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Exploring Culion Nov 5-7, 2016

Exploring Culion

GPS waypoint: 11°53'32.2"N 120°01'26.7"E
Location: Culion, Palawan, Philippines

Despite the containment and cure for leprosy, Culion continuous to carry the stigma of being a leprosarium, as it had been a leper colony since 1906. People have heard about it, but don't come to visit. In Coron Town, Culion is offered as a day tour, but takers are few. Even for me, there was curiosity in the many times I had been to Coron, but no push to make the trip.

Hitching a Ride
When the Malaysian guests of Tribal Adventures took the 6-day expedition package that included a stop-over in Culion, we (me and Cheng, a Singaporean friend I was traveling with) hitched along for the ride. It was an opportune moment to find out exactly what the present-day deal is on Culion.

At First Glance
Culion is an idyllic sleepy town...a town center, church, hospital and museum. People go about their normal daily lives almost oblivious to the world outside the island. Aside from provisions coming from the mainland, it is essentially self-contained - as it was originally designed to be.

Exploring Culion
Culion is idyllic

Scratching Through the Surface
With the assistance of our tour guide, Pastor, we got a glimpse of Culion's layered dimension. Some of the people who walk the streets are actually former lepers - but you wouldn't know unless someone tells you. Those who were never afflicted by the disease are probably descendants of the former lepers. Pastor himself is a 3rd generation descendant of a leper - as so do most of the local townspeople. It's no big deal. They grew up with lepers and leprosy was part of the landscape.

The Leper Section
Some locals offer contradicting versions about leprosy in Culion. Some locals say that only about 12 people with leprosy are being treated at the hospital. But according to Pastor, there are no longer lepers in Culion since treatment has already been available. He added that people who remain at the hospital are those who are too old, or disabled, or those who simply voluntarily chose to stay within the confines of the ward walls. He invited us up to the ward to see for ourselves. I have to admit feeling a little apprehensive about the invite, but I let go anyway. Pastor introduced us to all of them. True, none of them had leprosy. In fact, at the museum, the chart showed that the last patient was admitted in 2004 since cure was developed in 1998. There were no more patients admitted after that year.

Life in Culion as a Leper, Back in the Day
With no known cure and forced segregation, outsiders looked at Culion as a destination of no return - where people with leprosy are left to languish and die. Contrary to public perception, lepers found Culion to be a safe haven where they can live normal lives without suffering from social stigma and alienation. The functional lepers could pursue their livelihood, marry and raise a family, and engage in social / political affairs. Culion itself was a self-contained town - its own post office, currency, police force, etc. In short, Culion was a world unto lepers, for lepers, of lepers.

Brief History

  • 1904 - Culion was established as a leper colony
  • 1906 - the first contingent of lepers arrived in Culion. Segregation of sexes was enforced and marriage was not allowed
  • 1907 - a law making compulsory segregation of lepers across the country was enacted. Anyone believed to be a leper was forced to confinement in a leper colony
  • 1908 - Chaulmoogra Oil was dispensed as part of the treatment. A post office was created. A police force consisting of lepers was formed.
  • 1910 - marriage between 'inmates' was allowed - patients were referred to as inmates during that period
  • 1915 - cultivation of land by patients outside the colony proper was allowed
  • 1918 - Spanish Flu reached Culion and claimed the lives of 216 lepers
  • 1926 - the Aguila seal, symbol of the Philippine Health Service was constructed at the peak fronting the town. The Aguila symbol stands to this day.
  • 1932 - a leper riot occurred in March
  • 1942 - WWII, the Japanese landed in Culion and took control
  • 1944 - food supply ran dry causing the death and disappearance of 2500 patients
  • 1964 - non-lepers were allowed to establish settlements in Culion
  • 1998 - through the MDT (multi drug therapy) medical treatment, leprosy was officially declared a non-public health hazard, offering for the first time in Culion, a cure and eradication of leprosy
  • 2004 - the last patient was admitted in Culion, coinciding with its 100-year anniversary

Culion as a Tourist Destination
With the spectre of leprosy set aside, Culion remains idyllic and untouched by the corrosive influence of tourism. The water is clear, food is cheap (except goods being shipped from Manila, eg. bananas are P70/kio) and the scenery is panoramic, offering vistas of nearby islands, specially by the Aguila peak. The church, museum and remnants of Culion Fort are themselves interesting attractions. There are decent hotels with a broad price range. We stayed at Safari Lodge at P500/room/night. There is a daily ferry from Coron Town, and there are day-trip tour packages offered in Coron by Calamianes Expeditions. Tribal Adventures can also custom-tailor a tour package for Culion.

Ending Thoughts
Perhaps there is not much in Culion to warrant a trip if you're coming from Manila. However, if you are already in Coron Town, it's definitely worth a visit, even for day trip. Culion is rich in history, unique in its social demographics, with scenery to match its clear water. Besides, the size of Culion Island is roughly half the size of Busuanga - it is huge! And I have only visited the main town. The rest of the island remains fertile for exploration and discovery.

--- TheLoneRider

no bad seat in Culion...every spot offers a scenic view water is clear...shallows offer habitat to sea urchins the town hospital, previously referred to as the leprosarium life is unpretentious and raw....nothing glossed-up fo the tourist
the Inmaculada Concepcion Church...famous in Culion colony center where lepers once stayed as their cummunity center the rear of the church facing the sea snorkeling by the shore....water is clear with a healthy population of squids
the public beach Culion offers tranquility and stillness like I said, no bad seat in Culion no, it's not Christ the Redeemer of Rio de Janiero
by the church steps city hall the grand white house before climbing the steps to Aguila cheap and delicious carinderia food is available nearly everywhere
with Cheng and Pastor, the tour guide, in front of the Leonard Wood statue Culion Town proper as seen from the Aguila viewpoint at the hospital area, also a busy section of town view from the leprosarium section...something to take solace with
the many steps up the Aguila viewpoint a vintage poster from the museum about conditions back in the day a wall mural about leprosy the General Kitchen at the Colony center
at the Culion Museum and Archives the people here are former lepers...they are now referred to as 'survivors' daily local on-goings the walls of Fort Culion

Pastor Hermie Villanueva

tour guide

Location: Culion Town Proper tour guide Culion
Tel: 0921.394.7106 | 0995.660.6070
Tour Fee: P500

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  • Calamianes Expeditions & Ecotours Calamianes Expeditions & Ecotours - island tours, community based ecotourism experience
    +639193054363 / +639202546553 / +63 9152543246 / 02 984 7795 |

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  2. Mountain Biking the Trails of Busuanga with Outback Greg of Tribal Adventures Oct 31-Nov 22, 2016
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  4. In Search of Dugong Nov 21, 2016
  5. 3-Day Circumnavigation of Coron Island by Kayak Nov 17-19, 2016
  6. Exploring Culion Nov 5-7, 2016
  7. Traveling with Cheng Oct 31-Nov 8, 2016
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  24. Skin Diving and Beach Camping at Calumbuyan Island Mar 10-12, 2010
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