TURTLES! I’ve since returned to Dumaguete to dive in Dauin and Apo Island and true to my earlier expectations, I saw turtles and a lot more. And this time I didn’t forget to bring a camera, as evidenced by the images of ghost pipefishes, a scorpion leaf fish, nudibranchs, shrimps on whip corals and of course, a turtle.
The seas were heaving and so was my stomach. I really shouldn’t have had that cheese omelet for breakfast. Still, there wasn’t much else I could do about it now, nor was there much else I could complain about. Straight ahead I could see the cloud-hazy bulk of Apo Island, and beneath it, I could imagine the famed corals and endless undersea wonders of what is reputed to be one of the world’s best dive sites.
I got this far by driving all the way from Davao and I was determined to enjoy the experience. Too bad my friend Menka, who arranged everything for us, wasn’t able to join the dive. But then again I was here and Apo Island was there so what else could I ask for. At that point it mattered little that the sun kept hiding behind the clouds, or the high wind was whipping the waves across the bow of our small banca with such force that I had to wear my scuba mask to keep my contacts from getting washed off – I was going to dive in Apo island and nothing was going to spoil it.
I turned to our divemaster and asked how much longer it would take. He shrugs his shoulders, which I took to mean either, he didn’t know, didn’t hear me, or it didn’t really matter. I envied his indifference to the passing of time and speculated about how moments flow into each other and of the transitory nature of our existence. That is until a particularly big wave hit me squarely on the face, almost knocking the mask off and treating me to a mouthful of saltwater. From then on, I thought it more prudent to just keep my mind on not drowning before I even got into the water.
Stubbornly our little banca, like the little choochoo that could, pressed on. Every dip into the waves threw up a fresh wall of water, but at the same time it drew us closer to our destination and it wasn’t long before we were turning the corner and were within sight of our first entry point.
As the small 16–horsepower engine sputtered to a stop, the divemaster began his briefing. We were at Cogon Point and we would be doing a modified back roll entry, which actually meant that we would neither be going on our backs nor were we rolling. We would in fact be jumping of the banca face forward and butt first. Whatever. It was going to be a drift dive with our maximum depth pegged at 80 feet. He pointed off to the distance to our exit point, telling us that we would be picked up by the boat when we surfaced.
Three splashes later and we were all in the water and raring to go. After some minor adjustments, a few hand signals, and the hiss of air being released we slipped gently underwater.
THE CLOSEST THING TO FLYING
For those who’ve never tried it, it’s hard to express in words the three dimensional freedom one gets from diving — unfettered by gravity, it is the closest thing to unaided flight humans will ever experience. Whenever someone wanting to learn to scuba asks me what its like, I often tell them to just try it and they’d either come out liking the experience or hating it.
Another thing about scuba, the lines of choices are clearly drawn. It is always an experience sliding beneath the waves. There is a quietness and serenity that overwhelms the senses and drives all thoughts out, leaving only the moment and the awareness of each breath. Sounds of the world above are forgotten and motion is reduced to the pace of thick molasses.
These first few moments are always the best for me; it is a moment of doors opening and genies being unleashed.
And the genies of the deep were clearly with us during that dive as less than five minutes into it we were welcomed to Apo by a pair of giant trevallies swimming in the current. They were a bit above us and I wanted to swim to them to get a closer look, but the urgent tank-banging of our guide drew my attention further down.
I swam to where he was and saw the huge, moss–lined, barnacle-encrusted carapace of a hawksbill turtle. I searched for the head and it took me a while to notice that it was tucked underneath some sponges feeding. This wasn’t the first turtle I’ve seen, but it was certainly the most self-assured. It never spooked even when I got in close enough to almost touch it. I can remember looking into its wizened eyes as it turned its head ever so casually towards me and wondering what amazing sights he must have seen — and all this time there was this whole surfer dude dialogue going on in my head — and I knew that it won’t be long until I was started calling clownfishes, nemos.
After that first awesome encounter, there were a couple more turtles that we saw — even one with a missing fin — plus schools of jacks, barracudas, a couple of stone fishes, a ribbon eel, a snaggle-toothed snapper that I swear was almost as long as my forearm, and more corals than you can shake a stick at.
As to the last, it was wonderful to see such abundance without any signs of decay or deterioration.
We did three dives that day, each successively better than the last and at the end the only thing we regretted was not having the foresight to bring an underwater camera (duh!). Well, I guess that only means I’d have to go back and do it all over again… maybe next time the sharks will be there.