Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Clearings, trails, and fruit

One of the first things that we visited upon our return to Corregidor was the primary command post of Fort Mills. Its location gave it full visibility of any ships coming into Manila Bay. It is located on the south part of the head of the island, near Battery Wheeler. Quite some time ago Paul Whitman, founder and webmaster of www.correidor.org, suggested that it would be nice to be able to see what the lookouts could see, but jungle growth had obscured the view. While we were in the States a number of security personnel on their off-duty time cleared some of the scrub brush from the view line, as well as clearing the top of the command post itself. You can now see why the command post was located there, with a good view from Fort Drum (the “Concrete Battleship”) to the left across to the very tip of Bataan on the right. This is a location that we love to show to visitors, but because of its remote location it is only seen by a handful of guests a year.

In our continuing effort to size up Typhoon Basyang’s effects on the more remote trails, we took a walk from our house to Battery James and from there to Bottomside. The first part was clear, as we expected, since island personnel have to use that road to get to the pump house in James Ravine. However, once we reached Battery James it immediately became clear that rest of the walk, along what is called “the north access road,” would be slower going.

There are actually two reasons for this. The first is of course that there were trees downed along the way. We were pleasantly surprised that there were not more, bigger trees. We estimate that there were about eight places where trees were blocking the road, but in no case did they present us a problem greater than walking around or under them. The second reason for slower going is that rainy season has had its effect. Where before the trail was relatively clear of tall grass, now grass and new trees are springing up at an astounding rate. We had noticed that same thing when we visited Battery Wheeler. You may remember back in March when we told you that if you were going to visit now was the time because so many of the trails and battery entrances were cleared. Not any more. All we can do now is to wait for rainy season to end and hope that there is enough manpower and budget to once again clear those areas for peak tourist season.

We like to eat some kind of fruit each day. Besides bananas, that is, which we have almost every morning for breakfast when we can get them, which is most of the time. The challenge is that we are still learning when certain fruits are available, and what new-to-us fruits are available at any given time of the year. We are used to having mangoes from February through May, but other than that, it’s still a guessing game for us.

The other day we just asked the bancero to buy us some fruit. He brought back dalandans and lansones. The best way to imagine dalandans (pronounced with the a’s sounding like “aah” as in, “Open wide and say aah.”) would be green-skinned oranges, with a thinner skin like a tangerine. The fruit is very similar to an orange, but less flavorful, kind of like an orange that is a little too old. Lansones grow in clusters almost like big beige grapes. They have a thin, inedible skin, and the flesh inside tastes remarkably like grapefruit, although not quite as sour. The texture of the fruit is very similar to grapes, but it is sectioned almost like citrus fruits. The smaller ones contain minute seeds which you can eat, but the bigger ones contain large seeds that are as bitter as anything if you bite into them.

Our first time to see lansones was just last week while riding the bus after a grocery trip to Balanga. At one of the bus stops, a roadside vendor had a small table set up. From the bus, his produce looked a lot like small tan-yellow potatoes. The woman seated behind Steve waved the vendor to the bus window, and purchased a small sack-full from him. Marcia asked our helper, Roy, what it was – fruit or vegetable – and its name. The woman offered some to us, so we both tried them and liked them.

Another new-to-us food that we are enjoying is embutido. We first tasted some in June when we were having dinner at Ronilo’s, a gift from Nilo, who is currently living with Ronilo and Jhun the plumber. Embutido, according to our dictionary, is pork-loaf sausage. Nilo’s sister, who lives in Bataan, sells it in her store. It comes 10 sausages to a kilo, individually wrapped in aluminum foil.

Unless you’ve been living somewhere on a remote island with no TV or radio (sound like anyone you know?), you probably know about the horrible situation which occurred in Manila, in which tourists from Hong Kong were taken hostage in a bus by a former police office who had lost his job. In the end, eight tourists were dead, and there has been much talk of how things were – and should have been – handled. Some of our former Valor Tours’ guests were concerned that maybe Tommie, Emil, and OG were with that tour bus. We contacted Tommie and he assured us that no one from Rajah Tours was part of this situation, which involved Hong Thai Travel. The incident, by the way, took place in front of the Quirino grandstand in Rizal Park, just a few hundred yards from the Manila Hotel.

It has resulted in Hong Kong pulling out all of their tourist business, causing great financial damage to the industry here in the Philippines. We pray for the families of the victims, and hope that relationships between the nations can be restored. This is viewed as a stand-alone incident, and the American Embassy has seen no need to raise alert levels for travelers coming here. With the exception of certain areas in the south, the Philippine islands remain a tourist-friendly site for Americans.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back on Corregidor!

We are safely back on Corregidor after a long but otherwise uneventful journey back. We expected to find evidence of Typhoon Basyang, which, as we told you previously, hit the island in mid July. It turns out to have been one of the most destructive in recent Corregidor memory, maybe the worst in 16 years. It required a month to get things looking halfway decent. Amazingly no tours were missed, although we are told that during the first day tour some areas could not yet be visited due to downed trees across the roads.

We were very glad to find out that our house survived intact. We did find evidence of a small roof leak, but fortunately it was over an area of bare floor, so the water did not affect any possessions. The solar power system was fully charged and waiting for us to turn on the refrigerator. All over the yard there are piles of wood which were gathered and stacked by our helper Roy, who has spent all of his working hours for us the past six weeks just trying to get the yard looking good again. The top of a eucalyptus tree near our sidewalk was snapped off, as was a very large mango tree in the front yard. All-in-all it could have been a lot worse for us. We can only wonder what might have happened had we not had the large tree in the front yard chopped down almost two years ago to allow the sun to hit our solar panels in the afternoon. At the time, many of its large branches hung over the house and they had to be removed very carefully to prevent them from hitting the house. Any one of them would have smashed the roof-tiles, or maybe much more, had it fallen during a typhoon.

We are a bit apprehensive as to what we will see once we return to the out-of-the-way trails which we so dearly love to hike. The only one we’ve tried so far is the “aviary shortcut” near our house. It doesn’t seem like the same trail we used barely two months ago. There are now several trees across the path. At one point a large stand of bamboo has fallen, blocking the trail completely. Only time will tell what we will encounter elsewhere.

Despite it being “rainy season” it has rained almost entirely during the night so far since our return. During our first night on the island it rained hard, but then the sun came out off-and-on starting around 10:00 A.M., and this seems to be the pattern. The island is very green following all the rain which came after seven months of essentially drought. Before we left we could see well into the jungle areas from the road, but not any more. We tend to stick to the main roads until it starts to dry out in October or November, since it is pretty muddy and slippery on the jungle paths. We may head out earlier this year since we are curious as to the storm damage we will encounter.

One other note about Typhoon Basyang; we were told that about two dozen fishermen from the Mariveles area died during the storm. They go out each night into Manila Bay to fish, and being poor, tend to go out of necessity even when warned not to by the Coast Guard. The storm’s greatest fury was between one and three in the morning, making the fishermen very vulnerable and almost impossible to rescue. Our hearts go out to their families. (For those of you who don’t know, the port of Mariveles, the starting point of the Bataan Death March, is only a few miles from the western end of Corregidor.)

When we returned our jeep was in the process of being repaired – again – this time because of electrical problems – again. However, when the technician got done fixing that problem, the diesel engine would only start by being primed with gasoline. Eventually Michael the mechanic found a malfunctioning engine shutoff valve. When he removed it the engine started just fine. However, then it would not shut off without purposely leaving the jeep in gear and slowly letting out the clutch until it clunked dead. A trip to Balanga for a new valve fixed that problem, but now the headlights aren’t working. On an island that is dark 10 to 12 hours every day of the year, headlights can come in handy. Until we figure out the problem we either drive during sunlight hours only or shine our big flashlights through the windshield.

Despite the fact that our yard is a mess, we are very happy to be back on the Rock. After two months in America it is nice to return to the peacefulness of this remote jungle island. To fall asleep in the deep dark and near-total silence, to awaken to the tropical birds, chirping crickets, and croaking bullfrogs. We love our families and very much enjoyed our time at “home,” and were especially grateful that we could spend so much time with our grandchildren. But we also have a new “family” here with whom we enjoy spending time. Our first night eating chicken adobo prepared over an open fire, accompanied by Red Horse made us feel so much at home again.

It is the opposite of tourist season now, so we don’t expect to be very busy leading tours or meeting many new people here. Don’t hesitate to let us know if you are coming to the island, as we always love to spend time with fellow Corregidor lovers. Also remember that if you want Steve to be your official Sun Cruises tour guide you must make arrangements with Sun Cruises, Inc. at least a week in advance of your visit.

We are beginning our third year of writing about Corregidor. Our goal the last couple of years was to try to put out one newsletter every week. We were amazed that we were able to come up with something new pretty much every week last year, but suspect that eventually we risk becoming repetitious. So our goal this year is to put out newsletters as events warrant. We usually aim for about 1,000 words, feeling that any more than that and most people won’t bother to read it. So starting now we will be story-driven instead of time-driven. We’ll just have to see how that works out.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dick Adams, Ypsilanti Air Show

In March we passed along stories of two of the paratroopers who landed on Corregidor on February 16, 1945. Tony Lopez, bringing several of his family members, came to Corregidor for the first time in 65 years. Tony was so impressed by his trip that he has talked about returning for the anniversary in 2011. We look forward to seeing him again.

Later that month we were also visited by a daughter of Richard “Dick” Adams. A little over a week ago we had the privilege of joining Dick and his wife Nancy for lunch. Dick is now 88 years old, but he seems much younger than that. He drove his compact convertible from their home in one of Detroit’s suburbs to meet us in Williamston near Lansing. Dick still wears the medal that he lost soon after his landing on Corregidor, and miraculously found several days later while still in the midst of liberation operations. We wish to thank Dick and Nancy for treating us to a wonderful lunch at the Brookshire Golf Course in Williamston, and for sharing photos, a book, and great conversation with us.

Dick, Nancy, and their daughter plan to spend a few days on Corregidor in January, 2011. We look forward to spending more time with them, and especially to visiting the sites that Dick so vividly remembers. You can read what we wrote earlier about Dick, including the story of his finding that medal, at

After ten days in the Lansing area visiting some of our friends and our son Alex we are in the midst of spending a few days with our son Nick, his wife Carrie, and our grandchildren. Most of it has been spent relaxing and playing games with the kids, taking walks in their rural neighborhood, and getting our two laptops updated thanks to Nick’s wizard-skills.

On Saturday Steve took Nick and the boys to the Ypsilanti Air Show. We first found out about the show over dinner in Eaton Rapids with friends Rob and Linda. Rob has participated in reenactment jumps in the past, including Normandy Beach in France, and hopes to make a jump on Corregidor one day. Linda has also been involved in the logistics of the reenactment jump trips, as well as making a few jumps herself. They own a 1944 army jeep and Rob gave us a ride around Eaton County in it after treating us to dinner.

The air show featured eight flying B-17’s, nicknamed “Flying Fortress,” three P-51 Mustangs, an F-16, and an F-18 doing their aerial acrobatics. There were many more interesting planes on the runway, many of which were open for us to walk through. The grandsons enjoyed themselves at their first air show. Before we left, Nick, William, and Brian were treated to a ride around the grounds in Rob and Linda’s jeep. Steve was able to shake the hands of several WWII veterans, but unluckily none from the Pacific theatre. He was also a little disappointed that there were no B-29’s present. The “Super Fortress” was the plane that was used to bomb Japan into submission, ultimately delivering the atomic bombs that ended the war. There was, however, a B-52 “Stratofortress” for all to see.

While the guys were at the air show, Marcia had a girls’ day with our daughter-in-law Carrie and the four granddaughters; Kaitlyn, Claire, Emma, and Lilly, who is only nine months old and whom we saw for the first time on this visit. Some of the day was spent reclaiming the house from Kaitlyn’s birthday sleep-over the night before, and the rest dressing and redressing felt dolls and ‘magnetic’ dolls, making chocolate chip cookies, and lots of time playing with Lilly – who has become quite mobile - to keep her entertained while the big girls played with things that aren’t baby-safe.

We will be taking Amtrak back to the Twin Cities next Tuesday. After a few more days with family, and a wedding on Saturday, we will be heading back to the Philippines and hope to be back on the Rock by about August 20.

Until then…

Steve and Marcia (soon heading back to) the Rock

P.S. If you want to know everything there is to know about the Rock Force that retook Corregidor in 1945, plus a whole lot more about the Rock, visit http://corregidor.org