Living in Southeast Asia, I’m surrounded by temples, ruins, modern cities, and culturally rich small towns. There’s so much culture, activities, and delicious food to indulge in, but sometimes traveling is great for nothing more than time to unwind. Time spent away from the sound of traffic, the ringer on the phone, and the persistent reminders of the to-do list. I had a long weekend off from my job and had just finished a long, expensive, and action-packed vacation in Africa, so I wasn’t looking for anything wild or costly. After some deliberation, a friend and I decided to spend some time in the unhurried island town of Coron, in the northernmost province of Palawan, the Philippines, to celebrate our Chinese New Year.
The itinerary of our first two days was carried out with all the ambition and aggression of a pair of sloths. We just wanted to eat, drink, and laze about on palm-lined beaches. After a couple days recharging, we became a little more adventurous and wanted to get out further. The thing to do in Coron seemed to be hiring a boat or joining a tour group to see the nearby lakes, shipwrecks, beaches, and marine reserves. I had seen the pictures beforehand and was excited to see these places for myself. After a bumpy morning of not knowing when our boat would take off, we finally puttered out to our first stop, Twin Lagoons. The ride was quick. Before we knew it, the boat was slowing down and we could see spire-like limestone rock formations all around us. We were itching to jump into this alluringly clear water. Once we made it into the more accessible half of Twin Lagoon, we stripped down to our swimsuits, and jumped into the water, and through the narrow rock passage leading to the inner body of the lagoon.
The water was half fresh and half salty, so while swimming I could feel pockets of warm and cold, and also see underwater where the different salinities were mixing. It was very clear water with lots of small fish and water plants. In the shallower parts, we had to be careful because of sharp rocks and sea urchins, but with life jackets and snorkels, touching the bottom wasn’t a necessity. I probably could have spent the whole day swimming around in Twin Lagoon, but there were other places to visit. We made the slow swim back to the boat.
Our next stop was Skeleton Shipwreck. The wreck was located just a few meters from a small island. With just snorkels it was a bit difficult to see the boat, and certainly too far to swim down to, but the wildlife around the wreck was fantastic. So many colorful fish! Clownfish, damselfish, angelfish, parrotfish, needlefish… We were surrounded by them, and it was deep enough that I didn’t have to worry about sea urchins.
After the shipwreck, we took a break for lunch at a nearby beach. The beach was beautiful, clean, and white and the water was clear and decent for snorkeling. While the boat crew was cooking lunch, I took the opportunity to say hello to the fish. I mostly saw damselfish, hand-sized white fish that are quite territorial. Many of them squared off with me and threatened to charge. It was pretty cute. They’re so small and so mighty. Not afraid of a person at all. I asked my guide about them and he told me that they will bite, and the bites can break the skin if your skin is thin enough, but otherwise the little guys are nothing to worry about. Even so, I was grateful to have emerged unbitten.
A few people have told me, and it is my opinion too, that the best meals in the Philippines can be had on these boat excursions. This was no exception. We had two huge plates of rice, grilled fish and chicken, grilled vegetables, fresh tropical fruit, and two big bowls of a spicy ginger sauce if we wanted more flavor. We were stuffed, and so satisfied. Those boat hands can cook! After lunch, we made another brief stop at CYC beach. We had the option of playing around on the beach and more snorkeling. The location wasn’t the best for snorkeling, though. The water was quite shallow, with only a few fish and lots of plants. It was a good place to sit back and digest our lunch and not have to worry about missing out on something.
After an adequate rest, we visited what is claimed to be the most photographed location in the Philippines: Kayangan Lake. This lake is similar to Twin Lagoon in most ways, but the area around the lake is more photogenic, and has the distinction of being the cleanest in Asia. I couldn’t find out the maximum depth of the lake, but it seemed to go at least ten meters deep, and I could see straight to the bottom. It was bit crowded, but the lake seemed big enough that we could spread out and not bump into each other. I attached my snorkel and swam out to one of the further reaches of the lake. I held my breath and dived as deep as I could. There weren’t that many fish, but the rock formations were unlike anything I had ever seen. The whole lake was surrounded by rock walls, a bowl of sorts, and underwater, the rocks were spire-shaped, like one long, continuous, stone pipe organ. By the time I swam back to the lake entrance, most visitors had left. Unfortunately, that also meant that my boat was ready to leave as well.
Our last stop for the day was the Siete Pecados Marine Park. By this point, we were all getting a bit sleepy, and weren’t sure if this would be worth it. The purpose of the visit was snorkeling, and I had already snorkeled at pretty much every stop we had made. I knew I would give it a chance anyway. As soon as I dipped my head underwater, instantly my mind was changed. There were so many fish, anemones, coral of so many different shapes and sizes. Fish I had previously only seen in pet shops, everything taking up every square inch of the ocean floor, fighting for space. There were so many fish, that I felt a bit intrusive, but they were neighborly and didn’t seem to mind. It really made me want to scuba dive. As of yet, I have never been. After this trip, though, I’m making it a priority.
Easily, a day well spent. I got insanely sunburned, due to my carelessness, and I was worn out from all the swimming. I must say though, the views, the food, and the activities made those complaints seem negligible. I couldn’t have been happier. It was a great long weekend, and I was ready, even if begrudgingly, to go back to work.