A Tour Through History in an Island called Corregidor

The distinct sound of the bell floats through the hot summer air off an island 48 kilometers west of Manila. This is Corregidor Island. The round, high-pitched sound of the bell tells everyone to get out from the ruins and gather at the tram. The tour operators don’t use modern car horns; they use the traditional bell. This may be a cute gimmick to incorporate the old ways. I’d like to believe that it’s more than that.

This summer brings in the siren call of the beach, water parks and swimming pools. This summer is beyond hot and the rising weather temperature makes a dip in cool water more irresistible. When people are trying to survive the day, the last thing they would think about is taking stock of history. A summer getaway would hardly include braving the hot sun taking the full Corregidor Island tour, precisely the reason why a summer tour of Corregidor is just perfect.

[See Map and Directions: Corregidor Island, Philippines]

Take the tour during the Araw ng Kagitingan celebrations, an integral part of which is Corregidor, and there will be lots of people. This summer, a Corregidor tour is manageable with other people going somewhere else.

Corregidor Island is shaped like a tadpole, it’s 3 miles long and 1 ½ miles at its widest point. We would hazard a guess that not a majority of Filipinos have seen this historic island. The difficulty in setting foot on Corregidor, while based on reasons other than economic, was experienced by the Japanese forces during the Second World War. Corregidor, the last to fall before the surrender to the Japanese, was heavily armed and fortified. It’s also one of the most heavily bombed islands on earth during the war.

Many foreigners and balikbayans visit Corregidor, so it’s always best to book for the tour in advance. While the island could be accessed through a pumpboat in Bataan, the ferries and buses that come with the guided tour make the trip more convenient. The first of two trips leave around 8 a.m. from Manila.

You could wait at restaurant complex beside the port (Jollibee, Starbucks, etc). Once you’ve checked in, no need to rush because the seats are numbered and assigned in advance. The 45-minute boat trip isn’t always smooth, so better take in biyahilo medicine an hour before the trip, just to be sure you won’t be defeated by the waves and throw up.

The Corregidor tour starts when trams pick up the tourists at the pier. The group then winds through the well-paved roads that lead to the various ruins, including the mile-long barracks, and the Pacific War Memorial at the top side.

Tourists would be treated to buffet lunch, not in Malinta Tunnel, but at Corregidor Inn. Each tourist-loaded tram has a different schedule for the lights and sounds show at Malinta Tunnel. That’s 30 minutes gap between buses, which is the approximate time difference each bus would arrive for lunch.

The sides of the trams are pen for an unobstructed view of the route. A tourist guide accompanies each tram and, over the soft breeze that flows around the slow-moving us, gives interesting historical facts and insights. The tram makes scheduled stops at certain points, including the Spanish Lighthouse, the Pacific War Memorial, the various huge guns called batteries, and Filipino Heroes Memorial.

[See Corregidor Island: History in the Ruins. See also Corregidor Island: Araw ng Kagitingan.]

The tram bell sounded for the last time. We’re heading to the pier and would be leaving Corregidor. The use of the bell is only right. The bell’s relaxing sound perfectly fits the solemnity of this place, adding tribute to the thousands of soldiers who died here defending against the invaders. They endured days of relentless shellacking and unspeakable suffering. Thousands perished.

While others would want to forget what happened, we have the duty, as inscribed on the walls in the nearby Mt. Samat, to always remember. That’s why we should visit Corregidor. We visit to pay our respects. We say a silent prayer every time we leave the ruin at the bell’s signal. We visit to remember. We must never forget.

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