Saturday, June 10, 2017

A live WW2 mortar, a narrow isthmus to the conical hill and strange Guisian stories






The trip being unplanned, we didn't bring any food nor drinks with us to Bagtasan, a special spot in Brgy. Guisian, Mogpog.  But there was a sari-sari store located south of a rocky isthmus where we all headed to upon disembarking from the boat driven by our friendly guide. The narrow Bagtasan isthmus separates two bodies of water, Sayao Bay to the east and a smaller, more quiet bay to the west they call Tabia.


There are coconut, talisay and other trees growing there keeping the houses pleasantly cool. Some ten families live there. By the time we arrived, the men have returned from their early morning fishing and have parked their boats ashore on the smaller bay.

Bagtasan is part of sitio Manlumod in Guisian which, just like the main coastal village on the east side, is located in a narrow strip of land between mountain and water. The two villages are separated by a steep mountain that makes it somewhat difficult for villagers from both sides to interact with each other more frequently. An elementary school, however, is located atop that mountain where children from the two villages meet and study.



While having a snack of biscuits and soft drinks, we engaged in lively chatter with the friendly local folks: No, one woman claims, this Bagtasan never goes under water.  Yes, there have been occasions when young people from sitio Manlumod studying in Mogpog invited their schoolmates to camp out here for a day or two. Climbing the summit of Susong Dalaga Hill is always a part of their activities aside from swimming, and that happens only during the Lenten season. Otherwise, only local residents come here from time to time to swim or to just have fun, she said.


Yes, many people have experienced strange things here – fireballs, apparitions of ghostly creatures pointing to a supposed buried gusi here or there with treasures, like this very spot where we are sitting now, but no gold was ever found in spite of attempts by many to dig their way to riches. But, fireballs, I’ve seen it myself, the lady tending the store said, but that was many years ago...



And many years ago, in the early 1950s, I had an uncle, she said, who found a live mortar shell under the water. For some reason he wanted to take the explosive powder out; got a hand saw, went to the beach and started working on the unexploded bomb with the object submerged so it would not heat up, he thought. He was wrong, the mortar bomb exploded - together with him, and all parts of him were blown up into countless tiny pieces and we mourned his loss!



And there’s another bomb right there under the water now (she went on, pointing to the water), but at low tide you could see it and even touch it, the children used to take turns lifting it but they always gently put it back. But now, my father has given strict orders to the small kids not to touch it anymore, it’s still there.

I was thinking, an unexploded WW2 mortar shell has been sleeping in the shallow waters here and getting exposed to all the elements during low tide for some seventy years! I was conjuring images of very strong waves causing it to be tossed violently into the rocks and boom! 

A boy, the storekeeper's nephew, happened to be swimming in that nearby area she pointed at.



She called the attention of the boy, show the bomb, she said quite confidently. The boy couldn’t seem to find it right away. With curiosity growing I wanted to take a picture of the mortar bomb the moment he finds it but he was some fifteen meters away. Larry, our guide, was quick to drag a boat and he said, come! By this time, I saw that the boy had the thing in his hands. In an instant he was carrying the object, it was corroded, part of the outer layer actually had peeled off. Then he held on to the boat with his right hand, his left hand steadily holding the bomb so I could take a good look (above photo).

After a couple of hurried shots with my cellphone camera I said, put it back boy, very, very carefully, and the boy did. I said they should still report it to the local authorities for proper disposal as it might cause harm.



The unexpected live mortar shell seemed to confirm that, indeed, something dramatic transpired right there during WW2. Then I asked them if anyone had ever heard of a Japanese ship that might have sunk in the area somewhere north or northwest.

Yes, they said. But they referred to the bombing in 1944 of Japanese ships in the harbor of Balanacan, a neighboring barangay. Not that one, I said, I am talking about a Japanese ship that was torpedoed and sunk more than one year before that, in 1943?



Maybe that’s the one that sank in a location about four miles away from Susong Dalaga Hill that fishermen refer to as Kantong Bahura, one elderly lady suggests. It's just about 15 to 20 fathoms deep and big fishing vessels are careful in that particular location because their nets could get entangled in that sunken vessel, as had been the case in the past with some commercial fishing vessels.  There's also in a spot nearby where the depth suddenly plunges to 40 fathoms deep but where it's safe to cast nets, she adds. (She said she had worked with fishing vessels in her younger days and therefore knew what she was talking about).



Shallow cave on the western side of Susong Dalaga (Maiden's Breast) conical hill - or is it really a pyramid? I have not uncovered its tightly guarded secrets.



More information came forth from that lively conversation, like the northern side of Susong Dalaga Hill being cantilado (from acantilado, cliff), having a depth of from 15-20 fathoms. Two other fishing vessels have reportedly sunk in that area in recent years because of major typhoons.

After further sharing, it was time to go back and we were glad our patient guide did not seem to mind at all our tarrying, apparently finding himself the subjects new, even interesting.



A fisherman’s wife approached us to ask if we might want to buy some of her husband’s catch. We paid Php 250.00 for an octopus that weighed 1 ½ kilos and half a kilo of fish (above). That’s too much for us, our host said. No, we’ll eat all of it, I joked. Truth is, I had a feeling we were not about ready yet to go back home to Boac...


Google map of Bagtasan isthmus and Susong Dalaga conical hill

Susong Dalaga Hill

Susong Dalaga Hill
Susong Dalaga Hill from Bagtasan isthmus

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