Alenna in Waterland

Mermaids… are they for real? It’s almost every little girl’s dream- to be a mermaid. I know it was once mine. Or perhaps, it still is.

Mesmerizing, picturesque, breathtaking… word cannot suffice the description of what I’ve seen down below. There’s so much more to these adjectives. I’m more than enthusiastic to share this experience of a lifetime, hoping that some of you would be encouraged to explore the underwater world.

Prior to my arrival in Busuanga Island, I took up my online open water dive course. I wasn’t so sure before if I really wanted to be certified during my trip. A lot of activities could be done in this island like island hopping, hiking, snorkeling, but I knew it would be foolish of me to skip diving in this famous dive area. My love for and curiosity about marine life sparked me to spontaneously sign up on this course. Right on my first night at Sanctuaria Treehouses, Simon of Pirate Divers Concepcion came to do some introductions. I was glad and relieved because if he didn’t, I would have been too quiet and awkward on the days of diving.

9 o’clock on the 6th of April, Brian was trying to convince me to ditch diving and just go kayaking through the mangrove forest with him and Buhay. As tempting as his offer was, my excitement of being able to dive didn’t let me fall into this temptation. We then agreed upon going to my dive. The other dive master, James, picked me up and we went to Concepcion where the dive shop was located just near the pier. Checking of wetsuit size, fitting of fins, and such were done before we boarded the boat.  Luckily, I was the only student that day. The sun had risen beautifully and the waves were lovely. It was a perfect day for diving. As we approached the first dive spot, butterflies started fluttering in my stomach. I was handed my gears while Simon did some briefing about the skills test we were about to conduct. Honestly, my attention span was corrupted by my impatience to jump in the water and dive. Though, I clearly remember all the things he discussed since I’ve read and watched the online course materials thoroughly.

Checklist! Wetsuits zipped, fins on, weight belt locked up, BC vests worn, oxygen tank with regulator attached, and face masks fitted. After all of us, Simon, James, including me except for Brian who just came along to watch, were completely geared up, I watched Simon enter the water with a big stride. There he goes: splash! Hesitant, I stood up and struggled walking with my fins on. One of the boat crew kept on my aid to keep me from falling on my face. I just mimicked what Simon did and was able to successfully bob into the water safely. James then followed. I felt comfortable being in the water. Simon told me keep my eyes focused on him as he demonstrated the skills. I did well and was able to execute all the skills. Fitting the mask, expelling water from the mask, coordinating hand signals, using the air regulator as well as recovering it were easily mastered. We then went down a couple of meters. However, I sank slowly, then quickly. Pain then struck my ears. I told myself, “Please don’t panic, Alenna. What are you supposed to do? Go do some signals!” We then ascended and Simon told James to instruct me about equalizing pressure. I totally forgot about that which is one of the most important things a diver should remember. It was a good thing that these dive masters were hands on. After learning how to equalize pressure, buoyancy came next. I struggled a lot with my buoyancy. I just brushed it off then.

Completing the skills test, I was ready for the first dive. We swam further from our boat and descended slowly. Looking across the water, I was in awe seeing the coral reef rich in life. James guided me through the dive since I haven’t really mastered my buoyancy yet. Floating above the garden of corals, the marine life amused me. Unfamiliar wildlife came into sight. It was fascinating. Seeing Nemo, I giggled inside. I was actually in close proximity with a clownfish! The first dive made me want to go for more. Simon and James were within reach to check on my air and guide me on my buoyancy. If it weren’t for them, my dive would have been a nightmare of floating up and down. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the scenic marine world.

I knew it was time to go up when Simon gestured on ascent. On the boat was one of the crew waiting to assist us in getting out of the water. Lunch time! The boat motored for just a couple of minutes till we reach Calambuyan Island. I sighed heavily as my breath was taken away from the pristine island with crystal clear turquoise waters and fine white sand. You can count on one hand the number of tourists on the island which made it even more special. Hammocks were hung upon the trees. We sat on the table and had lunch. Free to wander around, I was content to sit there listening to Brian’s stories while admiring nature at the same time.

It was time for my last dive for the day. Simon accompanied me and we did a drift dive at the Calambuyan reef. I expected to see about the same thing as I did on my first dive. I didn’t expect much surprise. However, the reef was even more beautiful than the first reef. The marine life was richer and bigger! After about half an hour, we finished the dive and were fetched by the boat. Happily exhausted, it was time to call it a day.

Around half past nine, I finished my breakfast and went with Simon to Concepcion. Brian didn’t come along since there were two more divers joining us that day. Arriving at the dive shop, one of the two divers introduced his self on our way to the boat. He’s named Nixon or Dixon, I can’t clearly remember. The other was Ran. They were friends, both from Iran or Iraq. Again, my memory is so poor. They’re both divers. For the second day, there would be 3 dives around two Japanese shipwrecks, one of which is Okikawa Maru and the other dive at Calambuyan reef once more. Simon told me that I would be finally certified after the dive on Okikawa Maru. There was a laminated information sheet available on the dive site and its history.

It was a cloudy morning and the wind was blowing stronger than the day before. On our first dive, I was accompanied by James to practice on my buoyancy. As I dived into the water, I was surprised to see a shipwreck. It was captivating. I couldn’t believe for a second how beautiful it was. I wondered about how marine life was formed through it. Though small, the wreck was still stunning. We just wandered around and spent about half an hour hovering through this site. After everyone ascended, we proceeded to the next site. Everyone dipped into the water with gears on. However, as we swam, we were dragged by the waves so quickly that we were meters away from the boat just after a few seconds of floating around. It wasn’t a good diving condition at all. Simon then said that we’d head off to the Calambuyan reef for a drift dive. I was about to practice my buoyancy during this dive, but the strong current prohibited me to do so. A quick look of the reef and then we had lunch. We spent about an hour or two at the beach. I took a hammock and had the best sleep even though the dogs, Moolah and Bruno, were tickling my back.

At last, we’re going to have the big shipwreck dive- Okikawa Maru! Simon told everyone that this ship is larger than what we’ve dived before. He explained the directions that we were about to take. After further discussion, everyone stepped into the water and grabbed the rope that will lead to Okikawa Maru. As we reached the bottom, we maneuvered in the water. My jaw literally dropped at the sight in front of my eyes. It was even more striking than all of my prior dives. What made the dive better was that I was more confident on my buoyancy since I was accustomed to controlling it than I was before. We cruised around the ship while observing the marine life. The visibility was great which made the sight even more tantalizing. As we reached the mast and was about to circle back to the starting point, schools of vibrantly colored marine wildlife in assorted sizes came before us. The fish seemed infinitely many. Running out of oxygen, we needed to return to our starting point. I saw the rope and held onto it. Grabbing it hand in hand, I was still on a keen observer mode as I probe on the fish living around the rope. As I slowly made my ascent, I thought to myself, “You do love scuba diving, Alenna!”

Shoutout to Simon and James of Pirate Divers Concepcion! This experience has been one of the highlights of my trip. For sure, I’ll be back for my dive master soon. This is when I repeat MacArthur’s words, “I shall return.” (At least, I’m close to being a mermaid now.)

I’ll now let the video speak for itself. If you aren’t still convinced, then I don’t know what else could convince you on diving or at the very least, snorkeling.

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