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Scuba in the Philippines

(Editor’s note: Rick Stonebraker recently traveled to the Philippines and has shared his experiences with The Daily Herald. The first part of Stonebraker’s story ran in yesterday’s edition of The Daily Herald.)
Beach diving is strenuous; wearing all the gear, heavy scuba tanks and walking on sand. This is my first ocean dive and within seconds of submerging underwater, it was incredible! We dove along the edge of the coral reef until I got comfortable and then Sam led us into deeper waters. The coral was unlike anything I have ever imagined. I’ve seen plenty of photos, movies, and documentaries but it is just not the same as the real thing. The amazing colors of the fishes were all worth it. Looking at the surface is nice but underneath – it is a totally different world.
The first day diving and the previous travel day were tiring. There is a thunderstorm brewing outside my bungalow with lightning touching the water on the horizon, or so it seems. The thunder, the gentle rain and the waves crashing on the beach put me into a good much-needed sleep.
I was walking the beach at 5 a.m. as the local fishermen were already out in the water. The pool boy is setting out the chairs & tables and skimming the pool. Filipino girls in white uniforms are doing laundry chores and like services. A grounds-keeper finished sweeping the paths and is picking up anything that does not belong on the carpet grass.
The café was outside under a grass thatched roof overlooking the bay. Tea, English muffin, Swedish waffles and fruit. The papaya came from a plantation just down the road – how fresh is that?
We went boat diving the second day off a much smaller island several miles off shore called Apo island. We anchored and over the side we went. We brought along an underwater camera to capture some of the beauty.
We saw quite a few blue starfish. We finally saw a barracuda glide by; it was about three feet long. During our rest break, we beached the boat on the island. There are only about one hundred people who live on this small island.
Cesar and I climb a set of stairs and disappeared between a narrow crack in a huge rock and emerge at a private beach with white sand. The sign says, “In-house guests only.” Not sure what that meant but we saunter over to a hut built into the rocks and order lunch. While we waited, we turn our chairs to the lagoon and glance across a beautiful setting to the larger island in the distant. The only sound is the lapping of the water against the rocks. Could it get any more peaceful than this? Could I be anymore removed from civilization?
After our mandatory one hour surface rest, we reluctantly left this paradise beach and head back to the boat. We took a short ride around to the back side of the island and drop anchor. We saw a large sea turtle feeding. It swam away as we tried to keep pace; then it went too deep to follow safely.
The next day we packed and left this paradise. We were driven to the terminal and boarded a bus for a six hour trip to the northern city of Bacleod.
Once we got out of town, the rolling hills of the Philippines were wonderful. We drove by many expanses of rice paddies, sugar cane fields, fish farms, and coconut groves. Almost all the work is still done manually. The sugar cane is cut and stacked by hand. I saw many farmers using water buffalo to plow with and haul stuff.
We came upon an area covered with hundreds and hundreds of little “A” frame shelters for male birds – used in cock fights. It is a very popular sport in the Far East.
Many of the houses are made of woven matts for walls. The roofs are either grass, tin or blue plastic. Bamboo furniture is prevalent every-where and some are as large as 4” in diameter.
Bacolod is the area where Cesar and Rose will retire. Adolf, a friend of Cesar’s, came by and joined us for breakfast at the hotel. The buffet was complimentary; I had fresh watermelon, pineapple and mangoes, eggs, toast, cereal and fish. I believe rice is available at every meal. The chef did a great job so I “complimented” him.
Then we visited a rice farm owned by Adolf’s family. I got a first hand tour of how rice is cut, hulled, separated and polished. All the machinery was belt driven. I petted a water buffalo that was grazing alongside the road. Along the way, I took a photo of a water buffalo pulling a cart of sugar cane.
They converted a soft ball field into a very nice archery range. They make their own target matts out of the hulls from rice stalks. They tied long strings of this stuff about as thick as a liter coke bottle and then laced into a circular matt.
Adolf’s driver/body-guard drove us to a section of town where there was a makeshift archery range on a vacant lot. The shooting line was under a roof made of hand woven reed matt and bamboo. I told them this was my kind of archery range; put up a target anywhere and I am happy.
(Editor’s note: The final part of Stonebraker’s story will appear in tomorrow’s edition of The Daily Herald.)