430am Des drove me to the bus. After a 2 hour bus ride I switched to a jeepney for 30 minutes and then a tricycle. Tricycles are basically motorcycles with a little box sidecar. I ducked inside the tricycle - made for Filipino sized people, and had to sit with my bum slid to the edge of the seat, my knees tucked to my chin and my head alternating from one side to the other to prevent concussions for the next 30 minutes. I arrived to Aquaventure by 830 ready for an exciting day of diving ahead.
Turned out, the guy who had promised to make all the arrangements hadn't even told them I was arriving. Long story short - thanks to his (lying? forgetfulness?) I ended up paying double what I'd expected to pay! I was so upset. The first day I ended up going out alone in my own boat with a guide. The boats are like really long, wooden canoes with outriggers. Apparently they never sink as they're made of wood. So if you get swamped by a wave, you just end up sitting in water up to your waist until rescued.
As it is typhoon season here, there was rain pretty continuously and some rather large waves. I went for my first dive around 11am, the guys take care of all your equipment for you - it's rather an easy way to dive :) The boat sat about 5 meters out from shore so it wouldn't break on the rocks and we waded out between waves to get onto the boat. Thankfully the water is warm. The waves on the way out made for an exciting ride as we'd ride a wave to the top and then plunge straight into the trough before heading up the next one. The outriggers are brilliant as they balance the boat to prevent tipping or we'd have capsized a few meters away from shore. The divesite was in a little cove so the waves were much smaller. The water was a bit churned up and there wasn't much sun, but the diving was still incredible.
I saw two sea turtles - apparently in the Philippines they don't like getting their shells scratched the way they do in Australia, so with the second turtle I rubbed his shell a bit and then held on for the ride! I also saw baracudas, tons of sea cucumbers - I was tempted to take on back onto the boat for supper - and all of Nemo's fish friends. There was a huge circle of Jack fish, the fish on Finding Nemo who make the shapes for Dori, I watched for a long while hoping they'd perform for me but I guess I don't speak Jack well enough... My guide also captured Nemo from his anemone home and tried to pass him to me, but Nemo is amazingly quick and I coudn't get him. I was nervous to catch him myself as I knew anemone's are poisonous but apparently it doesn't hurt humans. I touched the anemone trying to capture him myself and it jumps out to stick to my hands, but doesn't hurt, it's mostly just startling.
Apparently the Philippines, and Batangas specifically, has some of the highest marine biodiversity in the world and I believe it. There were so many more fish, nudibranchs and other marine species than at the Great Barrier Reef!
I spent the afternoon sleeping as the waves were too high for more dives, then chatted late into the night with a family that was staying there and one of the dive instructors. The next day, two guys showed up for diving so I was able to share a boat with them which drastically reduced my costs. The waves were even higher than the day before combined with heavy rains. I had to face into the rains and see where we were going or I would have fallen out of the boat. My eyes hurt so much that I eventually put on my mask, as did another guy, and we joked that we should get all our gear on in case we fell out so we were prepared.
The divesite was beautiful! My dive buddy was like a kid in a candy store; touching, poking and playing with everything he saw. We saw a couple moray eels and in a rock next to them I also found a white moray eel with brown spots. We saw the biggest lion fish I've ever seen, maybe a foot around with fins fully extended, and also a squid. There was one anemone growing out of what looked like a green pudgy vase and when we poked it, it was like a silky fabric rather than a rigid coral. We saw some really large, purple nudibranchs that were a couple inches long with bright yellow horns. I also saw one fish with a large eye spot painted on it's tail fin and teeny real eyes, it is the first one of those I've ever seen diving. One thing we saw, and thankfully didn't touch was a fire urchin. There were a couple that were round on top, had purple spikes coming out in ridges and yellow spikes around it's bottom. We were curious and tried to get it to move but thankfully had the sense not to touch it! I even saw a sea cucumber eating for the first time, it moved so slowly over the coral and extended teeny little fins from underneath it to eat bits from on top of the coral by moving it's fins back underneath it.
Between dives we anchored in a little cove and went snorkelling as we couldn't get enough of the water! On the way back, the waves were with us which made for a much smoother ride, and the boat man was excellent. He would idle the motor until a really large wave came then rev it up so we would surf the wave for quite a ways, then catch the next one. It was incredibly cool surfing a wave in a boat.
Diving wasn't nearly long enough, my first dive I ran out of air rather quickly but by my fourth dive I was able to maintain neutral buoyancy, turn and swim more sharply and conserve air much better. If I hadn't been cheated by who I thought would help me, I would try to sneak in another day of diving, but my funds are dry... Thankfully the family I met at the resort was driving back to Manila the same afternoon I was and gave me a lift. It was so nice, as otherwise I would have had to walk along the road until I encountered a tricycle - which could have been a few hours!
Today WYA AP had a General Assembly with about 20 members and many intern and staff alumni. It was my first opportunity to see many of my friends in the Philippines. I spoke about WYA's understanding of dignity and the projects going on in the regions. Ren added in a twist for Q&A and put me in the hot seat where they could ask anything - her suggestion was about my love life... they asked about how I came to understand dignity and also about how they could get more involved. Thankfully they didn't ask about my love life, although as a few jokingly referred to it, and it is a short answer, I told them. None!
Some of the old interns joined us for lunch then I spent the afternoon with Tam catching up. So good! We were both able to chat about where our passions have brought us in life, and the difficulty in explaining to people who haven't shared our experiences or have chosen a corporate life. Our afternoon finished at Jollibee with a phenomenal merchandising idea - to be revealed only when ready... orders will be accepted :)