I had no intention to wake up early. But hearing the aircon shut down after its rationed 5-6 hour run at night nudged me out of my sleep. I couldn’t get back the zzzs, so I looked out the window to see what’s outside and saw the sun in a good mood, painting the clouds with warm colors. I grabbed my camera and went to the patio of Hotel Maya to see the day unfolding in this little town of Culion.
It may probably the first thing you’ll see upon approaching Culion Island. The red-colored walls of La Immaculada Concepcion Church is eye-catching from afar. It stands on a hill overlooking the sea and part of the town. It’s an even beautiful church up close and right beside it is Hotel Maya and a light house with war cannons pointing to the open sea. Since its nearby where we are staying, it’s easy to just visit this neighbor of a church and admire its wonderful details.
Curious eyes stare as we step down the motorcycle. Kids who were playing around suddenly stopped and proceeded in caution to look who came. Fishermen by the shore securing their boat gave a quick glance. It seems the people here at Lele Beach in Culion Island don’t to see many visitors donning cameras and tripods that often. Thanks to our guide Hermie, there was a familiar face they can get comfortable with. He informed the small community that we’ll be hanging around their beach for the sunset.
I was looking at the map and was quite surprised there are many islands and islets surrounding the huge main island of Culion. Pastor Hermie, our guide, pointed to the map and showed our path going westward then south to this snaking river opening up to the a large bay with islets which then exits to the sea. We were going to Cabulihan Mangroves instead of the original plan to Balanga Falls and Mangroves which he honestly says is now in a really bad state. We followed his recommendation to discover the southwest side of the island.
“I knew that man during my younger years. When I see that bust, I can still imagine him speaking to me” said Pastor Hermie, our guide for that day as we ventured to the farther south regions of Culion Island on a motorbike. He was referring to the grotesque bust figure greeting visitors of the Culion Leprosy Museum and Archive after a flight of stairs to the 2nd floor. Just the thought that the figure was an actual leper sent a chill on my spine as I imagine his mummified figure. Stories such as this is common in Culion Island, whose present inhabitants are one way or another are 2nd or 3rd generation descendants of the thousands of leprosy patients who lived on the island. Its hard not to talk about the leprosy stigma that has befallen Culion when visiting the island and a good starting point to learn more about it is a visit to the Culion Leprosy Museum and Archive within the General Hospital compound.
There are two sides in every story, and for an island like Culion, that held the stigma of the long-gone leprosy, there’s the view from the people who lived in the island and those who look upon it from the outside like me. I have this lingering fascination and curiosity with Culion Island that beheld me ever since I’ve heard about it. I wanted delve deeper and see for myself, hear for myself the stories of struggles, perseverance, hope and healing. I know there’s a lot more to Culion Island than what people perceive of it, so I made sure when I returned to Coron, I made a trip to this island used to be known as the “Island of the living dead” and “Island of no return”.