Philippines is Water: 1st time Snorkeling

8 Jun
First time snorkeling -beautiful

First time snorkeling -beautiful

In my head the Philippines will always be associated with water. El Nido and the surrounding limestone rock islands dotting the sea invited for a day of island hopping – taking a boat out on the water, exploring the secret beaches and going for my first time snorkeling. That was superb, till we got stuck in a rainstorm.

Whether it is the sea, boats, beaches, rain, snorkeling, puddles on the road, rice fields on the mountains, lagoons amidst limestone rocks, swimming in the pool, or simply sweating and drinking,… there’s water everywhere.

Teaming up with the lads

Teaming up with the lads

Going to laid back Palawan was a bit like Muang Ngoi (Laos) in a way. The ‘back to basics’ (rudimentary and crashing transportation, limited electricity, nothing to explore but nature) seems to bring travelers together. I had met 2 funny philosophical American teachers on the Underground River trip (= water ;-), and in the Puerto Princesa dorm my adopted family grew exponentially. No sooner had I arrived in a funky alternative guesthouse in El Nido (appropriately called The Alternative) and strange strangers came up to me with their plans for the next day – and if I’d wanna join. Great ;-). 

Renting a little bangka motor boat
Renting a little bangka motor boat

 So I teamed up with a 21 year old ginger-beardy English-Welsh bloke (full of testosterone, playing rugby, loving his pint), a fun-loving smooth Dutch eco-researcher who was taking a break from starting up some environmental project in Puerto Princesa, and – in the last minute – a 3rd generation Spanish immigrant from in Geneva (but the Swiss still made him feel Spanish, not swiss) tagged along, even though he only spoke Spanish and French. They were all world travelers for X number of months or years, so I started doubting if anyone still works these days…

Setting off for island hopping

Setting off for island hopping

What’s there to do in a country composed of 7107 islands? Well – go Island hopping of course  (= sailing the waters ;-). We went to rent a boat (cum fisherman and boatboy) at the port – as opposed to going on one of the package tours offered about everywhere for double the price. When we set off for a tour of island hopping between the impressive Halong-Bay-style limestone rocks, it was lovely weather, but that was soon about to change.

I never snorkeled before

I never snorkeled before

Our first stop would be the small lagoon  (= water ;-) impressively surrounded by majestic limestone rocks… to go SNORKELING!  Never done that before so I had the ‘lads’ giving me a crash course in seeing and being underWATER:

  • Spit in your snorkel mask and spread your saliva over the glasses/windows (it’s supposed to keep them from going foggy – or maybe they just pulled a joke on me)
  • Squeeze your head in the tight elastic strap (without loosing too much hair in the process) and push the mask airtight over your eyes AND NOSE (they must have different sizes in masks – and I had a Filipino size mask for sure!)

    Snorkeling in the hidden lagoon

    Snorkeling in the hidden lagoon

  • Rince the mouth piece of the airtube with some sea-water unless you know who’s been using it before you (and what with all the fish & co that pee in the water??)
  • Bite onto the mouth piece and breath through your mouth – NOT NOSE (this was the hardest part for me – so every time I forgot and exhaled through my nose water would get into my mask – shit).
  • When water would get into the tube (or when you dive underwater) you just need to strongly blow some air through the tube and the water will squirt out.
  • The trick however is to make sure you have inhaled before water gets into the tube… (otherwise it’s difficult to exhale as I had to learn the hard way – so I drank lots of sea WATER)
Wonderful underwater world

Wonderful underwater world

And then you’re ready to go, to poke your face through the WATER surface and have a look at the humongous real-life aquarium below (not forgetting to breath through your mouth, not nose, damn it). I never knew that there were soo many things luring underneath. Fish in about all the colours possible, rocks and stones in all forms and shapes (I guess they’re called coral – I never knew what coral actually referred to) and extraterrestrial plants waving in the tide. You can also dive down to greater depths (for the diver wannabees) but you need to know that water will fill your tube – which you can easily get rid of if you blow out strongly – if you have air left in your lungs (so carefull breathing planning is required).

After an hour of watching the future ‘fish-market inhabitants’ and all those corals pictured on the forbidden products at custom’s, we sailed on with our Bangka motorboat. We passed ‘Hidden Beach’, ‘Secret Beach’, ‘Treasure island’  (surrounded by water ;-) and some other funky names that they had invented for the tourists.

Heading straight for the thunderstorm

Heading straight for the thunderstorm

We also went straight for a cloudy area (or did the clouds chase us?) and it started pouring down. And even though it’s 30 degrees Celcius outside, the rain (= water ;-) is still cold. One way to escape the rain is to jump into the sea WATER which is warmer than the rain WATER – so we went off for another snorkel session (was getting quite good at it). But there’s only as much snorkeling one can handle in a day (my hands and feet were shriveling from being in the water so long, like after a long reading session in the bathtub). So we went sheltering under the rocks, till we also got bored of that and decided to sod it and risk the 1 hour boat trip back ‘home’ through the rainy season rain  (= loooots of water ;-). The life vests that were till then only used as decoration for the boat came in very handy to keep us somehow warm (even though we were 2 lifejackets short!), as well as all the T-shirts, towels, plastic bags and banana peels that we were carrying…

Sheltering under a rock (which did not seem to be waterproof)

Sheltering under a rock (which did not seem to be waterproof)

Thank Mary that we arrived safely, getting only a moderate cold instead of a pneumonia. I would have done a murder for a hot shower, but there was nobody to kill as everybody was sheltering inside. So I had to make do with a cold shower (= water ;-) in my beach bungalow, which actually felt pretty warm, compared with the undercooling we had gone through. And then I rolled up in my sheet (no blankets here) to get warm and dozed off listening to the rain & waves concerto outside  (= water ;-).

  • So Philippines is Water – I told you…
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