Tuesday, November 03, 2015

To Market to Market to buy a Fat Pig

Wednesday, January 21st - Dumagete to Cebu to Manilla and home to the U.S.A.

Today will prove to be long and torturous, but it starts out with promise for all but the livestock and the fish.  We have arranged for a driver to take us to the Wednesday market, nearly an hour outside Dumagete. Our driver picks us up on time and we arrive at the market early.  Our flight to Manilla leaves early afternoon and Joe instructs our driver when and where to wait for us and writes down his cell phone number. Our time is short at the market and we start down the single lane road lined with tiny stalls selling fruits, vegetables and in sundries. I love markets and even the stalls selling coils of yellow rope are interesting. 

Yellow Rope for Sale
Elder Musician at Market

Women Selling Vegetables
Market Day

Bull to Market
Tools for Sale

Fish and Squid

Roasted Pig

There are open air restaurants, under permanent shaded roofs at the far end of the market,  They are crowded with patrons sitting at long tables and Art wants to try some fresh fish. These restaurants are not prepared to  accommodate tourists and we are unable to read the menu or understand the protocol. The service is terrible and all is confusing. John, Joe and I pass on the food in frustration but Art chooses to order a bowl of raw fish Ceviche and slurps it down with dissatisfaction. 


We wander into the livestock stockade where PETA would have a field day. The air is ripe and pungent with manuer and cattle are being prodded and pulled by their rings noses, by impatient men.  Pigs are being shoved squealing into burlap bags and sheep and goats are crammed into tiny motorized carts for transport.  It is fascinating and I try not to judge but am glad that I am making an effort to be vegetarian. 

Pig to Market
Pigs to Market

Pig in a Sack

Pig to Market

At the appointed time, we are waiting at the crossroads of the main road and Joe calls our diver. He doesn’t pick up and when he finally does, it seems that he has gone back into Dumagete to pick up another fare.  Time is ticking dangerously by and we are likely to miss our flight so we hire a trike to take us back to Dumagete. Trikes cannot travel at the same rate as cars; they are dangerous and uncomfortable but it seems that we have no other options so the four of us climb onboard one of the heartier looking trikes and bump and jostle the hour back into the city. We grab our luggage at the hotel and take a taxi to the airport, just a few minutes the other side of town. My blood pressure is rising but we arrive in time for our flight only to discover that the flight is delayed 2 hours.

An hour later, an announcement informs us that the flight is delayed yet another hour. The plane is delayed time and time again and we are now in danger of missing our flight from Manilla to S.F.O. The Dumagete airport terminal is dismal with minimal amenities and we are all hungry and tired. There are no restaurants, only a few food kiosks with sad sandwiches left too long in the open. John, Art and I play it safe and buy cups of noodle, nuts and drinks and I pass the time writing this blog. We pay little attention when Joe eventually wanders off in search of food. I glance over and see him eating a sandwich and hope that Joe doesn’t get sick this time around. 

Dumaguete Airport

Dumaguete Airport

 Our plane to Manilla finally boards and we arrive in time to catch our flight back to S.F.O.

Manilla to S.F.O.
Manilla to S.F.O.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Apo Island Dive Paradise

Tuesday, January 20th  Dumagete to Apo Island

Our pick up for Apo Island is at 8:00 A.M. and we stop first at a dive shop along the way for John and Art to get outfitted for their dives.  Not only do we have a driver plus our guide, Bong, but we now have a dive master, Pat, and four crew members for the mid-sized catamaran that will motor us to Apo Island.  We wade out to our boat and climb the wooden stairs up to our boat. The day is sunny and bright and we can see tiny, Apo Island floating on the blue horizon.  

Apo Island Cove
45 minute later we arrive at Apo Island and wade to shore. There are just a few hotels and guest houses in the tiny village and one small and stylish resort hotel accessible by a rock stairway off to one side of the village.  We go to the resort hotel to pre-order our lunch following which Art and John depart with Pat via the catamaran to make their first dive.  Bong stays with Joe and me and we wade out over algae covered rocks, put on our fins and snorkel gear and swim after him. As soon as I put my mask in the water I see sea turtles. Hawksbill and Green Turtles are grazing on the sea-grass on the shallow sandy bottom and are not at all bothered by our presence. They bend their heads awkwardly to tear the grass from its sandy roots.  Shimmering patterns from the sunlight through the water dance on their patterned shells. They swim weightlessly in the water, graceful aquatic flying saucers, some the size of small table tops.

Apo Island Beach
Marty, Apo Island

When we have had our fill of turtles we snorkel further out to the coral beds. The corals are breathtakingly beautiful, pristine and alien. Plates of table top coral stretch 30 feet or more and colorful fish slip in and out from between the overlapping plates. Spaghetti like aneonmies, the color of pasta, sway in the current, and clumps of more brightly colored aneomies shelter their particular species of clown fish. The view below is a solid bed of corals; soft ribbon corals who’s edges form graceful liner folds meld into plates of hard coral, brain coral, bursts of flowering coral, and countless varieties of stag-horn coral. Their colors are mostly muted; ranging from soft yellow to ochre, pale pink to lavender, moss greens and orange.  An occasional bright blue star fish or red aneomie contrasts the Dr. Seuse landscape below.  The shifting light patterns reflecting on the coral through the rippling water is magical.

It is 11:00 A.M. when Joe and I swim to the beach and Art and John return from their dive minutes later. Although they will make three dives today, it is decided that we will have lunch at the resort before their second dive. We sit under thatched umbrellas, sip pineapple and mango juice and I eat the best vegetarian curry of the trip.

Joe’s and my second snorkeling foray is from the beach in front of the resort. We follow Bong into the water and swim out towards the rocky point. Coming up from the sand are hundreds of bubble streams from thermal activity below. The bubbles sparkle in the crystal water as they rise to the surface.  We snorkel around the point where huge slabs of the rock cliff have slipped vertically into the water. The slabs of rock are completely blanketed with coral.  I see a three foot pipe fish and a dozen barracuda flash by. A school of needle fish hang vertically, heads down, suspended in a protected pocket of coral and an occasional brightly colored parrot fish cruises past. Although there are quite a few colorful reef fish, the main event here is the coral.  

 Joe and I sit under the shade of the umbrella on the pristine beach, sipping Coke-cola from a chilled bottle (the bottled cokes here are the only soft drink worth the calories; it must be real sugar instead of corn syrup?) We look for faces in the jagged rock formations and wait for the catamaran to return with our divers.

Coconut Tower, Apo Island Village
Apo Island Laundry

Apo Island Village
Art and John need 1 ½ hours surface time before making their third dive and we pass the time walking inland to the village.  We meander the narrow village pathway, coconut trees and palms shading the path and tropical flowers growing along the fences.  Most of the houses are made of wood interspersed with small cinderblock houses. The village compounds all have stick fences with laundry hanging out to dry and I marvel at how beautiful and tidy it all is. There is a posted sign about garbage collection and recycling and hundreds of plastic bottles are “corralled,” waiting for recycling day. We come to a school, pass a few micro stores and see a group of men drinking beer in the dirt courtyard of a simple wooden hut. The village is tidy and the locals friendly.  Three women approach us with bags of T-shirts and sarongs for sale. One sarong is printed with lizards and I buy it and a turtle sarong. John and Art choose Apo Island T-shirts.

Off Shore of Apo Island Village
Our final snorkel and dive will be from the boat off the other side of the bay. I watch Art and John get suited up and roll backwards from the boat, splashing into the water. Minutes later, Joe and I are in the water, following Bong, first towards shore and then around the rocky point. This dive site does not have the endless coral carpet blanket, but there are huge islands of coral, the various species fitting together like pieces of a puzzle, each piece unique in color, texture and shape. I can only surmise that coral reefs were an inspiration in the fanciful imagery of Dr. Seuse’s  Tufulo Trees.  In trying to absorb the bounty and beauty of this coral garden, I notice that what I am observing below is a mirrored variation of the fauna and flora above water. Some coral formations are shaped like carnation flowers, others like lichen, branches and twigs. There are coral formations that look like stalagmites and bright ochre honey cone shaped coral suitable as a hive for giant underwater bees. Small fish take shelter in the coral crevices, iridescent splashes of brilliant color.  Schools of inch long fish reflect silver and gold in the sunlight; the entire schools changing direction and shape in the blink of an eye.   

John Preparing to Dive
Preparing to Dive off Apo Island

Their first dive is straight off the main beach at Apo Island. They scuba to the edge of the reef and drop down to a depth of 80 feet, working their way back up to 30 feet. Art reports that it is wall to wall coral, pristine without any degradation.  A diver from another group with his fancy underwater camera is photographing a stone fish and they are fortunate to see this ocean oddity as well as a frog fish. They encounter a hawksbill turtle in a small patch of sand between beds of coral.  

Drift Dive off Coconut Point, Apo Island

Their second dive is a drift dive off of Coconut point, where coconut palms mark the edge of the reef and the drop off.  There is a fairy swift current and they drift along the coral shelf.  The dive master cautions Art and John not to get caught in a deeper current that would take them down and out to sea. They leave the drift current and swim at right angles towards the shore above a pristine, soft coral garden.

Their final dive is on the other side of the main beach. They see numerous species of anoemeis and they are amazed by the variety of clown fish, each species designed and color coordinated the anoemie that it lives in.  They come across a small hawksbill turtle that appeared to be sleeping on the sandy bottom next to a patch of coral.

Motoring Back from Apo Island

We motor an hour back to the dock and the waiting car takes us the hour back to Dumagete. It’s been an incredible day of snorkeling pristine coral, coming eye to eye with sea turtles and exploring island coves and villages but I am exhausted. The boys head back to the hotel and I set out walking the meager town shops looking for gifts to take home.  I have not had time to do much if any shopping on this trip. I  decide to ferret out the new location of the art co-op listed in my guide book. I walk many hot and dusty blocks in search of the address but when I arrive I find that the shop has closed and I return to the hotel, tired and disappointed.  Tonight is our last night in the Philippines and I hope for a good meal. We take a trike ride along the waterfront, returning to LaBas Restaurant where we ate last night. The service is slow and it is obvious that Art and Joe do not want to be there so we take another trike ride back to the main strip of waterfront restaurants and randomly make a pick. Art urges Joe, who does not drink, to have a cocktail and one round later, we are all getting silly and enjoying our last evening together. If I remember, dinner was reasonably good:)

Celebrating the Final Night of our Trip
Last Night Celebration