The Philippines and its people are delightful. If you smile at them, they smile back. They seem to be polite by nature but that nature is nurtured within the tourist industry, growing it into congeniality beyond compare. The answer is never, “No,” but “Let me see what I can do about that. Thank you Sir! Thank you Mom!”
*Aside* “Thank you sir! Thank you ma’am!” is heard constantly. However the first time, my ears heard it as, “Thank you Sir! Thank you Mom!” due to that lovely drawn-out “A” in ma’am when it’s pronounced with a Filipino accent. When I heard it again, I realized it was “ma’am” not “mom” but I still enjoy “hearing” it as “mom” every time someone says it.
Saturday June 18th, 2016
Early in the morning (6:00 am) we headed to The Midas Hotel (Manila, Philippines) to meet our friends (about 43 of them) from ScubaBoard.com (the largest social media board for the scuba industry online). Thus begins the ScubaBoard Invasion 2016 Philippines: Atlantis Puerto Galera and Dumaguete, June 18th through July 1st. We’ve joined ScubaBoard for trips to Cozumel, Mexico; Bonaire; Roatan, Honduras; and Curaçao, always finding them well planned, well executed and a great value for the money (this is due to Dennis Harmon’s negotiating skills on our behalf), not to mention fun!! We started planning this trip to the Philippines two years ago when it was announced in Roatan, Honduras in 2014. We looked at each other and said, “We‘ve got to figure out how to do this!”
Since 2014 Tom retired from the Air Force and civil service and completed retraining as a scuba diver instructor trainer (thank you very much Uncle Sam). As the trip got closer, we started thinking, “What if we just started traveling through Asia? How long and how far could we go?” That’s still an open-ended question. Meanwhile we are entering the “planned” (and paid-for) leg of our journey.
At Midas our host, Atlantis, gathered us into their capable, experienced arms, assigning us air-conditioned vans (yes it’s a little hot and humid in Manila, Philippines). Our luggage was whisked out of our responsibility, into the care and keeping of the luggage fairies. The van delivers us to a dock and the rest of our trip is . . . wait for it . . . by boat. We are not yet in the water, but we are on the water.
*Aside* I’m in love with the luggage fairies. Upon arrival at Atlantis Puerto Galera , they marched our luggage up the 37 steps to our room (and in other instances many more steps).Not only did they bring our luggage to our room but they smiled while they did it. “Thank you Sir! Thank you Mom!”
We enjoyed lunch: refreshing welcome drink, fruit, hand breaded, delicious fish fingers and equally delicious French fries finished off with desert that set the bar for food all week.
*Aside* We were not disappointed. Tom knows that for Rebecca it isn’t a good trip without good food. Atlantis gets high marks from us in the food division. We enjoyed every meal with offerings of a beef or pork entree, a seafood entrée, a chicken entrée or a vegetarian entrée. The only complaint could be that we don’t like our fish over-cooked. It seems that “cooked” in the rest of the world is “over-cooked” to us. However, we quickly found we could request our fish “rare” or “just barely done” to get a delicious piece of fish. The complimenting sauces that appeared on our plates during the week made me wish there was more sauce! Awesome sauce! Even the vegetarian choices were tasty! Tom and I ate very little of the beef and pork offerings (can’t remember if we even tried a chicken dish) as the seafood was so delectable! And the desserts? Well, it was really hard not to ask for seconds!
After a brief orientation about our surroundings, we headed to our rooms to gather our diving gear. Some people - better packers than us - had their dive gear delivered directly to the scuba room, but our gear was all mixed with our clothes. We found the scuba room, claimed our storage cubby and met our Dive Master for the week. Let the diving begin!
*Aside* Christine, a member of our diving group, requested Junnar as our Dive Master. So he was shipped to Puerto Galera from his permanent home in Dumaguete to guide us for the week. Christine dove with Junnar before and I completely understand why she liked him. Junnar is delightful, endlessly patient and helpful. “Thank You Sir! Thank You Mom!” We’re lucky to be on the receiving end of this request!
Sunday June 19, 2016 Diving Day - day one of five days.
We have the opportunity to dive five times every day. What a typical five dive day looks like:
1) 6:00am Get up to test tanks. This is for anyone using Nitrox. You might have been able to do this last night, but you were probably too tired.
*Physiology Lesson* primarily for Non-Divers (divers may skip this if they are Nitrox certified as they should already know it): Nitrox is a gas mixture created by adding extra oxygen to “atmospheric air,” which is approximately 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% other gases. Breathing Nitrox essentially reduces nitrogen uptake in the body's tissues, thereby extending underwater dive time by reducing the decompression requirement, or reducing the risk of decompression sickness (also known as the bends) which is the result of the over absorption of nitrogen.
2) 6:30am Eat breakfast - the most important meal of the day according to Kellogg.
3) 7:40am Put on your wetsuit, socks and/or boots. (After the first day, hope they’re at least sort of dry)
4) 7:50am Attend the dive briefing. During the briefing the Dive Master will tell you where dive will occur, how long it will take to get there, approximately how long the dive will last, what your maximum depth should be, and possibly highlights of what you could see during the dive, along with any other information he deems necessary to the successful, pleasant completion of the dive. Sometimes the briefing happens on the boat, so you may skip this step and go directly to:
5) 8:00am Gather your mask, muck stick, camera (if applicable), fins, dive computers and any other paraphernalia you deem indispensible for your dive and get on the boat.
*Aside* Check you have all your gear with you when you get on the boat, ‘cause if you don’t have all your gear, you’re gonna sit this one out. And maybe the next one too if the boat isn’t returning to the dock between dives today. Also a “muck stick” is aluminum or steel stick (about seven to eighteen inches long) used to steady yourself in current or keep yourself off the ocean floor while hunting for tiny critters on the sandy bottom, or so you can just hang out while everyone else is taking pictures with the cameras they didn’t forget their rooms. You really want to avoid stirring up the “muck,” which is ostensibly just the sandy bottom, as it wreaks havoc with visibility and picture taking.
6) 8:15am or 8:30am Arrive at dive site. The crew anchors or ties up the boat. Do the dive. This depends entirely on how far this dive site is from the dock.
7) 9:10am or 9:40am: (based on arrival times) The dive ends when the first person is low on air or approximately one hour. Best practices indicate: go down as a group and come back as a group. Pay attention to your buddy and make sure they get back on the boat.
8) 9:15am or 10:10am (based on the dive ending time) Return to the dock for a snack or have a snack on the boat as you off-gas, getting ready for the next dive. (This is about the nitrogen in #1, not the beans you ate at dinner last night),
9) Time approximate: repeat steps 4 through 7 or skip to step 6 if you’re still on the boat.
10) 12 noonish: Return to the dock, shower off, changing out wet dive gear into dry clothes to have lunch. Change or charge batteries in everything that uses a battery: camera, dive lights, camera lights, dive computer, etc.
11) 1:30pm ”ish” Put your wet dive gear back on and repeat steps 4 though 8 - then 1 through 7 finally returning to the dock.
12) 4:30pm or 5:30pm Shower off, change out the wet dive gear.
13) 6:00pm Put your wet dive gear back on (if you even took it off), get ready for a night dive, repeat steps 4 through 7, then returning to the dock.
*Aside* Make sure you have two flashlights for the night dive: a primary and a backup. Nothing is worse than running out of battery on your flashlight at night underwater. Nothing. You may be able to think of something worse, but at night underwater your flashlight is your survival.
14) 6:30pm Restaurant is open for dinner.
15) 8:00pm Back from the night dive, have dinner.
16) 9:00 or 9:30 or 10:00 Return to your room and update your dive log book (yeah, mine’s up to date, I swear), put all batteries on charge. Look at the pictures you took if the card was in the camera and the batteries worked and the camera didn’t fail. Shit, you should have tested tanks. Forgeddaboutit.
17) 10:30 Sleep like the dead.
18) Wake up and repeat.
*Aside* Rebecca’s first dive day: Steps one through 5. But once in the water, Rebecca can’t clear her ears. After several tries she returned to the boat with Tom’s assistance. Tom then rejoined the other divers to complete the dive. Topside the water is choppy. Rebecca donates her breakfast to the fish population. Rebecca does not repeat any steps but returns to the dock, getting off for the day. Soup and a nap for Rebecca. Dives for Rebecca out of a possible 25 at Puerto Galera: four. Dives for Tom out of 25: fifteen. The good news: Tom no longer feels the push to dive every dive since we aren’t going home at the end.
*Biology Lesson* A note about the Bio-diversity of the Pacific Ocean.
I’ve heard over and over that there are at least three times the creatures in the Pacific as compared to the Caribbean. The reality of this statement is that not only are there more creatures, but it often appears that entire groups of alien creatures have been dropped into the Pacific to thrive there. There are things that look like floating leaves but are actual living organisms. One word: Nudibranch. Google Nudibranch Images: prepare to have your mind blown. According to National Geographic, there are 3000 known species of Nudibranchs and they are all different, amazing combinations of colors. You can find some in Florida if you look hard enough and there are a few in the Caribbean but the Pacific is loaded with them. And that’s just the beginning: it goes on and on, each new creature more is fantastical than the last one. I’ve never seen so many kinds of sea urchins. What’s more, some of them are so small you can’t see them until you enlarge the picture you took. I can’t even wrap my brain around everything I’ve seen. Nor can I begin to understand how the Dive Master finds and sees the things he points out.
Friday June 24, 2016
Some people opt to dive this morning but we opt for a tour. Right after breakfast the group catches three Jeepneys out of Puerto Galera. We stop at a point where we can look back across the expanse of water to Puerto Galera where we’ve been diving all week. A little further up the road is Tamaraw Falls: a beautiful tall falls handily placed right beside the road. The falls continue under the road and on down into the valley below: definitely a photo-op here.
As we proceed, it gets more remote while the roads get sketchier. Finally we arrive at Tukuran or Hidden Village also referred to as Eden Paradise.
We then chose a four-person two wheel cart drawn by a water buffalo to carry us over dirt and rock roads to the next falls. We quickly realize why we are going by water buffalo cart when we cross the first of many river crossings with no bridges, the water buffalo splish-splashing through the low rapids. Our driver urges his buffalo on with splashes of water across the beast’s back and clicks and other mouth sounds. This system seems to work well as our buffalo often breaks into a full, speedy trot making us among the first to arrive at the falls. We change into swimsuits for a dip in a deep blue-green pool created by the waterfall, out of sight but not sound, on the other side of a huge rock formation to our left. Refreshed, we work our way up the steep rock formation to pick our way down the other side to sit under the fast-falling, powerful (even though small), waterfall. I’ve never felt more like a goat in my life. Once under the falls, it was very difficult to persuade myself to come out. It was peaceful and amazing even while the water roared and roiled. The water was cool and the day was hot: the perfect combination! But there was lunch, so out and back over the rock we climbed to find club sandwiches, fruit and a trio of desserts (a brownie, a coconut cupcake, and a delicious, buttery, orangey jelly roll) waiting for us.
Time to return to civilization. As we bumped over the terrain in our buffalo cart, we got a flat tire (there are only 2 tires to start with). No worries: everyone move to the other side and keep going. I imagined the buffalo wondered how we managed to eat so much to make the cart drag as it did. I’m afraid the tire and probably the rim were both a total loss.
*Aside* I know the flat tire was not our fault, but we and the other couple in the cart felt more than a little responsible. Hopefully the generous tip we gave the driver, replaced the rim and the tire.
On the way back to Puerto Galera we make one more stop to walk the hanging bridge. This bridge goes from one side to the other, just like any other, but it’s really only wide enough for one person and it’s made out of steel cable and sheet metal. There was probably a weight limit. We probably exceeded it, but it didn’t come crashing down, therefore it didn’t matter.
All that’s left when we return to Atlantis, Puerto Galera is packing and dinner.
We pack our bags and set them outside our room to later find that the Luggage Fairies have taken them away for us. Breakfast, goodbyes, then once more into the vans to the Manila Airport for a quick one and half hour flight to Dumaguete. Junnar, our Dive Master, is going with us to return home to Dumaguete. The ever capable staff of Atlantis gathers our luggage, checking it in for us at the Airport: easiest check-in EVER! We’ll see those bags on the flip side in Dumaguete.
“Thank You Sir! Thank You Mom!”
“Sir! Mom! Please come back to see us again soon at Atlantis Puerto Galera!”