Holy Week 2012: Apo Reef (Day 2) and Pandan Island

Didn’t get to have much sleep that night both because I retired to my tent rather late, and that I normally have trouble sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings.  I guess this was a good thing because oversleeping and waking up sweltering inside the tent under the blazing summer sun was not such a good prospect.  My shallow sleep enabled me to discern when daylight was nearing.  And when I finally opened my tent, this is the view that greeted me:

And here’s what our campsite looked like:

That’s me in the leftmost tent. (Photo courtesy of Vernz Fabroa)

From that point onwards, it was a mad rush to clean up, re-pack all my stuff and break camp.  The area where most of our tents are located will be baking under the sun before long, so we had to pack away everything and remove ourselves to the shade where we will have breakfast.

For that morning, the schedule consisted of a boat ride that would tour the surrounding reefs that make the island famous.  Since we would be wearing our snorkeling gear for that, I had to switch from glasses to contact lenses.  This was easier said than done.  To make a short story long, here’s how I did it:

As any contact lens user would agree, one needs clean hands to do this, and the best way to clean one’s hands is with soap and water.  But clean freshwater was in short supply,  and I didn’t want to risk cleaning my hands with the saltwater from the deepwell as I didn’t know how it would react to the contact lenses.  I did however have a lot of rubbing alcohol and wet tissue.  So I first cleaned scrubbed my hands with wet tissue, then liberally doused it with rubbing alcohol.  After that, I rinsed my hands with the contents of a small glass of drinking water.  With hands clean and sterile enough, I was then able to wear my contact lenses on the first try, without irritation at all.  Success.

THE TOUR WAS A DRAG

Jeff, Jet and Karen (Photo courtesy of Erwin Claver)

After breakfast, we boarded the large pumpboat for the tour.  The way it works was that rather than staying in one area of the sea and snorkeling, the boat would be in a steady state of motion as it slowly cruised by the areas where the reefs were located.  For our part, we would be hanging on the ropes that were tied to the outriggers as we tried to view the reef underwater through our dive masks.  So, in a sense, we were being dragged through the water.

Guess who? (Photo courtesy of Erwin Claver)

Again, that was easier said than done.  The water that morning wasn’t as calm as the day before.  In fact, it wasn’t calm at all.  Waves pounded us constantly and every now and then, they got high enough for the water to get into our snorkels, thereby necessitating gasping for air directly and clearing up one’s snorkel.  (Now imagine doing that while you have one hand hanging on a nylon rope in a moving boat and being shaken this way and that by waves.)

(Photo courtesy of Erwin Claver)

In addition, we were all wearing life vests.  Now, life vests are a safety necessity – no arguments there – but for someone who knows how to swim and is comfortable in the water, it can be a cumbersome (not to mention annoying) task to maintain control of one’s body in the water while wearing a life vest.  They’re designed to do one thing only, which is to float.  They will make one’s body rise to the water’s surface on a standing position and keep it that way.  Simply put, one loses a great deal of freedom of movement when wearing a life vest.

Ed, Fred, Romwel and Aleli clearly struggling in the water. (Photo courtesy of Aleli Umagat)

Anyway, the reef.  Well, I wasn’t too impressed.  I had this idea that we would be able to get close to the corals and fishes, but it turned out the corals were around 20 feet from the surface of the water and the fish tended to stay away from our moving and noisy boat, so all we could do was to observe them from afar.  In addition, the aforementioned difficulties certainly distracted me from the experience.

After barely 10 minutes of doing my best to get along with the “fun”, I began to get dizzy so I gave up and went back in the boat with much difficulty.  I normally don’t get seasick but the turbulent state which I just extracted myself from certainly had an effect on me, and what I felt then was in many ways similar to that when I went parasailing in Boracay.  Unfortunately, unlike Boracay, Apo Reef had no Jonah’s fruit shake to soothe my churning insides, so I spent the better part of the next half-hour in the boat waiting for my seasickness to subside.

Back in the boat and seasick. Partially hidden in front is Vernz. (Photo courtesy of Erwin Claver)

The good news is that I didn’t get to swallow saltwater at all because the rubber sealant that I placed on my leaking snorkel fixed it perfectly, although it did take points off its sleek appearance due to the appearance of an ugly gray patch near the mouthpiece.

THE OTHER ISLAND

(Photo courtesy of Aleli Umagat)

It didn’t take long for everyone to tire of viewing the underwater scene and we were soon on our way back to the island to get our backpacks and leave.  We were hoping to once again encounter dolphins on the way back, but none showed up.  We did however catch sight of an enormous sea turtle at that exact moment that it surfaced for air.  It was hard to make an exact estimate as to its size, but its shell looked like it was as large as our dining table back at home.

Anyway, before going back to the mainland, our itinerary brought us to one last stopover in Pandan Island to have lunch and some free time for more leisurely snorkeling.  Being situated much nearer to the mainland than Apo Reef, Pandan Island boasts of a number of resorts, most of which are owned by foreigners married to locals…and whose customers were also mostly foreigners.  In fact, when we were there, it looked like foreigners outnumbered Filipinos.

Hanging out at a foreign-owned bar/restaurant. (Photo courtesy of Aleli Umagat)

It was around lunch time when we arrived, and rather than having lunch right away, some of us did some snorkeling in the waters near the island.  This was a much better place to view marine life since the sea floor is not as deep as the one in Apo Reef, and we didn’t have the discomfort of being dragged around (although there was a current that we had to constantly swim against just to stay in the same place.)

Boats “parked” at the Pandan Island beach (Photo courtesy of Erwin Claver)

Being confident enough of my own skills, I gamely dived in the water without a life vest and explored what I could.  I particularly wanted to see the two reputedly friendly sea turtles that were said to inhabit those waters.  It took a while but I did find both of them.  The first one I just caught a glimpse of before it swam away.  I tried to get the attention of my friends who were also looking for them, but when I looked again in the same place, it was gone.

I had more luck with the second turtle when I caught sight of it in not-so deep water with the help of a local who was swimming with me.  This time I got really close – close enough to touch the turtle’s shell as it surfaced for air.  It’s not that they were unfriendly, it’s just that they probably were too used to seeing people that they felt that they didn’t have to stop and pretend to be curious of us as we were of them.

In the case of this second turtle, it absolutely ignored my presence as it swam around and chomped sea grass.  Nevertheless, it was still an exciting experience.  Although I’ve seen a sea turtle before, it was in captivity.  It’s a lot different being able to encounter one in the wild.

LOST.  LUNCH.

(Photo courtesy of Erwin Claver)

When we finally tired ourselves out from snorkeling, it was then time to eat.  Due to some miscommunication, a number of us got separated from the main group that set up our lunch, and as a result, Jet, Allan, Tin and I ended up going back and forth the length of the beach just to look for the rest of the gang.  At some point Tin gave up and refused to do any more walking because she didn’t have any footwear on and some areas that we walked on were already rocky ground.  So she opted to stay near where our boat was, and Allan did the same.

Picture unrelated. Tin just looks funny here, hehe. (Photo courtesy of Madz Crisostomo)

Our search for our companions went on for a bit longer until finally Karen showed up and led us to the place where everybody was.  It turns out that they were located much further than the beach strip where we were walking back and forth.  They rented a cottage in a beachfront property owned by Filipinos.  However, this area wasn’t as nice-looking as the ones owned by foreigners.  We learned from the local owner that some underhanded tactics were being employed by various entities to force them to sell their property.  But they are not budging.

Waiting for lunch in the cottage. (Photo courtesy of Vernz Fabroa)

Lunch was served boodle-fight style.  It’s the messiest way to eat, but ironically, it affords the easiest way to clean up after.  You just roll up the banana leaf where all the leftovers are and throw it away.  Done.

After lunch, the owner invited us to explore the other side of the island for a bit of sightseeing.  I wasn’t in the mood to do some more exploring so i just stayed behind in the cottage with Yan and 2 other people (Dario and Aleli?  I can’t really remember…) to just hang out and do small talk while Yan was making some computations on our group expenses.

Rock formations on the other side of Pandan Island. (Photo courtesy of Aleli Umagat)

Des and Romwel possibly making a videoke feature. (Photo courtesy of Aleli Umagat)

Eventually, I realized that Tin and Allan have been left behind and they haven’t had lunch yet, so I decided to go back and check on them.  It turns out that I need not have worried.  I found TIn sitting by a table in the shade with our boat navigator and other locals.  There was a birthday party nearby and they managed to snag some free food.  As for Allan, he simply did some more snorkeling and apparently had a more or less good time in the process.

(Photo courtesy of Erwin Claver)

Before long, everyone was back and ready to board the pumpboat for the short trip back to Sablayan proper.

DEPARTURE

(Photo courtesy of Erwin Claver)

Sunset was still an hour or two away when we returned to the Sablayan port.  Not having had a shower in almost 2 days, we were all eager to return to the resort to clean up and pack our stuff for the long ride back to Metro Manila later in the evening.  The other items that we left under the custodianship of the resort were fortunately all accounted for.

That evening, dinner was mostly a blue-collar affair.  All the rice that wasn’t cooked (including the 2 kilos that I brought up and down Mt. Iglit) as well as the tuna, sausages and other canned goods that weren’t consumed in the mountain and island were all brought out as we had a grand leftover potluck of sorts.  Everything was made short work of as all of us seemed to have a good appetite that night.  (I was particularly surprised to witness Debby consume a lot of food.  If you’ve ever seen Debby in person, you’d understand why.)

We arrived at the Dimple Star bus terminal an hour before our expected departure.  Having purchased tickets days before, we were assured of seats in the bus.  As it turns out though, Dimple Star in practice oversells tickets and does not make it a point to follow its own seat reservation system – we found our seats occupied by the time the bus arrived.  This was the cause of some heated arguments with the bus conductor but we eventually prevailed and got to our seats.

Tanned and homebound (Photo courtesy of Erwin Claver)

So that’s how our Holy Week 2012 trip ended.  Arriving at Cubao, I felt that I had to pamper myself somehow so I waited for Gateway Mall to open to gorge myself in Taco Bell.  I think it will be a while before I’d be able to climb another mountain.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

This entry is part of the Holy Week 2012 series dated April 5-8, 2012:

1. Preview: The Trail to Mt. Iglit
2. Holy Week 2012: Prologue
3. Holy Week 2012: Sitio Tamisan Outreach
4. Holy Week 2012: Penitencia sa Mt. Iglit (unang yugto)
5. Holy Week 2012: Penitencia sa Mt. Iglit (ikalawang yugto)
6. Holy Week 2012: Penitencia sa Mt. Iglit (huling yugto)
7. Holy Week 2012: Apo Reef (Day 1)
8. Holy Week 2012: Apo Reef (Day 2) and Pandan Island

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