Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Golf Course

During the month-long Japanese artillery bombardment of Corregidor that followed the fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942, Battery Geary fired thousands of rounds from the island toward the Japanese positions on Bataan.  The Japanese, aware that the eight 12-inch mortars would make a barge landing almost impossible, targeted Geary with over two thousand 240mm (9 1/2 inch) rounds on May 2, eventually hitting its central powder magazine, which reportedly had held 40 tons of high-explosive gunpowder.  The resulting explosion destroyed the battery, killed several soldiers, and sent concrete and steel over much of the island.

Steve's father, nearby at Battery Way, immediately thought that a major earthquake had occurred.  Then, when the ear-shattering sound arrived, and then the falling debris, he realized that something huge had blown up.  Two of Geary's mortars had been blasted through a three-foot thick concrete wall, while four others were sent flying through the air, at least one traveling over 100 yards towards Battery Crockett, where it sits in the jungle to this day.  One of the 15-ton guns was sent flying up and over the road onto the Corregidor Golf Course.

 This mortar from Battery Geary is nearer to Battery Crockett than Geary, along with huge chunks of concrete, a result of the direct hit on Geary's central powder magazine, and proof of a great explosion

This mortar was pushed through a three-foot thick wall.  Marcia is the woman on the left.  Seven yards to the right of the visible mortar, partially visible at hip height between Marcia and the central woman lies another mortar that was blasted completely through the wall and supports the V of the fractured seven-foot thick concrete roof.  The two gun barrels appear to be the only things now holding up that roof.

The Fort Mills Golf Course is a curiosity in and of itself.  In all of the time we've lived on Corregidor we hadn't explored it, since it didn't have much that we thought would be of particular interest to us.  It appeared to be only thick jungle, and Steve as a former golfer expected it to cover a large area, being that it was a nine-hole course.
However, during our New Year's Eve dinner, close friend and island manager Ronilo Benadero said that he had seen one of the mortars on the golf course many years ago, and that it was at the bottom of a large and deep crater.  This came as news to us, as we had always operated under information that all eight mortars had been accounted for:  five in the battery, one in the jungle by Crockett, and two that the Japanese had taken off the island.  One of those two is reported to be at the mouth of the Pasig River in Manila while the other lies off one of the docks on Corregidor, their weight having sunk the barges that they were on.  Ron's belief that he had seen one more left us and our Corregidor-expert friends baffled.  So we decided to take a look for ourselves.
Back to why the golf course is a curiosity.  It was said to be a short, challenging nine-hole course.  After walking the grounds and examining the map below, the words "short" and "challenging" appear to be understatements, to say the least.  We cannot imagine fitting nine holes in at most 12 acres of land.  An internet search seemed to indicate that at least 40 acres would be needed for a short, nine-hole par 3 course.
The golf course was in this small area from lower left to upper right, a very small area indeed.

Each of the yellow lines indicates a change in elevation of fifty feet.  You can see that the 500 foot elevation line runs through the course.  Below, the road curves at the 475 foot level, and at the top it is 550 feet.  That means that there is a 75-foot slope on a course that is at most 450 feet wide, a considerable hill. So we are left to wonder how you could lay out even a very short par 3 course on the side of a hill in such a small area.
Note:  You may be looking at this map or other photos on our blog and be frustrated that they are too small to see well.  You also may not be aware that browsers (at least in PCs, we're not sure on MACs) have a zoom feature that is activated with the Ctrl key.  Ctrl with the plus key will enlarge the view, Ctrl with the minus key will shrink it.  (All of you tablet, etc., owners have your own methods, and Marcia's Kindle Fire is as progressive as we've gotten.)
One reason that we never attempted to walk the golf course was that from its exterior it appeared to be covered in heavy jungle.  This turned out to be an illusion.  Because of the road passing along the south side of the course, it allows sunlight to hit the edge and produce a thick vegetation border.  Once you break through the "curtain" of trees, bushes, and vines, the tall tree canopy does not allow much sun and low growing vegetation is limited, so walking on the course itself is relatively easy.  The worst part is that there are a lot of runner vines which like to catch your feet and trip you.
 Tree, bush, and vine "curtain" at the southern perimeter of the golf course.  Note the very edge of the road on the bottom left corner of the photo.  Just above that is a concrete drainage ditch.
 Once through the curtain, the ground is mostly bare except for the vines you can see in this picture, and some broken tree branches.

Once inside, Marcia saw this piece of metal (upper center), probably corrugated tin.

This is a concrete pillar from an unknown structure at the north-central part of the course.

We meandered back and forth through the course area, looking specifically for large bomb craters and hoping to find one that might hold one of the Geary mortars.  Finding large craters was easy on the flattest (southwest) part of the course just inside the curve of the road.  These craters are huge, a result not only of large bombs, of course, but also an indication of very soft ground.  As we reported before, Corregidor, aka "The Rock" would more aptly be called "The Sponge," as it is mostly lahar (compressed volcanic ash) with the exception of Malinta Hill, which is mostly iron ore and limestone.
Here Steve is standing in the depths of one of the bomb craters.  Steve is almost six and a half feet tall and as you can see right behind him, his head is at least three feet below ground level.  The rock you see above him is embedded near the upper edge of the crater wall.  Steve is holding a bottle that he found in the crater.  We are so far unable to determine if it was pre- or post-war.
We never found the gun that Ron believes he saw twenty years ago.  We suspect that he may have been thinking of the one near Battery Crockett.  His description fits, a mortar in a bomb crater, except for his memory of the location.  Some of our explorer friends have told us that they have searched carefully through the golf course area and would be shocked to find that they could have missed one of the mortars there.

Nevertheless, it was fun to wander the area and to ponder how a nine-hole golf course could possibly be situated on such a small, sloped area.  Tour guides often joke that the Japanese turned it into much more than a nine-hole course!

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

P.S.  Our photo of the trash from Manila on the north Corregidor shore brought some interesting replies.  Since we posted the picture the shore has been cleaned up, and looks much better.  Unfortunately the trash will continue coming ad infinitum; it is a never-ending battle for the hard-working grounds-keeping crew here.

P.P.S.  The solar panels that we referred to in the last blog were not stolen.  They were removed by an agent of the man who bought our remaining household items.  Our apologies for misleading those of you who assumed the worst.  To the best of our knowledge, there is no theft on Corregidor.  It is considered a crime-free zone.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Our first days at the Corregidor Inn and the tree-climbing python

Pope Francis is in the Philippines, the first papal visit in twenty years to this, the third largest Catholic Country in the world.  Security for his visit is beyond imagination; cell and internet service is occasionally and purposely being interrupted, and sections of Manila where the pope travels are inconvenienced to say the least.  Many flights have been cancelled.  The Philippine Coast Guard has restricted boat traffic on Manila Bay, so most of the Sun Cruises staff left for five days while the boat is not allowed to travel to the island, and as a result we are almost all alone in our temporary home in the Corregidor Inn.  (Except for Norming the Acting Manager, two rotating security men, and two rotating generator operators who are providing power in four-hours-on-and-two-hours-off cycles...)  Unfortunately for the country’s Catholic faithful, Tropical Storm Mekkhala  (Locally called Amang, the first named storm of the year in the Philippine Area of Responsibility) has caused the Holy Father to shorten his long-anticipated visit to Yolanda-ravaged Tacloban and Palo, Leyte.  See for our post-typhoon photo-essay if you haven’t already.

As we previously mentioned, we sold many of our possessions.  It didn't take long for things to change once we were out of the house.  Notice that the solar panels are already gone. (not stolen, taken down by the new owner)

 We are very grateful for a room in the Corregidor Inn, but as you can see it is "just a bit" smaller than our house.  We've had to make good use of every little storage nook, and have already had a couple "now where did we put that?" moments!

Many of you are familiar with MacArthur's Cafe.  The business is closing and reopening (on paper only - no interruption of services) with a new name, Freedom Cafe, and we have been promised that they will continue to offer their "World-Famous MacArthur Specialty Fried Chicken."

One of the MacArthur Cafe concessionaires bought many of our household furnishings.  Here is our living-room furniture set up for use as a nice little lounge at the cafe.

Visitors to Corregidor are familiar with the trash that destroys the natural beauty of the north shore, near Mac's Cafe.  This is especially prevalent this time of year when the wind flow is predominantly from the north, bringing these unwanted "gifts" from Manila.

This is the windy season, and we are lucky when Menard (Maynard) - Marcia calls him our "personal shopper" - can travel back and forth to deliver food and other supplies from Cabcaben, Bataan.  He can be seen second from the right and wearing an orange T-shirt - if you enlarge the photo.  There is a good possibility that the Philippine Coast Guard will issue a signal in a day or two due to TS Amang, which will mean no food or passenger deliveries temporarily.

A well-known weed blooms amidst the red-orange Santa Anna blossoms.  The prolific and pesky Bindweed vine has a very pretty flower.  If you enlarge it (see below) the fold lines in the  flower form a distinct yellow star.

Closeup of the Bindweed flower

This is the feathery blossom of the Botong tree.

A variant on the Spider Lily?  We are awaiting an opened flower to find out!  It's much larger than the Spider Lily plants by our former house - which are actually in the Amaryllis family.

Marcia got several pictures - most of them not too good because of distance and haze - of this bird, which she believes to be a Pacific Reef Heron, aka Easter Reef Egret.  It was perched in hunting pose on the Lorcha Dock, and took flight toward Malinta Hill when it spotted her.  If you enlarge the photo you can see the distinctive charcoal gray beak.  It's not actually touching the water, but rather flying just above the waves.

This young Philippine macaque (muh-KAWK) was right outside our hotel room window.  We have to be careful to always close our windows before leaving the room.

 This is about as close as Steve has every gotten to one of the Corregidor monkeys.  Because they are forced to forage - per island regulations no one here feeds them - they stay wary of humans and are not a threat.  (Steve is on the ground on the left, squinting into the sun, and the monkey is up the pole trying to crack a nut shell with his teeth - in case you were wondering!  Another hint, the monkey has hair ;-)

 The same Mr. Monkey.

Presently the trails that we so dearly love are not being maintained.  One of our goals before we leave Corregidor is to work with Sun Cruises to establish a set of trails that can become a regular part of the Corregidor experience for those who want to hike, explore, and "get off the beaten path."  The other day we attempted to walk one of our favorite trails to determine how much work needed to be done to clear the trail and to make it safe for visitors.  Following are just a few pictures from our expedition.  You'll see why in a minute.

This is Marcia going down a rugged slope to the tunnel/bunker which is just above Battery Smith.  As you can see, there is no safety rope.  We are not sure where it went, but for safety's sake, another rope is needed there before this becomes a regular trail.

Steve standing next to the large gun at Battery Smith.  He's holding his Ifugao hiking staff, a very handy piece of gear when on the jungle trails, especially on down-slopes.  You can also see Marcia's in use in the previous photo.

Marcia coming through shoulder high grass just beyond Battery Smith.  The tip of the gun barrel can be seen at the upper right.

Little did we know that this would be the very last picture we would take with this particular camera.  Two minutes later Steve took it out to document a tree that was blocking the trail and the camera was dead.  Not "battery dead" but DEAD dead!  We tried everything, but the lens assembly would not extend from the camera body.  A fresh battery, prying on the lens, WD40 (a very last-ditch effort) but no matter what, the lens assembly would not come back out.  Since we had been on this trail numerous times and taken many pictures before, we thought, well no big deal, we'll just replace it when we get back to the States.  We still had the larger camera back at the room - the one Marcia uses for 'shooting' the birds.

Wouldn't you know it, we missed the shot of a lifetime.  No kidding.  About a half hour later, Steve walked right over a large python.  Again!  See

Here was another rather large python lying right on the trail, at least 10 feet in length and as thick as Marcia's bideps/triceps portion of her arm.  These snakes are not venomous and therefore we want to stress, not threats to humans.  Nonetheless Marcia wanted to get past it at a point where the trail was very narrow.  After we were both at a safe distance, Steve gently prodded the back end with his walking stick... and here's where we missed the fantastic photo op.  The snake, up til now acting very nonchalant, headed for a thin tree next to the trail and began to climb.  It curled around the tree, just as you'd expect, but the way it climbed was something neither of us anticipated.  Imagine a tight spring releasing.  The snake made three fairly tight coils with the lower part of its tail, back-folded its body on top of the coil, and then "unsprung" so to speak, leveraging against the secured coils, which pushed the head end of its body much further up the tree.  Then it anchored the head end of its body in a similar way, pulled the lower body upwards, re-secured its tail end, and then repeated the whole process.  We so wish that we could have video-recorded or photographed the procedure.  (It would also be so much easier than trying to describe it!)  We both stood by, open-mouthed, admiring the God-given ingenuity of this beautiful creature.  What a privilege!  This is something neither of us will ever forget, and we'll always regret that we missed a better way to preserve the memory and share it with you.

We want to reiterate that seeing the wildlife here, the birds, the monkeys, even the snakes and lizards, is something to be cherished, not feared.  We hope that the trail project is a success and is maintained well after we are gone.  We would consider a fitting and wonderful legacy of the time we spent here.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Monday, January 5, 2015

The inside of "our house" just before we leave it

The time has come for us to move out of “our house” on Middleside on the historic island of Corregidor.  Change is tough.  It’s downright stressful at times.  Since returning from our yearly U.S. hiatus to Corregidor last September, we have lived with the knowledge that we would be leaving the house we’ve lived in for over six years, the second-longest residence we’ve had in our almost 42 years of marriage we lived for nineteen years in one house in Lansing, Michigan, the majority of our child-raising era.

Our lease with the Corregidor Foundation, Inc. (CFI) has expired and we must move on.  We are grateful to CFI’s Col. Art Matibag for permission to live in the old “aviary house.”  Since we have long-term commitments for upcoming tours, we express heartfelt thanks to Ms. Doris Ho and Mr. Roland Portes of Sun Cruises, Inc. (SCI) for offering a long-term room rental at the newly renovated Corregidor Inn, covering us for the next four months.  Our last day on the island will be May 6, the 73rd anniversary of the Fall of Corregidor and the 13th anniversary of Steve’s first visit – Marcia’s first came one year later.

Moving from a small house to a single hotel room is somewhat of a challenge as you can well imagine.  Over the years, we have accumulated “stuff,” and most of it will not be taken back to the States with us.  When you look at the following house pictures, you may notice books piled up over our kitchen table, our office desk, and our bed and our wardrobes.  Marcia especially is a reader and we often brought 20 or more fiction books back with us from used bookstores in Manila; they now total about 800.  Those will not be going home with us, but since we moved to Corregidor the world of reading has evolved to eBooks, and Marcia’s new Kindle Fire and Steve’s PC Kindle application replaced the need for so many paperbacks.  We also brought many WWII and specifically Corregidor-related books from the States, and those we are doing our best to send back.  Some books are autographed by the authors, others came as gifts from tour guests, and those we want to keep.
It is impossible for us to do an auction here, and we are grateful we found someone who was willing to buy the major household things, like the refrigerator and washing machine/spinner. Marcia actually wishes she could take just the centrifuge half of our washing machine because of how quickly the laundry dries.  Other stuff that we cannot take back we will just give away.  Stuff is not so hard to part with, and we are so very grateful for the time that we have had here. That will help as we leave our friends and this peaceful location behind, come May.
We realize with some surprise that we never photographed the inside of the house before.  Almost all of our photos are outdoor shots and/or tour groups.  Following are a few pictures of a house that was built around 1992, we think, and we had renovated in 2008, a house that turned out to be a home for us on a very quiet part of the island, and one we will forever miss.  It will be strange to walk or drive by “our house” in the future.
Dining room table, rarely used for dining because we always eat outside

Our living room, which we rarely used since we always entertained outside

Front entrance, which we rarely used since we usually used the back door

Office left, storeroom right


Desk in office, which we rarely used because we always work outside

Kitchen, used all the time

Hallway from kitchen to bedroom, laundry, and bathroom

Bathroom (comfort room) used a whole lot

Laundry room next to comfort room

Our bamboo and rattan bed, very low to the floor because we had to amputate the legs to fit it down the hallway

Clothes rack, room divider screen in lieu of drapes to maintain privacy

Wardrobes in the largest bedroom we've ever had - the space will be missed

Our move back to the Iron Range in Minnesota is bittersweet, since we will certainly miss the Philippines and its people.  But it puts us back much closer to our families and that is a good thing.  Who knows what adventures will find us “on the Range.”
Steve and Marcia on the Rock