Friday, May 17, 2013

Culion: Like Seeing the Starry Night Sky with a New Set of Eyes

Culion - Immaculada Concepcion at Night
La Immaculada Concepcion on a clear, moonless night
The monotone of the boat engine and my nap kept being disrupted by the constant complaints of the short-haired woman seated near the kapitan.  A local judging by the way she keeps addressing (pestering is more like it) the crew, she tells everyone either the life vest issued to her or somebody's footwear smells like sewage, even challenging everyone including the passengers to stop and smell their slippers.  Mercifully, no one budged.  Save for this comedic drama, the one hour and forty-five minute banca ride southwest from Coron town to Culion was uneventful.  The sea was calm, the good weather holding.  

It bears mentioning the boat terminal in Coron as the wi-fi signal was better than in our lodge and the facilities were orderly, owing to the recent resumption of big ferry trips from Manila via Puerto Princesa.  The terminal's walls were plastered with 2Go posters advertising the promo fare of P1,200 which was impossible to miss and difficult to ignore -- something to keep in mind for a return trip hopefully in the very near future.

Hmmm, why go to Culion and not stay longer in Coron?  While I still like Coron, I personally wanted to venture somewhere new.  The last time I visited, we had a side trip to the wildlife reserve of Calauit farther north and enjoyed it.  This occasion is no different.  I was also eager to venture somewhere quieter, less touristy as I've always been a fan of small towns.  Besides, it's always fascinating to go somewhere I've only read previously in books.
Culion - View of Town from Agila III
The view of the town from Agila near the sunset hour
Culion has, for quite a long time, held a special fascination for me.  Its history is entwined with the scourge of leprosy, being a leper colony for close to a century.  I mean, how can you not become curious about a beautiful place that became home to a malady that for millenia was associated with disfigurement, paranoia and stigma?

Sailing nearer to the island of Culion, one notices either one or all of these:  the image of the Christ atop a hill perhaps inspired by the Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro; an eagle emblem drawn with stones on the slope of the same hill; the red-roofed church to the east; and the signage of Hotel Maya just beside the church.

Arriving at mid-afternoon, there was little traveling we can do after settling in at the hotel.  But not wanting to waste the precious little hours of our short side trip to Culion, we headed to the hill for a better vantage point of the whole town.  It's 330 steps up, an ascent understandably reserved by devotees and penitents for their Holy Week panatas (pledges) to complete the stations of the Cross (seems to me that ascending steep hills is a recurring theme in these parts; case in point: the 700-step ascent to Mt. Tapyas in Coron town in Busuanga).

The image of the Christ the Redeemer seems to be watching over the place as the fading light turned the town into amber.  The church, the La Immaculada Concepcion better known as the Culion Cathedral, with its back to the sea and the Coron island, is hard to miss.  Closer to the pier, there seems to be a stilt village which seemed strange at first considering the availability of housing space inland.  Later, we will find out that this was due to the preference of some pescadores (fishermen) to live closer to their fishing boats.
Culion - Christ the Redeemer at Night II
Christ the Redeemer image watching over the town night and day
It was past 8pm when we descended the hill, enamored by the quiet, awed by the inky blackness that enveloped the land, and held enraptured by the night sky.  It was good that we arranged for dinner at Hotel Maya as we would be hard-pressed to find an eating place open at that hour.   After the meal, we found the stifling heat and lack of sea breeze an alibi to go out to the back where the church was located while waiting for the hotel's generator to come on at 11:30pm.
Culion - Hotel Maya Signage
Hotel Maya from the roadside
When we visited, power distribution was on a rotating basis with our part of town getting its share of four hours of electricity from 4 to 8pm.  But such inconvenience takes a backseat to the nighttime entertainment -- a sky unpolluted by light and crammed with stars.  Lucky us, we chanced upon a moonless, cloudless night.  The La Immaculada Concepcion church, already beautiful under the sun becomes a sight to behold under this celestial panorama. 
Culion - Parola Nightscape
The parola appears to be a nighttime "moon-dial" against a starry backdrop
The parola (lighthouse) and canons at the back of the church seemed like some sort of cosmic Stonehenge in this star-filled backdrop.  While we took turns shooting and reveling in the nighttime scenery, we catch up with the town's latest news with Toto, the hotel's night shift staff.  Coming back to our room facing the sea and Coron island, we continue to be enthralled by the stars, almost wistful when the generator came on at the appointed time, the illumination obscuring some of the stars.
Culion - Hotel Maya Front Door View
The frontage of Hotel Maya looks out to the sea and the island of Coron
Info:  Originally established as a teaching hotel through the Ateneo-Loyola Hostel Project, Hotel Maya is located right beside the La Immaculada Concepcion church and a few steps from the general hospital.  From the veranda, one can see the sea and Coron island in the distance.  There are eight rooms available, two for families and big groups, another one with air conditioning, the rest are fan rooms with double beds.  Current rates as of this writing: P1,100 (roughly US$25) for fan rooms and P1,300 (about US$27) for A/C room.  The hotel has its own generator unit; generator sked is from 11:30pm to 5:30am.  Hotel Maya also has solar panels and inverters for lights and charging small devices such as mobile phones when there's no AC power.   The hotel has a dining cum bar area; meals available from P125 up.  To inquire/reserve, call 0921 3004004
Culion - Hotel Maya Room
Lone A/C room at Hotel Maya
Getting to Culion:  At the moment, two 32-passenger boats, Barbara and Olympia, alternate in plying the Coron-Culion/Culion-Coron route daily.  Terminal fee is P20 (US$ 50 cents) payable at the pier; fare payable onboard is P180 (around US$5-6) one way.  Boat leaves Coron at around 1-1:30pm, Culion at 7:30-8am but to get a seat, go to the pier about two hours before the scheduled departure time and have your name included in the list.
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