My first diving destination in the Philippines was Coron, in the North of Palawan, an hour flight from Manila. Coron ranks high in the wreck divers must-see list, as there are ten WWII Japanese ship wrecks in diver friendly depths of 0 to 45m.
A short excursion into history: Japan was an ally and on good terms with the US for quite a while. The resource poor Japan relied before the WWII of ores and oil from the US for its thriving industry. During WWII Japan tried to lessen this dependency by conquering resourceful neighboring countries such as China and Philippines. As consequence, the US sanctioned Japan and stopped all shipping to Japan, and the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 1941 started the open war between the two nations.
In the late stage of WWII after some losses in the Philippines Sea, the Japanese attempted to reinforce their forces.
For divers, Coron's history started on September 24, 1944 when US Navy fighters and bombers attacked a Japanese supply fleet of up to 24 ships, at anchor, in Coron Bay and around Busuanga Island and sunk most of them within a single day.
The waters in the lagoon can be murky, and the dive spots are sometimes packed with dozens of divers, but the dives are still great, especially with an experienced buddy and a well-trained guide who´s willing to penetrate deeper into the wreck, where not too many divers already raised the sediment with their fin-kicks. Ammunition, gun, gas masks and even part of a human skeleton are still to be seen, and fishes, corals and lots of nudibranchs populate nowadays the wrecks.
Beside the wrecks, there are also some reefs, caves and the famous Barracuda Lake waiting for exploration. The setting of the Barracuda Lake is spectacular, and the dive even more so. After anchoring with the traditional Bangka dive boat in a protected bay, the fully equipped divers need to climb for few minutes to the lake. Brackish water at 28C dominates the first few meters, then it changes to the “cold” salt water with the same temperature. At around 15m a thermocline separates the “cold” water from 39C hot salt water, heated by volcanic activity. Below 25m, the temperature drops again to 28C. The deepest level below 32 meters is a tea colored liquid providing zero visibility. The ground consists of extremely soft mud, and adventurous divers can plunge head first into the mud. Not too many fishes to be seen, and we didn´t find the huge Barracuda, but playing around the thermoclines and the mud is great fun.
After spending several months in quite pricey countries, Philippines really help to keep my budget low. Here some examples:
- Beer in a bar: 1 USD
- Simple local set lunch or dinner: 2 USD
- Hair cut: 3 USD (I was ripped off, locals pay only 1.50 USD ;-)
- Short drive with a Tricycle per person: 10 Pesos or 20 Cents
- Dive: 30 USD
I planned to spend my birthday diving in Apo Island, my second destination in the Philippines. Unfortunately, the flight from Coron to Manila with Cebu Pacific on January 12 was delayed by three hours and I missed my onward flight. I got a complementary airport hotel stay and a ticket for the earliest onward flight in the morning, meaning that I started my birthday on the next day at 0500 in the morning with a shuttle to the airport.
Previous destination: Australia
Next destination: Philippines - Apo Island