Exactly a month ago, one of my bucket list finally happened. I was offered an opportunity to go to Coron for free, and of course the itinerary includes island hopping, including to the infamous Siete Pecados, where local tourist Miguel Ruiz died two weeks ago after stepping into what he allegedly thought a coral, which later on appeared to be a poisonous sea urchin.
I have to admit that while I was snorkeling at the very same spot a month ago, I was very much tempted to touch the beautiful corals—or so I thought. Thank God I will never know the difference. They were indeed so beautiful, so colorful, so surreal, and I think curiosity is automatic especially if only to understand, or feel, how these corals, which we normally thought to be a hard material, waves so gracefully underwater. Actually, I was not only tempted, but really trying to find ways to touch one of those, despite the earlier warning of our tour guide not to touch the corals. And now I realized that my inability to swim without the aid of a life jacket that prevented me to reach down is one of life’s blessings in disguise.
Otherwise, I imagined the confusion of my companions and the boatmen and their desperation to revive me from the sting of the poison. I let the scenario ran into my mind: of how my family, especially my children, and my friends, will respond once I get home in a box.
This is not a self-torture but my way of putting myself into the shoes of the families and friends of Ruiz, who are currently hurt and mourning for the loss, and at the same time angry for the seemingly incompetence of Coron in general to handle such incidents. I may never understand even a faint of their pain, but somehow I understand where they are coming from.
The mere fact that our tourism areas are all natural and all in their very own environment (as compared to the man-made and artificial destinations), volatility is indeed unexpected. We can never tell what will go wrong the next minute, and this characteristic is in fact makes our industry alluring especially to the adventure-seeker. But just like what the family cried, somehow risks can be avoided.
I remember that before leaving the docking area, the tour guide gave his usual warning that most of us took for granted due to excitement and impatience to finally jump water. Sometimes when arrogance kick in and we find ourselves “more informed” than the guides in front of us, their warning were mere annoyance and cause of delay. This experience taught us to humble ourselves and listen more intently, notwithstanding the fragmented and kamatis English the guides were trying so hard to express, because they know their territory better than we do.
I also noticed that the tour guide was more excited than me to show me around. Should he not pushed me to abandon my fears and enjoy the place, I would have spent the day tucked at the boat, hiding even from the scorching sun. But the guide, understanding something rare that only in that area I will enjoy, pushed me to snorkel around and even release the rope connected from our boat-the very source of my confidence at that moment.
Yet when both parties are excited, we become less cautious. The tourist forgot about the warning, the guides forgot to check around. And for mere stepping into a spiky creature, a family is mourning today, while Coron is put into hot seat. CNN even aired the news with a headline, Is Coron Ready for Tourism?
Perhaps this study made by the Hawaii Tourism Industry can help both tourists and operations to foresee risks in the industry tourism. This may help the municipal government in Coron and also the travelers in protecting themselves from risks in travelling:
- People on vacation tend to be less cautious and let their guard down while on vacation.
- In some communities heavily impacted by tourism, visibilities of law enforcers/authorities are limited.
- Despite best efforts, crime, accidents, or other emergencies occur. Thus, programs and services to assist tourists that are victims of crimes, medical emergencies, natural disasters or other adversities are important
- There are arising security problems as results of the use of Internet. Too much information exposure is vulnerable to exploitation even before a traveler set foot at the booked sites.
- Tourism security is compromised in favor of human rights and freedoms. With the recent trend of visitors seeking isolated and secret locations published online, they face higher risk for crime and accidents.
May the family of Miguel Ruiz feel in their hearts the Palaweños deepest sympathy for their loss of a loved one—a very young and promising son, friend, partner.
May the municipal governments and tourism operators take this incident as a pressing call to review their protocols and equip themselves to avoid, and respond to accidents within their AORs.
Again, to the Ruiz family, we extend our deep condolences to your loss.
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