Philippines Day 6: Wrecked

We got up with our alarm and had breakfast. We had given ourselves an hour before the boat was to leave which seemed like more than enough time. Jenn had the French toast, by far her favorite food as far as I can tell, and she ordered Eggs Benedict for me which she knew is probably my favorite breakfast while I brought down the laundry for the front desk to do, they offer 50p per kilo which is a steal while traveling and perfect timing to boot. Now we won’t have to do laundry until we’re home. As an Eggs Benedict connoisseur, the eggs benedict wasn’t very good, it didn’t have hollandaise sauce and was on bread and not toast.

We stopped in at the dive shop and were fitted for gear and then sent back to the restaurant to pass the time. I couldn’t help much with the weighting, I told him I was at 24 lbs with a 5mm wetsuit and hood, and 12 when I was in a thin summer suit. He put 4 kg (aprox 8lbs) on my weight belt, but I thought each weight was heavier than it was thinking he had put 20 lbs on the belt. Jenn was weighted similarly which at least was consistent with what we wore in our dives together.

It took a while for them to get everyone situation before they loaded us onto a dinghy to take us out to our bangka for the day named “Blu”. Our dive plan was to go first to “East Tanget” a Japanese Gun Boat sunk by US Helldiver planes during the battle to free the Philippines during WWII. Then we would finish off with a dive at a reef yet to be determined. Food and drinks were to be included along with all of the gear with the price for the two of us at just under $200 for the day, with a large chunk being the DSD cost. Padi likes to get their cut when they can. Ramil was our instructor for the day and had over 3000 dives to his name, and would be joined by 2 other dive masters for our dive all for our group of 7.

On the boat Ramil explained the basics of diving, quickly going over regulator recovery technique, mask clearing, BCD filling and dumping, and basic safety stuff. It amazed me how much more lax this was than my experience doing DSD in Saba. When I did it, I had a quick book with pictures, and a test, and time in a pool. We went over boat entry and buoyancy before heading out on a boat. I wasn’t worried for Jenn, she had done all this already. I could tell she wanted to show Ramil she knew what she was doing so he would trust her. Teacher’s pet! It’s nice to have a refresher and I listened in all the same paying extra attention when he talked about hand signals in case his were different.

Our group was made up of me, Jenn, a Chinese guy named Tan who was thin as a stick and spoke a few word and seemed a bit meek, and Allen Alex, Aaron, Ariane a quartet of siblings from Manila. Allen was an advanced diver, but the others were DSD as well. It was really hard for me to keep track of their names except for Ariane.

We landed at a shallow sandy beach and our gear was already put together. They had us put on our wetsuits and belts before walking off the dive ladder right onto the sand in shallow water. My wetsuit wasn’t on board though so I went just in my bathing suit. The water was amazingly warm, I was told about 28C. They then dropped our gear into the water and helped everyone suit up. Padi 5 star instructors do amazing job at buddy checking. I suited up and looked for my buoyancy point. Nick would be proud, Jenn and I did our ABCDEEE drill to check for air, BCD, our lack of computer, dive equipment and had our entry already done.

The group gathered on the port side of the boat to do their drills, but before we could get started the fins made the water too murky. You couldn’t see more than a few inches, which made it impossible for drills. Jenn seemed stressed, but immediately we were told to take off our fins and move to the other side and to be careful not to stir up more sand.

On the other side the drills went off without a hitch. I couldn’t really see so I spent my time looking at a little blinny sticking his head out. I surprisingly was just about neutral with no air in my BCD. I was going to need to empty my lungs to sink down enough to get started but thought I would level out fine further down. It turned out later I would find I was underweight by maybe 2 lbs and had to breath shallow to keep myself from becoming positively buoyant.

We finally got under way with most of the group blown through 50 bar already, this would be a short dive…

On our way to the wreck Jenn was having trouble with her ears. She would go a little ways and then stop to clear them, then another few inches and again. I would ask if she was ok and she would respond ok like back on Anacapa. I didn’t really believe her and I told her to go up a bit which sometimes helped and tried to communicate stretching out the side of her neck by tilting her head the opposite side of the ear bothering her. At this point one of the dive instructors swam over and guided her along. He checked all the time and gave her time to wait. It was nice having such attention on such a personal level. I followed along with her hoping she wasn’t lying and that her ear was doing ok just going slow. I decided at this point I needed a sign to ask if she was lying to me or not! She can be too strong sometimes and I don’t want her hurt again. But things seemed to go fine and before I knew it I turned and there was the wreck looming through the murky water about 12m down. It was hard to tell what we were looking at. The shape started to take form though, the bow, a hold, some kind of stack. I could see the cabin below towards the stern, but didn’t want to break from the group and it was deeper than a DSD dive was supposed to go I believe. I took photos of our group having promised to email them later. It was really eerie being there, a grave for soldiers turned into a tourist attraction. To the Filipinos it’s an important part of their history. Jenn took over the camera for a bit and grab some nice shots of me near the wreck. The group then headed back. When we surfaced it turned out a few divers were on bingo air, as low as 20 bar. That surprised me a bit, I only heard after the day was done. I still had 120 bar though since I was chilling out while everyone was doing drills and getting used to breathing air out of a tank strapped to their back while underwater. We weren’t in serious danger being fairly shallow near the end following the beach; we could have surfaced at any time. We made it about 35 minutes much in the shallows, our bottom time only like 15 minutes.

Back on the boat food was waiting; traditional Filipino island fair with a Sweet Potato Salad, Grilled Fish, Chicken Adobo and rice. We popped a couple of sprite to go with it. None of it was worth writing home about. So far the best Filipino food I’ve had has by far been at home cooked by the Cote family, and I still haven’t found lechen or lumpia!

The second dive was to be a reef to be determined. They motored us out to the spot, but rough water necessitated a change of location and we moved to a reef near a pearl farm. This spot was a coral reef wall called “Coral Garden” that went down about 15m, just over the maximum a DSD dive is supposed to go, and 5m beyond what my camera is rated for. I’ve brought the camera that deep previously without trouble though. The water was murky again thanks to the pearl farms. I wasn’t impressed with visibility in Coron. Both Jenn and I really liked the second dive more than the first. It was lively and filled with interesting fan coral and fish. I even found Nemo! The coolest thing I’d seen was a brightly mottled puffer fish. This time the group splintered pretty quickly, but with all of the dive masters around this wasn’t an issue. Normally they’d have to keep us bunched up, but with this low of student to instructor count they just split up as the strong current split us. Jenn and I were alone to go at our own pokey pace. But scuba isn’t a race and while everyone went ahead, but then ran out of air first popping up to the surface when their group’s instructor told them they were done at 50bar. Our tortoise pace though meant we covered more ground and had more bottom time, somewhere around 45 minutes before Jenn and I were done. For the first time Jenn didn’t beat or match me on air usage, normally she’s quite good, but the current was strong and I have more leverage with my long legs. Jenn was having so much more fun, no problems with the ears this time, and was pointing left and right and up and down at everything she saw. I loved it too, especially seeing her having so much fun! She told me later she was looking forward to doing more diving after this one.

To our surprised the boat then headed to “CYC Beach” that acts as the dive resort’s pool. One of our members, the friend of the owner’s daughter was doing her open water certification and had to run through more drills with her instructor. We had plenty of light still so Jenn and I dove in with our masks and snorkels to poke around. I had really hoped to see a sea turtle because I know they’re in the area and I know they like the shallows, but no luck! We saw a lot of great colorful fish and best of all I saw a Lion Fish! I even got to get pretty close to take pictures. I’ve loved these colorful, poisonous beds of spikes since I was a kid. It was great to finally see one in the wild, and so close to boot! He was just sitting there on the side of a coral keeping hidden. As it turns out I had seen a second one at another point as well, captured in the background of another shot I’d taken having missed him. We also saw a ton of different jellyfish, some of which managed to sting us. All in all I came out of the water stoked and happy with our last stop.

We chatted with the owner of the Sea Dive on our way back, he was diving with his daughter and got the low down on the hotel and dive operation we were staying at. Apparently his father had started the place some20 years ago and got his son involved. Sea Dive appears to have been a major driver of the tourism industry in Coron which now sees we think 300 new arrivals every day by plane. They’re still seemingly the best in town and have quite a lot of vertical integration running not only tours and dives, the best restaurant and hotel, but also the shuttle to and from the airport. It was pleasant although he was quick to mention constantly the things Sea Dive offered.

Back on dry land we showered and went out for dinner wanting to try something new. We first went down to a restaurant we had gotten a flyer for in the airport that had pictures of a picturesque little atrium dining area. Only when we got there the tables had cheap plastic seats and the lights weren’t on. The kitchen seemed closed too. So we swung by the Sironette restaurant next to Sea Dive for a bite. This turned out to be a horrible decision. Service was slow and partway through our drinks we found our table was infested with ants, crawling all over, swarming on the table cloth that hadn’t been changed in a while. We moved seats, but that didn’t help much either. Eventually our food came and we did our best to quickly eat it before the ants got on the plate but that was a losing battle. I had convinced Jenn to try the crab since it seemed cheap at 200 pesos, but after having 2 lobsters for 400 pesos the previous night it seemed in the realm of possibility. Only the crab wasn’t any good and anemic in size. When we got our bill we were in for another shock, the small print on the menu meant that the crab wasn’t 200p but 200p per 100g making the anemic 700g crab 1400 pesos! I got the bill, paid it and walked out the door in disgust. I have to say this was a pretty miserable dining experience. On our way out we steered another couple away. All the way back to our room I was fuming. Our horrible dinner had cost us $40. I vowed to stick with Sea Dive after that experience. I took the time when we got back to Sea Dive to slam it on Trip Advisor while she had a banana shake since she was still hungry from that $30 crab. Jenn reminded me though how we had such an amazing day and to not let a dinner ruin everything else we had enjoyed all day. I took a breath and put it out of my mind. She’s good for my sanity.

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