Maragondon: Formidable Fort of Carabao Island
More known as Fort Frank, this island is one of the complexes of defensive islands built by the Americans at the mouth of Manila Bay. The long, narrow island is surrounded by jagged cliffs, caves, rocky shores and topped by a lush, green forest. Its beauty is sometimes compared to that in Batanes. Though located just near the capital Manila, it is seldom visited, which probably helped in the preservation of its beauty.
From Barangay Mercedes (Patungan), we sailed by boat going to the island. It took us forty minutes to reach the island. As we sailed further from the mainland, the initially calm waters slowly became more aggressive, driven by the Amihan winds. Even Mang Victor, our guide with thirty years experience of fishing and sailing here, told us that docking at the island would be very tough and perilous due to the strong waves. We were dismayed, but we asked him to take us to other parts of the island if possible.
At the southern part where it is sandwiched between the tall cliffs, we were shown to an eroded spot where we can climb on. We were so eager to reach the island that we anchored our boat on the shallow waters and swam on our way, carrying our electronic gadgets in tightly-wrapped floating plastic bags (warning: very risky, do not try it yourself). Reaching the shore, we immediately took the more than 100-foot climb to the uplands. Being steep and lacking any footpaths, it is very difficult to climb. There is no assurance either of what we’re stepping on: most rocks give way when being stepped on, and when they give way they will certainly roll all the way down.
Shortly after the American conquest of the Philippines, the United States Armed Forces began on their fortifications at the mouth of Manila Bay. The topography of Manila Bay made it a very nice strategic location in the defense of the capital Manila, and several natural islands were developed into a system of defensive fortresses, including Corregidor, Fort Drum (El Fraile) and Fort Frank (Carabao Island). The latter was named in honor of Brigadier General Royal T. Frank, one of the heroes of the American Civil War.
Like the other island fortresses, Fort Frank was also built with a complex network of tunnels and chambers dug beneath the island.
On February 21, 1942, thirty-four soldiers were killed when a Japanese artillery ricocheted into one of its tunnels.
The war has long been over, and many were familiar with the role of some islands in Manila Bay as a defensive fortress, and their morbid history, notably the Corregidor and the lesser known Fort Drum. But Fort Frank, in the Carabao Island, is one of the lesser-known island fortresses.
The atmosphere within the former fortress is eerie, and the feeling of creepiness intensifies especially on its darker parts and with the sound of howling winds. Scars of the savagery of the war are still present, with bullet holes and artillery damages clearly visible. Despite its seemingly eerie nature, many people still braved going here. There are several digging spots scattered, and I wonder whether they were dug in search of supposedly hidden treasures. Much of the metals found inside the fort were scavenged for the junkshops. These include the essential rebar supports for the tunnel’s structure, and lacking these, some parts of the tunnel are in danger of collapsing anytime.
Its jagged cliffs may have earned the island its name because, at the distance, it looked like a submerged carabao (kalabaw). The island is used by the fisherfolk as a stopover and a resting place. It has also become home to several eagles and hawks.
The waters surrounding the island is clean and clear, which makes it favorable for swimming. The best place to go here is during summer when the waters are on its calmest. For those seeking adventure with a touch of history, this and the other island complexes around Manila Bay is one of the perfect places for island hopping.
Take the road to Brgy. Mercedes (Patungan), Cavite. It is the last village of Maragondon that borders Nasugbu, Batangas. It’s almost 3 km away from Kaybiang Tunnel. Arriving at the port of Patungan, rent a boat and say you’re going to Carabao Island. Rental boat will cost p1200-p1500 (five people).
Take a bus bound for Maragondon, Ternate and drop off at the town of Ternate (P80 fare). From there ride a tricycle and tell the driver to drop you off at Sta. Mercedes (Patungan), P300 fare (good for 4). Its pretty far away from the town so it’s better to get the contact number of the tricycle driver to fetch you when you’re finished. Arriving in the village, you have to rent a boat.
- The island is one of the training grounds of the Philippine Marines (where their camp is located nearby), so make sure your schedules won’t conflict. It’s better to ask permission at the local office of Maragondon.
- It is advisable to go here on a clear, fine weather. Docking will be difficult (if not impossible) during strong waves.
- Bring a powerful flashlight to illuminate the dark tunnels.
- Bring extra clothes as you will be surely getting wet even during the boat ride.
- Look out for the holes in the tunnel, some of them are deep.
- A bolo can be handy especially when going through the shrubby parts of the island.
- Leave no trash
- After the hike, you can go on a side trip to the Kaynipa Cove (near the Marine Base).