Thursday, January 27, 2011

Diving Off the Deep End

I saw Elga's post and I got inggit. :(  So I decided to repost my own Bohol travelogue published in Expat Travel and Lifestyle Magazine. I stayed in Amorita Resort and it was gorgeous! I had a villa all to myself and it came with its own (teeny) infinity pool overlooking the sea. Good times. le sigh. Great times.

Diving Off the Deep End

A plunge into Bohol's pristine waters brings a reluctant, first-time diver face-to-face with the surly creatures of the deep, in a mesmerizing landscape unrivaled by anything that can be seen on land.

From a certain altitude, Bohol's famed Chocolate Hills, once a contender for a spot in The New Seven Wonders of the World, look like little green swells bespeckled with several shades of brown. They are exactly what their name implies – hills that take on a chocolate hue during the dry months. All 1,268 mounds of limestone are perfectly shaped and clustered together, a natural geological formation that occurs nowhere else on God's green earth.

I had to content myself with an aerial view of this Western Visayan province's most recognizable landmark because the focal point of the trip is not any land-based terrain.

Fish Out of Water

Oval-shaped Bohol and its 72 smaller islands are surrounded by beautiful coral reefs abundant with marine life,making it a popular choice for professional and neophyte divers – of which I was neither, nor did I ever desire to be. Regarding the beauty of the world beneath the sea, Jacques Yves-Cousteau, the father of scuba diving, uttered the famous line il faut aller voir or “we must go see for ourselves.” Msr. Cousteau, I really would have rather not.

To conquer our fear, we must find a way to confront it. Otherwise, it will find a way to confront us,like it or not. Participating in a diving expedition posed a little problem for me, what with my absolute fear and loathing of the open sea and the creatures that live in it. A competent swimmer, I've always been been comfortable in pools. The sea is another story. There are no undertows in pools, for one thing. And notwithstanding small children who don't know any better, no creature “does its business” in chlorinated waters.

When I was told that arrangements have been made for me to take introduction to diving I nearly balked. But the prospect of having to produce a thousand-odd words about the trip to Bohol sans the diving seemed more daunting than actually going underwater. There's only so much one could say about yet another white-sand beach; or the tarsier, the world's smallest primate native to the region; or the Chocolate Hills which were, in fact, green this time of year. I had to return to Manila with a story. It was not a time to be prissy.

Diving for Dummies

From Alona Beach, the group boarded boats that took us to Balicasag Island, where the real action was to take place. With my heart in my throat, I struggle laboriously into a wetsuit. I'd hope that donning the full regalia, with the suit, fins and mask, would transform my dread to happy anticipation. What it succeeded in doing, instead, was make me feel like an ungainly, over-stuffed penguin. At long last, and with the help of two people, I was zipped up and ready for the descent into Davy Jone's locker.

We bounded off the both in pairs into shallow waters to slowly make our way further into the open sea. As if in involuntary protest, I rose relentlessly back to the surface after numerous attempts to sink. Some additional pounds later, I was kicking and flipping my fins to the briny deep

The move from the surface to the depths is never simple, even for the pros. Contrary to my concerns, my ears and equipment cooperated fully. It was my courage that faltered during the mere 8-meter descent. I was petrified and teetering on a panic attack the whole time.

Just breathe. The instructions seemed simple enough to comprehend back in the boat and I was sure I had it all down pat. The most crucial detail somehow managed to slip my mind. Before I could struggle to the surface to let some air into my aching lungs, I suddenly remembered that's what the thing in my mouth, called a regulator, was for.

Enveloped by an eerie expanse of cobalt, I soaked it all up with wide-eyed wonder – until I caught sight of the drop where the blue gradually blended to black, suggesting a seemingly bottomless trench. Unknowingly, I had swum chillingly close to the edge. In that depth, no one will hear even the loudest screams, as I found out. I grabbed my dive buddy and, with a violent shake of my head, signaled for us to veer away from the drop as far as possible.

The Silent World

“How inappropriate to call this planet 'Earth', when it clearly is 'Ocean'...” said the novelist Arthur C. Clarke. Indeed, it was silly of me to be so astounded by the wealth of life that thrived underwater when it covers three-quarters of the globe. This was the “silent world” that Cousteau raved about that I was seeing for myself, a silent sanctuary where all I could hear were my own breathing and the thunderous pounding of my heart.

Past the cascade of bubbles that floated up my face, I watch arresting and brightly hued corals, bigger and infinitely more beautiful than anything I'd seen during the few times that I've snorkeled, and unfamiliar sea creatures, exquisite in their oddity. Schools of fish in varied shapes, sizes and trimmings warily swam away as I, an interloper from the surface world, lurched to get near them. Incorrigibly nosy now that I had gotten over my initial fright, I got wallowed towards a triggerfish, delighted that it didn't seem to scare away easily. Nevertheless, the sea is a forbidding place, inhabited by hostile creatures. The pretty little triggerfish tried to take a bite off my finger as I reached out to touch it.

Not to far away was a school of Clownfish, the kind immortalized in Disney's Finding Nemo. I not only found Nemo, I touched him as well. He, too, tried to take a bite of my finger. They didn't show that in the movie!
Huge electric blue starfishes covered the ocean floor. They looked harmless enough so I plucked one out gently to get a better look. I put it back where I found it soon after. No starfishes were harmed during my deep sea adventure.

The best thing about the dive sites in Bohol is that one doesn't need to go too deep into the sea to glimpse its wonders. This also allows for more than enough bottom time. If it wasn't for the curious absence of the voice-over narration of the marvels before my eyes I could've sworn I swam right into a National Geographic special. I was enchanted, and it went a long way to quell my fear of the deep blue sea.

I saw the bottom of our boat floating above even before we broke into the surface, dispelling my earlier fear of drifting to far and getting lost at sea. I can't claim to be a convert, but the next time I get forced to go diving I certainly wont put up a fight. The horror of the anticipation and the needless little anxieties are a small price to pay for the private thrill of being where few people are privy to. And nothing is as good as the untasted joys of what lie beyond one's personal uncharted realms.

Disclaimer: I did not take any of these photos. Someone else did. kthanx

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