Posted in Breaks and Jaunts, Philippines

Bonding with Sea Turtles in Apo Island

Part of my previous job as an internal auditor was to go on fieldworks to different business unit sites across the country. While this means always being on-the-go and not being able to fully plan your year, the trips across different cities and provinces can be something to look forward to if you’re the adventurous type. I was not that type.

In early July of 2017, I was assigned on fieldwork in Dumaguete with Joan, Clare, and Claud. Those three girls are always looking for adventure and bucket list items to cross out when there are out-of-town trips. Joan, particularly, is quite the explorer and is very persuasive when it comes to making me join her little escapades. That time, they were set on taking the Apo Island tour which included snorkeling activities.

Apo Island is a volcanic island belonging to the municipality of Dauin, Negros Oriental. According to the instructors, the island is a protected marine sanctuary and is home to over six hundred fifty species of fish and over four hundred species of corals. It is also a great place to see sea turtles up close.

The girls were able to contact Harold’s Dive Center that offered a snorkeling package for only Php1,200/Pax that is inclusive of park fees, diving gears and equipment, transportation and boat transfers, licensed instructors, and lunch. We paid an additional Php500 to rent an underwater camera but the memory card had to come from us. It was a good thing that we brought power banks with us because we had to recharge the camera twice.

For the amount we paid, it was quite a steal already! I even heard from a friend who was also in Dumaguete that they paid thrice more than we did when they tried to plan their APO trip in a DIY fashion.

Being the paranoid member of the squad, I made sure to make everyone pack what I thought were essentials. Maybe it was a stroke of luck that I brought with me another duffel bag, intended for pasalubong like silvanas to bring home. The girls and I filled it with wipes, sunscreen, alcohol, power banks, first-aid kit, re-sealable zipper storage bags for wet clothes, water and snacks (in case the lunch included in the package was not to our liking). We started calling the bag the “Mommy Bag.”

IMG_0364.JPGOn the day of the tour, we went to Harold’s Diving Center to sign up and pay for the tour (but make sure to reserve a slot the day before). We were given our gears and the camera we rented. They provided the transportation that will take us to Malatapay, which was thirty minutes away from Dumaguete, where the boat was waiting for us. I recommend wearing your rash guards and swimming shorts already because the water where the boat is docked is quite high (reaches your hip especially if you’re not a tall person). It will save you from having to change in the small comfort room of the boat and wetting clothes you were hoping to wear on the trip back. This trip is just not meant for OOTD pictorials.

I also recommend bringing your own snorkeling gear because even if they are included in the package you paid for, you might feel more comfortable using one that you own and has not been used by a lot of people. I think I used a lot of alcohol and wipes initially and washed the ones given to me thrice before I could muster the courage to use them. The goggles, however, were perfect.

As someone who wears glasses, I had to use my RGP contact lenses that day. Those lenses, as fancy as they sound, always let me down when I wore them. But not this time. The instructor (forgive me for not remembering his name because I am terrible with names) assigned to me and the three girls was coaxing me to dip my head already in the water. I remember him telling me to trust him and that it was beautiful. DCIM268MEDIATaking a deep breath and praying that my eye doctor will not kill me for snorkeling with contact lenses on, I submerged my head in the water and opened my eyes. Wow! I did not regret it at all.

There were three snorkeling spots during the entire trip. Because I do not know how to swim, I initially struggled to be in the water during the first snorkeling stop. I also did not know how to breathe properly using the gear so I couldn’t keep my head underwater very long. I made it a point to hold on to the life ring that the instructor gave us (it was tied around his waist). He was very nice and patient with me, telling me to trust him, my life vest and the life ring. I realized that the more I worried, the more I struggled to be in the water. When I finally relaxed and figure out how to use the snorkeling gear properly so I could breathe underwater, I started to enjoy the trip more. I relied less on the life ring though I made it a point to have it close by so I can grab on to it when I must.

IMG_0055Joan, however, was having the time of her life! For someone who claims to not know how to swim, she was venturing out on her own and chasing after the sea turtles!

Beautiful was not enough to describe the underwater scene! It was very deep, in my opinion, but not too deep that the corals would seem too far and too small to appreciate. Fortunately, it was deep enough to keep a sea snake way below us!

There were fishes that looked like Nemo and Dory around! It was also my first time to see a blue starfish. I always thought they were just orange. The fishes do not shy away when they see people. Some will even swim past you!

IMG_0067.JPGI think we saw around three or four sea turtles. My golly, they were huge!

Slow as they may appear on land, they move a lot underwater so it was hard to take a picture of them or near them. Because they are not afraid to swim very close to people (one even accidentally hit my butt with his flipper!), one must make sure to be careful when kicking around in the water because you might hit them with the flippers you’ll be made to put on your feet.

I am not sure how these creatures act when they are crossed and I was not willing to find that out.

We tried several times to have a good photo taken with these lovely creatures but we either only get their heads or their hind areas. Since the camera we rented did not have a screen where you can see where you’re focusing, we ended up with some funny pictures to have a good laugh about! It will really be awesome if you brought your own underwater camera that you’re familiar with so you can take even more beautiful shots.

For the final snorkeling spot, we were told that we were going to meet the boat at another stop and we will have to swim all the way there. By this time, it was mid-afternoon already and the waves were quite strong already. I found that it was easier to stay underwater that to keep popping your head above the water because all you’ll end up experiencing are the waves hitting your face. Mind you, it will be a long swim for this final stop so make sure you reserved a lot of energy the day before.

For this stop, make sure to stay close to your instructor if you’re not a good swimmer. Also, try to stay away from the gigantic rocks and caves because the waves might send you crashing towards them. Be mindful of small boats floating around because they might hit your head like what almost happened to me. It was lucky I got to swim away quickly because it was a close call!

I am very glad that Joan persuaded me to join them on this trip. I greatly enjoyed and appreciated the beauty that one finds only when going into the sea. I was going through a rough time during this period but for a moment there in Apo Island, I felt a little freedom. I really need to get swimming lessons soon.

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