I have done a lot of things where people thought I was brave. When I graduated, instead of pursuing avenues made easy by people in the family (and there’s absolutely nothing with doing that), I tried to get by with my own merits (and still do). I travel by myself as much as I could. I sign up for experiences I have never done before, even if it meant I had to take an uncomfortable tumble down a hill. I’ve heard so much about this so-called courage directed at me, but further introspection has always begged to differ. What people don’t see from the outside is this overwhelming fear of the unknown, and of the future. You can plan out your entire life, down to how many glasses of water you can drink in a day and when you’ll drink them, but an unexpected one-minute phone call can derail everything. Every single thing you do, no matter how small it is, could be creating an avalanche that you didn’t have the foresight to see. I find that idea terrifying that sitting here and writing about it had made my hands cold and clammy, with a lump in my throat that won’t go away. While I like to think that I love the challenge and the temporary exhilaration of going out of my “comfort zone”, it was not called that for nothing. Everything I do is usually in accordance with making sure that I have some sort of security. From getting a degree to finding cushy job opportunities, surrounding myself with people whose goals are similar with mine and those who have ‘achieved’ them, up to choosing a location to where I want to build my future home – all the roads I worked on paving leads to living a life where I feel safe and secure. But life has a way of pulling the rug right under your feet when you least expect it, and no matter what you do, nothing is ever really certain.
And I guess that’s also why while I enjoy basking in the sun on a beach, being in the middle of the ocean never fail to give me anxiety. This planet is 70% water and there are depths that science hasn’t reached, and most scientists would say that the ocean is literally filled with too many things no one knows about yet. There are just too many unknown possibilities lying underneath the deceptive calm dark shade of blue, and being in a boat where all you can see is this same shade of water 360 degrees is enough to make me offer a silent prayer to deities that may or may not exist.
Since we were on a boat filled with divers – another hobby that I don’t plan on taking up for reasons stated above – the boat drop-offs are at deeper depths compared to the usual spots for snorkeling tours. This wasn’t the first time I have gone snorkeling, and I have always been confident enough to swim around the boat (because again, snorkeling tours usually stop at shallow reefs where water is 2-5 meters deep) without a life vest. However, we were dropped off at the first dive spot and unlike any snorkeling trips I’ve done prior, I couldn’t even see the sand. Gin and I jumped off the boat (with fins on, and it was our first time to use fins too), looked down with our snorkeling mask and only saw endless water. Two words. Fucking. Terrifying.
Swimming in the ocean with fins for the first time, and in this depth, was not something I suggest to anyone who is a bit panicky (like me) with plans to live for a long time. We should have practiced using it in the resort’s pool first because again, I DON’T PLAN TO DIE IN THE OCEAN. It takes a little bit of getting used to, and I can already feel my legs cramping because I might have been treading the water wrong (or something, can you tell I haven’t used fins before lol). I swam back to return the fins and ask if we would be able to see anything at all, and we were advised by the boatmen to swim nearer to the island to see more. The island looked super near from the boat, and the current helped us swim to the island faster. We didn’t get too close because when we looked back at the boat, we realized we were farther than where we thought we’d be. It doesn’t seem too deep in the photos, but those tiny colorful fishes you see in them are actually the size of my palm (and bigger). The current was against the direction towards the boat, and the cramps I got from the earlier encounter with the fins have restarted so I shouted at the boatmen to throw me a life vest before my life starts flashing before my eyes. They threw me a life ring which was easier to get into, and that is the story of how I eluded death in Apo Island.
Since the divers take an hour (and a bit more) at every dive spot, Gin and I got to relax and eat our snacks at the boat while waiting for them to come back. We didn’t even know that they also take about an hour of break time after every dive which sucked for the both of us who only really wanted to snorkel. I’m never getting on a boat with scuba divers again.
Fortunately, the next stop was a lot more shallow (shallow enough to see the bottom, thank the heavens), and the boatmen guaranteed us turtle sightings. I believe their exact words were “wag kayong babalik dito hanggang hindi kayo nakakakita ng turtle” (don’t come back in this boat until you see a turtle), which was exactly what we wanted to hear. During our trip planning, we agreed that Apo Island is the only thing we didn’t want to miss out on when we get to Dumaguete because the marine life is just stunning. This time, since the drop off was on the shallow part of the sea, the scuba divers went the other way while we went the opposite direction. I did the preemptive choice of bringing the life ring with me, which was fortunate because, after a couple of turtle sightings, Gin and I lost sight of one important thing. Her GoPro. Since we obviously still have all these photos, we got it back, thanks to the coral reef patrol (not their real name but they have people stationed in the water to make sure that none of the tourists damage the reef) who saw two girls clinging on one life ring screaming about a lost GoPro. It was one of the longest five minutes of our lives. The Apo Island coral reef patrol deserves all the credit – making sure the reef is safe (and no one plays with the turtles), pointing out the turtles (to which Gin and I hurriedly swam to, while also shouting underwater at finally seeing a live turtle and viewed it from a safe distance because nobody likes strangers badgering their home you know), and retrieving lost GoPros with their freediving skills.
All the turtles look small in the photos, but some people tried free diving to swim next to it and they were as huge as their torsos. It was an insanely magnificent sight to behold. I have never been teary eyed underwater until I saw actual turtles in their natural habitat.
Another long break. Another dive spot. Gin and I stayed in the boat because it was on another deep part of the island, and the foreigners we shared the boat with were talking about the sea snakes they saw. Gin and I just turned to each other with a look that said “we’ve had enough adrenaline for today”, and just let the fish come to us when the boatmen threw away their rice overboard. Although I would DEFINITELY come back to Apo Island again (I even contemplated on actually breaking my personal rule of no scuba diving so I can get nearer the corals), I will probably go on a snorkeling tour with people who are not scuba diving next time. All our underwater photos do no justice to just how amazing this experience was.
And I guess while it’s reasonable to be afraid of the unknown, we can only work on being secure up to a certain point. As they say, life is what happens while you plan for it. I would have never seen (and cried over) turtles if I let my fear of the ocean conquer me, and there are probably greater experiences I would miss out on the future if I let my fears overwhelm me. When life takes a turn, and your fears of losing your footing (or getting cramps in the middle of the ocean) come true, let your will to survive push you. I’m slowly learning to find joy in hanging on bright orange life rings because sometimes the current just does not go towards the direction you want it to. As with life, the only thing constant about the ocean is its waves – sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down – you just need to ride them. It’s hard to be grateful when you feel like you’re drowning, but I have people in my life looking out for me, and people to swim against the tides with. 🙂
TEESH || PHILIPPINES