We arrived in the Philippines to a significant weather and culture change. All those summer clothes I'd been lugging around I am now putting to use. We immediately had to deal with swindlers and being lied to as soon as we flew into Manila. Our taxi driver somehow talked us in to over paying him despite our best efforts to avoid scams. They use tons of little tricks. They tell you the meter hasn't been calibrated so its wrong and you owe more (one that didn't work on us) or they may even have a print out telling you a higher price when the meter clearly shows a lower price (we failed miserably on this one). We spent one night in Manila then got on a plane to Cebu Island to then head straight to Malapascua Island where we are doing our Dive Master training. The journey getting here involved a taxi to a bus terminal where we were asked several times if we wanted him to take us all the way to the ferry for the low price of 3,000 pesos. We opted for the 100 peso bus ride which is about $2.50. When we got to the ferry there were about 10 other travelers waiting to get on a boat. We noticed immediately the frustration amongst them all. They had been passed up a few times while locals boarded boats and left. We only had to wait a half hour til we left, mostly due to everyone else complaining of having to wait an hour and a half. So thank you to them.
Malapascua is a very small island that you can easily walk around in an hour or two. There are a handful of villages spread across it but our main hub is the southern end of the island were there is a beach lined with restaurants and dive shops. The closest village, called "The Village", clever huh?, is where there are various shops and a couple of internet cafes. We stayed at BB's Lodge for the first 8 nights which cost roughly $12 a night. It had huge spiders, tons of mosquitoes, and rodents, which we never saw, but they left their poop behind as evidence. It was open at the top where the thatched walls met the tin roof so the critters had free reign and came and went as they pleased. It was incredibly noisy at night. Barking dogs, rain, karaoke (a love of the natives, and humorous to me), and the disco made it hard to sleep at night. The shower only dripped so we were left using a bucket to shower and there was no toilet seat so I'll let you imagine how hard it was going to the bathroom... I'm not sure why we stayed so long, but the important part is we are now very happy and comfortable in our new place. Two other DMT's (Dive Master Trainees) told us about a lady in the village that rents rooms out. They told us she left out bananas, tea, and hot water everyday and was really nice. We were sold. She only charges $4 a night and we get to live with the locals. Teresa, our landlady, is beyond sweet. She is always checking on us and gives us free access to her kitchen if we need a plate, cup, or whatever. She has a maid that cleans our room once a week and does our laundry which is so so nice. The room itself is a bit warm, but it's neat, clean, bright feel makes it worth it. One night at around 10pm I was starving and couldn't sleep so I quietly got out of bed to see if anyone in the village was still awake at one of the shops. I went out and found some yummy peanut butter crackers to fix my hunger. When I got back I sat in our common area to eat and Teresa came out to make sure I was okay and to offer me food. This is most of the reason I love staying at her house. Its like staying at an aunt or grandma's house. I love it!
A day in my life here goes like this. I get up, sometimes as early as 4:30 or 5:00am, eat a quick breakfast of oatmeal or bread, head to the dive shop, pack my box full of all the gear needed to dive, then I get on a little boat which takes me to a big boat. If I am on the early morning dive we are looking for Thresher Sharks, which the island is known for. We take a 15 minute boat ride out, jump in the water at around sunrise, then sink down to a shoal (a sunken island) that rests at about 22 meters below the surface. Then we usually wait, and wait in hopes of catching a glimpse of this beautiful fish. I have seen it twice now and Jeff 3 times. They have really long tails that they use to hunt little fish. We are way too big to be food. It is so wonderful to see them after getting up early day after day.
We also see big devil rays and sometimes manta rays flying by. After this dive we go back to the shop and if we are hungry we eat or study then go on another dive. Then its back for lunch, then another dive, then more studying. So basically our day is filled to the brim with diving and studying. I now have 50 dives so I am further along in the process. Now we are doing more underwater workshops were we learn things like search and recovery, finding a lost object on the sea floor, and deep dive planning. There is so much to learn and pack in our heads. We have skill circuits sometimes where we are graded on how well we can perform certain skills like taking off and putting back on your mask underwater. This particular skill happens to be my personal nemesis. The first time I was supposed to do it I panicked and refused. I wanted to cry, but found that difficult underwater. One of the instructors had to take me out on my own to practice. Now I do it beautifully, or at least I think so. We have also started assisting instructors with classes. I helped one of my favorite instructors with an Advanced Open Water course (what I did in Honduras). The girl's name was Anna. I had to make sure she set up her equipment right then help her if she had in problems in the water. It was fun, and I really liked her! Eventually I will lead dives, but that's not until closer to the end of the course.
I am learning a lot but in all fairness it has been a bit difficult here. I have gotten so angry and frustrated on more than one occasion. To the point that I wanted to leave. I am going to stick it out because I owe that to myself and to my wallet, but I anticipate more frustration to come. Sometimes the people we work with have horrible attitudes which totally affects my morale (I'm working on not letting it), then the next day they are really nice. I am not only getting a lesson in diving here, but a lesson in dealing with difficult people. 2 for 1 :) I do really love the diving and I know I am very fortunate to be doing this. I just have to try to keep that thought in my head when it gets tough. More later when there is more to tell......
This is the mandarin fish. I think it is one of the most beautiful I've seen here. We go on night dives to watch them mating. Its amazing!