Happiness Is… Snorkeling In The Philippines

Stepping off the ferry, in a confusion of what should happen next – something about getting into a smaller boat to take us to our beach hotel – I am dismayed to suddenly find my luggage in the hands of a self-designated porter.  He carries my bag all of 30 feet, and promptly demands payment.  I hadn’t wanted, needed, or asked him to take my bag.

Sigh.  Such is travel in some parts of the world.

But minutes later, I’m much more relaxed.  The weather is on the hot end of warm, but still very comfortable.  The water is crystal clear.  The island is beautiful.  Our boat driver is  encouraging us to hire him for snorkeling trips and other excursions.  We arrive at our hotel, which, as promised in my guidebook and the hotel’s website, is in a lovely spot.

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Home for four nights

I chose the hotel partly because it was the last one on the beach, and the beach was a 15 minute walk from the party scene at Sabang beach.  Close enough to make the fun close if we wanted, far enough to keep our nights blissfully quiet.

Minutes after arriving, we step into the water – and quickly discover ours is not a soft sandy beach, but a nightmare of broken coral.  Ouch.  And the water?  Well, not nearly as warm as I had hoped or expected.

I go running for almost 2 hours, struggling in the humidity.  On the way back I inquire about snorkeling trips at a few dive shops.

Morning.  On the boat with a nice Belgian-Filipino family.  It’s a bit too cliche.  He is a fantastically overweight European man, she is a beautiful Filipina.  Their 5 year old daughter is impossibly cute.  I’m the first into the water, and instantly glad for my 3mm wetsuit.

Fish.  Fish everywhere.  And the corals – incredible!  A few times I have to fight off giggling with happiness while underwater.  In this calm water I am far more relaxed than I ever was in Baja, Honduras or the Galapagos, and I quickly start pushing myself.  There are numerous giant clams here, 15-20 feet down, and I dive down to them several times.  At one point I startle a diver by swimming below him.  I’m tired but a bit sad when the 45 minutes is up.

In the afternoon, back on the boat for a 10 minute ride to another spectacular location.  Once again, the underwater world is amazing.  It is exactly the day I was looking for.

Next morning, time for another snorkel adventure.  We hired one of yesterday’s boatmen for a 6 hour outing.  We’re shuttled from a regular sized panga to a small boat piloted by a non-English speaking fisherman.  I’m confused, but my companion informs me it’s because larger boats are not allowed at our snorkeling destination.  We pull into a wide channel, and he tells us to jump in.  Immediately yesterday’s calmness evaporates.  A moment of panic.  In the few minutes it took to put on snorkeling gear, we drifted away from the coast.  I can’t see bottom, which always unnerves me, and the boatman is already motoring away.  Anger and fear mix, a dangerous combination in the water.

Breathe, Kevin.  It’s just swimming.  And in this wetsuit, drowning would be difficult.  I swim steadily for maybe 5 minutes, though it feels much longer.  By the time I catch up to the boat, I’m in awe at the scene below me.  This area is called Coral Garden, and it’s an apt name.  The reef is perhaps a 1/2 mile long, and is beyond words.  I’m simply amazed as I dive down over and over.

After maybe 45 minutes, I return to the boat, exhausted but happy.

Our boatman motors to our next destination, the “underwater cave.”  To access the cave you can either swim a few feet underwater, or climb down a ladder from above water.  Hardly a worthy destination on its own, but it’s in a lovely spot, and fun.  Best of all, we meet a wonderful Filipino family who are full of laughter.  When I ask if we can take a group selfie, they correct me and say it’s a “Grelphie” – perfect!

Here’s the link to my 2 minute video of some snorkeling highlights.  I don’t have a great underwater camera, and shooting underwater is surprisingly difficult, but it’s still some fun stuff.

(click the video title or the word ‘vimeo’ if you want to watch in a separate window or full-screen)


We motor a few minutes more to a quiet beach, where our original boatman is waiting with a lunch of grilled fish, pork, and fresh fruit.  We relax on the beautiful beach before returning to our hotel.

Cost for this 6 hour adventure?  About 45 dollars including tip and wetsuit rentals.  I love the Philippines.

Next morning.  Another run.  More struggling for energy in the humidity.  The weather is lovely on the beach, but as soon as I head inland, away from the ocean breeze, the humidity takes me down a notch.

My travel companion suggests hiring a boat to take us to another beach.  I assume we are going to some quiet abandoned locale, so I am somewhat surprised when we land at what looks like a beach in Florida.  Tourist shops, jet skis, the usual props.

I’ve always wanted to ride a jet ski.  It’s ridiculous for many reasons, but also looks like a lot of fun. Here I can rent one cheap, $20 for 30 minutes of zooming around, bouncing off the waves.  Oh yes.

Finally – I get to be the asshole on the beach.

I finish my 30 minutes with a huge grin on my face.

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