[Throwback (Travel) Thursday 06.19.2014] Under the sea in Cebu (but not the city)

tbt 2014 06 19_cebu diving01
Fun time with these guys. Quick, find me in the photo!

A photographer-friend has been egging us to try diving, ever so zealous in talking about it and trying to convince us that it really is something else, that it's a totally different world down there. I know it is because I've tried it...once upon a time on March 10, 2002. Then I realized I once wrote personal accounts of some of my travels, and here's what I've unearthed:

Cebu and its neighbor, Mactan, are both blessed with excellent beaches and wonderful dive spots.  Having spent my whole college life in Cebu, it is such a shame (and pity, I might add) that I never got to “really” explore its beauty.  A couple of years after my graduation, I was back in this queen city of the South for a work assignment.  Never had I expected that I would be seeing more of Cebu, far beyond its metropolitan lifestyle and nightlife.  This time, though, I would be seeing it from underwater.

Russ, a friend of mine, visited the office and was surprised to see me there – again.  After asking about my plans for the weekend (that had to be as uneventful as malling), he invited me to try scuba diving.  Being the potential thrill-seeker that I am, the idea sat perfectly with me.  I was especially flabbergasted at the price he quoted.  A measly one thousand bucks!  I thought this was one helluva chance I shouldn’t miss.  Despite the absence of a background on diving, I was pretty sure it was really cheap.

I really can’t live without gimmicks on the side.  So we partied the night before my first dive.  But my friend cautioned me not to take in any alcohol.  What?  This really wasn’t fitting in since we were supposed to party that night.  Besides, what good is a party without drinking?  Accordingly, the pressure underwater can adversely cause a reaction from the body, thereby inducing vomiting.  There should definitely be no alcohol a day before a dive.  But he allowed me two bottles of San Mig Light in the end.

Brimming with excitement, I woke up real early in spite of lack of sleep.  We waited for my friend’s other diving buddies and soon all boarded their “battle car.”  This was an old, somewhat dilapidated jeepney of sorts.  But hey, who cares?  I was more after the dive than bothering with our ride to the beach.

Cebuanos are very fortunate to find that beaches and dive clubs are quite accessible to them.  Traffic is a lot less than in Metro Manila, an unquestionable fact, and was a lot better on Sundays.  In less than an hour (or was it just a little over 30 minutes?) we already found ourselves at the dive club.  It was so dumb of me, however, to forget its name.  The club did not offer a great beach or anything.  Juxtaposed with other dive clubs, boats of different sizes crowded the surrounding waters.  It was, however, very near Shangri-la Mactan, one of Cebu’s upscale hotel-resorts.

We started fitting our suits.  Since I had absolutely nothing, I took everything from flippers to snorkels.  At the same time, I allowed myself to be educated with everything I had to put on.  The dive suit was mandatory, along with the mask and a pair of flippers.  I was introduced to the weight belt.  I’m not sure if I remember its name right but it’s practically a belt with metal weights fitted around.  Then there was the buoyancy control device, or BCD as they call it.  Very descriptive of itself, this piece of invention is meant to aid the diver in his descent and ascent underwater.  Finally, the oxygen tanks.  We were allotted two tanks each, good enough for two dives.

We waded in the shallow waters while our equipment were being transported to our boat.  The weather was perfectly fine but the waves were surprisingly huge.  I was confident, though, with our boat because of its size.  It glided effortlessly through the somewhat angry waves.

If I remember it right, our first spot was Hilutongan, where the sea was a lot calmer.  The sight of this one mini port stretching from a certain resort blended perfectly with the waters that were splashed with different hues of blue.  It was simply picturesque.

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Excited and getting ready for my very first dive, with Hilutungan Island in the background.

One pretty good thing I observed was that diving activities within Cebu were somehow regulated.  No boat is allowed to drop anchor at absolutely any point.  Boatmen had to make use of buoys that were conveniently fastened to rocks underneath the waters.  This way, corals and similar life forms are spared from the destruction wrought by these iron horrors.

I coyly fitted on my belt, BCD and flippers.  Someone else helped me with the oxygen tank, giving me last-minute instructions on the side.  Russ reiterated to me the basics of “equalizing” under water.  This is a diving term that means breathing through your nose while pinching it, thereby releasing pressure on the ears.  This is essential in saving your precious eardrums as pressure mounts up as you go deeper in the water.  Of course, I don’t want them blasted.  I also had to learn to look at those gadgets dangling freely from my BCD.  One such gizmo was meant to measure how many feet you are underneath while another displayed how much oxygen is left in your tank.

All these guys around also forewarned me never to go up or down drastically without equalizing as this could prove fatal.  In fact, I remember watching one Baywatch episode with a similar story.  Mitch (David Hasselhoff) dived without any equipment to rescue someone who’s been stuck deep down.  Obviously, he did not have time to breathe the whole time.  So when he couldn’t hold his breath any longer, he had no recourse but to resurface instantaneously.  As a consequence, he was hospitalized and nearly died.  Certainly I never would have wanted to end up that way.

It was time.  But there seemed to be endless coaching for me.  I was reminded that I should hold my mask as I plunge into the water.  I did as told then gave myself to the sea.  I was such a dupe I was panting for air even if oxygen was steadily coming through my mouth.  I was already consuming much of my oxygen supply – to think that I was still in the surface.  I probably was just not used to breathing through my mouth.

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Proof that this guy is not a diver: what the hell is that hand sign?

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In the water, stupidly panting.

After I got used to it, we began our descent to 40 feet.  Being the novice that I was, I repeatedly felt the pressure on my eardrums so I kept on equalizing.  After finally adjusting, we started flipping.  My “buddy” kept teaching me how to do it right because my feet were working badly.

During that particular dive, I wasn’t really paying attention to the corals around as I was busy trying to perfect my flipping.  But yes, it was a whole different world down there, where fish of whatever kind swam freely amid rich coral formations.  I couldn’t help but admire the beauty and grandeur of it all.  Except for a couple of stingrays, I wasn’t really able to figure out the names of all those marine fauna I encountered.

When oxygen was running low, we started to ascend, pausing intermittently to adjust to the pressure.  Back on our boat, we had a hearty lunch of lechon manok, fish, shrimp, slices of pork and puso (cooked rice encased in coconut leaves woven into a triangular shape), after which we headed for our next spot.

As I was told, our second dive spot was actually a marine sanctuary.  The more I was excited.  True to its name, the seabed did not disappoint.  Although it was shallower than our first dive, the place offered a wider variety of corals, fish and other marine life.  There were mountains and mountains of corals of practically every form and color.  I couldn’t resist touching them.  It was like being transported to another world.  Fish the size of platters swam before my eyes while schools of green-and-blue-colored ones leisurely followed.  I was too overwhelmed I was not able to account for them all.  I’m even short of words to describe what’s “under the sea.”  It’s like God’s creation at its finest!

Things went unexpectedly exciting when a barracuda came out of nowhere.  We were kneeling on the seabed, scooping up sand and simulating a fish-feeding session when another diver signaled for us to stop.  I was basically enjoying the feel of fish kissing my fingertips when he pointed towards big bad barracuda.  There it was, probably 5 to 7 feet long, parked like a car from a not-too-far-away distance, its silvery body glistening in the sunlight that casually pierced through the water, somehow curious with what was going on below it.  We had to stay put until it went away.

When we resurfaced, all the other divers had a thing or two to say about what happened down there.  From what they said, a barracuda is one dangerous creature.  Swimming lightning fast, it can pierce right through you with its sturdy pointed tip and bite your hand off in an instant with its razor-sharp teeth.  Well, I was absolutely clueless down there!

Not content with it all, I hit the shallower parts of the sanctuary to snorkel.  However, I was a little paranoid this time, watchful for probably another barracuda.  After a couple more minutes, we headed back home, tired and all.  Some were even lulled to sleep by the waves that rocked our boat.  I stayed awake, recalling the many breathtaking underwater scenes of such an exhilarating experience.  Awesome, I thought.

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With the whole gang before heading home. Except for Russ, I honestly don't remember any of their names. Well, to be fair, they probably don't remember me either.

Back at the club, we showered, packed up and paid for what we owed.  Every expense was very well accounted for.  You would be sure you only paid for what was due you.  And true to what Russ promised, I only dished out around a thousand bucks – less than, actually.  Sweet, I exclaimed, because that amount covered for precisely everything from equipment, the boat, to food and gas for our “battle car.”

We capped off the day with dimsum.


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