Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Scuba trip to Mindoro, Nov 12 - 20 2010 part 2

Days before arriving at the resort we had already learned that the dive boat motor was no longer running. The same had been true when we had arrived on our last visit but that time Don had gotten it going in fairly short order. This time however, it was not to be. Someone in the staff let us know that over its time as the resort’s boat it had foundered twice during exceptionally foul weather, both times completely submerging the Mercury engine. Salt water and wiring are not compatible and the more Don delved into the wires, which mostly support the ignition system, the more he discovered pervasive corrosion and broken and loosened wires. He repaired as much as he could see, but some things just have to be replaced. According to the multimeter the electronic ignition module was the culprit; it had no output at all. We would have to do all our dives without it.

Even though some good things are certainly within scuba swimming distance of the resort’s waterfront, options become limited without a boat. The ideal situation is to be dropped off and picked up; otherwise, air is wasted getting to and from the dive, if the site can be reached at all.

With that in mind Don doggedly troubleshot the inoperative outboard for more than two days. Before finally declaring the outboard a lost cause we kept our dives close to home mostly going out to the buoy directly in front of the resort, exploring outward from there before having to return before our air ran too low.

During one of these early dives Don and I found ourselves at the buoy mooring point some 100 yards out and about 35 feet down. While he studied his compass I ventured a few feet away to check out a small fish. Suddenly I heard something that caused me to kick strongly away from where I hovered a few inches above the seafloor. It sounded urgently metallic, a high pitched continuous rattling sound. Where I had just been the chain holding the buoy in place overhead was now in a heap. That’s what I had heard, the chain links clinking together as they fell. It wasn’t a real heavy chain and the water slowed its fall enough to keep it from causing any real harm to me even if it had landed on me, so no real drama there. The question we had though, was why the chain had fallen in the first place?

Sure enough, upon our return we clearly saw that the buoy was now merrily bobbing its way toward the local barrio beach. Inspecting it upon retrieval we discovered that the old steel attachment ring although rusty and much reduced from corrosion had clearly been roughly broken through from where the chain had pulled through it. And actually, we even knew who had done it. A large bangka boat contracted by one of the Filipino guests of the new manager had been tied to the buoy while we were below. It seems they had forgotten to untie as they motored away.
The humorous thing though is that Don queried them about what happened, explaining how the broken chain had nearly brained us, over dramatizing the story for effect. They must have all “gotten their story straight,” because they all denied any knowledge of doing such a careless thing. Don and I figured they decided to deny it to avoid the responsibility of reattaching it.

They needn’t have worried. Don soon decided that we would repair the wayward buoy. With me as his sidekick I would help and basically be along for the ride, a very bumpy ride as it turned out.
Don was going to fix something by God, if not the boat then the buoy! And I would assist, sort of… That’ll be part 3.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Scuba trip to Mindoro, Nov 12 - 20 2010 part I

We just returned from a ten day scuba trip to the Puerto Galera area of Mindoro. Once again I went with my diving mentor and with him I’ve now 30 dives of various depths and types under my belt after completing 14 during this last trip. Hopefully, sometime in early December I’ll be heading out once again for another underwater expedition to the same locale.

We arrived at the Batangas Pier well before the expected noon departure of the RO-RO ferry to PG, but alas, apparently there is no longer any vehicle ferry service to that town’s pier. Instead, we were directed to the next RO-RO ferry heading to Mindoro’s principle city of Calapan. The problem with that is that Calapan is a significant distance from where we wanted to be, which was at a resort on the back side of Sabang just up the isthmus from Puerto Galera. The distance, only a little more than 31 miles, is not that far by first world standards but can take more than an hour and a half to drive, at least for sane drivers it does anyway. Of course, our man behind the wheel drives in a decidedly aggressive fashion and he covered the distance in decidedly much less time than that, probably in less than an hour.

The RO-RO (roll on, roll off) was a big one, always a good thing when the seas are on the angry side, which they mostly are these days. The bigger the boat the smaller the waves become.

After parking the car we found a nice bench facing the water on the top deck starboard side. Twenty minutes out we passed through a stretch of sea that was literally filled with floating garbage. “Oh my God, look at that mess down there,” I groaned. The floating mass of trash went on for hundreds of meters. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Sometimes it seems as if this country is drowning in its own effluence. If they aren’t dumping it willy-nilly they burn it; either way garbage disposal is a huge problem here, they just don’t seem to know it I guess. Even if Filipinos don’t notice it, or choose not to, foreign tourists sure do. In that light alone it’s a problem that needs fixing.

Just as I felt, once again, that this place has no hope of ever getting a handle on its many problems the expanse of bobbing debris thinned out and then ended completely. Slumped gloomily on the bench, my back against a bulkhead, I spotted something black and shiny jumping high out of the water. It was a black dolphin! I sprang to the rail and was treated to the sight of a whole pod of black dolphins joyfully jetting back and forth through the ferry’s wake. I’d last seen some of these delightful creatures back in ’03 on my very first trip to PG. Back then there had only been a couple of them, this time there were at least ten or more. To keep them in view I walked through the aisles of seats as far aft as I could get and stayed there until I could no longer see even a hint of their incredible seaborne antics. The scores of locals sitting around us glanced at the happily swimming creatures but took little notice. I was puzzled by their lack of interest. I remember once in Florida a single dolphin caused a huge stir of excitement from people in the area. I’ve lived here since ’02 and I don’t think I’ll ever understand these folks. The way they see the world is so different from how I do, something I find hugely unsettling.

The stretch of road between Calapan and PG is paved and in very good repair; it’s actually in much better shape than many roads here. What slows most drivers down on that scenic stretch called The Nautical Highway are the numerous villages along the way, especially on the Calapan side of the hills, and once those seaside hills are reached it’s the fact that the road becomes very winding with lots of blind curves that makes the average driver tap brakes. Divine and I managed to keep our hearts out of our throats by NOT looking out the front; instead, we concentrated on keeping our eyes locked on the passing scenery out the side windows, which very soon included breathtaking seascapes through a verdant screen of tropical palms and foliage.

Don found a stunning spot to pull over where we could enjoy the view of the sea and sky from our vantage high above the water. The girls noticed that the huge shade tree directly at the elbow of the curve was a tamarind tree draped with fruit. Soon they were collecting handfuls of the fuzzy brown pods for who knows what purpose. Just up the curve from whence we came I noticed a huge tree with an interesting set of horizontal branches; its main trunk evidently broken clean off in some past furious gale.

By the time we made it to the hotel it was late in the afternoon with only a couple hours of daylight left. In short order we settled into our favorite room, which is room number 1 directly under the massive restaurant veranda, right on the water, ideal for facilitating what we came there for, namely, the diving.

Before leaving home Divine had called the hotel learning that they no longer had a cook and that there was no more internet access of any kind. But, for just a few bucks we would have access to the kitchen and be able to keep supplies requiring refrigeration, such as meat, in their massive fridge. I love Divine’s cooking, preferring it over restaurant food; so what the heck, making our own meals would save us BIG. As for the internet, se la vie. I needed an excuse to wean me off Facebook games anyway. And you know what? It worked. I did it cold turkey thanks to this trip. What a relief.

There are two things about that hotel that makes me go there despite the handful of drawbacks. First the drawbacks: A primary problem for me is the poorly maintained waterfront; in fact, it appeared to me that it had been weeks since they had last policed it up. The slack water side of the breakwater pier, the area directly in front of our room, was mounded with a huge floating pile of stinking rotting trash. The beach on the breakwater side was even worse, old shoes, toothbrushes, plastic bags and used containers of all imaginable types were mixed in with a snag of sandy palm tree leaves, waterlogged branches and logs and, oh hell, you get the picture. It was an unsightly mess.

I couldn’t imagine how the people managing and working at the hotel could possibly think that it was okay to keep that nasty ugly mess untouched. The sight of it assaulted my sensibilities and just plain incensed me. I asked the lady who sort of manages the place if there was any plan to clean it up. I also asked why it wasn’t picked up since they knew we were coming. She only provided a lame excuse that they actually cleaned it every day but that a series of strong waves and storms continually washed up more every day. I countered with, “Yes maam, so that means it has to be cleaned up more often, doesn’t it? Do you really think any foreign tourist will be tempted to patronize this place with that stinking ugly mess on your beach and in your water?” As is the way here when confronted by an unpleasantness, such as myself, she wandered off as if my question was completely rhetorical.

I spent much of the next day picking up trash, probably four hours in all. I had to stop when my back predictably went into spasm and the sun made me feel weak in the legs. I filled several trash bags with plastic and other manmade items, such as toothbrushes, children’s toys, and wayward single shoes and flip-flops. Most of the smelly mess consisted of biological garbage, like sodden coconuts, driftwood and dank festering stuff originating from the sea itself.

I’d had enough. No one from the staff came out to help me until just before I was physically tapped out and once I was done he pretty much stopped as well. I told Divine to tell our friend, the maid, that we would be willing to pay extra to any of her family that might want to make a few extra pesos to daily and continually keep the water and beach clean. She said she had an unemployed brother-in-law along with a couple of his sons who would be glad to do it. “Make it happen,” I told Divine. The manager, having learned of this, informed us that she and the entire staff would be out early the next morning to clean up the flotsam and jetsam desecrating the hotel’s seafront. To Divine I responded, “Yeah, so they do it once; then what?” Sure enough, that’s what happened. It looked great for that one day, then over the next week it slowly and surely returned to being garbage strewn. Grrrr.

Another serious drawback is that it’s supposed to be a dive resort, yet it has no operational dive boat. Don, during our last trip in June had been able to coax their outboard engine back to a semblance of health, unfortunately his skillful efforts proved temporary. This time, even with him going over virtually every subsystem, wire and plug, spending most of two days and much of a third trying to breathe life back into the recalcitrant hunk of junk, Don threw in the towel, after wiping his greasy hands off with it. He determined that the two stroke with its gang of three cylinders required a new electronic ignition box, a component only available in far-off Manila. Oh well; on to the next, most important thing, the diving.

So, now that I’ve properly aired a few of my more salient grievances, I promised I’d discuss the two things that I DO like about the place that keeps us going back. It’s simple, as most really good things are—it’s the incredible natural beauty of the surroundings (as long as you don’t look into the water directly next to it), and it’s the nearby existence of truly outstanding places to dive, undersea spots jam-packed with jaw dropping natural splendor with an endless variety of sea life and underwater geography.

It’s late. I’ll write more about the trip in the next day or so. I’m feeling clever. I think I’ll call it “part two!”