Finding Nemo Meets Castaway – Philippines – Day 5

“Oopah Gangnam style…”

“Ayyyyeeeee sexy lady…”

“Oppp, oppp, oppp, oppp, oppp, oppah Gangnam style…”

Our friendly next-door, all-town fiesta banged away all night until 4 AM. And, as soon as the music stopped, the roosters started. First, it was the scraggly, underfed monster outside our window, the one that sounded like it was being strangled with two hands around its throat. Then, it was the neighbor’s rooster. Then…The. Entire. Island. Full. Of. Roosters.

There was no rest for the weary that night. Since the electricity cut off at 6 AM, the fans all stopped, which meant the room was rapidly becoming humid, sticky, and fragranced with the sweat of a lot of scruffy backpackers.

I unstuck myself from the sheet on my bed, wrestled out of the electric green mosquito netting, and tried to rearrange all of my sore muscles. My only consolation was knowing that we were stopping by the Midtown Bakery right by our hostel – at least we got the scent of freshly-baked bread once we were outside – for taro cakes, cocoa cookies, and whole rye bread for breakfast.

With my excellent spidey-senses, I had spotted a coffee shop the night before, which happened to be right down from the dive shop where we were meeting for our diving/snorkeling adventure. I popped down there for coffee, which was a Guatemalan with a little Ethiopian (name that movie!) blend and served hot and dark in a French press. I was in heaven. French press coffee in El Nido! It may not have electricity, but dang, if the place has coffee, I will travel! I enjoyed my big mug of coffee while people-watching and reveling in the gorgeous tropical weather whilst sitting on their flower-covered veranda. There never was any better way to begin a day.

We loaded up our gear into the scuba-diving boat and set off for our first dive site. We moored up next to a sheer rock face with a little lagoon of turquoise water beneath it. While Sarah and Marco went through their diving refresher course, I hopped into the water to paddle around. When everyone else was diving, I sort of felt like the kid who was relegated to playing in the paddling pool whilst everyone else got to play in the deep end of the pool. But, it made me really consider getting a diving certificate so I could do something like that next time I was on a gorgeous tropical island.

The corals were absolutely unspoiled and gorgeous. I flippered around for awhile, just staring down at the amazing sights and letting the warm sun tan my back.

But then, little tissue-like things began to float past me. They shimmered a bit, sort of an “Open for Business” neon sign in the water. They freaked me out, as I wasn’t about to mess with the jellyfishes. I asked the crew of the boat if they were stinging jellyfish, and they said ‘no.’ I went back to snorkeling, messing around by the rocks to see what was going on there. It was fun to hold the tissue thing at bay with my finger, watching it trying to figure out exactly why it couldn’t float past me.

Duh-nuh. Duh-nuh. Duh-nuh. DUH-NUH. DUH-NUH!

No, it wasn’t Jaws. It was a whole load of real baby jellyfish, all with these long, dazzling tentacles. I went into panic mode and quickly swam back to the boat, getting up the ladder just as the entire enormous school of them drifted past. I didn’t feel like being stung by the lot of them. Hell no.

Not long after I popped out of the water, the divers surfaced, and we were on our way to the second island. I still could not get over the color of the water and the silvery, skipping baby fish that flew out over the waves. I stayed out of the water for a while, hanging out on the boat and reading my book, but I decided to hop in whilst the divers were gone to check out the water there.

I jumped in, and I peered under the waves with my goggles.

JELLYFISHING! JELLYFISHING!

The water was so clear I could see straight to the bottom.

Loads and loads of shiny, shimmering, splendid, fat-headed baby jellyfish aimlessly floated toward me as I rested there, bobbing up and down with the gentle waves. They were…cute…cute and freaking deadly.

Well, not deadly, perhaps, but they sure would hurt like hell if I got stung by a whole bunch of them, and of all the experiences in the Philippines I had hoped for, being stung on my legs by multiple, brainless jellyfish was just not on the bucket list.

I popped out of the water and decided that I would make the good ole college try again at the next dive spot.

We pulled up to an island for lunch, which was grilled seafood, rice, and fruit once more. I’m amazed at all the little beaches here and there on these little islands. The Philippines is comprised of a couple thousand islands, and it’s easy to see how that’s possible once you’re there. Islands popped out of nowhere when we boated by them, seemingly just floating out there on their own. No man is an island, perhaps, but an island can sure be an island in the Philippines. Utterly lonesome.

After sun and sand, we hopped back on the boat for one last dive trip. I strapped on the snorkel gear for one last go, and this was perhaps the best spot of the day. The water glowed with that odd sea green color you only see in the tropics, and the visibility was amazing. While the divers scouted out the route around the island, Marco and I were content with exploring the curved cove with snorkels. The variety of coral again was phenomenal, and I didn’t realize just how many colors it could be.

And then, I saw him.

I found Nemo.

Nemo and his daddy were chillin’ out at the nearest anemone, lazing about just outside its jelly-like reaches. Clownfish are very territorial, I found, as I swam a bit too close for comfort, and the larger clownfish darted out at me very quickly. Not like he was going to eat me or anything, but he got his message across clearly. In fact, there were several clownfish groups in the anemones, which was pretty amazing. Again, this was stuff I had only hereto seen at the Shedd Aquarium, and here I was, floating right above it, watching the mysterious life of fish and sea creatures unfold first hand.

I used to have a book I loved when I was younger. It was a Jacques Cousteau book with bright, exciting photographs of underwater life. I suddenly remembered that book as I flung my arms out, still and quiet, and let the waves roll me toward its goal. I was living in that Cousteau book instead of simply looking at the pages.

Check another one off the bucket list.

Out of the corner of my eyes, I noticed a huge…something that swam by us, but it was very dark in the deeper parts of the water and very unclear. Whatever it was, it could eat me, and I steered clear of going any further into its territory.

“Wilson! Wilson! WWWWIIIIILLLSSSSOONNNN!”

While I continued to explore the electric pink and purple corals of the reef, Marco decided to swim to shore. All of a sudden, I heard him shouting, “Wilson! Wilson! Wilson!” To which I began to laugh, while underwater and trying to breathe through a snorkel.

In that moment, I reached high and above the FDA recommended daily sodium intake. I was so salty I could have left it off my next plate of French fries and been just fine.

At least there were no jellyfish to hound us here, which made for a great snorkeling experience. I floated around for about forty minutes before returning to the boat, completely blown away by the uniqueness of snorkeling around a beautiful, unspoiled tropical coral reef in an isolated, gorgeous location. No other boats were near to bother us. Just me, Nemo, and the dark something that swam by.

Salty, sunned, and content, I scrambled back into the boat and relaxed for the rollicking ride back to El Nido. The day had been a stunner, a marvelous experience from one island to the next.

Once we returned our equipment to the shop, we walked upstairs from it to Habibi Cafe, a Middle Eastern-inspired cafe right on the beach with phenomenal views of the water. Divers were given one free drink, which we gladly enjoyed with a view such as that. In addition, we tried to use the Wi-Fi to email our two other friends, who were supposed to be arriving in El Nido that day.

We finally found out that they were hanging out at the Art Cafe, having already arrived in town. We walked over, looked around, and we didn’t see them. Now, El Nido was not big by any means; it was difficult not to find someone there. But, we apparently had missed them – somewhere.

After returning to our hostel and taking some cold showers – I devised a system by which I could cover up the open concrete block windows with my two pieces of a bathing suit, we went in pursuit of our lost friends again, especially since darkness would soon fall, making it more difficult to spot them and tell them where we were staying.

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…”

We wandered around for a bit, finally deciding to head back to the Art Cafe. Lo and behold, there they were, hanging out up on the balcony. Now that we were able to meet up, it was time to break the news of our accommodation to them. It was “rustic” and “basic,” and “certainly not the Ritz, or even the ‘z’ of the Ritz.” Of course, none of this was comforting to the two weary travelers. But, at least we weren’t sleeping on the beach – or on the concrete floor – as several travelers had to after finding no place to stay the night before. And, it was convenient, since the toilet and the shower were all together. My bright side of life tip was that it was easy to shave your legs since the toilet made a nice place to prop them up on.

There’s always a heads-side up to the penny, after all.

At this point, we were all starving, so we snagged a darn good table at Sea Slugs again. I went for a burger and fries that night, just for some red meat sustenance. The night was gorgeous, and I was able to entertain people with my NightSky app, which, wherever you point it at the horizon or above, showed the planets, stars, and constellations. It was pretty wild to see the Big Dipper so very close to the horizon line, and Orion looked spectacular. Jupiter was a hungry, orange ball near Orion. I hadn’t seen stars like that so clearly for years. The entire sky was littered with light. I had the Coldplay song “Yellow” stuck in my head all night – and into the next day as well: “Look at the stars/look how they shine for you…”

Unfortunately, after our supper, we eventually had to return to the hostel – and, come to find out, the street fiesta again. They were voting on Mr. and Miss El Nido, and the festivities were to go on all night since it was apparently the last night of the fiesta.

So, as I tucked myself up in my mosquito netting once more and plugged up my ears with industrial strength ear plugs, I felt tired enough to ignore the strains of popular music, even if I was sorely tempted to perform the Macarena within the confines of my bunked bed.

We were tired, we were merry, but we hadn’t gone back and forth on the ferry.

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