Historically the road to Corregidor has always been a hard one. Taken in context, ours was not so hard, but it is an adventure anyway.
Our trip starts in early morning. We are an hour into the trip before the sun first pinks the sky. There are nine intrepid travelers and our picnic fixings packed more or less comfortably into a late model Hiace (Hi Ace) Toyota van.
A quick glance at Google maps looks simple enough; we head south out of Olongapo until we get to the tip of the Bataan Peninsula and catch a Bangka (boat) to the island.
It isn’t until after we come to the first switchback and I later catch a whisper of internet access, That I get a closer look and see the true story.
This is mountain country. This is mountain country that is lined in many places with houses and stores and people and dogs and chickens, right up to the road because the road and their homes are cut into the side of the mountain. Their front doors open onto the road and it is their front yard, their work and play area and their only way in or out. As the sun comes up, streams of children, dressed in uniform, walk to school, on a Saturday no less, on the road. Dogs play at their feet. Motorized tricycles zip and dodge and scoot along at speeds of roughly 25 MPH. Meanwhile we blaze through at 45.. 50.. 60..
Pedestrians don’t slow us down, dogs don’t slow us down, traffic doesn’t.. much.
The road does eventually, and boy does it. Hairpin turn after hairpin turn as we switchback, first up one side, and then down the other. Large trucks lumber up and down in their lowest gear. We come to a small village, then out across a narrow plain, now up and down and around again.
The road to Corregidor soon claims it’s first victims. Aya and Kian both are motion sick. Aya and Kian use the vomit bag, but quietly enough that I don’t know it. These young invaders are not to be easily turned aside.
It’s not unusual to come across construction. There may be a sign, and some rocks piled in the road to tell of it. In the mountains we come to a DETOUR sign with a barricade across our lane. A smoking pot sits on the pavement ahead of it. Behind it, a young man with a bandana covering his face waves us to the side of the road. “Here we go.” I think , “we’re about to be robbed at gun point.” Instead, we sit for a minute while a truck comes through in the opposite direction and we are waved on. I am the victim only of my own imagination, fueled by too many news-casts back home.
Most of the time it is a good road. One or sometimes two lanes in each direction. Cement mostly, very little asphalt, but some.
Rebuilding projects route us from one side of the road to the other. Eventually we come to our first bridge project, high on the side of the mountain. Deep into a switchback, the pavement ends and turns to rutted gravel. We turn the outside corner and see a bright new bridge. The bridge isn’t ready though so we proceeded into the tight inside corner, over a rushing stream, and out the other side.
We come across many of these, at least six, probably more. The unpaved road portion becomes less and less graveled until finally the road disappears completely and we bounce, skid plates thumping on the rocks and dirt, searching for high ground, slipping through mud, suspension complaining loudly across the last creek, around the last hairpin and strike pavement once again.
In many of these places, the jungle comes right down to the road. When we come to construction, there are heavy equipment, trucks, and a camp where the crews live, apparently with their families. Each location has a small building or two, a campfire, and all the kids and dogs and chickens that attend the setting. Even a Sari-Sari Store in the largest camp.
Finding our turn off the highway is a struggle as well. If we are traveling as potential invaders of Corregidor, the defenders are genius in disguising the route. There are no signs. We have no actual address for Google maps to lookup. We ask directions that lead to dead ends and wrong turns and circles through tiny streets back to the highway. I don’t know exactly how many times we are lost. Maybe we were lost the entire way. Eventually we happen upon the right road and we arrive at a small fishing village with a dirt waterfront, and a long beautiful pier.
Moored bow in is a large, brightly painted Bangka with a dozen bench seats suitable for the class of tourist that is likely to invade Corregidor today.
After some communication struggles, we make our way onto the boat for the three mile trip to the island.
The two youngest children in our group have never been out of Olongapo, their hometown. For most of our group this is their first boat ride. None of us have ever been to Corregidor, so this is a big trip for all of us.
For the initiate, anchoring seems like a simple matter. You hang a hook over the side that catches the bottom and holds you in place. When you want to leave you pull up the anchor and go.
The defenders of Corregidor have other ideas. As we back away from the pier and try to head to sea, the crew becomes increasingly motivated, scrambling from the main hull of the boat, out onto the outrigger, pulling mightily at the anchor rode. There is much gunning of the engine, some frantic gesturing, but no shouting, less they alarm the fearless invaders. No one fell off, and no one got hurt, and eventually a crewman dives on the anchor to free it of whatever the obstruction was below.
The defenders of the island still had one last trick up their sleeves.
The day is beautiful, the sun is shining, there is a strong breeze blowing, we are on the first boat ride with children that tend toward motion sickness… Ok, it is kind of miserable for the youngest invader. Kian first gets quiet, then she asks of a bag, then she almost closes her eyes and goes to sleep on the ride out. To her credit, she doesn’t throw up, but I suspect that is because she has nothing left in her stomach.
Finally, the Island drops her defenses and we arrive as conquering guests on the beautiful, terrible, Island of Corregidor.