In the bosom of history

PENMAN - Butch Dalisay () - January 25, 2010 - 12:00am

Wanting to celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary a couple of weekends ago — but without the budget to hie off to our favorite haunts (a foggy town called London comes to mind) — we decided to look for some fun closer to home. I took this as an opportunity to revive an earlier plan, a destination I’d been suggesting to Beng since two of our American friends went there during a recent visit: Corregidor.

I know, you don’t normally think of Corregidor as a romantic getaway. It’s a place steeped in history but also in blood, albeit heroic blood. When I first broached the idea to Beng of going to the island and staying overnight, she cringed, thinking that we would be making a date with ghosts that went all the way back to the Spanish-American War. (There’s something that needs to be made clear here, something that 36 years together hasn’t changed: she believes in spirits, I don’t — or at least I don’t think I do.)

But persistence prevailed, and I happily made a booking with the tour operator, Sun Cruises, which also runs the ferry and the only big hotel on the island, Corregidor Inn. Most people take just the day trip to Corregidor, which costs about P1,900; few know that, for not too much more — just P900 more per person, in our case, going by double occupancy — you can get a very nice room at the very nice inn, a terrific bargain, considering that the whole package of P2,800 won’t even be enough for a night in an upscale metropolitan hotel. But we’re getting ahead of the story.

We assembled at 7 a.m. at the ferry terminal near the CCP; with us were a good number of both foreign and local tourists, and while it meant that every one of more than a hundred seats on the boat was taken, I was glad to see that Corregidor still held that kind of attraction for people, especially the young, to whom war these days is a video game.

The ferry itself was sleek and modern, manned by a smart, efficient crew, and blessed with such amenities as air conditioning and an on-board convenience store. The ride took about 90 minutes over generally smooth water, and before we knew it we were being met dockside by tourist buses gaily decked out as prewar tranvias. Each bus had a tour guide, and we were lucky to have, on Bus No. 3, a smart and sassy lady named Stella Cordoba to introduce us to Corregidor’s unique charms.

Thus began a day of forays into tunnels, batteries, ruins, and promontories, each one of them informed by some story of conflict and courage. The 30-minute light-and-sound show at the Malinta Tunnel, written and directed by no less than the late National Artist Lamberto Avellana, was deeply affecting — and to me, a student of the craft, good proof of what a difference a literate script makes to such productions, too often smothered these days by silly and self-indulgent effects.

The Spanish-themed Corregidor Inn, where the tour paused for a generous buffet lunch, was a pleasant surprise. For the price we paid, I was frankly expecting some spartan dump evocative of a POW camp, but the inn turned out to be a clean, well-appointed place, with a restaurant that offered spectacular views of the bay on both the Cavite and Bataan sides. (The only things I notably missed were a TV in the room and an Internet connection.)

One good reason for taking the overnight option is that a day is simply too short to visit and appreciate all the sites the island has to offer. I suppose red-blooded males like me will never have enough of the big guns and the battlegrounds, but in truth the Corregidor experience is most moving at its quietest.

The night tour begins with a viewing of the sunset from Battery Grubbs, then moves on to “ghost hunting” at the ruins of a hospital once used as a barracks by the victims of the infamous “Jabidah Massacre” of 1968, whose graffiti still marks the rooms they stayed in. It ends with an hour-long march into the lateral tunnels of Malinta. I’m claustrophobic, but I survived, and am glad I went; this is as close as one gets to what the war must have felt for the thousands trapped in those tunnels.

(A tip for the tourist: bring a flashlight. They hand out some on the night tour, but there won’t be enough for everyone, and you’ll want a flashlight in your hand or pocket should the unthinkable happen and you stray from the group into dark oblivion.)

The next morning, Beng and I went beachcombing, taking a long, leisurely walk at the South Dock, exploring the rugged cliffside, picking up the island’s red-tainted pebbles and observing how, strangely enough, the beach was strewn with the sandals of children and the shoes of women.

The one eyesore that stuck out in certain coves was Manila Bay’s garbage, collected and deposited by the current. The most valuable souvenir we brought home was a piece of the The Rock — indeed, a rock itself, a fist-sized panghilod that should remind us every day of a weekend well spent in the bosom of history.

(So did we encounter any ghosts? Beng says she did, and has pictures to prove it in strange “orbs” that appeared in her shots but not mine. More on this next week.)

You can find more pictures from that visit on my Flickr page, here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/penmanila/sets/72157623126963197/.

* * *

Lastly, a small but important correction to last week’s piece on my “Syrian cousins.” It was Alfredo Zuraek, not his brother Nicholas, who stayed on in the Philippines, married Maria Panganiban, and thereby made my Bayombong friends possible.

* * *

E-mail me at penmanila@yahoo.com, and visit my blog at www.penmanila.net.

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