Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Under the Sea

Woke up early in the morning to head to the southern area of Dumagete to take a pump boat (a small 5 passenger boat with a tiny engine) to Apo Island, a local island about half an hour to 45 minutes away. Hilton tells me it's a marine sanctuary and that you can go snorkeling and see lots of coral and stuff. Well, Santa Cruz was sort of a wash, it can only get better, right?

After paying the fare (1500 pesos) we took off in this tiny pump boat toward the far island of Apo. During December, the winds are pretty strong and the ocean's quite turbulent. Small boat plus big waves = big fun! Up a wave, then down the wave, part of the boat crashes into the water... and we get soaked. I usually get sick on boat rides, but something about how large the motions were just made it feel like a rollercoaster. It was pretty thrilling.

Half an hour or so later, we are close to the island. It pretty much looks like a tropical paradise: the water is clear and a bright blue, the sands are white, you see a private resort area with two tiny cottages off to the side, and a few other pump boats parked on the beach. The cliffs are high and covered in lush green vegetation, the sky is a sherbet of cloud and sky, the palm trees wave to us as if in welcome; yes, it's kind of like a paradise. A really cheap, beautiful paradise. It cost us 100 pesos per person to be on the isle and another 50 pesos to snorkel (about $3 total). We got three snorkel goggles and tubes for 100 pesos each.

We head into the isle itself, passing a lot of cottages and huts. The island town! Very cozy, rustic cottages all over, people and kids walking about, and the occasional sleeping dog and pink fuzzy pig snoring and oinking about. Apo Island is shaped like a giant ring; there's some kind of giant marsh in the center of the island that is disconnected from the ocean. It's got tons of fish inside and a lot of the trees with high roots that you'd imagine to be on the banks of rivers in Africa. Going around that, we arrive at the rear of the island where the actual marine sanctuary is located. There are no boats on this side because it's protected, just sand, lots of coral, the ocean and the sky. Putting on the goggles and gear, we head into the ocean at an area to the far left where the coral is less rocky and the deeper areas are easily accessible. The captain of the ship came with us to guide us through the water and point us to some cool things to see. What a chill guy.

I wade into the water, get a bit further into the water until the water hits my navel and stick my head down. What do I see?

A freaking underwater paradise. Hanauma Bay (Hawaii) be damned, this place is easily ten thousand times better. I thought the part of the island above water was gorgeous, underneath is absolutely, almost inconceivably breathtaking.

Corals of all shapes, sizes, colors. Purple, shaped like a small stout tree with fat branches and twigs and no leaves. Orange colored coral that waved with the currents. Giant dark blue coral that looked like a fat and humongously wide mushroom. Everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Fish colored like yellow and black zebras, bright blue/green/orange fish, barracuda. Not just a few scattered here and there. Hundreds. Big ones, small ones. There was this long yellow one that looked kind of scary, so I tried to stay a pretty far distance. I swam out further just marveling at my surroundings. The water is so clear, the colors are so vivid. God DAMN I wish I had an underwater camera. I should be thankful I didn't, I might have dropped it and I wouldn't have been able to just float there, soaking up the beauty of it all.

Pushing out away from the island, I reach an area where the coral and sea bottom sort of just... fade into the blue. I basically got to the point where the sea floor deepened beyond visibility from where I was at the surface. Ooooh, how freaky. I spent a while marveling at the deep blue depths, floating there at the surface, completely relaxed, and then turned around to see... a big silvery glistening cloud... thing. I get closer and it's...

A huge school of fish. Hell, school be damned, these guys graduated. These fish are ginormous, it's a fuckin fish university out here! There's at least a hundred of them, swimming slowly, moving around in circles and waves. I swam closer and closer and... they don't swim away! No fear! They slowly glided from my right to my left, then slowly turned and circled around under me. I was surrounded by hundreds of giant fish! Amaaaaaaazing. I just wanted to grab one and bite into it. They must taste like awesome.

After swimming with them, we headed out because the captain mentioned something about sea turtles. Swimming towards a different area of the beach, I learned why there's a special entrance area on the other side. Walking on coral is nigh impossible with the sea currents shoving me around. I totally ate it trying to get out of there, gashing my knee into some beautiful purple coral, staining it a brilliant red. I've never had blood running down my leg before, but I have to say it looks pretty damn cool.

Heading back to the front of the island, we do the same routine and get out to the sea. Not more than three minutes later, the captain points at a direction and we head toward it to find a sea turtle! It was a little guy, about one and a half feet from rear fin to head. It slid through the water with such grace, the simplest motions with its fins propelling it forward without effort. Such a beautiful creature. It took off and I could not watch it for long, so I continued heading out toward the deep end. Not too many fish on this side, not too much coral either, though I did see a lot of sea cucumbers, spiky sea slugs, and a couple of deep blue colored starfish.

I push on further and notice a giant sea turtle just a few feet away from me. I froze, just staring at it. It wasn't moving, just floating in a small clearing surrounded by coral and poked its head up to stare back. We stayed like that for a few moments, me floating completely relaxed, pushed and pulled by the ebb and flow of the water, and it, frozen in its spot. After a while, it began to glide away and I followed it the best I could, watching it float through the water and head past groups of fish toward the deep.

Take your next vacation to Apo Island next to Dumagete in the Visaya area of the Philippines. With such bang for your... peso, you absolutely just can't lose.


Sharlene said...

Hey Chris - it's Shar. So could you find out what Ryan's Chinese name is (according to Angkong's chart)? No one seems to know. I'm guessing it's lin ren (something)... Thanks! Hope to see you soon!

xposition said...

I did some research, and it's 仁女.