IN PHOTOS: Traveling back in time on two wheels in Corregidor
There are places in the Philippines where one can bike from a seaside surfer's paradise to a mountaintop city of pines, an elevation gain of over 1,500 meters within a distance of 58 kilometers, in just one morning. There are places in this country where one can pedal around an island populated by giraffes and zebras from the savannas of Africa or another one highlighted by dramatic seaside cliffs reminiscent of Scotland or Dover.
But there is only one place in the Philippines where, in just half a day, one can cycle through 400 years of history: from the arrival of the galleons, to the Chinese and Dutch pirates who sought to make the island a launching pad for raids and roguery, to the American imperialists who fortified the island at great expense, to the nation's second president inaugurated on the island itself as Japanese bombs fell during the Second World War, to Filipino military officers whose massacre by the Marcos dictatorship sparked the separatist insurgency that still besets southern Philippines to this day. (READ: Touring Corregidor, one of the country's last military bastions)
On Corregidor Island, one's bicycle becomes nothing less than a pedal-powered time machine.
Easy like Sunday morning
Traveling to Corregidor Island with one's mountain bike is made easy and affordable with Sun Cruises Philippines' daily ferry rides to and from their Bay Terminal beside the Folk Arts Theater within the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex in Pasay City.
Boarding time is 7 am and departure is 8 am. There is a pay parking lot just before the terminal where one can safely leave one's vehicle. There is no need to disassemble the bike. The crew will just safely load the bikes at the front of the ferry and secure them with tarp. Travel time takes no more than an hour and 15 minutes and expect to arrive at 9:15am. The ferry leaves for its return trip to Manila at 2:30pm and expect to be back at the Bay Terminal by 3:45pm. Reservations are required a day in advance.
A round trip day tour inclusive of a guide's services and a buffet lunch costs P2,350 on weekdays and P2,549 on weekends per person. Guides for cyclists are on scooters allowing them to lead and keep pace. They have walkie talkies that allow them to coordinate with other guides who can load bicycles on vans if absolutely necessary. There are also walking tours as well as coaches made to look like pre-war tramvias for those not on bikes.
There are no bicycle stores or supplies on the island so it is essential to bring all necessary gear such as spare inner tubes, pump, hydration, trail food, and helmet.
Those opting for overnight stay pay an additional P1,500 for a single bed room with breakfast, P2,000 for a twin/double bed room with breakfast for two, and an additional P750 for every extra person for breakfast.
Additional activities include: a lights and sound show at Malinta Tunnel for P200 per person, zipline for P100 per person, sunset and sunrise viewing and nighttime “ghost hunting” at the Malinta Tunnel for P250 per person, sea kayaking for P500 per hour, and all-terrain vehicle rides for P500 per hour. Parking fees are waved for those staying overnight.
The bike tour of Corregidor requires no great technical bike handling skills or olympian strength. To put things into perspective, Corregidor has none of the challenging trails and steep climbs found in such popular weekend biking getaways such as Timberland, San Mateo. Biking in Corregidor is a walk in the park. Time travel is no sweat.
History set in stone
Corregidor, together with adjacent smaller islands Caballo Carabao, and El Fraile, the curved tadpole-shaped Corregidor Island is the remnant of ancient volcano's crater. As befitting of its volcanic origin, the island has a tumultous history.
The island's name comes from the Spanish word corregir, meaning "to correct" which may owe to either purpose: once a correctional facility for miscreants, or once a necessary stopover for ships where colonial customs officials ensured all necessary paperwork was in order.
Corregidor is also a rank in colonial government and the island's name could stem from it being the “corregidor's island.” But the island's reoccurring importance in history stems from its strategic location at the mouth of Manila Bay, straddling the distance between Cavite and Bataan Peninsulas.
To pirates who coveted the wealth of the colonial capital Manila, Corregidor was an ideal berth from which to launch raids. Pirates such as the Dutch scalawag Olivier van Noort, the Chinese brigand Limahong and his Japanese ronin captain Sioco all chose to launch their attacks against the Spaniards from Corregidor. The island however failed to stop the United States from capturing Manila during the Spanish-American War of 1898. (READ: What history books didn’t say about Corregidor)
Military strategists recognized the island as nothing less than an unsinkable battleship made of rock. It was just a matter of arming it with gargantuan guns and fortifying the island further with bunkers of concrete.The US spent over $150 million on Corregidor Island alone, a huge sum of money in those days, fortifying the island as tensions grew among western colonial powers in the years leading to the First World War. Huge steel guns, each weighing tens of tons each, were shipped from the United States and France. Under US colonial rule, Corregidor Island was known as Fort Mills. It was also known as the “The Rock.” Caballo Island was known as Fort Hughes, Carabao Island as Fort Frank, and El Fraile Island as Fort Drum.
The US military built facilities that included the Cine Corregidor movie house, indoor swimming pool, a nine-hole golf course, individual bungalow residences as well as a club house for officers, two racially segregated schoolhouses for the children of soldiers and sailors, as well as the three-storey hurricane-proof Mile-Long baracks, Topside Parade Ground, the Kindley Airfield, baseball field, 105 kilometers of road and 31.4 km of electric railroad tracks for the trasportation of gargantuan artllery pieces.
However, even before the start of Second World War, military planners knew that much of the static defence of Corregidor and its adjacent islands had been rendered obsolete by the preeminence of air power, but were unable to further modernise defenses because of constraints imposed by peace treaties after the First World War.
Malinta tunnel, so named by the convicts who excavated it for the many leaches that beset them, served as the hospital and bomb-proof shelter for the likes of General Douglas MacArthur and Philippine President Manuel Quezon, who was inaugurated during the seige. Both were evacuated before Corregidor came to be the last military stronghold to surrender in the Philippines. Its defenders imprisoned under inhuman conditions, Corregidor once again earned its name.
Towards the latter part of the war it was the Americans who bombed their own installations that had been repurposed by the Japanese. Many Japanese chose to commit suicide in the Malinta tunnels. Those who did not were killed by explosives and petrol poured into the caverns. It's the ghosts of these men – if you believe in that sort of thing – that the nightime tours of ghost hunters come to see.
After the Second World War, the United States ascertained that the Corregidor no longer held any strategic value to them and turned over the island to the Philippine government. But Corregidor's history continued to be writ in blood.
In 1968, the Marcos dictatorship, in a plot to forcibly annex Sabah from Malaysia, recruited local soldiers and trained them in Corregidor Island to become an elite military unit to spearhead the invasion. When the recruits found out about the mission and mutinied, they were gunned down at Corregidor's airstrip, where in 2013, on the 45th anniverary of what is known today as the Jabidah Massacre, President Aquino III inugurated the Mindanao Garden of Peace on Corregidor. (READ: Jabidah and Merdeka: The inside story)
There are relics, ruins, and monuments to all these events that can be found on bike at Corregidor Island today.
Back in time
Upon arrival at the Port at the tailside of the island, the fery staff hand over bikes and the guides greet cyclists. At the port is the bike tour's first attraction, a larger than life statue comemorating Gen. Douglas MacArthur, field marshal of Philippine Army and United States five-star general.
From the port it's a short ride to the next historical site, the Malinta Tunnel. There are light and sound shows, basically well-timed illuminations of lifesize statues in the dark sychronized with audio renactments and narrations that together tell history through episodes – scheduled for vistors who arrive by coaches that resemble the tramvias that once plied the island. However, arriving at the tunnel without light and sound show has its own bebefits as well.
Besides enjoying the informative and sometimes humorous talk of the guide, one can explore some of the many lateral tunnels and take pictures.
Next stop is the Filipino Heroes Memorial, just a short shallow climb from the tunnel, located at the tail end of the island. Inaugurated by President Fidel V. Ramos on August 28, 1992, it is a relatively new memorial designed by Francisco Mañosa.
It features 14 outdoor murals of the different battles of the Filipino people for liberty throughout history, from the Battle of Mactan, to the Edsa Revolt, as well as a central sculture of a “battlfield cross” – a commonwealth-era Philippine helmet perched atop a M1 rifle with bayonet attached that is planted atop pile of stones that symbolically marks the grave of a fallen soldier by Manuel Casas.
It also houses within paintings by Lideo A. Mariano that depict the horrors of war as well as historical photographs of the Corregidor.
Just a very short ride away is the Japanese Memorial Garden of Peace. Funded by a private Japanese group, the memorial contains both Buddhist statue and Shinto shrine as well as remains of several anti-aircraft guns, many pockmarked by shrapnel.
A satisfying lunch buffet awaits riders at the Corregidor Inn located at the middle of the island. A steep yet brief climb leads to it. The ascent is worth it, as the inn, perched as it is atop a hill, offers a cool breeze and a scenic vantage point for diners.
After fueling up, riders follow the road and pass by the ruins of Middleside Barracks and the Corregidor Hospital, bombed mercilessly by the Japanese despite markings clearly visible from the air at the time.
A worthy stop is Battery Way, named after a US officer, as all the batteries on Corregidor are, who died in the Philillippines fighting Filipino freedom fighters resisting American colonization. It consists of four 12-inch mortars that could fire 1000-pound armor piercing shells against ships at entering the bay or 700-pound high explosive shell against enemy land forces breaching the coasts.
With a range of over 13 kilometers, they pounded Japanese marines that were attacking Bataan for 12 hours straight until the fall of American forces. Shrapnel marks of blasts that killed scores of men scar both the concrete walls and hulking steel barrels.
On this part of the route open can spy monkeys crossing the road as well as brilliantly colored birds flitting about the tress.
Also worth seeing and exploring is Battery Hearn, the largest of the island's guns. This 12-inch sea coast gun pointed to the west and was specificallydesigned to destroy enemy ships.
There's also Battery Crockett, consisting of two 12-inch coastal guns that could dissapear between into the safety of concrete parapet while being reloaded that were meant to defend the island itself.
The next point of interest is Mile-Long Barracks. So named for the unsusual length of the building, it was once the world's longest military barracks. Housing Gen. MacArthur's heardquarters and an indoor swimming pool, it is adjacent to Cine Corregidor, the island's only movie house.
Beyond the ruins of Cine Corregidor and across the Topside Parade Ground is the Pacific War Memorial with its marble plaques comemorating the epic battles of the Second World War in Asia, the round marble altar, its museum housing wartime relics, and its welded steel monument designed by Aristides Demetrios, the Eternal Flame—the high point of any tour of Corregidor. In contrast to the ruins pockmarked by bombs and wreathed by jungle overgrowth, these solemn monuments offfer an airy view of the ocean.
Nearby is the Spanish Lighthouse and beside it the huge cisterns that stored the island's fresh water supply as well a modern telecomunications tower.
Snacks and souvineers can be purchased at shops on location. For most tourists, this is where their tour ends before going back to the port. But for mountain bikers, the best part is yet to come.
At the back the Eternal Flame monument is a great singletrack bike trail that winds through the jungle overgrowth and offers a great view of the sea.
Making way past ruins, dangling vines, and one or two monkeys, you can't help but speed through and enjoy the rush through the jungle.
This bike path gives a pleasantly thrilling finish to one's journey in Corregidor Island. – Rappler.com
Writer, graphic designer, and business owner Rome Jorge is passionate about the arts. Formerly the Editor-in-Chief of asianTraveler Magazine, Lifestyle Editor of The Manila Times, and cover story writer for MEGA and Lifestyle Asia Magazines, RomeJorge has also covered terror attacks, military mutinies, mass demonstrations as well as Reproductive Health, gender equality, climate change, HIV/AIDS and other important issues. He is also the proprietor of Strawberry Jams Music Studio.