Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Saturday May 17, 2003: sea turtles and karaoke

manong manong pawikan
tahanan ay pasan-pasan
wala ba kayong mapaglagyan
sa lupang kinagisnan
sa hampas ng alon
sa agos ng daang-taon

manong manong pawikan
home upon your shoulders
have you no place
in the land of your birth
in the slap of waves
in the flow of centuries

-"Manong Pawikan" by Joey Ayala.
Album: Magkabilaan (1991 universal records)

My last full day on the island starts early. We take two dives today. The clouds finally gave birth to rain showers last night overlooked by the pregnant moon. This morning too it rains. I write in my journal trying to catch up on the week's events. I'm a bit sad too. No more kali and half way through the trip. I wonder if we'll be able to go out in this weather.

Yesterday was to 12 meters, today is to 18 meters (60 ft!) We're going to Old Volcano, near the sunken cemetery. Diggy says it's great weather to go diving, "you're getting wet anyway." What's the difference? It's a bit rough for the pump boat though. They cast the anchor and we wait for the boat to turn with the wind. I learned this is sailing. The boat naturally turns to a point where it can no longer be pushed by the wind.

The waves break against the boulders at the base of a sheer cliff. The waves are fairly rough 3-4 ft swells feel quite large on the tiny bangka. It's difficult to stay focused putting on your gear while the boat is bouncing. Once we're underneath the water, the currents calm as if there isn't a storm at all. The clouds in the sky mean that our visibility is cut short a bit, but it means we just look at the smaller things.

This place is filled with "Nubie branches" or sea slugs. They are extremely brightly colored with these antannae looking protrusions. It must be mating season we find about 6-7 pairs of them. There are large schools of fish just as before. The coral here sits in tall towers like pillars, each with whole societies, like gigantic aquatic apartment buildings.

The air in the tank is extremely dry and I make sure to cough in the mouthpiece. this buoyancy thing is still tricky. Just when I think I've got it balanced, I'm shooting to the surface and Barbie and Diggy shrink and fade beneath me. When I was in the shallow water a few days ago the weight belt was too heavy, now it seems as though it's not enough. I have to keep watching the direction of floating bubbles to orient myself.

Diggy signals me to join him and points. There in just around a column in the murky distance a few meters, is a sea turtle swimming away, two bright yellow long sucker fish attached to his shell. In two or three strokes of his fins, he is gone, faded into the ocean. wow. wow! WOW! I had heard much about the plight of the sea turtle, how their shells and meat, make them sought after delicacies. It was like watching a great eagle fly within feet above you, or a whale breech close by. There is something ancient and wise, a knowledge that stretches beyond lifetimes. That's the feeling...of majesty.

"Manong, manong pawikan...." lyrics from Joey Ayala's song of the same name, repeats in my head for the rest of the dive.

I check my air and am getting low on air. No time to do the skills, we will do it on the next dive. We surface to the choppy waves. We remove the tank and buoyancy vest while in the water. Still, it's tricky pulling oneself salt water soaked out of the water. Takes some coordination, kicking with the fins, timing the waves, pushing your arms down. I feel like a beached whale, struggling out of her element.

The waves are still choppy, strong breeze and light rainfall. We head back to the cove. Since we have the whole day, we can rest, have lunch then do the second dive. There are calculations to how long we need to rest in between dives to allow for the excess nitrogen that accumulates to dissipate. On the way back we pass Barbie and Diggy's beach cottage and pick up two of their kids and their yaya/babysitter.

Back at Secret Cove, the kids watch the other kids play in the waves. The older sister comes back to where we are. Barbie asks her, "where is your brother?" She replies, "I don't know." Barbie replies, "what do you mean 'I don't know'? I told you, don't answer with 'I don't know.' " I can tell her daughter is tired of knowing where her brother is and watching over him, but that is the role of ate/older sister. You take care of the younger ones. They find her brother just sitting on the rail. Later Diggy takes both of them in the waves.

It's time to take off to our next dive, the sunken sailboat, just off the coast of secret cove. They had found this sailboat moored at one of the docks, its hull full of holes, its owner having left it to rot. So they transported it here and sunk it completely about 5 months ago.

There are some small coral mounds here, not as many as in Old Volcano. Inside the hull of the sailboat a few large fish take up shelter from the current. It's already starting to take up bits of algae and seaweed. In a few years, there will be a nice new community here. In one of the coral mounds near the boat a moray eel pokes its head out. It's head is HUGE! I can only guess at how long the body behind it is. An old fella. Fortunately moray eels like to keep to themselves, probably just wondering about the commotion we're stirring.

There's one more skill for me to do, the ermergency controlled ascent. When you've run out of air, your buddy is not around, and you're within a breath of the surface. Usually you want to try to ascend slowly as your body adjusts to the decompression, but if you have no air, you have no air. I take a breath and head to the surface long the anchor rope. I still have the gear in my mouth in case I need to take another breath. I have to exhale slowly as I go up. First try, I fall short of the surface. It's not until the third try that I manage to do it. Whew! I was getting nervous. Like most things, I hope that I never have to do that, but that if I have to, I can.

We get back, put all the equipment away. Time for me to take the test. Diggy tells me Americans do very well on the test, since it is written by Americans. I realize that I've been trained in a certain testing language, so when I don't really understand the question, I can guess fairly accurately at the answers. The test is more difficult for English second language speakers. Not that they don't know the information, they just have trouble understanding what's being asked. I miss 3 questions, which we review to make sure I understand them. Then Diggy signs and issues me an Open Water Diver card. Wow! This is SO COOL! It means I can go to dive shops and rent equipment and go diving in other parts of the Philippines or the world for that matter.

Lolong takes me to Santo Nino Cold Spring, all the way on the other side of the island. Santo Nino is pretty far so we stop for gas. It's too much trouble to go back to town to the gas stations there, so we stop instead at a store that has a Shellane seller sign at the door. He asks for 4 liters and the teenage boy brings out a few coca-cola bottles filled with a bright red liquid. He opens the bottles and pours them into the motor's gas tank. Inside the store are shelves full of the bright red bottles. In my protected American thinking, I think to myself, "that can't be safe." Then again, no one here is going to goof off around gasoline. While in the U.S., we have extensive regulation and laws to protect the "idiots," here they simply let the "idiots" Darwin themselves right out of the loop.

A friend of mine told me once that a guy tried to sue Manila for having fallen on uneven sidewalk. The judge threw it out saying, "why? didn't you watch your step?"

Santo Nino is the developed cold spring complete with rentable cottages, food stands, etc. Unlike Macau and Saai which are more or less simple structured pools with no added amenities. On the way it rains. I'm wearing shorts, the raindrops sting my knees. We go by the latest area that is having fiesta and slow down by the basketball court with the tournament. At this point I don't mind going anywhere, the ride around the island is enjoyable.

15 pesos to get into Santo Nino. It's a fairly large pool, again with the small fresh water fish nibbling near shore. You can rent inner tubes to float away the day in. It is cold but not freezing. Not like the Pacific Ocean near San Francisco in summer that numbs your toes. But for here, it's cold. There are lanzones trees around the area. Unlike other crops that are usually owned and monopolized by agri-business (like Dole pineapples), lanzones is not. Just about everyone has a lanzones tree and sell it on their own.

We stay for maybe 40 minutes. I feel like I've been soaked all day and thought it best to get back to the resort before I get sick. Tonight, Lolong, Loloy, and Peter want to take me out to karaoke. A neighbor down the street has a new machine. We actually haven't seen Peter in 2 days. He's been up the hill hanging out with folks enjoying the fiesta activities.

Tiger has also dropped by Tarzan's Nest just to see what folks are up to. As we're getting ready the light rains turn into a heavy downpour forcing us to wait just a bit longer. Loy goes around the building closing the windows then returns to play some chords on the guitar. He's always wanted to try writing a song. Heavy downpour doesn't last for long. We take a pair of motorbikes (Lolong's and Tiger's) down the hill. It's not far.

Lolong had asked me what music I like to sing. I told him I liked Rivermaya and in particular, "Himala." So for the past 2 hours we've been trying to remember how the song goes beyond the most memorable line, "Himala, kasalanan ba?" We hope the karaoke place has it in their collection.

We're the only ones there. They're just reassembling the chairs and drying them after being pummelled by the rain. It's basically someone's concrete driveway with the videoke machine sitting under a tin shed, the microphone looping over a rafter and crossing over the wet ground. It's a miracle no one gets electricuted. We drop in a 5 piso coin, punch in the number of the song, then wait our turn. Like most other systems, it shows the same repeating pictures then gives you a score.

I used to be shy about singing karaoke because I don't sing well, which is the case in some American karaoke bars where bad singers get heckled. I figure after a few drinks, most people won't remember how you were singing anyway. Lolong serves up drinks, tanduay rum with a touch of lime flavoring over ice.

We sing for about an hour, except for Tiger who claims that to get him to sing you have to get him extremely wasted. Then as I'm singing, brownout. Brownouts are such a regular occurence that people just sit where they are and wait. Like a said before to be in the Philippines is to have the patience to wait anything out: rainstorms, brownouts, which lends to a certain amount of resiliency in Filipinos.

After about 10 minutes, the power kicks in again. Peter can really sing, damn! But it's Loy who scores the big 97 that evening. I'm never sure how those things grade. I've watched my drunk uncle get a higher score than my musically trained brother. Go figure!

Brownout hits again and again while I'm singing. Hmmm..not a good sign. This one lasts a bit longer. We decided to go into town. Tiger says there's a karaoke place there as well as a dance club. It's not too busy at the club, but the music is good, so we stay, drink some beer and dance a bit.

Peter has this wonderous notion that I should stay an extra day to hang out some more. I have plans to make the 9am ferry to meet Jun Pilapil and head to Surigao. As much as I love Camiguin, I don't think I can delay the rest of my trip. That's the problem when I travel without real plans, all of a sudden there are so many plans to choose from. Should I stay in Camiguin or go to Surigao or maybe even head to Davao and make my way to Bukidnon. I must be getting tired and/or the alcohol is now making me ornery, because Peter's attempts at negotiation are getting on my nerves. It's around 2 am. One last final brownout sends us home.

Still no power and I take the flashlight to make my way to bed.

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