Sunday, October 21, 2012

Recent landslides on Corregidor

Whoever came up with the adages, “The exception proves the rule,” and, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  We know there’s supposed to be a question mark at the end of the last sentence, but where do you put it?  Let’s get real: the exception disproves the rule, and the more things change, the more they change.
Here on Corregidor things do visibly change every once in a while, although changes may not always be noticed.  On the large scale, the change is between rainy season and dry season, or what we call hot and hotter.  During rainy season things are greener, you can’t see as far into the jungle, and many of the out-of-the-way structures become hidden by rapid jungle growth.  Then dry season comes along, and the groundskeepers go out to remote sites such as Battery Morrison and MacArthur’s one-time house on Tailside to clear the overgrowth, which will pretty much remain under control until the following June or July.
This yearly cycle is fairly predictable.  It appears that we are now out of the southwest monsoon, called Habagat or rainy season.  We have moved into the northeast monsoon, Amihan, the dry season, summer.  Now we can expect appreciable rain only if a typhoon passes close enough to affect us.  Here in the Philippines “monsoon” means either of the cyclic prevailing winds, and not exclusively the heavy rain that often accompanies the Habagat.  Other places in the world use “monsoon” to indicate their rainy seasons.
So what significant physical changes have we noticed in the four years we’ve lived here?  One answer is: landslides that have had a direct impact on plans for the island.  Two or three years ago there was discussion about paving two long-existing roads so that the tourist vehicles could travel around the island on different routes.  There is only one paved road from Tailside to Middleside, where it then makes a counterclockwise loop around Topside.  There was a proposal to pave the “North Access Road” which runs from the power plant near the Engineer’s Dock to Battery James and around to Middleside Barracks.   In addition, there was talk of paving the “South Access Road,” which curves around Malinta Hill opposite the existing road and provides an outstanding view of Caballo Island a couple thousand meters to the south.  In fact, guard rails were installed on the South Access Road in anticipation.  This road, in its unpaved condition, has been used as part of the route for the annual running race held here in December.
We reported a little over a year ago about the landslide on the North Access Road.  We recently went back to see how things have changed since then.  We’ve included two pictures, one taken three months after the landslide occurred, and one taken during our recent hike – about one year later.  Compare the two pictures and notice how different it looks near the shoreline.  A year ago the landslide was obvious from the water, but so much growth has already occurred that it is now very difficult to spot.  However, the landslide was so immense that paving the road now appears to be out of the question.  Essentially a bridge would have to be built to support the road for at least fifty feet.  Notice the picture with Marcia standing on the old roadbed overlooking the landslide – which washed away a significant portion of the road’s former width.  Imagine trying to safely put a road there.  Not practical, without a huge budget.
The South Access Road around Malinta Hill turned out to be an even bigger shock.  When we were brought into the discussion about paving that road and routing the tranvias on it, we strongly recommended against the idea, pointing out that the rock above the road is unstable and could fall at any time.  Time has validated that input.  We heard that there had been a rockslide resulting in roadway blockage, but were not prepared for what we encountered when we decided to walk the route.  Since the last time we went through, there have been four major rockslides and several minor ones.  You can see from the first pictures of the area (starting at photo number 4) that the road is buried beneath many feet of small stones.  The guard rails have been destroyed.  Further along the road, we encountered falls of large rocks.  These are the combination limestone-hematite rocks that we wrote about last time, that fall into the ocean, get tumbled together until they become smooth, and wash ashore as what we call here “bloodstones.”
We are glad that money was not spent on saving either one of these roads, believing that there are better ways to invest in the future of the island as a war memorial and tourist destination.
Our friend Chris Pforr was lucky enough to get a great photo of Corregidor while on a recent flight.  On top (to the south) is Cavite Province.  The tadpole-shaped island is, of course, Corregidor.  Just above its tail is Caballo Island.  The Bataan shoreline is across the bottom of the photo; to the left is the pier for the LP gas depot, just to its right is Kamaya Point with a smaller pier that we have used a number of times going to-and-from Bataan, and to the right of center you can see the coal power plant that is still under construction.  Thank you, Chris, for permitting us to share this photo.  In the 20+ times we have flown in and out of the Manila airport, we have never gotten a view of Corregidor.
Finally, while on a walk last week, Steve got another good picture of a Philippine long-tailed macaque.  It is a bit unusual to have one pose like this, rather than quickly scrambling off into the vegetation and up the nearest tree.
Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Monday, October 8, 2012

Bethlehem gun barrels, visit by Corregidorian

Our friend John Lukacs, author of “Escape from Davao,” has a nice article entitled “Return to the Rock” in the Nov/Dec issue of “World War II Magazine.”  In it he writes about his visit to Corregidor in May of last year.  We really enjoyed his visit, and are grateful that John mentioned spending time with us.  We have already received two emails from readers of the article.
One of the emails came from an 81-year-old man in Hellertown, Pennsylvania.  Richard had taught history for 35 years.  Since he lives near Bethlehem, PA, he was wondering if any of the guns on the Rock were cast at Bethlehem Steel.  We were able to verify that the barrel of gun # 1 and the spare barrel at Battery Crockett (two 12-inch disappearing guns) were made by Bethlehem.  Crockett’s gun # 2 was made at Watervliet, New York.  See attached pictures.  You might notice that the barrels are also stamped with the model year (1895) and date of manufacture, 1905, 1904, and 1899 respectively.
Our information, gathered from the website, states that a couple of barrels at Battery Wheeler (two 12-inch disappearing guns) were also made in Bethlehem.  It is impossible to verify all of this, as the end of the spare barrel at Wheeler is partially covered by dirt, and appears to be so corroded as to be unreadable.  Barrel # 2 at Wheeler says Bethlehem.  On the back (breech) of this barrel there is a note saying the gun was relined in 1935.  According to our friend Glen Williford, the rifling in the barrels eventually wore out and the barrels would have to be sent back to Bethlehem or Watervliet to be relined.  One can only imagine the process of having to dismount, transport, and remount barrels that weighed more than 50 tons!
The almost-totally-destroyed Battery Ramsey (three 6-inch disappearing guns) reportedly got at least three barrels and two of its three carriages from Bethlehem.  However, the vast majority of the island’s guns were cast in Watervliet, located on the Hudson River just north of New York’s State Capitol in Albany.
It has been a slightly less rainy “rainy season” than the past couple years, but that’s not to say that it’s not extremely humid.  It’s hard for Marcia to decide when to do laundry, since it takes so long for clothes to dry – even more so, of course, when it has recently rained.  But in reality it is always humid here.  We notice that when we open a multi-pack of crackers or cookies and the last one eaten is not as crisp as the first.  We have to treat the surfaces of our wardrobes at least twice a year with pure Lysol to have a chance at preventing mildew all over them.  Clothes sitting in a stack for any time at all will not smell fresh.  Of course if we had the house closed up with air-conditioning running (in the Philippines, called simply “aircon”), that would not be the case.  Just another thing we have had to learn to live with here.

 Something that we have come to realize about Corregidor is that, from a geological standpoint, “The Rock” could hardly be less descriptive.  Obviously the name comes from the fact that it was for a long time an island fortress that guarded Manila Bay, which stood like a rock in the face of the enemy.  In geological terms, “The Sponge” would be more appropriate.  For the most part, what we have observed is that the island is made up of a mixture of small rocks and compressed volcanic ash.  A geologist informed us that the deeper structure of the island is primarily limestone, which allows for aquifer storage of rainwater.  Most of the many tunnels in the island would have been relatively easy to dig.  In fact, using dynamite would have been disastrous.  The major exception appears to be Malinta Tunnel, which was dug through limestone and iron ore (we think hematite) which is the basis for the millions of bloodstones found here.
We base this not only on the observation of the tunnels, but also on what happens to the water when it rains heavily.  Recently we had four inches of rain over night.  We expected that the little waterfall that we have nicknamed “Little Eaton Rapids” would be flowing like crazy.  Instead, it was barely a trickle.  This indicates that the tremendous amount of rainwater that fell right above it at Middleside Parade Ground had seeped through into the earth, something that a “rock” could never do.  This is of course extremely important here, since without that seepage there would not be fresh water in the underground cavities which provide us with our drinking water all year long, including after some very dry “dry seasons.” 
Every once in a while we start writing a story and then put it away for another newsletter.  In looking back, Steve discovered one that he had written in April, 2011.  Since there’s not much news here right now we’ll include it in this one.
Corregidorian Angel (ahn-HELL) Guanlao lived on the island as a boy from 1936 until the children were sent off in anticipation of war in 1941.  At age 82 he returned for the first time, accompanied by his wife, Aurora, one son and one daughter.  Angel is from the province of Pampanga, while Aurora is from Iloilo, more specifically, the town of Pototan, where island manager Ronilo hails from.  Angel suffers from Parkinson’s but his mind is still clear.  It didn’t take very long on the tranvia before Angel became agitated.  When Steve asked him what was wrong, he said that he did not recognize Corregidor anymore, in great part because there are so many more trees here now than what he remembers.  Looking at old photos of Corregidor, he is absolutely correct.  Although there were areas of undeveloped jungle, anywhere near the main buildings, gun batteries and the many observation points the ground was kept clear.  Angel was very unhappy to see the island so heavily vegetated.  He said that you used to be able to see long distances, and now all you see is trees.  It could not be any more obvious than when you visit former observation posts and all you see is jungle when previously there would have been open views to Manila Bay and the South China Sea.
Finally, some of our readers have expressed an interest in obtaining “Honor, Courage, Faith: A Corregidor Story” as an eBook.  Anvil Publishing has been working on that project and tells us it will be available in November.  We will keep you informed.
Steve and Marcia on the Sponge