Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Corregidor's Number One female explorer

This past weekend, Julia Holz stopped at our house one afternoon to ask us about the conditions of some of the longer trails. After talking to her for a few minutes, we came to realize that Julia quite possibly knows the out-of-the-way trails of Corregidor better than any other woman in the world. She says that she has been to the island about 100 times, and is almost always off the beaten path. Julia had just walked from Battery Smith to Battery Way, and told us that along the way she had lost her snipping shears. We have found that in many instances shears are more effective, easier to carry, and definitely safer, than bolos for clearing paths along known trails. She had mentioned her lost shears to the island staffer at Battery Way, hoping that he might have time to back-trace her route and find the shears. We made plans to meet the next morning to walk to a couple tunnels and the command post, all near Battery Wheeler.

Julia’s plans changed a little overnight, after she decided to do the sunrise activities led by the Corregidor Inn staff. When she arrived at our house, she asked what we thought about retracing her trek from the previous day to look for the shears. Since we had intended to walk that trail soon in any case, we gladly accompanied Julia. We walked from our house to Battery Way, then began the long descent from there to the fork which leads to Smith in one direction and James Ravine in the other. We were glad to find that the trail is in pretty good shape, although there are a few trees which block the trail as a result of recent typhoons. When we got to the fork, we continued on towards Smith. Julia had only been using the shears when absolutely necessary, and it had fallen through a hole in her plastic bag.

As Julia began thinking we must be beyond the point where the shears had dropped, we came to a rattan patch that she had apparently pushed aside with her hiking stick the previous day. About 20 feet beyond it Marcia spotted the shears lying smack dab in the middle of the trail. If Julia had only decided to cut through that rattan patch she would have missed her shears and gone back for them. In any case, she was thrilled to recover them.

We then had three choices for our return. The longest was to go on to Smith. We decided to turn around and to try the path to James Ravine instead of going back to Battery Way. We were glad we did. We discovered that this trail is in good shape except for two things: wherever bamboo is growing it is reclaiming the trail, and a rockslide has buried one short section, requiring careful navigation through the rocks to avoid falling or sliding down the hill. But after that it was fine, and we finished by climbing out of James Ravine and taking the old road back to our house. Julia joined us at Mac’s CafĂ© to rest while we had lunch before her return to Manila.

On Tuesday we went to the Corregidor Inn to meet Lynn LaFever for the third year in a row. As we reported in our newsletters the past two Decembers, Lynn comes every year to bring Christmas presents to the children – and now, grandchildren – of island workers. We arrived during the distribution of gifts and were unprepared to take pictures, so we made do with a cell phone camera. We apologize for the poor picture quality. In one of the photos you can see Bing, one of the hotel waiters, receiving gifts for his children from Lynn. On another, you can see Lynn with Vicky.

Vicky was the last elementary school teacher on the island. She came straight from college to teaching here. Corregidor was the very first place that an American school was established in the Philippines, shortly after Admiral George Dewey won the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898. When Vicky started the school in 1985 most of the children here had no schooling. So she was teaching 6 to 12-year-olds their first lessons in a literal “one room school house.” Vicky says that at first it was very difficult. The older children were mostly undisciplined and knew absolutely nothing about most of the subject matters. Initially classes were held in the old Corregidor Inn, then moved to the recreation building at Bottomside, then to a very small building at the stockade level (which is between Bottomside and Middleside) and finally to a larger building nearby, which most recently was operated as the “Sea Calm Inn.”

Beginning in 1997, a second teacher was hired for grades 1-3, and Vicky continued teaching grades 4-6. In 2002 an executive decision was made to close the school, and the order went out that all school-age children must attend mainland schools. The children were completing sixth-grade educations on the island, but very few had gone on to graduate from high school. So to this day, island workers with children must have them enrolled in school, which is hard on the families but absolutely essential to the children’s future prospects. Vicky says that several of her students did very well at schools on the mainland, and we know that some have gone on to college. Our helper, Roy, was one of her students and is a high school graduate. Vicky remains on the island, working as an administrative secretary for the Corregidor Foundation, Inc.

With sadness we bid adieu to the men of Unicorn Security who have served well on Corregidor for the past eight years. Their commander, Dion Montenegro, always has the most wonderful smile. The new contract has been awarded to Ground Zero Security, and we trust that they will become friends as well. Dion and the other guards will be missed. Good luck to the Unicorn guys in the future.

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