Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Lagoon

Neither of us are much on early rising, and our first morning waking up at the Bayview Inn was no exception. My girl is just as happy to stay in snooze mode right along with me, so she was in no hurry to get up to prepare my usual pre-dive breakfast of mixed chopped fruit. We didn’t eat until almost 10 am.

Don came around the room about then to talk about when we would load up and take off. “Any time you are,” is my usual answer, and was again. We agreed to go for an 11 am departure.

He expounded, “Anyway, the place we’re going to is only a couple miles down the coast from here. We’ll be there in no time.”

He opted to take the gravel road that runs directly west up the coast from the hotel. Perhaps someday, in the very distant future, that beautiful stretch of beach will be world renowned as an Asian tourist destination. For now, it’s mostly deserted, occupied almost exclusively with groups of people pulling huge nets—more on that later.

More than halfway up the beach on the right we came upon a large fenced in compound. A sign out front identified it as a government hatchery. I was excited to see it, mentioning to Don that when we get a chance we should stop in to see if they’ll give us a tour.

I declared, “And if they do, I’m going to ask what’s going on with that area we dove yesterday. Maybe they can explain why there’s no longer any life in those waters.” Don thought it a good idea and agreed verbally with a “Sounds like a plan.”

There was very little signage announcing the existence of The Claveria Lagoon. I’m sure all the locals know it’s there, but a passing tourist would never find it. The only reason Don did is that he usually travels the country on an off-road style motorcycle. He has a habit of checking out every dirt road and track he comes across.

Of course, if anyone spends any time at all in Claveria they WOULD learn of its lagoon. Obviously, along with the long beach, the lagoon is THE primary recreational area of the municipality. To get to it you drive between a couple of underused resorts, then through an overgrown dilapidated parking lot before arriving at the entrance gate. Attendants at the gate let us know which pavilions were available. It looked to me like none of them were. Every one of the dozen or so picnic shelters appeared to be full of people. It turned out though that most of those folks were none paying locals, just hanging out, squatting so to speak.

Don chose one of those closer to the entrance. As we pulled in next to it, the people inside began clearing out while the attendants began to sweep it out and pick up any refuse. The cost per day, from six to six they told us, is just 300 pesos, about $7. Not bad at all, but as we found out later, you can't pay for just an hour or two, at least we weren't allowed to. It's the whole shebang or nothing. There is running water available at each shelter, perfect for us to rinse our gear after each dive. And the restroom was close, but not TOO close, if you know what I mean.

We were probably some of the first white foreign visitors they’d had in there for a long time, certainly some of the first ones to show up with scuba diving gear. As we unloaded all our stuff while already wearing our wetsuits I began to get that "fish in a bowl" feeling.

Don handles that kind of thing much better than I do. He merrily says hi to everyone while I tend to shyly pretend that they aren’t there. Sometimes it’s difficult to do though. One drunken old guy, probably in his late 70s, stood right across the seat back from me as I prepped and donned my gear.

Personal space here is definitely NOT the same as for an American. He was no more than a couple feet away and leaning in. It’s hard for me not to get angry when that kind of thing happens, but I do my best to try to understand the cultural differences that leads people here sometimes to get right up in your grill when they are curious about you.

Still, it never fails to creep me out. Divine notices when it happens and because she knows it causes no little anxiety, she’ll try to either let the person know that it would be best to move on, or away, or she’ll just put her body in there, acting as a human buffer. I don’t know what I’d do without her.

Less than a half hour after our arrival the two of us were ready to gear up and get in the water.

First we searched out a way to get down to the water through all the beached outriggers and then we discussed where we should dive.

Watching the occasional comings and goings of the fishing boats we could tell there was a channel out to the open sea right between two of the largest exposed rock formations, which actually could be classified as small islands.

Don offered, “How about we get in the water and bear to the right. We can check out what’s here in the lagoon first and then head over to that little island to the right of the channel.” He pointed. “In other words, let’s just bear right the whole dive to make it simple. Even if we go outside the lagoon let’s just go to the right.”

It sounded fine to me. My only remark was to hope that we would actually find some kind of life out there this time. Don agreed with that wholeheartedly.

A great thing about diving out of those picnic pavilions is that I was able to rest my tank on a seat bench where I was then easily able to sit down in front of it so that my wife could help me by pulling my hands through the straps. Once all cinched up all I had to do was lean forward, take the weight, and stand up. Easy squeezy.

There were rocks and stones galore both on the bank and going into the shallow water off the so-called beach. I kept my head down, ever cautious as to every step and then realized I was surrounded by a small sea of little humanity, almost all of them children, and all excitedly seeing us off. Don loved it, bellowing out in return to their greetings, “Hello! Hi! Time to go diving now!”

By that time I was up to my knees in the tepid almost stagnant water and noticing that the footing was not getting any better. I kept my mouth shut and concentrated on getting safely into the deeper water, leaving all the public relations stuff to my colleague.

The tide was low and so the water stayed shallow for quite some distance. We were almost out to the center of the lagoon before it got deep enough to put on our fins. The water temperature continued to be ickily tepid, like a hot bath or a bowl of simmering soup.

We were WAY out past the middle of the lagoon center before finally putting on our masks. “Let’s snorkel it for awhile to save air,” I suggested. “Then, if we see anything good we can go ahead and start the dive. Otherwise, let’s just stay on snorkel until we get outside the lagoon entrance or wherever it looks like an interesting spot.”

And that’s what we did. Encouragingly, right there in the hot lagoon water we DID spot a few small fish and other marine life, including beds of sea weed, so THAT was a good thing. For the most part though, it wasn’t worth going to regulators yet. Soon however, we entered the deep part of the channel leading to the sea. It was then that we put in our regulators and began our dive.

Next, “Our first dive outside the lagoon, in "the canyons."”

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