers who didn’t care much if accommodations were Spartan because the diving was superb. With the world now at its doorstep, the town has responded to the demand and is now home to new resorts that have opened in the last five years. A very accommodating and charming address is the Asia Grandview Resort.

This cozy haven is a well laid-out resort with 20 spacious rooms (12 deluxe and eight superior rooms). It has a restaurant-bar that offers great views of the bay and the surrounding mountains.

A visit to Asia Grandview Resort is a celebration of life. Each morning spent at the resort is like finding a paradise within a paradise. It further helps that each air-conditioned guestroom in this haven has 46-sqm. floor area
 with hot-and-cold shower. The resort has two swimming pools. It offers unforgettable healing massage treatments, too.

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Preservation of the environment is an advocacy of the resort owners who have taken great care to keep the area’s trees, mangroves and greenery. As a result, birders have chosen Asia Grand View as their base to photograph their winged subjects.

The location of the resort also makes it the perfect jump-off base to visit the numerous natural attractions at nearby Coron island, for which the town was named after.

Our first stop was Twin Lagoon on the main island of Coron. The limestone cliffs loomed ahead, its stark dark grey walls contrasting sharply with the dense green vegetation and the blue-green waters. Somewhere along the cliff face is a small opening where guests can swim through to access the second lagoon.

Siete Pecados is popular with snorkelers and divers alike as this is a well-guarded marine sanctuary. Named after the seven little islands jutting out of the channel, the site is famous for its intact reefs filled with different varieties of hard corals. So bio-diverse is its coral growth that scientists discovered a couple of previously unknown species just a few years ago.

Near Siete Pecados is Maquinit Hot Springs, which is accessible by boat when the tide is high. The owners have created several pools that blended beautifully with the land around the spring to catch the heated water.  We basked in the salty water and let the heat permeate through our bodies as we watched the dusk fall onto the sea before us.

Banol, Atyawan and CYC beaches are for the beach lovers. Time your tour so that the bancas can nose up onto the white sandy shore while you disembark and have lunch al fresco under the shade of the trees or a table under a hut.

Perched on top of a hill, the town museum and the church remain as a haunting tribute to yesteryears. It was fortunate that they found the cure for leprosy and the paraphernalia used as medication is on display here. A visit to Culion Island to see the remains of the fort and the hospital museum that served as the leprosarium gives visitors a glimpse into the hospital’s storied past.

A trip to Coron is not complete without a visit to Kayangan Lake. This is one of seven inland lakes on the big island and public access is limited to only Kayangan and Barracuda Lake for divers. A short 10-minute climb will bring visitors to a breathtaking lake surrounded by a verdant forest. Snorkelers are advised to stick to the periphery of this aquamarine gem so they will see an extension of what they see topside — pits and peaks of limestone.

There are several wrecks that snorkelers can explore. The Lusong gunboat and the Skeleton wreck lie in shallow waters close to shore so swimmers can see the remnants without having to don a tank and the other requisite scuba gear.

Barracuda Lake is a dive that is a one-of-a-kind. My diver friend Yvette Lee said about 20 to 30 steps over sharp pinnacles will give you access to one if not the only lake dive available in the Philippines. The atmosphere, Yvette described, can be surreal, like diving in an underwater version of Superman’s’ kryptonite fortress.  There is also a thermocline — having two layers of water with different temperatures. The lake was so named for the lone barracuda that used to inhabit the lake.

There are 12 wrecks that are at dive-able depths around Coron and Busuanga —victims of a fierce bombing run from the fleet of Admiral William Halsey, an eagle-eyed reconnaissance officer who was on an aerial photo assignment noticed that the “islands” had moved from one photo to the next. He realized that they had found the camouflaged Japanese Navy Supply Ships. So early on Sept. 24, 1944, fighter planes and bombers came in and sank 24 of the ships with half at depths that sport divers can easily penetrate.

A freighter that was once known as the Olympia Maru lies on its side in just 15 meters of water. Because the hull receives a lot of sunlight, it is now a veritable artificial reef overgrown with gardens of table coral and sea whips while the walkways are filled with glassfish.

The Irako, which lies in deeper waters, remains a favorite for technical divers. The ship sits upright at the mouth of Coron bay and thus has the best visibility among the wrecks inside the bay. Strong currents around the wreck guarantee a healthy fish population that includes schools of snappers, jacks, scorpion fish and groupers.

One of the true warships of the fleet — the others being supply ships — is the Akitsushima. It was a seaplane tender and the crane that was used is intact and lying in the sand beside the wreck. The seaplane has never been found. The crane is now overgrown with bushes of orange-colored black coral trees and inhabited by schools of batfish and lionfish. Harp Coral, rarely seen in other dive sites in the Philippines, is abundant here.

The waters of Coron — above and under them — are indeed shrouded in magic and mystery. The place remains, on my list, one of the most mesmerizing spots in the world. 

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For more information on Asia Grandview resort, log on to www.asiagrandview.com or e-mail info@asiagrandview.com. Its Manila office can be reached at 695-3078 or mobile 0917-5507373.

E-mail the author at miladay.star@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

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