Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I'm a Diver

It was last day to certification of the PADI OW course. With exam taken, we only needed to complete 2 more dives, with intermittent skill practices of course, before we became a diver.

We should have been very assured but psycologically there is still some pressure. It was just like running to the finish line and being afraid to tumble for no reason. M was not feeling well, which was kind of expected, but the situation was much better than the day before.

At breakfast I took only ham and bread, and used only 1/4 of the butter, to avoid stomach problem. We had plenty of time left which allowed me to finish luggage packing well.

It rained cats and dogs the night before, with many lightings. The door front was all wet.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Exam

The pressure of exam became immediate and we did not sleep well. We woke up a bit later than normal, at about 7:10am. M was nervous and needed one piece of toast for breakfast, while I still have my full American one. Somehow M was given 2 pieces of toasts and since I didn't have extremely good appetite, I made a bacon and sandwich with M's extra toast and some of my own food. Ellen gave me a ziploc bag to contain it.

As expected we spent the morning watching videos again, checked the review for chapter 4 and 5 with Eriko. During all these some hotel guests or divers used the balcony to go internet and someone shut the sliding doors opening into the balcony to prevent the noise of our video (and on the other way, those hotel guests' conversation also distracted us). Lacking ventilation from sea breeze, the video room became a bit hot and stuffy. Maybe this and other psycological effect, M developped anxiety syndromes again.

Eriko showed us where we can buy sea-sick pills. There in the store I saw hair conditioner in small foil packs, which my hair desperately wanted. I didn't hesitated a second to buy 2 packs. These and 2 sea-sick pills costed only P50.

We went back to the hotel and had light lunch with ham and cheese sandwich, each taking half of it, and a dressing soaked ceasar salad with hard boiled egg and bacon chip, which hardly resembles the genuine thing. We only finished half the salad, but since I took the bacon and egg sandwich I made on the way to the store I took the bacon and egg sandwich I made, I was feeling a bit stuffed.

M took a sea-sick pill and a dose of panadol after lunch. But soon afterwards M began to throw up and become dizzy. The food should have no problem and I guessed most of the part was caused by M's own anxiety.

We managed to do the swim test and skin diving techniques, but we had to break before M could continue for the scuba part. We asked M to take rest lying on a sun chair of the resort in shade. While I was waiting, I had nothing to do but sitting on the poolside, in my wetsuit, and watching a pair of European taking their review course.

M wanted to quit (again) but finally agreed to continue. We needed to do neutral balancing (hovering in water), releasing and replacing weights, releasing and replacing equipment both under water and at surface. By the time everything finished, it was approaching 4pm and Eriko suggests that we have both the last 2 dives on the day that follows.

After cleaning up, we were allowed to study a bit before taking the exam. I had enough time to go through the technical reviews at the end of each chapter. Both me and M got 3 questions wrong, which is well within the passing rate of 75%.

Dinner was light again, at Coco Vida with Penne al Arrabiata (in a tomato based sauce with chili and paprika, and permesan cheese, or to be exact, something like the Kraft permesan style cheese powder) and Ceasar salad (better but still far from the genuine thing). These plus 2 coke were P410. I paid tips P10. Ice-cream for dessert as usual costed P240 (P120 each).

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Go scuba!

Sleeping from 9pm something till 6:20 am I recover well, although there are still dark circles. It was indeed the best sleep recently.

We had breakfast at 7am as planned, with bacon and scrambled eggs, 2 pieces of toasted wholemeal bread, instant coffee and OJ. M took continental only. We spent more time than expected despite that I've packed already the night before. By the time we leave our room it was more than 8:50am already. But it's only a short walk to our dive centre Sea Explorers and we ended up a couple of minutes late only.

One of the shop manager Eriko, a Japanese girl, immediately spotted us and came to greet us. Then we followed her into the office and signed a lot of paper, most of them being about releases and disclaims. Eriko didn't mentioned about the fee due, but to avoid any hassle I suggested that we settle it first, and so we did.

Then the morning was spent with watching video and reading the manual. The manual was not just a booklet. It's about 2cm thick. Although the book was written in a quite concise way, it is not easy to finish much in a morning. We watched 3 chapters of video and did the quizes of the first 2. Eriko came from time to time to check our pace and did the tests for chapters 1 and 2. There were 10 questions in each test and you must not answer wrongly in more than 2 of them; Otherwise you need to take another set of 10 questions. But if you fail again, there was not a 3rd set. You simply go back to the first set and try again. M made 3 errors in the first test and in each set - so that's how we know so well. The second attempt were 100% though.

We spent a bit too much time and so we needed to take sandwiches and coke for lunch while we was watching the chapter 3 video.

We went for practicing in the pool in the afternoon. Some techniques were easier than we imagined but some were the other way round, like keeping neutrally buoyant. M also had problem clearing the mask, probably due to difficulty in controlling the breath through the nose.

The practice was not extremely tiring. But we'd only finished after 5pm and so it's still certain exercise. After rinsing and storing the gears we went back to take shower, and then head for dinner. We went to Hayahay again and this time for Chili Con Carne Meat Pie and Pizza Favorites. Each drank a bottle of San Miguel and a Coke. The bill was P700.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Visit Alona Beach Again

Cebu Pacific start 1 and a half in the morning. There were not a lot of people there, many of them were Korean.

Cafe de Carol was the last shop with hot food and packed with people. Fortunately we could find a starbucks. There we had hot coffee and a hazelnut chocolate chips muffin, which were not bad at all.

I slept during most of the flight time. The plane was more stable than expected.

On arrival we bought the SIM card from the vending machine. I wrongly chose a P100 prepaid card, which was not a SIM, and need to pay P150 again for the tourists' SIM. Later in Hayahay restaurant, while I was sipping the OJ of our breakfast, I found that the P100 prepaid card can be used to fill the SIM.

Taxi driver Boy Chua catched us and we paid him P250 to go to Port One for Ocean Jet. I bought return tickets for both of us, P1,640 in total. Terminal fee being sold but they told me that we do not need to buy. Baggage must be checked-in and
we were proposed to pay P100. We contested as we just read the notice in front of the counter that said fair porter fee should be P10/bag.

Ocean Jet was not as wonderful as many had said. We were in the front of the vessel and it was quite stuffy and hot there. Before arriving, a cockroach was crawling in front of me, making me a bit nervous.

We paid P400 for a van to Golden Palm. It was not a taxi but it's more comfortable. The room was not free yet and so we went to Hayahay to have american breakfast, which was P200 a set, quite expensive. It's a good thing to do to pass the time though. After that we took a walk but it was a bit hot, and soon we found ourselves back at Golden Palm. Fortunately we can have the room already around noon. I bought an 8L bottled water at Golden Palm for P80.

We slept a bit so lunch was skipped. At 6pm we had dinner at Coco Vida. We ordered Grilled Chicken Breast, 2 Grilled Pork Chop, 2 Plain Rice, Mixed Veg Salad in Balsamic Vinegar, Coke and San Miguel. It costed P580. I left P10 tips.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bathing with angels

Our wonderful island hopping experience in Cebu, the Philippines

A hot afternoon in a Chinese restaurant not far from the Tagbilaran port, we were taking late lunch while waiting for the ferry back to Cebu. My cell phone rang. It was Fernando Casquejo, or Andy, one of the Cebu boatmen with wide exposure in Hong Kong discussion boards. I text him a while ago for our island hopping tour the following day.

Andy's English was better than I expected, yet not well articulate at occasions. In order to avoid misunderstanding, I spoke loudly and recited the agreed price repeatedly. Later in the day, I text him a few more times to make sure everything was fine.

15 minutes before appointment time, the hotel reception informed us that Andy had arrived. We quickly grasped our gear and hop on the car, a pick-up truck converted passenger car, that Andy prepared for us. 5 minutes later we were at the pier waiting to go on board.

Andy could not come with us as he had got a bigger group that day. We got on a smaller boat with his wife Rosalina, two of his boys, and his nephews Antique and Michael. We had no complaint, as that's all we needed.

Well, afterall we are one of those city skeptics. Soon after set-off, I took out a simple map, showing it to Rosalina and tried to find out where we were going and if there was anything that she might charge us in addition. With her limited English, Rosalina told us which were the places we could consider, where were the fishes, and the entrance fees for each place respectively. Basically, within a reasonable distance, we could freely choose our itinery. She assured that there was no surcharges. "We are honest people," she said. Indeed they are. At the end of the day, we were not charged on anything we had not agreed upon in advance.

I saw some cakes with strawberry jam wrapped in clear film, which I thought were their lunch. But when we started snorkelling we found they are food for attracting fish, and absolutely free of charge. Their lunch, as what we had seen, were merely a couple of mangoes.

Our first stop was Gilutungan sanctuary. Visitors can find a lot of marine lives here. We had decided to come although Rosalina told us on our way that the entrance fee here is expensive - 200 pesoes per person.

As soon as our boat docked the island, a couple of Filippino men came up and invited us to follow them for snorkelling. We noticed that Rosalina avoided to participate in the conversation and had soon realized that the service of these men was not included in the 200 pesoes. For some reason Rosalina could not refuse to allow their solicitation. Although they explained that they were "volunteers" and payment was optional, we decided that we did not need the service. Moreover, nothing could be or should be free.

Actually Antique had stopped the boat somewhere already good for snorkelling. What do we need? All we had to do was to take off our T-shirt and shorts and jump into the emerald color, clear water. Michael and the children also plunged in. They took our arms and led us to see the big fishes.

There were quite a large variety of fishes and colorful coral. Some fish was bigger than a family-size pizza.

17-year-old Michael has a charming smile with dimple on his cheeks. He is a natural born diver, can stay under water for a long time and dash around out of nothing. I actually saw him flipping a rock bigger than his own body, 8 feet below the surface.

Back on the boat, the "volunteers" were still there. Having failed to become our snorkelling master, the men started showing us pearls, pendants made of shark tooth, and giant mantis shrimps which he could have them cooked immediately for our breakfast. We wanted none of them.

Next we set off for Caohagan, another small island. A Japanese bought it in the 80's and set up some facilities there. It has not much fish in its waters but is a good place for bathing. Our boat stopped outside the island and there was a vast bank of white sand spanning until the beach of the island, with swimming-pool-clear water up to our thighs.

Andy's boys played with us as if we were friends, not customers. To catch our attention, they did all sorts of acrobatics they could think of - standing upside down, jumping from Antique's shoulders... It was so funny.

We also chatted with Antique, which let us know a little more about him.

Antique told us that we can go up the beach by swimming, or precisely, walking there - then the 100 peso entrance fee would not be required. But we were feeling so good that we didn't want to leave the water. Rosalina suggested that the youngmen could go down the water and get us some sea urchin roe if we like. We gently turned down this idea also. We thought they were already doing a great job and such extra work was not really necessary.

We stayed until it's time for lunch, when we headed to one of the floating restaurants at Cao-Uy of Olango Island. The restaurant was almost empty, and so were their basins. Yet upon the arrival of customers the basins are instantly filled with catches - crab, lapu lapu, fan lobsters with ugly yellow shell, and lots of sea shells which we were the first time to see a living creature in it.

During our lunch Andy brought the other group in. He came over to greet us and we chatted for a short time. He had been receiving a lot of enquiries in mobile phone text, which he had difficulty to answer, both because of the cost and his English level. We think it would be a good idea for him to learn how to use e-mail. But of course, even in such a commercially active area, computer is still a luxury to many Philippino families.

We had plan for souvenir shopping in the city, so we only asked Rosalina to take us to one more spot after lunch, the Talima Marine Sanctuary. The entrance fee was only 100 pesoes per head and there were also quite a lot of fish, though in smaller size and variety comparing with Gilutungan. Again the Casquejo boys played with us as if we were their pals. They are chidren after all. For a few times they rode on our backs like riding horses while we were doing our snorkelling. They were heavy in the water! I would have sunken if not wearing a life jacket. All the way we were laughing though, and the joy was incomparable.

Rosalina took us back to the pier and found us a motor tricycle. They took a short ride with us together and we waved goodbye to this graceful lady and her lovely kids outside the local market.

The cost for 2 person was 2,500 pesoes (USD 55) only. This price should be good for up to 6 person, with reasonable adjustment thereafter. Lunch was not included, but it was not expensive. For us, Andy provided free life jackets, and we had our own masks. Make sure you are provided with sufficient equipment if you have a bigger group. Protective shoes are not absolutely necessary for the destinations mentioned.

Andy has got an e-mail address now. Mobile text may still be the best way to contact him, until he becomes familiar with e-mail and has his own computer and Internet access. His number has been changed to +63 (0)99933 63064 (from the old number +63 (0)90959 81871). If anybody has problem to connect or to communicate, leave a message here and I would try to help.

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