Spiky branches of vivid orange, yellow and teal swayed lazily in the water. What looked like purple clam lips on pink brain-like corals seemingly smiled as I snorkeled by. A school of rainbow colored fish swept past me, darting in and out of the corals.
Snorkeling in the Crowning Glory Reef, a marine protected area in Culion, has got to be one of the major highlights of my trip to the Calamian islands late last year. This site is the BEST place I’ve ever tried snorkeling and my standards are now very, very high after this. All other underwater destinations I’ve visited now seem to be muted seascapes that pale in comparison to the rich marine life I saw in the Crowning Glory Reef.
Unfortunately, we did not have a proper underwater camera to take photos. (The underwater pics I used here are courtesy of Kawil Tours & some Coron diving websites.) There was something so torturous about seeing something so beautiful and not being able to take photos firsthand. I seriously thought about wrapping my smartphone in plastic and dunking it just to get a shot, or coming up with some kind of case using a snorkel mask for the SLR to take a some pics underwater, before I was dissuaded by my companions, who told me that their guests who had previously done this only ended up with wet and broken gadgets.
While I would have loved it we had an underwater camera (or GoPro to take video), I was kind of glad that I wasn’t preoccupied with taking photos that I really got to enjoy and appreciate the place. You know how it is when there are fireworks or a concert and everyone is just watching through their screens the whole time. You lose something from the moment. It was nice to just enjoy the view while swimming and snorkeling in that underwater paradise.
The best thing about snorkeling here is that you don’t need to dive deep to appreciate the sights. It felt like the corals and fish were just beneath my fingertips. The water was so clear, the coral reefs so colorful and diverse, and the marine life so rich that cliché as it may sound, I felt like I was transported into a different world. I could spend days and days just staring at the corals.
I didn’t think it could get any better than that. Then, we got to swim amidst a shipwreck.
Approaching the shipwreck site from the boat was almost dreamlike. I looked around the water through the goggles, but it was dark all around. I swam towards the buoy until I saw a hazy shape in the water looming in the distance, that suddenly sharpened into the outline of a massive gunboat shipwrecked under the sea that had until then only been the stuff of movies.
The way the sunlight hit the water made the boat glow a rusty red amist the deep blue. Schools of fish were swimming through the cracks and windows of the ship. I swam to the front of the boat and touched the rusting stern, which was just inches from the water’s surface. Barnacles and corals encrusted the ship’s skeleton. I wondered how long the boat had been rusting there and what the circumstances of its shipwreck were.
I found out later that the wreck is referred to the gunboat or submarine hunter at Lusong Island. The ship’s stern actually breaks the surface at low tide. Its maximum depth is 9 meters and is recommended for skin divers and open water divers. It’s also one of 2 shipwreck sites accesible to snorkelers. The thought that there were many other shipwreck sites around the island just made me want to take up diving. It’s really a different world out there. So peaceful and quiet. Just you with your thoughts floating through the water. It’s probably the closest thing I’ll get to floating in zero gravity in outer space.
We were still on a high from the shipwreck as we stopped near an island fringed by thick mangrove forests, which hid a hotspring connected to the sea. The water surrounding the area was such a rich shade of aquamarine that made me just want to dive in and swim all the way to the shore, which is what we ended up doing, because the water was too shallow for the boat.
We were told that people could lie here on flat rocks in heated water under the trees. To enter the place, you have to pass through a small passage flanked by mangrove roots. Unfortunately, the entrance to the hotsprings within a section of the mangroves seemed to have been blocked off with branches and we couldn’t enter. It would have been nice to see the place, but I was happy enough with our snorkeling experience to mind too much.
Renlee of Kawil Tours and his family on the boat
I can not thank Kawil Tours enough for this amazing and surreal trip. Hands down, this is one of the most memorable trips I’ve taken. It’s the kind of place that will stay with you and forever be etched in your memory.
NOTE: Our trip was just a few weeks before typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda hit the country. According to Kawil Tours, some of the corals in Crowning Glory Reef were damaged during the typhoon, but most are still intact. If you are interested in seeing the place for yourself and helping in the rehab efforts, Kawil Tours is holding several Voluntourism tours where mangrove reforestation will be one of the main activities. For more information and upcoming trips, check out Kawil Tours on Facebook