A Big Splash and A Big Smile to Welcome 2015

Salgdoong Beach, Siquijor, Philippines
Salagdoong Beach in Siquijor, where you take the leap.

Happy New Year 🙂 Starting it with some musings about my last trip….

I am shifting in my seat right now as I write this. My butt still hurts from jumping into the sea off a 20-foot cliff. According to the forums, this will be my situation for at least half of next year. A cliff diving newbie error that very few regret; so far, I don’t.

My 10-day trip – Siquijor via Dumaguete, Punta Ballo in Sipalay, Danjugan Island, Bacolod City and Cebu City– was partly to celebrate my 40th birthday and partly to make up for months without TDC action. Emphasis on being 40 to explain my achy arse. You know how people get when they reach an age marker.

The whole trip was a challenge, as it was. With five stops, I was dependent on a bulilyaso-proof plan and transport companies sticking to their schedules. But you know, been there, done that. I’ve had trips like this before. I however have never jumped off a cliff.

Of course, I did not seek to make the jump a trip highlight. I had a lot to accomplish during my 10 days; it was just a side trip.

Cezar, my land tour guide in Siquijor, has lots of stories for the curious traveler.
Cezar, my land tour guide in Siquijor, has lots of stories for the curious traveler.

But, I don’t know, it was one of those things that you just have to do. When Cezar, a local guide and tricycle driver, told me about it, I knew I wouldn’t leave Siquijor without seeing if I can make the leap. Jumping into water was a primal fear for me. I figure, doing this was like jumping into my 40s with a big splash. I know, I know… keso!

Let me tell you though, when I looked down from the edge, I felt all blood leave my gut. I was literally gutless. Thank goodness for the American couple, school teachers on vacation, who talked me into it. The guy was encouraging all through my internal struggle. The woman was my cliff diving buddy, who struggled with me and jumped ahead.

When I saw her do it despite how we felt and she came sputtering out of the water with a big smile on her face, I just gotta do the same.

On the Road, Negros Occidental
On the Road, Negros Occidental

And that butt ache of a jump was somehow poetic. Aching at my first stop, I still went forward with a big smile on my face. So far, this was the best trip of my life.

What I loved most about this trip was that it didn’t feel like an escape. I brought along with me much of my Manila-self: my work, some pet peeves and the occasional grumpiness that came with age.

There were little frustrations, anyway. I had deadlines within the trip but I was able to log in enough time to keep my clients happy; Wi-Fi was surprisingly reliable in all the stops. I had the worst blisters on my feet. The fast boat between Siquijor and Dumaguete was a health hazard. (They seriously needed to sound-proof the engine room. With my ear plugs and all, I was still precariously dangling my torso away from the boat just to lessen the noise!) And Siquijor to Sipalay involved a boat ride and three bus switches, which amounted to around 8 hours on my painful butt, the day after my big splash.

But that’s not really much. It was like a typical week in bustling Manila but with amazing scenery.

It was during these episodes when I realized that I can actually make this my life. I would love it if I can live this for more than 10 days a month. A vacation would be a weekend or two with family and friends. Now, I just have to figure out how I can bring Body Attack to the provinces… hmmm.

The trip was also a study of opposites. The 4-star resort feel of Punta Ballo and Eazy Diving Resort vis-a-vis Siquijor and Villa Marmarine’s cozy homey welcome. The pristine waters of Danjugan Island against the putrid shores of Barangay Bulata, the island’s jump-off point, just a 10-minute banca ride away. Commercial tourism operations compared to eco tourism and marine sanctuaries.

Danjugan Island entry beach, near Moray Lagoon
Danjugan Island entry beach, near Moray Lagoon

I came back from the trip with so much to write about. I am actually still trying to wrap my head around all that I saw and experienced.

A stand-out was the hospitality and generosity of Daman Harada and his Villa Marmarine team in Siquijor. They advertised “Japanese hospitality, Filipino service;” they weren’t kidding. I have never had reception so authentic and giving.

Because of Typhoon Hagupit, I had to move my reservations with them by a week. To accommodate my request, they upgraded me to a bigger cabin, equipped with hot/cold shower, cable TV, a mini bar, a really nice hardwood work desk, free Wi-Fi and a patio that looked out into the ocean – at the same discounted rate. My three nights here costed the same as one night in Sipalay.

I was the only diver but they had 2 dive masters guiding me, along with 3 boatmen, on a boat big enough for 10 divers – at my discounted rate. Eazy Diving in Sipalay had a dive master for three divers, a typical ratio in the industry.

Daman, patiently teaching us Gateball. I was a lousy player :P
Daman, patiently teaching us Gateball. I was a lousy player 😛

I wanted the sea urchin pasta and sashimi for dinner. They wouldn’t let me have these unless they got fresh supplies from the market. They actually went to the market to check before OK-ing my dinner request. I had free laundry service. And, Daman conducted an introductory game of Gateball for me and 9 other volunteer guests.

I’d be first to understand the need for tourist establishments to make some money off their guests. This felt like the opposite. It was like they were in business to provide service and facilitate a cultural exchange, of sorts. I am still moved by my stay at Villa Marmarine; and will definitely be back.

And then there was the magic of Danjugan Island. This was one of those places I wished was nearer my home so I can get to know it more. Here, I found magic to be real.

Danjugan Island, Negros Occidental
Danjugan Island, Negros Occidental

As a mountaineer and beach bum, I’d had a handful of ethereal experiences in locations I visit. If this was a function of the third eye, then you can say that mine was slightly open in an involuntary squint. I’d felt elemental presence and activity; I just hadn’t seen them. So, my logical self ignored, adding these experiences to my  baul of bonfire stories.

This time though, I couldn’t do the same. The experience was too real. It felt woven into my whole amazing Danjugan stay.

What happened? For the sake of not being deemed too delusional, let’s just say that I had a couple of unseen 3AM visitors on my one night in Danjugan. (Details? PM me.) It drove me out of my cabana, where I stayed alone, very early in the morning. I wasn’t afraid. They did not give off bad vibes. I just didn’t understand at that time. My defensive logical self would not let me but I was sure about what I felt.

a mangrove-dwelling moray eel of Moray Lagoon, Danjugan Island
A mangrove-dwelling moray eel of Moray Lagoon, Danjugan Island

Being out so early was a good thing. I sat in the open area near Moray Lagoon – much like a lady sekyu – and waited for dawn. It was a cold and windy morning but I did not mind. As the sun crept in at around 5:30, I couldn’t resist walking toward the center of the action, where I saw giant bats fly into trees near me, birds sang and played uphill on trees toward my left, moral eels splashed for meals, and the sun rose east. It was a slow waking up for Danjugan Island. Magical.

Today, I am planning my TDC year, how I’ll get funds for it and where I’ll go. Tubbataha is an ideal but that’s like X3 of what I spent on this trip; and to think this took me 3 months to save up for.  I am thinking of trying to book a Verde Island dive again. This was supposed to be last year’s first dive trip had it not been for bad weather.  I also want to soak in cool Baguio weather for a few days, and perhaps follow up on 182 trees and the city’s seeming decline.

These are all plans, of course. What’s sure is that I’ll be adding a guide component in TDC, and I’ll be giving up Yapak. Having Yapak is nice if there were other people who could help update it. Wala eh — well, except for the amazing Ms. Jl of Visual Spate, who did the logo and the new look I haven’t gone live with. TDC makes me happy so I’m giving it my TLC this 2015 😀




Post Author: Roda Novenario