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skin diving

November 18, 2007


In Search for a Dugong
Hoping I'd get to dive Palawan's coral reefs and see a dugong for the first time, I brought my gear with me - mask, fins and snorkel to Sabang. Besides, I'm nuts about skin diving. I hurt for it the way I hurt for mountain biking and yoga. The Blue Bamboo, where I stayed, had the coral reef in front of it. At low tide, the rocky outcropping surfaces and extends about 60 feet towards the sea to a drop-off where 3 to 5-foot waves pound on it. Diving means walking on the rocky outcroppings until the drop-off, and plunging into the deeper end, where the waves crush you into the rocks. I asked a few locals about diving there. I was discouraged, specially by the tourism office - the rains, murky water, big waves, strong current, and the rocky outcropping was littered with the poisonous Stone Fish. Besides, I'd be all alone in an already isolated area. No help would be available. Thinking about it gave me the goose bumps. I kept saying to myself they're right.

But I couldn't really contain myself. It was my last chance to dive before I head back to Puerto Princesa. There was also this stupid reasoning that kept pestering me - that I already took the trouble of bring my gear with me from Manila. Contrary to what everybody was telling me, I decided to go for it. Just so I could say I played it smart, I asked the local fisherman where the current was heading - that way, I know where to start and where I end, letting the current do most of the work for me. Asked about sighting dugong, he said I might see one. They eat grass at the sandy area of the reef. I was even advised to swim towards the buoy and let the current take me to the pier. He also suggested I hire a small dingy to take me to the buoy so I don't have to struggle with the waves. Cool idea, but the owner of the one remaining dingy was out of town...darn! I had to take my chance with the waves.

Back in the Puerto Gallera
Somehow, this dive in Sabang brought back vivid memories of my misadventure in Puerto Gallera, back in the day. I dived from Small Lalaguna to Big Lalaguna effortlessly. The 2 Lalagunas were separated by a rockface where big waves pounded on it. The crossing was a piece of cake. Little did I notice that I was going with the current. I thought it would be just as easy going back the same way - wrong! Going against the current sucked my juices out. Halfway, along the rockface, I lost steam was violently tossed by the waves against the rocks. I thought I'd just drown and be washed ashore. Instead of panicing though, I took a big inhale and went as deep as I could. The depth insulated me from the pounding waves. I'd go up just to get air and go down again to recover some more. There, I gradually regained my strength. At some point, I felt strong enough to head back while staying deep and avoiding the waves. I came out of that ordeal relieved that I was still alive.

Back to Sabang...Scared Shitless
I was already perched up on the edge of the rocky outcropping, ready to dive into the deep end, the waves smashing against the rocks. At that point, I was very scared and was convincing myself the danger was just a head-game (that it's not really as dangerous as it looks). I've had so many head-game episodes in mountain biking and I was wishful this was just one of them. I stood there for a quite a while, hoping my fear would go away...but it didn't. I wasn't sure anymore if I was just taking on a head-game challenge or being on the verge of doing something remarkably stupid.

Game Plan
My mind was still racing as I stood there. Swim for the buoy? But the buoy was so far away and I'd be against the current by swimming towards it. If I need to bail, I'd be too far from the shore. No, the buoy plan was not good. What if I dive and go as deep as I could and emerge on the other side before the waves break? I could just keep that distance from the rocky outcropping to keep the waves from hitting me, but still be close enough to shore. Hmmm...sounds good. With one big inhale, I jumped into the deep end.

Rag Doll
As soon as I hit the water, the waves started pounding on me. I was tossed around like a rag doll. I was disoriented and could see nothing but bubbles and sand. The water was murky and visibility was poor. I tried to go down deep, but the deep-end was only 10 feet! It wasn't deep enough to shelter me from the crushing waves or the strong current. On the surface, I was pounded against the rocks. Under water, I was pinned against the rocks. It was a no-win situation. It didn't start going really deep until where the buoy was. But that was not an option anymore. The current was simply too strong. I knew I had to bail out fast. Once I lose my juice, I'd be at the mercy of the waves. The only alternative was to dive as close to the bottom as possible towards the pier while looking for a narrow passage within the rocky outcropping for a bail-out. I saw a few, but they were too narrow. I was afraid I'd be wedged-in. Finally, I found one wide enough. Fortunately, I still had some juice to navigate myself into its interior. I surfaced within the safe confines of the rocky outcropping...away from waves and current.

After securing my safety, that's when the gravity of the whole thing hit me. How could I possibly be soooooo stupid to have done that? Duh! Really, Duh! I was so shocked and traumatized by the event that when another fisherman offered his boat to take me to the buoy, I politely declined and opted to spend the remaining part of the day on my hammock.

Ending Thoughts
Now that I'm on solid ground in Sagada writing this, I still can't help thinking how stupid it was to do that dive despite the odds. I'd like to think I'm more intelligent than that...ha-ha. At the same time, I'm glad I'm fit. Without my fitness, I don't know what would have happened there. As for the dugong, hey, I can always go back to Palawan when the weather is better suited for skin diving. I'm just grateful to come out of that ordeal in one piece. And more stupid/crazy things.

--- TheLoneRider

Reader Comments:

(Dec 6, 2007) Your adventures sound great! I am amazed with what you are doing.

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