A walk back into time: Corregidor Island, Cavite

*One thing you don't know about the Dublin household is that its queen bee favored Philippine and World History more than any other subject in school. That and Literature.

So please forgive me if this turns into a history lesson of sorts. Corregidor is, after all, a chock-full of history encased in a tadpole-shaped island.

The sight of assorted clutter afloat the dock and tourist hordes all antsy to board their designated tramvias welcomed us as we alighted the Sun Cruises ferry after a dizzying hour-long cruise from the Manila Bay terminal.

Despite it being largely touristy, Corregidor - once Fort Mills - still dons that mysterious and enchanting physique even after refurbishments have been made since my last visit in 1993. It remains rather ghostly and haunting, perhaps partly due to the fact that except for the employees of Corregidor Inn Hotel, no other person is allowed to inhabit it.

Ironically though, it is the only island among a collection of other islets - including El Fraile (Fort Drum), La Monja (The Nun), Carabao (Fort Frank) and Caballo (Fort Hughes) Islands - that remains open for visits. All the others surrounding the coast are intended solely for the Philippine Navy's perusal.

Sun Cruises terminal at the Manila Bay. Ferry leaves at 8-ish.
Wicked sea/skyscape while leaving the Bay.
"The island's location is strategically important to the war because it blocks the entrance to Manila Bay," the tour guide quips as we make our way to a series of batteries, all located on the island's Topside -  the biggest of three island portions (Top, Middle and Tail). This side of town once housed high-ranking officers, and is a crowd favorite for its magnificent fortifications, mean-looking ammos, and the Pacific War Memorial.

Corregidor. Resembles a tadpole.
First stop: Middleside Barracks for a 5-minute photo op
There are three main batteries, all named after American generals.

Battery Way is the smallest, with adjacent barracks that served as storage for ammunition.

Battery Hearn is the biggest thus most important battery. Its spring has been removed by an American architect during the invasion, rendering it useless.

Battery Grubbs, also called the disappearing battery, affords a panoramic view of the Kisses-shaped La Monja Island, and Mariveles, Bataan.

Our guide paused on cue at every destination, continuing as the tramvia resumes its journey onward another. While her storytelling was masterful, the atrocities of war are difficult stories to listen to: How  Filipinas were abused by 10-50 young Korean enlisted soldiers per diem (Most interesting trivia of the day!), half of them minors handpicked then pulled out of schools; how prisoners were spared food and water; how for every Filipino or American soldier caught escaping during the Death March, ten Filipino captives were bayoneted as punishment. 

Did ya know: A certain hierarchy was observed in boarding tramvias during the war.
Only the highest ranking American officers may sit on the first row,
followed by their subordinates on the second and third rows.
The fourth is reserved for Filipinos.
These pre-war cars are being extensively used in the island up to now.
Except for that and scooters, no other means of land transport is available on Corregidor.
During the war, only two glasses of water per day are allocated for each soldier. Water had to be barged in from Bataan and Cavite, which were only eight and three miles away from the island, respectively.

However addicting the storytelling was, it was emotionally exhausting to absorb such cruelty as we sat on our pretty pre-war cars. Every break and idle walk became a much-coveted breather.

Might not exactly be a mile long,
but definitely the longest barracks in the country.
Hurricane-proof, too.
And what a wonderful breather the famous Mile-Long Barracks were. Massive, kingly, and seemingly endless, the 1,250-feet long ruins nestled majestically across the street from the helipad and parade grounds - a stone's throw from the Pacific War Memorial.

Guests were given thirty minutes to roam around the Pacific War Memorial - four to six times the average stop time - vast and packed as it was. Us history zealots rejoiced. Much were to be seen on this area: Cine Corregidor, the war museum, statues and monkeys. Not kiddin' on that last bit.

Interesting sights: Circular marble altar inside the Pacific War Memorial Dome. A hole runs directly above the altar and every 6th of May, sunlight passes through  it unto the altar.
Calculated science to commemorate the day the Philippines fell to the hands of the Japanese Army.
Neat, eh?
A variety of interesting WWII artifacts and paraphernalia are gathered at the museum, though it tends to be overlooked by non-history buffs who would rather muse at free-roaming monkeys and the ginormous Eternal Flame of Freedom memorial, which offers a rejuvenating view of the Bay and neighboring peninsulas.

The Eternal Flame of Freedom is dedicated to the struggles of everyone who fought
for freedom during WWII.
Authentic regalia included Japanese and American military uniforms, bloodstained flags, a handwritten note, coins and various weapons.

Cine Corregidor
Fronting Cine Corregidor is a statue of an American helping a wounded Filipino soldier, erected to commemorate the alliance between the two nations during the WWII. There is a similar statue in Georgia, USA, depicting a Filipino soldier helping out an ailing American comrade.

It was this alliance that spared Australia and Hawaii from being invaded by the Japanese. Through the  Filipinos and USAFE's concerted efforts, the Japanese timetable was destroyed and the war, delayed for 50 days. 

Cine Corregidor Ruins
Before noon, the tramvia screeched at the highest point in the island where the picturesque Spanish lighthouse was perched. An assortment of souvenir shops line either side of the lighthouse, along with solar panels which serve as Corregidor's sole source of electricity during daytime.

I took the 50 steps up to the lighthouse, excited to view the surrounding islets from such vantage point. However, a steep stairwell, nearly 90 degrees in angle had to be trekked first. With a sleeping 9-month old hanging onto me by a sling, I decided not to push through and went back.

Abandon ship! Going back down from a treacherous mini-trek 
Souvenir shops with a communications tower at the back
Lunch was served at the most popular hotel in the island, the Corregidor Inn Hotel. Note that I said most popular. Despite the insistence of tour guides that it is the only one in the island, there are actually a couple of cheaper lodges near the dock.

On the menu: greens, fresh fruits and ginataang halo-halo.
Main entree included Seafood Paella, Carbonara, Pork BBQ, Ginisang Toge , Fried Chicken  and  soup.
Olden furniture and wooden pieces set off a nostalgic atmosphere as we were a handed a small glass of cold gulaman. With only 30 minutes to eat, we immediately scooped food from the buffet table. Food was decent and plentiful enough to sate a hungry stomach, though nothing fancy. I was happy enough that food is now served buffet-style. Twenty years ago, we were served miniscule sit-down servings.

Smorgasbord aside, what was most pleasant about lunch was the refreshing view of the mountains and seas from our place in the veranda.

The tramvia's bell rang, signaling the trip to the island's Middleside, the Filipino-American Friendship Park in particular. Japanese guests are rarely brought to this part for the sake of political sensitivity. For here resides telling visual art that depicts the gruesome sufferings Filipino men and women suffered at the hands of the Japanese. Instead, stories are sterilized, revolving around the Hiroshima bombings, and guests are taken to the Japanese Garden of Peace at the Bottomside, where we headed to next.

A statue of a Filipino Guerilla farmer.
Back in the days, part of America's war strategy was to have Filipinos guerillas and spies guised as farmers. The Japanese later distinguish who from who through the palm test: True farmers have hard, calloused palms. Guerillas didn't.

Japanese fertility diety at the Japanese Garden of Peace
Onward to the last leg of the tour, we passed by dugged out holes along the elevated road, which turned out to be American hiding caves.

American VS Japanese caves.
American caves are elevated; those of the latter are created along the shore.

A similar cave is visible along the rocky coastline, carved by the Japanese. Inside is a rail track with a suicide boat at the tunnel end, loaded with 250 kilograms of explosives. Should Japanese soldiers be forced to surrender, they are to steer this boat out in the open water and smash it on to the first vessel they see.
Japanese cave

A commanding view of Boca Grande and Caballo Island jutting out of the water welcomed us as we headed down to the narrower Bottomside or Tailside, where the docks and most of the accommodations are situated (This is the only part of the island where further infrastructural projects are permitted). Farther away we saw a silhouette of El Fraile Island, a rock formation that was razed, scraped and fortified by the Americans to resemble an impregnable battleship and keep the Japanese at bay.

Geologists claim that El Fraile was once connected to Corregidor, and that what we see of the latter today are remnants of a once-active underground volcano. Reason why, as per Ms. Tour Guide, Corregidor tends to be warmer than average during summer months.

Did ya know?
The famous "I shall return" line was actually proposed by Carlos P. Romulo, who served
as McArthur's press and media adviser. And McArthur said that line in Australia,
not in Corregidor.

The famous Lorcha Dock where Gen. Douglas McArthur set sail after the war. Fronting the dock is a small parcel of land, once called Barrio San Jose, which served as a community for the affluent in pre-war times.

Last item on the menu was a lights and sounds show at the Malinta Tunnel. I decided not to purchase the P150 ticket for this as I've already experienced it when I was 9. If you haven't though, it's definitely a must. The show's very informative and they did a pretty amazing job with the effigies and the presentation. Kind of creepy, too. 

Malinta Tunnel was named such because of the numerous leeches (linta)
workers found inside during reconstruction.
Corregidor may be too crowded. The water's murky to swim in. And over 10,000 wandering Japanese souls could give you the spook should you decide to stay for the night at the haunted hotel. But this dreary island does leave a lasting imprint to those who are brave enough to accept inconvenient truths. It reminds one how expensive freedom is, to use it wisely by enriching his life with purpose.

Part of a painting hung at the Filipino-American Friendship Park.

Aren't you glad you now live in a highly civilized world, free and out of war?