Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Steve and Marcia Jungle Trail

Most visitors to Corregidor are guests of Sun Cruises, which operates a daily ferry most of the year.  The guests are transported along the main roads, and are treated to sights of old buildings and a few of the Rock's gun batteries, as well as numerous monuments and the Malinta Tunnel complex.  We love -- and specialize in -- taking guests to more remote parts of the island.

As we prepare to move back to the United States, one legacy we would like to leave is a jungle trail that enables people to see the side of Corregidor we most often show our visitors.  We are happy to be working in cooperation with Sun Cruises to oversee and establish such a trail as a permanent offering.

We dedicate this guided tour posting to those of you who will never be lucky enough to hike the trail by yourselves.  But we also present it to whet the appetites of those of you who may have taken the regular Sun Cruises tour and now want to come back to see more, and also to first-timers who prefer hiking to spending your time on a motorized tour.

The hike takes about three hours, and includes passing directly through a 100-year old bunker, visiting several gun batteries, exploring two tunnels (for those who desire and are physically able), and opportunities to see any of the island's 40-plus bird species, along with other wild creatures from monkeys to lizards.

Note:  The photos used in this post cover several years of our using this trail.

We begin the hike near Battery Grubbs.  Here we see Marcia taking the short but steep approach to Battery Smith Tunnel.  Sun Cruises will provide ropes here and all along the trail to ensure safe descents and ascents.

Passing through Smith Tunnel often causes many of its swallows to take flight.  Here is a mother on her nest.  We're told that this is the source of "bird's nest soup."

This single gun is known as Battery Smith.  It was completed in 1921 at a total cost of less than $150,000.  Talk about inflation since then!  It is truly a magnificent sight, and one we will see again later on.  Look at the metal missing from the end of the barrel, which we use to verify its identify from afar.

 Chances are pretty good that sometime on your visit to Corregidor you're going to see one or more Philippine long-tailed macaques.  They live in tribes of thirty to fifty, and we believe that there are no more than ten tribes on the island.  Still, three to five hundred monkeys is more than enough for an island barely two and one-quarter square miles.

This mangrove blue flycatcher is seen perching on a vine inside the remains of a 50 foot deep mobile-gun shelter near X-F-1.  A complementary shelter can be seen on the other side of Battery Hanna; we are also aware of a pair of similar shelters bracketing Battery James.  Unlike the guns at the fixed batteries, these 155mm guns could be hidden inside the reinforced concrete roof and sides, dirt floor, and wooden door.

Usually called part of Battery Hanna, this is actually the location of X-F-1 (Sector 10, Field Gun #1).  As far as we know, it had no guns mounted during WWII but may have been used for storage and shelter. It was completed in 1914, over 100 years ago.

Here is the entrance to the tunnel under X-F-1.  Currently it is unsafe to enter, as the wooden ladder has become termite food.  A new ladder will be installed soon.  The tunnel is fairly large and has long, square-walled passageways which indicate that it was constructed by American soldiers before their capture in May, 1942.

However, as you can see, characters scratched into one dirt wall indicate that Japanese soldiers used the tunnel during their occupation of Corregidor.   We are told that the only clearly recognizable character is "10," and possibly the ancient form of the number two.

Conchita Island as seen from the remaining emplacement of Battery Hanna, completed in 1919.  You are actually on a balcony built out over the cliff.  The partner balcony for another 3 inch field gun was off to the left and has long since fallen off the cliff.  The pair were used to protect nearby searchlights.

This is a closeup of some very pretty seaweed growing 240 feet below Hanna.

Here you can see a pair of Philippine serpent eagles circling overhead, probably looking for serpents, or fish if they can't find serpents.

We've seen a couple of pythons on this path.  As you can see, pythons are beautiful.  Rest assured that they are non-venomous, so although they may look scary, they are sights to behold.

We've taken many visitors on this trail over the years.  Our most recent guests were Tom and Sylvia from Washington State, and Lhen and Earl, from Laguna, Philippines, and Texas, respectively.  This is one of our favorite photo ops, since walkers can literally pose under the trunk of this banyan (balete) tree.
The barrel of Battery Smith as seen from across Cheney Ravine.  The damage to the barrel end is unmistakeable.  Although this is a telephoto shot, the gun is easily visible with the naked eye, since the distance across the ravine is nowhere near the distance walked on the serpentine trail.

Last year's eagle nest is easily seen, and we are hoping that the mated pair either chooses the same nest again (we don't know if they do that) or chooses to build one where we are fortunate enough to once again watch the eaglets.

Marcia took this picture last year near Battery Cheney.  It is one of the adults from the white-bellied sea-eagle nest above.

After coming back up Cheney Ravine you arrive at Battery Cheney, which was completed way back in 1910.  Gun specs: two 12-inch Model 1895, with Disappearing Carriage, Limited Fire, Model 1901.  Construction material was Portland reinforced concrete.  Interior rooms include two each shell and cartridge rooms, and one power room, motor generator room, store room, and guard room. Cost of construction $267,200This battery was also the power source for Searchlight #4.

This is one of the most scenic spots on Corregidor.  On a good day you can see all the way to Mindoro.  On the far left is Searchlight Point, with Searchlight #5, then a point with no apparent name (the two points almost appear as one in this photo), and on the far right Wheeler Point with the aforementioned Searchlight #4 and Battery Monja.

In February, 1945, a fierce battle near the top of this cliff lasted less than three hours and resulted in the deaths of more than 250 Japanese who had charged the area.  The dead bodies were disposed of by throwing them over the cliff, leading people later to assume that these Japanese had committed suicide.  It is wrongly referred to as Suicide Cliff, and is more appropriately called Banzai Cliff.

NOTE:  There are no "suicide cliffs" on Corregidor.  Japanese soldiers did not jump off cliffs to commit suicide, which would have been considered dishonorable in their code.  However, on other islands such as Saipan, civilians, especially women and children, committed suicide by jumping off cliffs because of what they had been told that the American soldiers would do to them.

Looking down Banzai Cliff you can see a Brahminy kite sitting on its nest.  This is the second year in a row that kites have used this nest.

One of the real treasures of Corregidor, and one we hope more people will be able to visit once the trail is put into regular use, is Wheeler Tunnel.  Here's Marcia about to go into the entrance, which is naturally camouflaged on the side of a cliff.

Once inside you find a concrete-lined storehouse, with two sets of stairs that look like they could have been built in the past year.  There do not seem to be official records for the tunnel, but unofficial sources indicate that Fort Mills commander Brig. Gen. Charles Kilbourne had it built around 1930.

With patient searching you're bound to see one or more African cave spiders, also called tailless whip scorpions.  Scary looking as anything, they are harmless to humans.

Here is Marcia climbing out the alternate exit to Wheeler Tunnel on very old but still very reliable iron ladder rungs built into the concrete vertical shaft.

After exiting Wheeler Tunnel we soon come to Battery Wheeler, very similar to Battery Cheney with one exception: this disappearing gun battery had a gun DISAPPEAR!

The bottom level of Battery Wheeler, where the shell, cartridge, power, motor generator, and store rooms are located.

On occasion we've seen a monitor lizard on the trail between Battery Wheeler and the row of senior officers housing.

The is the house nearest the old Spanish Flagpole.  It has two stories, each with identical floor plan except for where the entryways are located.  Each has an open veranda around three sides, plus three bedrooms with closets, three bathrooms, two servants' quarters, dining room, living room with fireplace, pantry, storeroom, drying room, and kitchen.

We've had rave reviews from  people who have taken this tour with us.  We certainly love it, and hope that Sun Cruises will make this a permanent offering in addition to their standard day tour.  Hikers, historians, explorers, birders, and second time visitors will surely appreciate the experience.  Look for it soon from Sun Cruises, Inc.!
For those of you who can never take this tour, we hope that this gives you an inkling of the wonders of the history and nature found and preserved on Corregidor.  This posting is no substitute for the real deal.
We wish to thank good friend and Corregidor expert John M. for providing much of the technical details about the guns and tunnels.
Steve and Marcia on the Rock

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