Saturday, January 17, 2009

Four explorers

This past week four men came to the island, all of whom have spent a good deal of time studying Corregidor. We met John Moffett, the first to arrive, on Friday afternoon. He has a long-time girlfriend here in the Philippines and is living in Laguna, which is an hour or so south of Manila. We first heard of John, who is Canadian and a fellow recent retiree to the Philippines, when someone sent us a link to aerial pictures that he took of Corregidor. The pictures are amazing, and he was lucky to have blue skies the day he went up. He said that the plane can be rented with pilot for $125 per hour, which makes us want to do the same thing some time.

After John settled in at the Corregidor Inn, we went looking at tunnels together. The first two that we entered were at one time connected to the huge Malinta Tunnel, but cave-ins have closed the passages. There were originally four tunnels on the southeast wall of Malinta Hill, nicknamed Queen, Roger, Sugar, and Tare from right to left. Roger was concrete lined with a round roof, and quite large. It had numerous hermit crabs ranging in size from golf balls to almost baseball-sized. Sugar was unlined but still it obviously had been a large tunnel. We then proceeded east on the newly opened South Road and found the old south entrance to the Malinta Tunnel. Unfortunately rockslides have almost closed the entrance, and John was only able to go in 10 yards or so.

Next we went to the area near the old power and cooling plants, which is now called “The Barrio,” and houses many of the contract workers. On the east slope opposite the plants are two tunnels that were called the Engineer’s Tunnels. One was easy to enter, and had beautiful ferns growing at the entrance. The other, a little further south, had a very narrow opening on a steep incline, but once inside was again quite large. This one, concrete lined, went back maybe 50 yards. From there a hole had been dug on the right wall, and another tunnel, more like a cave, went for about another 50 yards, then turned right and went another 25 or so yards but did not come back out; the digging was obviously abandoned. We saw a couple of land crabs, about six inches wide, who scooted into their holes when we got too close.

On Saturday Paul Whitman, who manages the biggest website on Corregidor – – and Karl Welteke, who lives in Olongapo, came across the North Channel and joined us. Paul’s daughter Elle and her boyfriend Trent came on the Sun Cruises (SCI) boat from Manila. We ventured into the area where MacArthur had a house for the 77 days he lived on Corregidor in late ’41 and early ’42. We also visited some bunkers and the site of Battery Kysor, which are on Infantry Point. Then we went into a large tunnel called RJ43, which is near the Road Junction of that name. There is still evidence that a small gauge rail line was in the tunnel: you can still see impressions of the ties, along with a few ties and very large nails that must have been the spikes.

On Sunday Marcia accompanied most of the guys who were doing GPS readings of major and minor buildings and other points of interest. This day John joined us, as well as Martyn Keene, another Aussie who has been working at getting as many GPS points as possible on the island. Steve took the first part of the day to show Elle and Trent around Topside Barracks, the hospital, and Batteries Way and Hearn. Later we all met up and went through Wheeler Tunnel, a concrete-lined underground tunnel that is quite impressive. Since some of the guys wanted to take tunnel measurements, we walked with Elle and Trent to our house, where we had a very interesting conversation on a number of topics. They are much more mature than their ages, each 19, would indicate, and despite the generational difference, we got along wonderfully.

Later everyone was invited to Ron’s for dinner, but most of the guys were tired and decided to drink San Mig’s and eat dinner early. Elle and Trent joined us for pork adobo, fried pork, salted green mangoes, and of course, beer. After Ron went to bed the four of us, along with Gilbert, went down to Bambi’s store on the Bay Walk and enjoy a little Karaoke. All in all we had a fun and educational day.

On Monday Trent was sick from malaria medicine, so he and Elle didn’t do much until they boarded the SCI boat to depart at 2:30. The four explorers measured the laterals in Malinta Tunnel in the morning and did some more exploring in the afternoon. We laid low, since the temperature was rather chilly and the wind, which has been very high all year with the exception of one day, persisted. Except for Martyn we all got together at Mac’s Café for dinner.

Tuesday was supposed to bring the solar engineer to our house for installation of a gauge to let us know the charge level of the batteries, but he didn’t make it. So we missed going with the guys in the morning. Then in the afternoon Steve was asked to guide four couples who live in Olongapo. The husbands are Swedish and the wives are Filipinas. Their English was limited but they could follow as long as Steve spoke slowly. Two of the couples had little boys with them. They are bilingual Swedish/Tagalog, with almost no English understanding yet. One of the men was constantly asking Steve, “Is this where the kamikazes were?” Steve would try to explain that there were no kamikazes on Corregidor, but he kept asking at every stop. By the end Steve wasn’t sure if the man just didn’t understand or if he was just kidding after a while.

On Wednesday the solar guy came and installed a meter on our system so that we know when the system is running low. We then have to run the generator to charge the batteries to avoid losing power overnight. With installation and system testing, it took up most of the day. We did have dinner at the MacArthur Café with the four explorers, who mostly spent more time discussing and figuring out Malinta Tunnel. They will produce a much more accurate map than is currently used in all the books, which is clearly wrong to anyone who has explored the tunnel.

Also on Wednesday, Ronilo went home to spend two weeks with his family. Ron, the island manager, goes home twice a year, once in January and once in June, to visit his wife, two daughters who are in college, and son who is in high school. He has been here since starting as a guard in 1987. Since the day we arrived he has talked about going home in January to be with his family. He called a couple nights ago to tell us he was very happy being with his family. We miss him, but are also happy he can be at home.

On Thursday we did some exploring on our own, finding some buildings and a large tunnel that Karl told us about, although he did have to lend some assistance. Also the Military Historical Tours group arrived, so we spent a little time with them at the hospital and the sunset viewing. Later Jamie of MHT joined us for beers at MacArthur Café, and we got to know him a little better. He even brought us a few supplies from the States, most notably OxyClean Fragrance Free, which is not available here. Filipinos like their detergents fragrant and their foods sweet.

One of the men on the tour with Jamie mentioned Tony Bilek, a Bataan Death March survivor. Steve said that he had Tony’s book, courtesy of Tony and one of last year’s tourists who brought the book to Steve as a gift. They all live in central Illinois. Steve has never met Tony but has talked with him by phone. Steve highly recommends his book, “No Uncle Sam,” which contains a description of driving a loaded fuel truck from Clark Field to Mariveles, up and down some steep hills, with no brakes!

Karl and Paul left for home by banca on Friday morning, while John and Martyn left on the Sun Cruises boat in the afternoon. Martyn does not expect to be back until his youngest daughter graduates from high school in four years, while the others plan to be back as early as February to commemorate the retaking of Corregidor by American troops in 1945. We really enjoy their visits, both for the hiking company and the animated and educational discussions in the evenings.

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