Monday, January 10, 2011

Spending time with Corregidor regulars Bill and Midge

From reader Galo Calizo regarding comments in last newsletter:

Happy New Year! Thank you for making us feel at home, vicariously!

I get so happy reading your ‘blog’ every now and then. Thank you for touching the lives of the poor Filipinos there and thank you for embracing our culture and making it seem like it is such a wonderful paradise. Yes, we are happy people despite all the insurmountable odds that come our daily way and we are proud of that.

Thank you! I hope to meet you soon!

Thank you, Galo, for your encouraging email. We continue to be amazed by the Filipino people, many of whom work hard to make it from day to day, but keep on smiling.

Our friends Bill and Midge Kirwan were here for their semi-annual “Corregidor retreat.” Both retired and living on Chesapeake Bay, they spend part of each year in Southeast Asia. Bill teaches psychology and they both offer counseling. On days when Steve was not guiding tours, he and Bill hit the jungle trails, and Marcia and Midge walked along the paved roads while catching up with each other’s lives.

One day the guys took the recently-cleared trail from Battery Ramsey to Battery Geary. It passes by the old crematory, going downhill to the point where heavy bamboo, now cleared, had kept Julia, Jill and the two of us from passing a month ago. Along the way there is a noble stand of bamboo which would be great for many things including banca outriggers, but it is so deep in the jungle that it would be nearly impossible to haul out.

A little further along the trail is an area that has been nicknamed “the wall of caves” for good reason. There are multiple cave entrances attributed to the U.S. Marines along the base of the rock wall, many of which reportedly connect, but which are small enough that we have not chosen to go inside to find out for ourselves. Just opposite a section of that wall is a point of land providing one of the best views overlooking Caballo Island and the Province of Cavite.

Now that this trail has been cleared, the most difficult part of the hike is right at the end, just below Battery Geary. In the past the trail continued straight ahead, running parallel and below the main road toward Topside, but a landslide, probably from a WWII bomb,– makes it nearly impossible to proceed, the path being covered with loose stones and steeply angled. So the alternative is to ascend about 40 feet at a near-45 degree incline to a ridge just above the battery. We’ve tied a rope to the base of a tree at the top and knotted it every two feet, so it’s not too difficult as long as your hands don’t slip and you watch your footholds. It is definitely easier to climb up than to go down. Bill is a former John Hopkins lacrosse player who swims 3,000 yards a day when he is home, so with his upper-body strength he had no trouble, despite arthritic knees and a fast-approaching 73rd birthday. Steve has comparatively stronger legs but weaker arms, finding the climb slightly more difficult for him than Bill.

Another time Steve and Bill walked from the power plant at Bottomside to a Japanese anti-aircraft gun emplacement above the plant. There are four other AA guns that were moved from their original locations to the Japanese Memorial on Tailside. Writing on these guns indicates that they were manufactured in Hiroshima during the war.

On Wednesday Steve guided a Sun Cruises tour group, which was a mixed bunch from places as far away as California, USA, and Germany. Three of the tourists were avid bird watchers. Paul, another of the men on the tour, originates from Liverpool, England, but now resides in Angeles City near the former Clark Air Force Base. He was here with his girlfriend, Marnie. All of these people stayed overnight, and Steve was able to introduce Marcia to them at the sunset viewing. The following day, Steve led Bill, Paul, and Marnie up Malinta Hill. Paul was so impressed with the island and Steve’s love for Corregidor that he intends to return with a couple friends and spend a few days exploring the jungle trails.

After the hike, Steve stopped at the Corregidor Inn to pick up Marcia, who had again been visiting with Midge. We decided on a light lunch at MacArthur Café, and there were the bird watchers. They were very pleased with how many birds are here on Corregidor, having identified 33 species of birds within about two hours of walking the main roads. It was helpful for us to talk with them and look through their bird book to clarify some of the birds we’ve seen and heard, since we only have a small and very limited pocket guide and are still unfamiliar with many of the bird calls and songs.

During their days here, we joined Bill and Midge for several sunset viewings from Battery Grubbs, but one of our favorite sunsets was seen from the north beach near MacArthur’s Café where we were going to eat dinner. Although we didn’t see the sun itself, since it was behind Topside (left of picture) from where we were standing, the effect over the Mariveles Mountains (center) was beautiful. We hope the panoramic photo does it justice.

On Saturday Steve and Bill took the old trails from Battery James to Battery Smith. Bill was especially interested in the James Ravine area, having recently read a book by General E. M. Flanagan, Jr., entitled Corregidor: The Rock Force Assault. The book describes in great detail the brutal action that took place in that area in February of 1945, when the Americans rooted out the seemingly fearless and obstinate Japanese from the caves and tunnels in the ravine. Later, the four of us joined Ronilo at his house for bulalo (a traditional Filipino beef knee/shank soup) and, of course, rice and beer.

Bill and Midge left on Sunday, but not before Steve and Bill went looking for a storage building near Battery Wheeler where dozens of Japanese had holed up and were ultimately killed by American artillery. Marcia and Midge spent their last ‘girl time’ while the guys were exploring. Finally it was time to bid the Kirwans goodbye until we meet again, probably next January.

We are so thankful for email, which enables us to stay in contact with them and many other friends and family members.

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