Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Lynn Lafever returns, Conquer Corregidor

Last week Lynn Lafever returned to Corregidor for his annual Santa Claus visit. You can read what we said about this interesting gentleman last December at:

Steve visited with Lynn at the Corregidor Inn. Once again, he had gifts for us, including two CDs with many old photos of Corregidor. One contains pictures of pre-war and wartime Corregidor, while the other has post-war pictures from before the island was developed as a war memorial and tourist attraction.

Lynn and Steve watched a Japanese video, which was named as the 4th best Japanese documentary of 1984. Lynn, who once lived in Japan, played a major role in its production, accompanying the film and production crews throughout its shooting. In fact, the only English within the film is an occasional interjection of Lynn’s. The movie focuses on an expedition to locate and document the “Navy Tunnel,” which is the southern section of the Malinta Tunnel complex.

Before we started watching, Lynn pointed out that the film has a Hollywood aspect: strict accuracy was not considered as important as the story itself. Steve noticed this early and often, since several scenes were obviously shot in other tunnels, most notably the Navy Intercept Tunnel near Monkey Point, with these scenes woven in as if they were all shot within Malinta. Steve learned a lot while watching the film. For example, the crew did a lot of digging in the Navy Tunnel – as noted, a part of Malinta Tunnel, not to be confused with the Navy Intercept Tunnel on Tailside. At the time of the expedition, the Navy side was blocked and the crew had to dig their way through cave-ins. In the process, they discovered the remains of 23 Japanese soldiers complete with skulls, along with the rusted remains of their rifles. They also found dynamite that had to be carefully extracted by a demolition crew; the American-made dynamite was still found in drill holes but never detonated, as if the original blast crews were suddenly stopped. Near the end of the film they came face to face with a Philippine cobra, one of the deadliest snakes in the world. Although they are common here, they are also quite shy. (Steve has seen two cobras so far, and they both quickly slithered away from him.)

Lynn promises to get a copy of the video to us in the near future. We look forward to staying in touch with Lynn and seeing him next year, and we’d be glad to accompany him into the Navy Tunnel, assuming he is still physically able and that the tunnel remains accessible.

On Sunday the island hosted the “Conquer Corregidor” 10-mile road race. The run was scheduled to begin at 8:00 AM at the east entrance of Malinta Tunnel, so we were there in plenty of time. However, “Filipino time” prevailed, probably because there were so many runners – perhaps as many as 800 – some of whom came from Manila in the early morning. Some had come the day before, filling all available rooms on the island including the seldom-used beach resort on Tailside. Delaying the race for about 45 minutes meant it was run in hotter conditions, but it was mercifully cloudy for the early part of the run. The slower runners and walkers encountered plenty of sun before they finished.

The runners began by going west through the tunnel, and continued on a gradual downhill, leveling off near the MacArthur statue at Bottomside, and then heading toward Corregidor’s tail. The route suddenly turns nasty as it climbs along Malinta Hill’s north side, which we call “The Hill” because it rises from 15 to 175 feet above sea level in less than 1000 feet, an average grade of about 16%! They then ran down to the beach resort, turning around to go back along the same route down The Hill. It took its toll both up and down, with downhill being very hard on the ankles, shins, and knees. The fastest runners were heading down The Hill while others were still going up, but they were spread out enough that there didn’t seem to be any problems with congestion. The route proceeded through Bottomside once again, then up to Middleside and Topside along the main road. From there they continued back down to Middleside, and then Bottomside, all along the one main road. Finally, they were directed to run back up The Hill, then around on the Malinta Hill south access road, the only unpaved section of the race, returning to Bottomside, with the finish line at the south dock.

The first runner was followed closely by the second, then there was a gap until the third, and slowly the runners trickled in, often with gaps of a minute or more between early finishers. As it turned out, the second and third-place finishers were disqualified. Along the route there were stations with crew handing out different colored ribbons, a way to show that the participants had run the entire route and not gotten lost or cheated by doubling back early. We are not sure if there was intentional cheating, since we were told by one of the first female finishers that the route was confusing, needing more marshals or signs to direct the runners. We hope that this will be corrected if and when there is another road race here.

Although most of the participants were young Filipinos, there were quite a number of Filipinas as well. We were pleasantly surprised to not only see a number of older runners but also a number of non-Filipinos. Having been runners ourselves, we were happy to find out that there is usually one race a weekend available to the local enthusiasts.

This will probably be the most difficult race many of these runners will ever attempt. Only a few sections of the race are run on level or near-level terrain. The course takes the runners over the steepest stretch of paved road on the island, twice going up and once down The Hill, with the second uphill coming near the end of the race. The course also climbs over 600 feet in less than two miles, as it goes from Bottomside to Topside, then takes the runners back down again. The hills are so steep, and in one case so long, that many participants walked downhill, a sure sign of fatigue. It took more than an hour for the winner to finish the ten-mile race, another indicator of the course’s difficulty. It was several more minutes before the official second-place finisher appeared. Many runners limped across the finish line with sore knees or ankles, and some with leg cramps.

We were runners for years, especially while living in Michigan. 25 years ago – feels like another lifetime – we both completed the Detroit Free Press International Marathon. Marcia especially misses running, Steve not so much, but we have plenty of walking and jungle trekking to take its place.

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