For a northerner like myself, it’s hard to find the Christmas feeling in a tropical climate like the one here in the Philippines. They put up loads of lights, play Christmas songs everywhere, we had a plastic pine tree on the lawn at Barefoot resort, and I went diving with three Germans wearing Santa hats (one of them was even named Klaus!). Still, it’s not quite the same without the heaps of snow, the constant darkness and cold, the never-ending cold sniffles and frozen feet. Boy, do I miss it.
No, jokes aside I definitively prefer the tropical version of the holiday. It’s not bad spending Christmas eve submerged in 28 degree water. Or to be able to ride my bike to town in shorts and flip-flops at a time of the year I would otherwise be loosing my footing on a snow-covered Stockholm street, cursing the tube for once again not being able to handle the Swedish climate.
I did get to drink some mulled wine though, and danced to Bee Gee’s Staying Alive at the Quo Vadis staff Christmas party (it was a big hit!), so all in all it’s been a great Christmas.
Air contains 21% oxygen and 79% nitrogen, and as every diver knows it’s the build-up of nitrogen from that air that usually limits our time under water. Today I did the second dive in my NITROX course, and breathed enriched air with 32% oxygen. The difference is really noticeable after you come up from the dive – you feel a lot less tired, refreshed almost. What a difference a few percentages of oxygen can do!
As a Divemaster you make several dives every day, and it’s good to know how to dive with NITROX since the nitrogen build-up is so much lower than with regular air. Coincidentally, Quo Vadis also just installed a new NITROX blending apparatus today, so I will definitely be testing out new air blends in the future.
After a few days incapacitated in bed with the flu (fever and headaches, and some feverish dreams about different NITROX mixes, had been studying it just before the fever hit) I was finally back in the water yesterday. Didn’t see too since it much since it has been raining the last few days and the viz wasn’t too good, but it felt good to be back in the water.
Today Johannes from Germany also started the Divemaster course, and together we assisted our instructor Albert with two Open Water students on their first and second open water dive.
I just started reading a book about a sunken treasure onboard a shot down airplane, and today I got to visit an actual sunken plane at Umbrella Point. At about 20 meters there’s a wreck of a small plane that was put there a few years ago to create an artificial reef. You come down a slope and find it sitting on the edge of the drop-off, and even though you know it has been put there intentionally, it’s still a bit airy when you spot it looming in the distance.
We didn’t find any treasures today, but we did see a Juvenile Sweetlips, Pygmy Sea Horse and lots of sea turtles. One had even taken a liking to the plane and was resting on the sand just below the nose.
One of the most graceful and peaceful of all underwater creatures must be the sea turtle, and it’s quite easy to spot some on the reef here. They always look so ancient and so at peace with life when they lie on the reef churning corals with their strong jaws, or float through the water with the slow, steady strokes of their flippers.
I was swimming along the reef wall at Tongo today when my buddy Jack waved at me to come back and look at something. I had just passed a big crevasse in the reef and as I came back to see what Jack was pointing at, a big one, probably more than a meter in length, swum past almost close enough for me to reach out and touch it. I followed it with my eyes as it headed out towards the dark blue and when I turned around another one came after, giving Jack a slight bump on the head as it passed. Amazing creatures.
When I lived in Thailand for a few months we had to do what they called a Visa Run, get out of the country (if only for a couple of hours) and come back again to get a new stamp in the passport and allowance to stay another 30 days.
In the Philippines, Visa Wait and Queue would be a more apt name. I went to the local immigration office in the city yesterday to sort out an extension (here’s a tip; no flip-flops or shorts are allowed, so wear trousers and shoes), and waited in three separate lines before getting that stamp. I also paid 3,030 pesos, must be very expensive ink (although it did come with a paper proving that I’m not a terrorist). It wasn’t too bad though, it only took about two hours, so could have been a lot worse.
Being in the city I also took the opportunity to buy some new gear; wet suit, fins and a Suunto Zoop dive computer. So now I have a complete diving kit, and finishing my rescue course tomorrow. Dive Master here I come.
The windows have been boarded up and old cement bags filled with coral sand have been placed along the low wall that would otherwise have been the only barrier between the resort and the raging sea.
All day we prepared Barefoot White Beach Resort where I’m staying for the arrival of Super Typhoon Bopha (or Pablo, the local name in the Philippines). With winds of up to 260km/h any loose items (chairs, tables, flower pots, even motorbikes) need to be brought in or secured to not be swept away.
Moving into Mindanao from the south-east, Pablo was a category five typhoon and after reading up on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale on Wikipedia last night I was even more convinced that it was a good idea to take some precautionary measures (Category 5: “Catastrophic damage will occur”, very direct and to the point).
So now that the typhoon has been downgraded to a category two, I’m almost a little bit disappointed that we didn’t get to see if the hard work paid off. It’s moving close to Moalboal at around midnight, so we’ll see what happens. Typhoons are eccentric phenomena, so I’m still keeping a close eye on the barometer (and the weather reports online).
I don’t know if it was the nitrogen narcosis or the sudden absence of fish eating corals that created a feeling of tranquility as I descended below 30 meters into the Cathedral at Pescador Island. Or maybe it’s because in many ways, diving is very much a sort of meditation. Communication is limited to simple hand signs and you focus on your breathing as you float through a world completely different from the one above the surface.
This was my deepest dive so far, and we also saw some interesting marine life coming back up to about 20 meters. One very rare creature, an Electric Flame Scallop that emits electrical impulses to ward off predators. The underwater world truly is amazing.
This dive concluded the Advanced Open Water Course, and I have gotten started on the Rescue Diver course.
So the blog is back up again after some technical difficulties following a server migration. My course has kept going though, and I’m gaining more and more experience.
Borrowed an underwater camera now, so will put up some images as well. I can really understand why people get into underwater photography and spend heaps of money on equipment. When you’re diving you can’t talk or discuss what you’re seeing, and you can’t take anything with you. So it’s a lot of fun sharing pictures from the underwater world you’ve just experienced.