5:00am… straight for the coffee to wake myself up slightly and wait for the others. Loaded up into the back of a pick-up for a quick lift over to the beach where our boat or bangka awaited. The sun began to creep up over the horizon greeting the day illuminating the sky to a dull orange. Wading out to the bangka, we all climb aboard and took our place. I wanted to be as close to the front as possible to take in the morning sun. By the end of the day I realized I definitely did not need this extra sun. The engine with some trouble roared to life and began its head thumping chug towards Balicasag.
Now while growing up the ‘Three S’s’ meant something different to me as my dad would use the expression referring to and I quote, ‘Shit, Shave, Shampoo.’ This can vary depending on who you talk to, but today they took on a slightly different meaning. Snorkel, Sea Turtles and Seafood. I wish I could add a D in there, but unfortunately the dolphins many see on this day trip were nowhere to be spotted. Can’t win them all.
From one boat to another we hit the course sand, rocky beach of Balicasag to decide on our snorkeling spots. First up was the ‘Fish Sanctuary’. Disappointing in my opinion, for snorkeling anyways. It was so overcrowded with boats and people there really wasn’t an abundance of marine life. Groups of legs standing around and boats floating around, I swam into two boats smacking my head. While humorous to some degree, the name sanctuary was very unfitting. Happily moving on, it was time to see something I’d never seen before underwater.
At the other end of the island the coral became very sparse being replaced with lush fields of sea grass. Perfect for the grazing of sea turtles. As soon as I jumped in, adjusted my mask and dunked my face in, there it was. Chill as can be, just casually chowing down some of his breakie. I’m going to call this one Leonardo. A slow movement of its flippers and onto the next spot of grass. I went in search of the next one. I spotted Raphael just before disappearing into the deep blue. Once he was gone from my vision, I looked down to find a banded sea snake. Quite venomous, but more or less harmless I’m told… maybe just to reassure people. I thought this was it until Donatello came into view, but faster than I could swim, he was on his way to bluer horizons no matter how hard I tried to catch up. Eventually I gave up and turned around to find Michelangelo trailing me mere meters away. This was the closest encounter I could have asked for and if I could smile with a snorkel, it would have been ear to ear. It worked out well I saw four total.
With that new experience over, I thought unbeatable for the day anyways as the Philippines kept throwing great things my way, as a chef new edibles were about to be consumed. This generally will top anything for me. Back in the bangka and headed for Virgin Island. Ultimately just a sandbar, it was an oasis of the sea. A local greeted our boat with buckets of live sea urchin and abalone, with more awaiting me on land. Heaven does exist. Cracking open a couple urchins with a slight splash of chili vinegar to get the appetite going, I followed the bucket of abalone to the cook tent. Over a clay stove my first taste of this delicious mollusc was prepared. Abalone, adobo style. Stir-fried with onions, garlic, chilies, soy and vinegar in a setting such as this, simply amazing. The product of a mussel, clam, squid and snail orgy I only assume. All the while tiger cowries and spider shells roasted in their shells to be cracked open with the back edge of a knife, skewered and enjoyed.
Not only a day many numerous firsts, this amazing day gifted me with one hell of a sunburn. I guess I can’t expect much less when my relationship with the sun isn’t a mutually love. Not wanting to leave Virgin Island, I could have stayed for hours, days, probably weeks. Wake each day, eat the fruits of the sea like a king and blister in the sun, but I had a ferry to catch back to Cebu for a festival I could not miss. Sinulog 2016…