Sunday, June 27, 2010

HUGE mistake—not taking the camera that is.

It was our second day at the resort. Now it was MY turn to go out on dive two of the day with Dive-master Don, and unfortunately, I decided NOT to bring my camera. Feeling nervous I figured I would use my first dive outing of the trip to get fully reacquainted with all the ropes—HUGE mistake—not taking the camera that is.

Don came up with a simple plan for that dive: walk out into the water from the small coral beach directly in front of the hotel, submerge and then navigate eastward along the edge of the drop off down to the point some 500 meters up the coast. Sounds simple, right? In theory it was, but…

I remember two things about that dive: first, it physically kicked my butt; and second, I saw some of the biggest most interesting fish I’ve EVER seen in all my decades of saltwater swimming, including all the snorkeling I’ve ever done.

Don, as master diver, had a tough job with lots of responsibility each time he took us out. Not only did he have to keep an eye on us to make sure we were doing okay, he also had to monitor our depth, how long we were out, the volume of our air, AND try to manage WHERE we were down there. Without a doubt it’s the navigation part that is THE most difficult thing to do of all.

His navigation strategy, which seemed sound enough when he briefed it, was to maneuver us in a saw tooth pattern back and forth along our line of travel and that’s pretty much what we did over the course of our hour plus excursion. Thing is, there were two things that made it very demanding to follow his desired navigation track—1) having to deal with a very strong current, and 2) almost as difficult, the steep nature of the hills we continuously traversed, especially while ascending.

The last time I spoke to retired navy diver Tom, he mentioned that he thought it best to stay out of strong currents and from my limited time in the water I can see why he would say that; BUT, some of THE most interesting sea life can be found in and around strongly moving courses of water, so naturally, that makes currents the place to be when you want to observe some fascinating sea creatures.

During the dive, and all our dives for that matter, Don would point out the direction that he wanted me to go and off I’d kick and pull until I came to a good “landing site.” It was at the end of one of these arduous segments that I found myself full in the face of a super surge of water. It felt exactly like being in a strong river current. The only way to maneuver in it was to hug the bottom by removing all the air from my vest. In this way I could use my hands to pull my body along while kicking mightily with my fins in spurts until I could find a spot where I could hold onto a boulder or some robust coral as the surging water continuously tugged or pushed on me.

About 45 feet down we came upon a superb spot at the bottom of a sweeping hillside covered with the waving tendrils of thousands of gigantic sea anemones (Stichodactyla Gigantea) the color and texture of freshly boiled spaghetti. The surge had the rubbery strands of these “spaghetti anemones” pushed sideways like a wheat field in a strong wind. It was there that I began spotting some of the most amazing fish I have ever seen outside of an aquarium. The current was so strong there that whole schools of fish had to swim continuously directly into the teeth of it just to maintain a static position in the water. It looked like they were on an invisible fish treadmill.

Don and I realized that we were in a special place. I looked back at him questioningly and he nodded using both hands palms down to signal that we should settle on the bottom to observe the sights. Ahead, a huge lone boulder the size of a small house covered with various types and colors of feather stars (of the Family Comasteridae), and green tube coral (Tubastraea micrantha) that looked exactly like some kind of strange wort-like plant, writhed with thousands of fish all seeking to maintain their place on their feathery giant rock of a home. Each fluttered mightily against the unseen current sluicing around them.

I could not take my eyes off the spectacle of it. And then, to make it even more surreal a long slender creature called a Trumpet Fish (Aulostomus maculatus) well over four feet in length suddenly appeared from the base of the boulder and swam directly up and then over to the other side of the colossal rock squirming with life. The oddly narrow fish was mottled with several shades of brown; although mostly speckled with the darker hues of the brown continuum, this trumpet fish was offset with a lighter yellowish colored area at the tail.

‘Did I just SEE that? Dang it! Why didn’t I bring my camera? I’m such an IDIOT!’

Then, something large flashed to my left. I snapped my head in that direction. It was another huge shiny colorful fish, about a dozen feet away between two and three feet long with a thickly bulging muscular body. It appeared to be upset with me, which was a first, since most of the sea life I’d seen up till then either ignored me or swam away if I trespassed into their comfort zone.

THIS fish, however, was definitely NOT ignoring me; in fact it showed a LOT of interest in me, and considering its substantial size and girth I found its attention a bit disconcerting. Yet, in spite of my misgivings I was thrilled and decided to slowly approach it, coming to within six feet of the irate creature. It was then I noticed that it had protruding almost rectangular teeth approaching the size of my own, at which point it ceased darting from side to side. Unexpectedly it turned, hovered and looked directly at me. This thing was so thick across the head that it had an actual full on face complete with those big goofy buck teeth; and goofy or not, it came RIGHT at me. I’m pretty sure now that I could have taken it in a fair fight but I was so shocked at its aggressiveness that I backed right up pushing backwards several feet with my gloved hands. It snapped around then continuing its original back and forth angry swimming. Now THAT was cool.

I did some web research trying to figure out what that gorgeous fish was and I’m certain it was a female titan triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens) guarding its nest. From what I read it was a good thing I backed up because those teeth can do some damage.

‘Oh MAN! Did Don see that?’

I turned toward my dive partner to see what he was doing but he was paying no attention to what I was observing. He had his head down holding his wrist compass in front of him. Trying to stay ahead of the curve he was evaluating our present position and no doubt thinking ahead to the next leg of our travel. Poor guy, he missed seeing my altercation with the mommy titan triggerfish.

But no, he too was checking out the life surrounding us. It seemed that no matter which direction we looked something incredible awaited our attention. When he saw that I was looking at him he motioned toward three immense silvery fish swimming lazily against the current some ten yards away with the backdrop of the anemone covered hill behind them. Don pointed them out to me and we both settled in to watch them for a bit. These amazing fish were sleek and from the side were geometrically shaped, kind of like a cross between a diamond and a circle. Almost a yard long they easily undulated into the current. It was obvious that they were built for speed. I still don’t know what kind of fish they are.

‘WOW! Why the hell didn’t I BRING the stupid CAMERA!?”

(We went back on a similar dive a couple days later during a different time of day and I was able to take a video of a similar huge life-covered boulder. Click here to see it on Youtube. Unfortunately, I had the wrong setting when I took it so it looks a bit washed out, also the current is not nearly as strong as it was during the first dive; but still you can get a great feeling for the large amount of bio-mass that can exist in one spot in a reef environment. Oh, one more thing, the current was still strong enough so that I was unable to hold the camera very steady as I was swept by it as you can see in the video.)

I could have stayed at that one spot for the entirety of the dive but Don had us on a schedule, so off we went back up the steep hill cutting at an angle through the current. I had to kick hard and continuously grab at rocks to use them as hand holds to keep me on course while ascending. There was no way I could conserve air; I had to suck it in and blow it out as fast as I could just to be able to keep going.

We didn’t quite make it to our intended destination point since my psi indicator went into the red about a hundred meters short. I held my gauge out for Don’s inspection and he called the dive pointing back in the direction of the shore. After a short ascending swim we popped up to wait for the boat to come and get us while we relaxed perched up on rocks a few feet below the surface under a picturesque towering cliff face.

The fact that we exhausted ourselves trying to keep to an unrealistic plan notwithstanding, THAT dive was THE best of my life up to that point. Now, if ONLY I had brought THE CAMERA! After that, no matter what, I ALWAYS swam with the cam. Memory is just too fleeting and the sights down there too rich for the human brain to be able to fully soak up and recall.

The pictures on display with this post are obviously not from that first dive; I made some video captures from video I made of the similar boulder in the Youtube video.
Anybody ready to go diving yet? I hope you're not weary yet of this stuff because I still have quite a few adventures to describe, even cooler than this one. So, MORE to come.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Diving's risk to reward...

Our skin diving sessions started on the second day of our early June stay at the resort. Because two of three of us had just basic experience I suggested that we take turns diving with Don, our instructor diver, a very talented and resourceful fellow who also happens to be a mutual friend.

Jay, the other new-guy diver (aside from me) is not truly new at this stuff but he might as well be since his last dive was more than 15 years ago. I volunteered to hover about the two of them with my underwater cam and record his first foray back into the deep.

I stayed back while Don went over the basics with Jay. Don is an honest to God obsessive compulsive so his attention to detail is about as comprehensive as it gets; something that I very much appreciate when it comes to an endeavor as potentially dangerous as scuba.

New diver Jay was dealing with a head cold same as me but his symptoms were not as controlled as mine. A stuffy head is not a good thing to have when diving. Even a few feet under the water exerts an enormous amount of pressure and the place where this is felt first and most is in the head, specifically in the ears, due to all the airways, passages and sinuses up there in the noggin area.

Considering the physics and physiology involved, it’s crucial to be able to equalize the pressures that exist inside with those outside of the head. This is primarily done by way of the Eustachian tubes going into the inner ear. Some people have wide open tubes, like diver Don, while others, like me, have narrow or occluded ones. For that reason Don is able to descend nearly as quickly as gravity and buoyancy will allow, while those with constricted Eustachian tubes have to take it slow and careful—that would be me.

It was interesting being the fly-on-the-wall as the two of them went over the do’s, don’ts, how to’s and what ifs. I was “snorkeled up” intending to use my camera to take some stills and video of them from above as they went about their familiarization dive and that’s exactly what I did as you can see with all the photos in this post.

They went through some hypothetical scenarios such as what to do if the mask fogs up, comes off or fills with water. They also went through several iterations of removing and replacing the regulator from the mouth while underwater. There are all kinds of situations that would require being able to do this, none of them good; just the same, it’s too late to “try” this rather simple procedure when your regulator happens to malfunction 60 feet down. Once practiced a number of times, accomplishing all these things and more is fairly simple. Simple yes, intuitive no, therefore practice is a must.

But there is another reason for the need for practice and that reason came up the other day during my conversation with Retired Navy Diver Tom. It is his conclusion that the brain runs at less than 75% capacity at depth on compressed air. Considering his thousands of hours of diving in extreme situations that the average person cannot comprehend, HE would know. (For instance, he was one of the divers that recovered bodies and aircraft parts from the depths of the Atlantic after the 1996 crash of TWA flight 800. Interestingly, he describes being able to “taste” the rotting bodies in the water.)

So, when it comes to diving observation and commentary, I defer to someone like Tom every time. Even with my limited experiences I am convinced that there is something to what he says about diminished mental capacity at depth. And even if only partially true, an emergency situation underwater is when one would need as many of their faculties as possible, and if thinking is actually diminished to whatever level then the answer is rehearsal to the point that thinking becomes less of a factor.

Therefore the idea is to get ahead of the problem before it even happens. Diving and flying is similar in that the safest divers and fliers are always two or three steps ahead in their minds. Pessimists like me make the best survivors since we consider every bad possibility, plan for them, and are ready to react having practiced what to do again and again, if not for real then in our minds. But, if the mind is weakened, as Tom claims, then muscle memory is the next best thing—thing is, necessarily, the “memory” must be put there first by trying, doing and perfecting.

On that note, I was in the gym yesterday and ran into John, someone I’ve known casually for a year or two. Turns out he’s a diver too, from many years ago, and he’s got his own diving war story (not that I have a real one yet, knock wood). His took place 80 feet down in murk so lightless that he could not see the other 5 divers around him. It was there that he began having problems getting air from his regulator. He had plenty of air according to his gauge yet he had to suck through his mouthpiece as if the air was about gone. He considered changing to his spare regulator, but not being sure if the problem was the tank, he dared not go to it. He knew he could at least get some air by sucking deeply and wasn’t sure if he would have enough air in his lungs to clear the water from his mouth if the spare didn’t work and he had to go back to the partially working primary regulator. So, scared to death, he kept his problem to himself and continued sucking hard, opting to just wait until the dive master called the dive business as usual.

Now THAT is an example of a dive not well planned and divers not well briefed. The obvious answer was to go to another diver’s spare regulator, preferably the dive masters’, and to immediately call the dive. These things should have been discussed BEFORE the dive to include how to signal the occurrence of problems and how to maintain contact when visibility becomes a problem. For instance, my instructor had me practice the possibilities to the point that I now have confidence that I can remove and replace a regulator no matter what. I now know that I do not have to eject all the water from my mouth to be able to draw air from a regulator. I know this because I tried it. The air goes past the water in the mouth and can then be easily completed ejected with the very next exhalation.

Oops. I just realized that this post could be quite daunting to someone considering trying this amazing sport. I don’t mean to because truthfully, a 70 year old woman can do it; and I’m sure there are some old ladies (and men) that DO scuba dive since it is not all that physically difficult. I compare myself to that 70 year old lady in that bodily I am very much faded out. I do not try to walk long with the tank since my back won’t allow it, and as soon as a dive is finished and I’m ready to leave the water I let the assistants and other divers help me remove the tank and weight belt since I am no longer capable of pulling myself back into the boat with all that weight still loaded on my body.

So, even with all the risks that come with scuba diving it is so awesome an experience that it’s worth every possible danger. Try it and see. The “risk to reward” is definitely weighted toward the reward!

More to come…

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tom, the Navy diver and a moray eel: something in common?

It was my good fortune to run into one of my favorite military retiree buds at the office today as he happened to be out and about. Quite the character he spent more than 22 years as a navy diver. I’m not saying his chosen profession caused his “character building,” but it probably had a lot to do with it, especially having heard some of the hair-raising experiences he went through. (shudder)

A long lull while I waited for my one and only client of the day to come in all the way from Cagayan de Oro allowed Tom the diver and I to catch up and compare notes. Naturally the one and only topic of conversation turned out to be my newfound love—diving that is—a subject that is also near and dear to his heart. Finally, after all these years we have something we can both relate to on the "shared experiences" level.

Tom, “the hard hat diver,” is not the same stern-faced fellow I met more than four years ago when he had only recently ejected himself from the navy due to his multiple maladies, all of which resulted from the extreme physical nature of what he went through during his more than two decades under the world’s water and waves. From what I’ve seen from him and others like him, if you are looking for a career that is both exciting AND debilitating, the life of a navy diver is the life for you.

Personally, I like the changes I see in him. Used to be his demeanor was off-putting to 9 out of 10 people that might run into him. Now, his sour disposition has improved so that on a good day he reaches at least 50% on the unapproachability scale. I’ve never discussed it with him, but I think three things have been instrumental with somewhat enhancing his disposition:

First, he married a beautiful intelligent sweet local girl that loves him despite his "occasional" spats of acerbity. (Ah, there’s always that! Applies to me also as a matter of fact. These sweet girls are THE primary reason so many of us live here despite all the “other" things.)

Next, they had a little boy, something that he continuously pledged he would NEVER do in the first months after I met him. I remember well trying to explain the intense feelings that overwhelm a dad when experiencing the gestation, birth and development of one’s very own child. He laughed me off. (Although he doesn’t really laugh; it’s more of a smirk). I chuckled in turn years later when he unashamedly gushed nonstop over his own little chip off the ‘ol block. Happens every time.

And finally, as an inveterate overachiever as demonstrated by his stellar rise through the ranks in his navy career, he seems to have come to grips with no longer being “in,” as well as with the bad temper that comes with the realization that the things you useta coulda do are no longer possible. People who once gloried in their physical prowess have the hardest time with that aspect of retirement from the service. But, with acceptance comes tranquility.

Ultimately, he seems at ease, even happy. Yet, to those who don’t know any better he still comes across as hard-faced and foul-tempered, but I think that’s mostly out of habit and to keep people at arm's length. He’ll never be the gregarious hard laughing puppy dog type. I don’t think I would like him like that anyway. As Popeye, the greatest seaman of all time once said, “I yam what I yam.”

Back to the diving conversation we had, it was a real treat for me to be able to describe to him some of the strange creatures I saw and have him give me some possibilities to use in a Google search in my continuing quest to identify them.

I learned today that this hard-bitten cynic is anything but that when it comes to his love for all life under the sea. I’ve been down about a dozen times compared to his decades of submerging himself hundreds of times. He describes creatures and phenomena that the average human cannot imagine even with the hearing of it. Some things cannot be well described with mere words. That’s why I got my underwater camera!

On that note, you’ve been looking at a moray eel that I happened across while snorkeling around the hotel’s pier wall made of local stone and mortar. Imagine my shock as I passed unsuspectingly within a foot or two of its gaping serpent mouth. Its ominous yellow head seemed to fill my vision through the snorkeling mask. From sheer panic my heart leapt into my throat and generated instant bodily thrashing away from the thing.

It was only after I had a moment to gather myself that I realized that, scary or not, it was simply an eel minding its own business within its hole there in the wall. I then spotted a second eel with a completely different look in a hole only a foot or so below the first. I don’t know what species the bottom one is but the one in the wall with the gaping mouth is definitely a yellow headed moray. A quick bit of research on moray eels surprised me with the sheer number of different species. I never cease to be totally amazed with this stuff. Go here to my Youtube site to see the video I filmed of the yellowheaded moray.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Before we could enjoy the beach...

Before we could enjoy the beach and its welcoming waters I noticed that a few things needed to be taken care of first. The resort is nice and all, quite attractive actually, but once again we were confronted with a common problem that certain foreigners often bump into here, that being the issue of what is and is not tolerable. In this case what I for one found intolerable was the state of the sanitation of our surroundings, the primary issue being that it wasn’t. I’ll stop beating around the bush—the surface of the water near the shore, the sand in front of our rooms, and the beach itself was littered with garbage and worse.

Confronting this very trashy circumstance, my first reaction was a rhetorical question huffed in a seething rant at my longsuffering woman, “They KNEW we were coming, so why didn’t they clean up all this crap! Ehhhhh! I don't get it!”

My girl over the years has come to see things much the way I do, that even one wayward candy wrapper on an otherwise pristine yard is unacceptable and MUST be immediately remedied. She too now hates the sight of rubbish and strewn litter, but she did not always feel so strongly. People here have the ability to NOT see garbage on the ground around them, to completely ignore it. These same folks have no idea why someone like me (a foreigner) is so repulsed and even incensed by the very sight of it. Obviously it’s a cultural thing, a cultural gap so to speak.

It’s not that Americans do not litter; I’m here to tell you that many do big time; then again, we have a term for them: "Inconsiderate A$#holes." But here, there doesn’t seem to be any societal taboo against the act of tossing personal garbage to the ground. And it’s not just the underprivileged schlub tossing an empty drink cup from a moving jeepney that does it; I’ve seen rich locals toss garbage from within the air-conditioned plushness of their super expensive SUVs. I see it happen around me several times a day and it never fails to make me coil up with revulsion and anger.

Try tossing your McDonald’s trash out your car window in another country and you can probably expect someone to yell at you, or even to take a picture of your license plate with their cell phone cam. Such anti reaction to casual littering would never happen here. For the most part it’s completely acceptable behavior; something done that is unremarkable to the casual observer, unless that onlooker has to be someone like me that is.

I swallowed my ire and nicely asked the manager for a rake and a trash bag. I pointed out the nasty flotsam (that must have taken several days to accrue) at the base of both sides of the pier and along the seawall and mentioned that I needed to know where to toss it once I gathered it. No reaction; just a nodding vacant smile with eyes averted. That meant she was peeved at me, was a bit embarrassed, and intended to take care of it, eventually. Put the emphasis on that final word eventually; there’s that passive aggressiveness again. Sigh.

Sure enough, later in the morning one of the workers had gone into the water and gathered most of the floating and semi-submerged debris, but now it was piled up into one corner of the dock landing just a few feet right away from the front of our beach side porch. The beach was still littered with scraps of paper, empty drink bottles, and cigarette buttes, so I picked all that up myself.

Now, mind you, there wasn't a lot, but NO amount of trash in a hotel's beach sand should be acceptable as far as I'm concerned, especially when I'M the customer trying to enjoy that sand. I suppose that's why so many foreign resort and hotel owners use other foreigners to manage their facilities. In my case, my fiance calls me sergeant since I still act like one while trying to get people to comply with MY standards, which means very close to perfection. I know this sounds demeaning, but the local standard all too often seems to be defined by the following: "Ehhh, that's good enough..."

While policing up the beach and immediate walkways I followed the steps down to the small coral beach and right off the bat my nose was assailed with the odor of excrement, which smelled suspiciously like the human kind. (Yes, being a discerning human, I do know the difference). Sure enough, following the scent trail I found a spot near the sea wall where some poo was half buried. Some local person on an evening walk from the nearby barrio must have decided to evacuate his bowels in that spot; perhaps ANOTHER example of passive aggressive behavior, or maybe someone took a crap out in the water and the tide washed it up?

Now THAT I could not let go; I wanted that nasty shite cleaned up and NOW. Pointing it out to the maintenance man I asked for a shovel so I could do it immediately myself if he wasn't of a mind to. (And you can’t tell me he didn’t already KNOW it was there!) Within five minutes he was doing it himself, shoveling it up into a bucket. I don’t think I shamed him into doing it; he was more likely just trying to get me to shut up and stop complaining. Squeaky wheel, thy name is ME.

Eventually, and by that I mean over the next few hours, the caretaker mostly had our immediate environs up to my insisted upon hygienic standards and we were ready to have some beach fun. Even then, I wasn’t done “doing my thing.” Over the next few days I pulled stuff to the surface that didn’t belong on the seafloor, going out of my way to carry it from the depths up to the beach for proper disposal; well, for some kind of disposal anyway. For all I know they threw that stuff right back into the water after we left just to spite me. Nah, I don’t mean that—it’s just my frustration talking. I just want everyone to love the world as much as I do. I want it to be orderly and beautiful. Why make it ugly when you don’t have to! Even better, why not MAKE it beautiful when you don't have to?

Much of the pollution "problem" in this country has to do with education and inclination. People must be instilled, brainwashed if you will, with the desire NOT to live in filth, to NOT poison themselves. These are nice people, nice people who mindlessly pollute and litter. For instance, just down from the hotel there’s a small beach that from afar looks quite picturesque that people from the local barrio recreate at. But, this quaint little beach is rife with garbage. Through my long lens I could see plastic trash floating around swimmers as they splashed around in it. None of them minded it, and no one bothered to gather it up.

And walking up the hill through this little community the nose and lungs regularly become choked and painful when exposed to the foulness that comes from the burning of modern garbage; in other words, plastics and other petroleum based products immediately made poisonously toxic once set afire. Walking through the barrio every house or compound has its own burn pit from where the air of the entire community is dangerously and unmindfully contaminated. And you can multiply that scenario by the tens of thousands since the entire country does this, including my own next door neighbor in a subdivision where burning is supposedly against regulations, in a city where it’s supposed to be against the law. Then again, a law not enforced is one that does not truly exist. ‘a form of lawlessness perhaps? U.S. Federal immigration laws in Arizona come to mind.’

Before living here I once considered myself a bit of a libertarian, if libertarianism is defined as freedom from excess government. Well, I’ve lived now for most of a decade in a place where virtually everyone (except for foreigners) is free to pick and choose what laws to follow, mostly choosing not to. I never thought I’d say this, but I MISS seeing cops in their patrol cars around every corner whose job it is to ENFORCE.

I remember last year my brother exclaiming his derision at a Super Bowl commercial showing “Green Police,” where environmental cops of the future went overboard arresting witless polluters and drivers of gas guzzlers. My GOD, but I would LOVE that. Eight years of exactly the opposite has taught me that you can NEVER have enough patrolmen, that you can NEVER have enough enforcement. Human beings NEED monitoring and bear watching. We do not self-regulate very well. Hell, look what happened in the Gulf when BP was able to talk their overseers from enforcing safety engineering that may well have prevented this horrific oil spill. In that case, perhaps even the enforcers needed someone to force THEM.

So, TEACH people to WANT to do right; but, assume that some WILL do wrong; and when they do, SQUASH ‘EM! Negative reinforcement works when the positive kind doesn't. Of course, getting back to the pollution and litter "problem" here, the real problem is that no one from here even considers there to BE a problem. As for me, I'm an outsider and always will be; therefore, what I think doesn't count. I'm reminded of my ex's repeated response to my "occasional" complaining remarks:
If you don't like it; GO HOME!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Such is the wonderful nature of scuba diving

The pictures and videos from the last diving trip have captivated me so much that I’ve neglected writing about the little adventure from which those entrancing images resulted. I’m finally getting around to putting together another post—this very one as a matter of fact.

Less than a week before we were due to leave again for the magnificent waters off Mindoro I came down with a head and chest cold, not something one wants while trying to scuba dive. I took every drug I could find to get ahead of the symptoms and to an extent it worked. As long as I was on the medicine my cough was suppressed and my drip was dried. Still, I knew my inner ears were going to be a problem at depth. The clearer the sinuses and Eustachian tubes are, the easier it is to equalize the air pressure in there as the water pressure increases the deeper one goes. But, even without the inconvenience of the cold, getting my ears to equalize in water deeper than a few feet is something that I’ve had a problem with in the past few years, and actually, as far back as I can remember.

On the day we left, most of my upper respiratory symptoms were tamped down to the point that I could almost convince myself that the cold was done; but when fluid came from my nose after waiting a bit too long between cold capsules I knew it was still lurking in there. I popped another pill and hoped for the best.

The first day at the resort I spent snorkeling, no scuba at all. My dive mentor and partner drove his SUV and could not arrive until much later in the day. Without him I cannot dive and wouldn’t want to. This time he also brought along another fellow who hadn’t dived since the mid-90s, and so he needed to get re-familiarized. With two of us at the basic level I figured it would be best if only one of us at a time went down with our master diver. It wouldn’t be smart to divide his attention.

I spent hours that first day investigating the water along the cliff face that began at the far end of the hotel. The water had been way too rough the previous trip to venture out in that direction. Surging waves combined with sharp coral boulders do not mix well with swimmers. But now, that area of shoreline was still and practically wave free, with just enough slap to give the surface a slight ripple.

Within a few minutes of exploration I was taken with the thousands of tiny green and blue fish that swam in the warm top waters in their giant shimmering schools among the huge boulders. Even without those pulsing hordes of endless fish the view of the underwater geologic formations would have been enough to keep me enamored. The play of light and water among the towering submerged stones caused me to take one picture after another. I have never seen anything like it.

What I also found attractive was the relatively deep depth of the water right immediately where the water meets the shore; although it’s not really a shore, it more a massive jumble of colossal stones, piled atop each other as if by some gigantic careless child. The randomness of nature has always been a major source of pleasure for me and that’s exactly what I witnessed. It was stunningly beautiful. I couldn’t wait to explore the whole length of it in scuba gear. Although it was beautiful seeing it floating along the surface, how much more so would it be viewing it from 20 feet down, or from whatever depth I desired? Within the next few days I would find out.

Such is the wonderful nature of scuba diving—the freedom one has to be able to see what you want from whatever depth you want. As long as I could get a handle on the stupid cold I knew it was going to be incredible. Disappointment was NOT in the plan. . .

Hint: Click on each of the pictures above to be able to truly appreciate them in their full glory. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Back in it . . . the water that is

We’re going to have to take it easy and stay home for a while I guess. A couple days ago we returned from our third trip in less than three months from the water wonder land generally known as Puerto Galera, even though few people who go there actually stay in that city. Speaking for all tourists most of us stay at one of the numerous beach slash dive resorts located around the town of Sabang and White Beach and points in between. See the map below.

Although not the only purpose I confess that a primary reason for this most recent trip was to continue my scuba diving experiences. I’m finding that the more I do it the more I MUST do it. Yes, it IS an addictive endeavor; especially for someone that loves the natural world, someone like me.

My Michigan dwelling brother tells me that he would like to try scuba diving someday, but for the investment required, living in a place like Michigan does not provide the same types of outstanding underwater observations as do tropical waters, and he’s right. There’s absolutely no comparison. You’d be lucky to spot more than a handful of different comparatively boring fish species, none of which would be much to look at, in the waters of an American lake compared to the endless varieties of fish, anemones and coral in the tropics.

This time, from the Batangas Pier we paid passage on a fast moving giant bangka with its powerful diesel engine and parallel outriggers made of massive bamboo logs all apparently held together with oversized tie straps and heavy plastic cord. The outriggers, designed to keep the flat-bottomed craft upright in rough waters, were completely unnecessary, the channel between Batangas and Mindoro being so calm. The smooth still water was a treat after the continuous white caps we endured during our April and May trips. In fact, the crew did not even have to draw the curtains around the passenger compartment, something they normally have to do to keep the bow spray from soaking all within the boat. I enjoyed having a view outside while underway for once.

At exactly fifty-five minutes from the moment we pushed away from the pier we beached on the increasingly smelly sands of Sabang. I mentioned this in passing in an earlier post but the horrible stench of sewage is now quite noticeable wafting from the waters and beach of that picturesque town. Admittedly, I have an extremely sensitive sense of smell but this time it was during a high tide time when the odor should have been less noticeable. It’s unfortunate, but if they don’t get a handle on the pollution obviously pouring into the cove from the slowly expanding town, discerning tourists will not continue to come. Hint. Hint.

Having sent the hotel manager a text that we were enroute and less than an hour away the hotel jeepney was already waiting for us on the half constructed pier only twenty yards away up the beach. Fifteen minutes later found us already checked into our rooms and relaxing on the hotel’s gigantic restaurant veranda. Having left the house at 4 am we were ready for a real breakfast since it was still barely 8:30. We ordered a hearty American breakfast (in other words lots of cholesterol) and went down to our beach side room to change into our relaxing resort clothes while our food was prepared.

For most of a week I bounced between being super laid-back on the one hand and adrenaline loaded on the other—a most interesting way to be. I’ve found that passing through the two extremes within a relatively short time make both states all the more enjoyable. Perhaps after I’ve had more dives under my belt I won’t feel so deliciously on edge as each dive approaches, but based on the similar condition of my more experienced dive partner I doubt that it will ever become a blasé experience.

Once again I had my new Canon G11 with underwater package and was fortunate to take some incredible shots, both still and video. I’ll be posting about it over the next few days, probably longer. Till then. . .