I waddled my way to the edge, standing in limbo. The water below me, air above. The entrance to that other world awaits me. One giant stride forward, cross the threshold and break through to a new dimension. Free of gravity, effortlessly gliding through the water with a slow stride of the fins. Time seems to slow with this different take on the world. A fresh state of relaxation sets in while anything weighing on me remained on the surface. The world drifts away as I drift along. Continuing to descend, all of a sudden I see them. The real reason I am here.
Well let’s take this back a couple days. Sinulog 2016 had just concluded and I woke early to see some of the aftermath in the hostel. I hailed a cab to the North Terminal bus station and was headed to the tip of Cebu. 5 hours later and a couple power naps I arrived in Maya, the port to Malapascua. A short boat trip and there I was. Surrounded by crystal waters, lined with white sand and rocky cliffs, laced with palms and dotted with small island villages, this was a rare paradise. Such beauty is hard to come by without seeing mass commercialization right beside it. I checked into Villa Sandra Guesthouse in the heart of the main village and went for a stroll.
Slowly I made my way to Bounty Beach to find Thresher Shark Divers, one of the most reputable dive companies on the island. My Advanced Open Water and Nitrox course began the following morning so it was time to cross all the I’s and dot the T’s. I watched the gorgeous Philippines sunset and hit the bed. Sleep though would not come easy with the excitement of getting back in the water.
We gathered at 8:30 to go over some basics to familiarize ourselves with the equipment, hand signals and our dive plan for the day. Before long we were on the smaller boat bringing us towards the bangka. Assembling our gear and inspecting our tanks it was just a short ride over to the dive site. We performed a buddy safety check to be sure the equipment is working properly, spit in the googles to help prevent fogging and we were ready to go. A giant stride into the blue and the water consumed. To begin with we stayed at a simple 12 meters for the most part of our first two dives. This was to once again become comfortable and regain confidence as it was our reintroduction into this foreign environment. Over the course of the day we completed the Peak Performance Buoyancy and Navigation sections of the course as they are both vital skills as a diver. Buoyancy in particular.
Early to bed, early to rise. That’s what they say anyways. Either way 4:30 is still too early, but in this case it definitely pays off. We went over the dive plan and checked our Nitrox tank to adjust our dive computer appropriately. Nitrox is simply a higher ratio of oxygen to nitrogen allowing longer dive times at deeper depths. Perfect for a dive such as this. We were on the bangka by 5:30 with only a slight glow in the sky to the east. A brisk 30 minute ride to Monad Shoal as the sun crept over the blue horizon warming the air. This was home of the Thresher Sharks, the only place where they can be observed year round and why Malapascua is famous. This was the reason I chose here over the hundreds of dive locations in all the Philippines to complete my AOW and Nitrox course. In the early morning hours only as the threshers prefer cooler temperatures they rise from the depths to their ‘cleaning station’ along the shoal where the fish, then come by and feed off the dead skin of the shark. A perfect example of a symbiotic relationship in nature.
We readied ourselves and plunged into the deep. Following the buoy line down to the 14 meter mark, we didn’t have to go far for our first sighting. Only 5 meters down a couple swam into view. From the bottom of the line we slowly descended to my new max depth of 30 meters along the shoal. The threshers were coming in from every direction, constant sightings it seemed for the 37 minute dive. Some slightly blurred in the distance while most came in close to check us out. Slowly gliding through the water only meters in front of us, their eyes never left us. Their curiosity more often than not bringing them back around for another look. Their tail fin waved like a flag, as long as their body and used as their weapon for hunting. Unique to this species of shark, it was extraordinary to simply be in their presence. I could easily have lost myself in watching these, but unfortunately oxygen was needed.
Beginning our ascent, I was leaving the water with a whole new appreciation for diving and sharks in general. With over 20 sightings even our dive instructor left the water in awe, telling us we were extremely lucky as most dives maybe spot half a dozen. Watching these gentle predators was an experience I won’t soon forget leaving me with even more of a drive to dive as much as I can around this blue planet. Hopefully one day I will return to Malapascua where diving had changed for me forever.
Tip: The boat driver from Maya to Malapascua might try and tell you if your a lone traveller like myself, you have to wait for a full load of passengers to make the trip worth it or offer a higher fee to leave right away. I said I would wait and they left after they were done loading their goods to deliver anyway. When I mentioned it to people who lived on the island, they said it was just a ploy to get more money. Long story short, don’t pay more!
Villa Sandra Guesthouse is one of the few hostels on the island and centrally located in the main village. To add to the great environment this place produces, there is shirts and island jewellery made by the staff. Most importantly the proceeds of these go towards the local villages. Once a week, they go to one of the small villages and hand out school supplies and other such necessities and spend the afternoon playing games with the children. A great way to give back if even just a little to this beautiful island.
If you are doing a PADI certified course, use the online manuals so the theory aspect of things is finished ahead of time so you can enjoy the remainder of your days on the island.