Waking up before the sun rises at around 4:15 am, I get dressed, pack my stuff and head out to ScubaBoy, a small dive shop in Bicutan, a small city a little bit outside of Manila. Getting there over an hour early (apparently there's no traffic this early in the morning) I just chill and take a nap in the car. Soon after, I meet up with Robert, and soon enough Mark and his wife, Mel arrive with their son Andre. After chilling for a while, munching on some pan de sal to quell my growing hunger, the last few people arrive (Ices, Rania and Marlon) and then we took off to Anilao in the Batangas region.
Two hours of wonderful sleep in the car later, we are parked at a small lot somewhere nearby the water. The bunch of us take our gear and spread it between two small boats called bangka (pump boats) and we take off to the sea, leaving the shore and civilization behind. Not more than half an hour later, after passing beautiful sandy beaches topped with green palms and covered by blue skies, we dock at a small resort area, take our stuff off the boats, put it up in the room and grab some delicious food.
After a short briefing with Mark, the other student (Rhea) and I head up to put on our gear and prepare for the unknown.
Regulator, 1st and 2nd stages, check.
Walking out to the water and practically looking like a ninja, I don my fins and mask, and step into the deep blue.
Remember the last time I talked about seeing the underwater beauty floating at the surface in Apo Island? How beautiful it was to float on top of the world submerged, viewing life at a distance.
Time to get in life's face.
I strap on all the gear and step out into the water... :sploosh: Checking my buddy over and vice versa, Mark tells us that when we're ready, deflate and descend. Strapping the regulator into my mouth and hitting the deflator on my BCD, I slowly submerge and the surface fades away from view.
Right. This is Rhea, my diving buddy and the other student doing the checkout dive with us. I would say something more about her here, possibly about her ridiculous pose in the shot but she already thinks I make fun of her enough as it is.
Getting down to the bottom, we stop to perform some exercises. Then a whole school of zebra like fish come by to check out what we're doing.
Yeah, it's pretty damn cool down here.
After the exercises finish, it's when the fun dive begins. We head out following the leader and stick close to our buddy in case of emergencies.
Corals, corals, corals. So many wild, strange, alien looking life-forms. Gigantic beasts of corals that look like huge planters... or tubas.
Fields and fields of beautifully feathery/leafy life, the many tentacled anemones waving with the currents, the clownfish and pufferfish hiding in the protection of the anemones... Once in a while, a blueish brown dog faced puffer will appear, and Mark will attempt to catch it, dutifully ignoring the badge Project AWARE gave him for participating in taking care of the environment. *ahem*
Rarest of all but wonderful to see, giant sea turtles fade in from the distance.
Something that looks like a beautiful purple fern appears. Everyone points at it and gives the signal for danger. Fire coral -- apparently if you touch it, welts will be on your skin for at least 2 months before they vanish. (Ices got hit bad with some all across her arm... now she has a bandage around it so she doesn't scare little children)
Beautiful, isn't it?
What's amazing is just the feeling of freedom you get when you're coasting through the water. As you look around, you see the surface far above with the bright sunlight fighting to break through the water, the seafloor below covered in an endless variety of colorful and beautiful almost alien-like life, and the limitless wonders hidden by the deep blue surrounding you on all sides... it really makes you imagine how expansive and wide open the world is and how much there is to explore in these depths. All the fish are but underwater birds, flying and floating around me, and I happen to be joining them in their underwater dance. Having the freedom to travel in any of six degrees, swimming ability permitting, is extremely liberating yet eerily frightening at the same time.
I just stepped into a new world... and I don't want to stop exploring.
I can't wait to go again.
Till next time.
For all those crazy divers that went with us:
Bell - The underwater David Blaine, master SCUBA instructor and all around underwater encyclopedia and cool guy. He did the best card trick I have EVER seen. It even freaking involved fire. FIRE!
Ices - Thank you for taking my mispronunciation of 'bulalo' to new heights and extremes. Now I will never forget you whenever I want to eat some BLALO.
Rustly - For looking like the fiercest underwater ninja I have ever seen. Thanks for the last dive's briefing and for coordinating everything and making sure we were safe. Although next time (this also goes for Mark) please don't ask me if I'm OK every 30 seconds. I'm trying to enjoy watching corals and things =)
Marlon - Thanks for being a part of the coolest underwater photo of the trip. I promise to Photoshop you out and put myself in, thereby making myself part of the coolest underwater photo of the trip.
Rania - Thanks for trying to scare Rhea and I during the final. And for having the hardest name to remember for some reason.
Robert - Thanks for sharing your war stories in the states and for being a spectacular underwater photographer, despite having more photos of everyone else instead of me. And for being a great assistant to Mark and helping us out. Your lens rocks!
Rhea - Thanks for being my SCUBA buddy and putting up with me. And for being the blunt of 99% of all my jokes on the trip. I can't believe I got you that coffee. It's probably why you're the blunt of all my jokes.
Melani - Thanks for helping out with the dives and for being a ham on camera (both above and under the water). And for drinking lots of vodka and keeping me out of the hospital.
Mark - Thanks for being a great SCUBA instructor and for taking the time to make sure I understand each and every skill in the water. See you on Saturday foo, let's rock the Advanced Open Water course.
Extras: Here's Rhea's take on the dive experience. It was actually her 6th birthday (leap year baby).
Special Message to Mark: Also, thanks for being the laziest SCUBA instructor I will probably see in my life. You should be thankful that I'm resourceful, I can pay attention, and follow directions to the letter, otherwise we probably would never have finished this. Ya lazy bastard. :)