It’s official—I’ve gone native. After nearly a month in the tropics and a week at a private island resort, I find myself drawn to the shell covered paper towel boxes in the loo off the restaurant. Surely this is a sign. No daily shampoo and blow-dry in the morning, no make-up, little jewelry, just swimsuit and a cover-up for breakfast and that’s it.
(Ed. note: Despite/because of this, the women all still say “Madam very beautiful.) Wouldn’t do this in a city, of course, which makes me realize how much I am enjoying the resort life. Being fair of skin and having had some cancer, I am always concerned about taking too much sun and wasn’t very sure about staying in a beach community. With 50 sunscreen and lots of shade, I’m able to cope quite nicely, thank you. I’ve also always thought I needed more to do. Ha! I can while away the time with the best of them—certainly not up to Geoff’s prodigious ability to do nothing, (Ed. note: ?) but still. I finished my 13th book this morning and am on to the next. What luxury!
Having said that, I have been taking scuba dive lessons this week. I took Discover Scuba three times, once in Mactan, again in Boracay and here in Palawan, all of which were followed by a “fun dive” where the novice diver is with an instructor throughout a relatively shallow dive. After the first two dives, I wasn’t that interested in going further as there wasn’t much to see in either location. But here, the difference is amazing, water full of the kind of life that we see in National Geographic, plentiful schools of fish, coral, sea anemones, urchins, giant clams, all amazingly colourful. We took plastic water bottles stuffed with old bread to attract and feed the fish. It’s easy to feel swarmed as hundreds will school around your hand and mask to get at the food. Fantastic!
So then I decided to take the Scuba Diving course, which will teach me some skills so that I can dive with a guide/buddy without being towed and controlling my own gear. I’ve read three chapters, written three tests, had one long and one short lesson over two days in the pool, and one ‘fun dive’ with skill practice in the sea. There’s one more dive to go. Let me tell you, it’s quite a bit easier in the pool, which could have something to do with knowing you don’t have too far to go to get air if things go awry! On the next lessons, I have to do a controlled emergency ascent, which involves taking one big breath and gently releasing it all the way to the top of the ocean from a depth that I should be able to do it from. Yikes! I will have my regulator in my mouth, so I can get a breath if I need to, but still it’s daunting. I just have to try and remember that I can actually swim underwater holding my breath for quite awhile. The big difference is that you must NEVER hold your breath, hence the need to release air slowly, so that your lungs don’t’ explode as the air in them expands as you near the surface. It is challenging and a test of one’s ability to control the panic reflex. My last dive is this morning and if I manage the skills, I will be scuba certified for open waters, but still restricted to certain depths. Another couple of lessons are involved in that, which I may pursue in the future.
Meanwhile, Geoff has overcome his ultra-strong gag reflex (Ed. note: Mostly) to go snorkeling! The reef is so close to the surface here and the water so clear that he can see the sea life and wants to do it some more. Actually, he came back saying that he wanted to scuba, when I had to remind him that he has had a heart attack and CANNOT go scuba diving. His doctor warned him about this before he left but he did his own research and had it confirmed. No diving for him. (Ed. note: Ever. ☹)
Dos Palmas is a pleasant place. For the price of your accommodation, breakfast is included as are water sports including snorkeling, kayaking and swimming. Boats take anyone who wants to go out to the snorkeling wharfs every half hour. All equipment is free of charge—snorkels, mask, fins and life jackets. Coral reefs surround the island not too far from shore, so it is quite easy to see a lot with a snorkel and mask. A full PADI dive shop is here, with qualified instructors and dive masters. Equipment rental and classes are very reasonable. Afterwards, a full spa offers terrific massage ($30 for 1.5 hrs) and $7 manicures. (Ed. note: Ever walked in to a spa in your bathing suit and told to strip down to your underwear? Ever had hot oil poured on your back and then covered with hot banana leaves? Ever had a masseuse LOOSELY drape a cloth over you as she manipulates your limbs? Ever killed a Filipino woman’s wonder about an old white guy’s nether regions? Ever then had to pay for all of this? Well I have.) It’s quite wonderful to have your feet soaking and your nails worked on in an open cabana facing the sea.
In the evenings, every other night or so, there is entertainment in the form of ethnic dancing, including fire dances. It’s hard to tour an Asian country without encountering ethnic dancing but it’s good fun. Last night’s fare reflect the influence of the Spanish in this country, which is extensive (Ed. note: It may have been a Spanish influence, but I sat through too many Ukranian dance rehearsals on Saturday mornings and concerts over the span of 15 years not to recognize the balalaika and the hopak when I hear and see it!). Magellan “discovered” it and brought Christianity with him.
The staff is truly amazing. Not only do all of them do a variety of jobs, they are also the entertainment. Yes, you may be a bus-boy and cook’s helper during the day and by night, you may be required to blow fire out of your mouth! Safety hazard!!!! Call Work Safe! The young (and not so young) men who ply the boats are fantastic. Really strong and agile, they leap around with flip flops on, carting boxes of supplies off a slippery deck up the cement, rail-less stairs every day, as near as I can tell. One of them, whose half naked body I have admired in the dive shop, weight trains as well and has won the title of “Mr. Palawan” twice. Well done, I say! (Ed. note: Hey wait a minute….)
(Ed. note: These are the signs in the washrooms – designed for people of less than average intelligence, I guess.)
So two more days of paradise, then back to Manila, overnight, then home on Tuesday and back to the grind on Saturday. It will be a long first week but fair play after our long tropical vacation.
- (Ed. note: I am coming to many conclusions on this trip:
1. It would be much better if the vast majority of Russian tourists stayed home and tried to unseat their government rather than killing off the opposition.
2. It would be much better if most Chinese tourists stayed home and taught their children that screaming at anything is almost always the wrong response.
3. It would be better for Muslim couples to decide that when on holiday, it is okay for the woman to dress in shorts and t-shirt, just like the man. (This is quite the contrast to the young, semi-dressed Chinese women on holiday)
4. It would be better if one particular Australian tourist stayed home and did not
1. Ask me if my wife (presently diving) was my “Real Wife?”
2. Spend 5 minutes trying to find out about the sex life of the lovely young serving woman – embarrassing both her and the woman he is “with.”
The Shoe Blog
Shoes with a little different focus today. They belong to the K9 officer with the Philippine Coast Guard who has the drug dog sniffing for drugs on the catamaran which goes from Puerta Princesa to Dos Palmas. They were on the boat for a good 5 minutes going over the bags of all 35 of us.
(Ed. note: Looking forward to getting back to China – did I really just write that – and uploading some videos for your delight and delectation.)