Philippines Day 11: Mud

Ok Jenn’s last day of Open Water Cert for reals today. We had another quick breakfast and were down at the shop bright and early. This time we were sharing a boat with a bunch of others and had much more chaos to deal with. We collected our gear and waded out to the boat. Sabang beach is really shallow and most of the boats beach themselves and then push with poles to get out deep enough for props. You can see this going all day every day, boats coming and going with loads of divers wading out into chest high water with their gear to go diving, and then wading back.

Today’s site would be Kilima Steps, a multi-level site around the corner with a sandy bottom good for training. Like the day before as Jenn worked on skills I wandered about the few coral heads really close by looking for interesting things. Unlike yesterday’s curious Squat Shrimp I found nothing much. There was a green anemone with broad umbrella like tips I wanted to take a photo of but my camera wasn’t working! I don’t know what happened, I know I took it down deep yesterday but it shot fine the entire time and was shooting fine this morning. Now the screen was a mess of noise and so were the pictures, clearly a problem with the sensor. Everything seemed fine though, all of the hatches seemed to make good seals. So sadly no pictures for the day, you all will just have to use your imagination.

Once done with most of the drills, Corey lead us off on the fun part of the dive and quickly found us another Eel. I then found a white and black banded Sea Krait, a kind of poisonous sea snake found throughout the pacific. The Sea Krait though has such a small mouth and no fangs so it isn’t dangerous to humans. Apparently the dive shop’s owner often picks them up for tourists, something I’d prefer not to do. I pointed it out to Jenn and tried knocking on my tank to get Corey’s attention but failed. Still no turtles. Nick also found us a pair of black ribbon eels which are strange creatures. They inhabited a pair of holes in the sand and stuck out a few inches. Small and thin they would sit there with open mouths looking not dissimilar to sea grass waiting for prey to wander in range. Jenn described their faces like those of miniature dragons with little frills around their noses. A bit further on Jenn saw something very rare, a moray eel moving in open water to a new location. I pointed it out to Corey after it had already gotten to a new hide and it took a few minutes but eventually he stuck his head out.

Like with the wrecks I saw a few new species of fish including this one white and black striped fish with long tassels hanging off its top and bottom. I wish I could share a photo.

Jenn had some more drills at the end including a re-iteration of the mask removal before the boat came swinging by and picked us up. The seas were a bit choppy and it was difficult getting back on the boat, and especially not getting wacked on the head by the outrigger of the bangka. I managed to somehow cut my hand getting aboard. This seems like a recurring problem, spending 45 minutes in the water I come out with water logged skin soft and easy to tear.
Jenn’s ear again wasn’t feeling so good so back at the shop we excused ourselves from the rest of the day’s diving. Jenn thinks while her ear was feeling better by the morning this probably didn’t help and wasn’t too worried, and the discomfort was gone within a few hours. I don’t think we intend to do any more diving this trip.

Corey told us to come back later and he would have her dive log filled out and the referral stuff ready to take back to LA to be finalized. We took our showers and a nap and then looked for what to spend the rest of our day doing.

We decided on something we had seen in a brochure, an extreme sports sort of thing with atvs and gokarts. They also had a shooting range but neither of us had much interest in shooting guns. We set out not quite knowing where it was or how to get there. We walked towards the edge of town being harassed all along the way by people trying to sell trips or bike rentals or whatever and decided to ask in a bar. A nice English man was sitting next to the waitress we asked and he chimed in. Clearly he had been here a while and was able to tell us excellent directions of where it was and how much a trike would cost to get there. Now we had all the information we needed.

I realized I’ve left out a lot about an important aspect of Sabang. Besides the waterfront chalked full of dive shops and expensive restaurants, there are people everywhere trying to hock some service or product. Until now we haven’t seen all that much of it and largely it’s been much more like northern Thailand and less like Phuket or Bangkok like I expected it to be, but this definitely is on the Phuket level here. Women in scrubs walk up and down the beach asking if you’d “like a massage later?” and young men ask if you’d like a snorkeling trip. Many also walk around with handfuls of cheap knockoff sunglasses or jewelry pestering you while you eat your food if you’d like to buy something. I’ve yet to see anyone buy anything from someone doing that but it must happen and happen enough to support them or they wouldn’t keep doing it. I really lowers the experience in my book. The place is helped a lot by how many people are clearly here just to dive; there is a lot of hubbub and movement, a lot of industry all around us of people preparing for, leaving on, and returning from a dive. It has purpose.

We caught a trike on the edge of town first asking a guy hanging around if he knew where we were talking about but mostly got blank stares and then a price of 150p when we were told more like 100p. A new trike was coming up the street without a passenger and we waved him down and asked him. They clearly have an arrangement and he deferred to the first guy we asked. They seemed to get on the same page and I hear the words “shooting range” and so I’m sure they know where to go. The first guy proposes a new price of 200p and we tell him too much we were told no more than 120p. He looks at the new guy asking “we’ll if you want to do it for 120p be my guest”. The new guy accepts and we jump in his green trike sidecar. Along the way our driver picks up a mom and her daughter on the way to town and they sit on the little bench side saddle right behind him. Jenn and I are amazed how much has been packed on this tiny 125cc motorbike.

The drive was about what I remembered from the first night though totally different during the day, crowded with shops and people. Bright colors, loud noises. Lots of honking. Lots of hollering. Our driver reaches the dirt road we’re told we’d need to walk up but drives us himself over the mud right up to the place and says goodbye, we tip him an extra 30p to make it 150p.

The thing that had attracted Jenn to this more than anything were these mudkarts that run offroad around a little track making a mess of things. They describe the course and give us helmets, topping us off on gas and sending us on our way. Jenn started us off over the first two bumps and we stalled. I guess you need to always give it a little gas or that happens. Going again we make it a few more corners then stall again. This time they can’t get the poor kart working again and have to drive the second one around and have us switch. This one has a working electric start and away we go, this time with me driving. I didn’t make it much further before discovering myself how easy it was to stall one of these things, but thanks to the electric starter we were on our way. Determined not to stall out and to get our money’s worth I drove it hard and had a blast. A couple of times I needed some opposite lock which make me feel like a bit of a rally driver though at 1/10th the speed. By the time we were done we were COVERED in mud having to go around back and hose ourselves off to the cracking sound of someone shooting at the range.

Not wanting to be done just yet, Jenn suggests we try the gokarts. They’re small displacement sprint karts, and the track was hand laid because the machinery to pour concrete was too expensive. But the tires were legitimate gokart tires with tons of grip and the track nice and technical if not bumpy. Away we went. We were instructed to give the tires at least a lap to warm up which we did, but then I set off trying to find the best line over the bumpy corners. Some curves require sacrificing the desirable line to miss an especially big bump. I had forgotten how much fun a legitimate gokart is when going full out, aiming aggressively towards the apex knowing that the kart will slide and bit. Feeling that nervousness of the rear wheel brakes under heaving braking. Good fun!

We had filled our day just fine and said goodbye to the owner, a Belgian man who has been here for nearly a decade. He said he would take us back to the road to catch a trike and did more than that driving us right into town to the “trike depot” a street where all of the trike drivers wait for a fare. We had no problem catching a ride back to Sabang.

We seriously needed a shower at this point, and our shoes needed to dry out. I’m worried like with my hike in Dominica, they won’t dry in time and will get stinky. They definitely will need a go round in the washing machine when we get home. My hiking boots could use the same. We didn’t bother washing our dirty clothes, just laid them out to dry before we put them with the rest of our dirty clothes.

Around 5pm we headed back down at closing time to pay our bill. It’s funny, as much time and money as we’ve spent to get ourselves certified we haven’t been asked once to prove our certification status on this trip. They’ve taken my word for it every time that I’m certified. I’ve had Corey offer to sign my dive log but I told him I’m keeping mine online because you can link to pictures and tag species you’ve seen, and the species tagging is provided to the scientific community which is cool to me.

Dinner this time was a bit more deliberate. We were going to try Hemmingways which has good reviews, but the prices were ridiculous! $20 for a hamburger?! My ass! We haven’t hardly had any food we really loved other than Indian food at a small joint in Manila. We looked for where there were the most people and settled on a restaurant associated with the Atlantis hotel. I had a banana daiquiri and Water Buffalo steaks, and Jenn had the burger. The burger was delicious and my water buffalo as I should have expected was dry and tough, more a novelty than good eats, the taste like gamey beef.

We meandered from there back to our room for bed.

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