Diary of a Divemaster TranieeFrom Jasper

My Challange to become a Divemaster

First Week

Hi there, my name is Jasper. I am from Germany, Hamburg to be exact. Lovely city. However, after I finished school I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I love diving and traveling, so I decided to combine those two passions. And here I am, sitting in the bar at the Whispering Palms Resort on Sipaway Island, Philippines. I am a dive master trainee working at the resorts diving center, while at the same time trying to get my dive master certificate. Saying good-bye was easy. For my mum not so much. Tears, security control, the last German beer, boarding. Minutes later I was sitting in the plane and started playing with the entertainment system. In Dubai I had to change the plane. It was 2:00 AM. A Fifteen minute bus drive around the giant airport grounds. After that a fifteen minute walk and I arrived at my gate. Two hours later I was sitting in the plane to Cebu. With every mile, I left my old life behind me. It felt good to be free, to leave the past behind, to face the future, the unknown. 15 hours and five movies later I left the airport in Cebu, stepping in the heavy Filipino heat. I found a cab and gave the driver the address of the hotel I would be staying in. After I squeezed my luggage in the small boot, the driver fired up the motor, and of we roared towards the GV Hotel, Lapu-Lapu City. Beeping Tricycles and colorful, painted Jeepneys pushed their way through the chaotic traffic. After my driver got lost three times, we finally arrived at the hotel. If you have seen the movie “The Beach” you can kind of imagine how my room looked like. Two beds, four pink walls, one broken TV, a rattling air-conditioner and a bathroom. I threw my stuff on the bed and left the hotel to dig the Filipino streets, and to get myself something to eat. There was life on the streets, I felt like exploring an alien planet, trying to mix with the crowds, watching hawker selling all sort of things, unknown fruits and dishes, dried fish, strange smells in the air and for the first time I truly caught the meaning of the word “exotic”. I got myself some meat on stick. I had no idea what kind of meat nor from what beast it came from but it certainly tasted good. Later I went to a supermarket and bought myself a bottle of water and some shrimp crisps. After that I came back to my room and went to sleep. I got up early and had breakfast at Jollibee, a Filipino fast-food joint. Yum Burger Menu for not more than 50 Pesos (0,95 German cents). Seeing an armed guard at the door was a bit strange but I got used to it rather quickly. After my little breakfast a driver took me from Cebu to Toledo. There I took the ferry to San Carlos. In San Carlos there was a Banca, a kind of canoe with outriggers, waiting for me. Soon I arrived on Sipaway Island. I loaded my luggage on a multicab which belonged to the resort. We passed shacks, wild dogs, cocks, a lot of palm trees, driving on a dusty road towards the Whispering Palms Resort. The Resort has earned its name. There were beautiful high palms rising up in the blue sky. As I jumped off the multicab I was welcomed by Oli, the leader of the dive center. After he showed me the whole area, the dive center, my room and of course the in-house zoo, we went up to the bar for Happy Hour. I had a couple of cocktails, something proper to eat and shortly after I was lying in bed. I was sleepy and exhausted but I was already looking forward to the next couple of weeks.

Second Week

Now, that I have already spend quite a while at the Whispering Palms Resort, I can tell you something about my life here. Luckily there are not that many guests at the moment, so things are actually quite relaxed. My day starts at around 7am. I open my eyes, and the first thing I hear is the quiet buzzing of the fan, blowing cool air in my face. Quickly I turn it down, jump out of bed and turn of the alarm clock that I set up yesterday. After that I get ready, and I go down, placing myself at the bar to order my daily breakfast. The omelette is honestly the best that I ever had. Sometime around 8am Oli and me go down to the dive center. Along a narrow stone path through the mangroves. At the dive center I begin to prepare all the stuff for the upcoming dives. Shortly after our dive crew arrives with the dive boat. Together we load the boat, and put together our diving equipment. Soon after Andy, our regular diving guest, arrives, we put out to sea, floating over the blue water towards our dive site. Even though I already visited some of the dive sites, there is still a lot of new stuff to explore. After the first dive its time for lunch break. Back to the bar for a plate of home made french fries. Then in the afternoon the second dive. There is always lots to see; lion fish swanning over the reef, colourful sea nails, well camouflaged scorpion fish, one or two morays looking out of their caves, anemone fish, which actually start attacking you if you come to close to their home, and if you are lucky and have a good eye you might be able to spot a tiny pygmy sea horse hanging on a gorgonian coral. Of course this is only a fraction of the aquatic life living at the reefs and dive sites around Sipaway Island. After we finish the second dive, and clear up the dive center, we go back to the resort, where I learn for my dive master exam. When its slowly getting dark, the wind whispering through the palms, the geckos coming out to play, I continue working my way through the menu. The dinner is delicious. At around 8pm I normally go up to bed (of course only after I bathed myself in a large amount of anti- mosquito lotion). Since I have to get up early tomorrow.

Third Week

I have passed my dive master exam. All the learning was successful, and I am already one step closer to my dive master brevet. However, I don’t want to bore you with the time where i was sweating in the bar learning everything about dive theory. I have always been into ghost -and horror stories, and it didn’t take long until I was told about those strange mythical creatures living in the stories told in the Philippines. And there are actually many people believing those stories. Filipino folklore tells us about supernatural things stalking the warm summer night. When the sun sets and the light of the day is slowly fading away, when the geckos start creeping up the walls and the sounds of the jungle are getting louder, when eventually darkness covers the whispering palm trees, the time has come for those unknown horrors to lurk the shadows, searching for victims. I heard about the Wakwak, a vampiric, bird-like creature, flying through the night, looking for humans to snatch as prey. It is believed that this ghostly night bird makes a sound which resembles its name. If the call of the Wakwak is loud and clear it means that the creature is far away, but if the call gets more quiet, the Wakwak comes closer and closer preparing its attack. Another monster is the so called Aswang, shape shifting ghouls that eat the flesh of the dead. Normal people at day time they can transform into bats, birds, cats or, most often, a dog. One is apparently able to fight an aswang by using garlic, salt or religious artefacts. Another legend tells about the sigbin which is also the name of one of our boats. Anyway, the sigbin looks like a kind of kangaroo, having hind legs that are longer than its front legs, and a dog-like head. But that’s basically all I know about that kind of creature. And then there is, of course, the white lady. A ghost, that is said to be also roaming the area around the place where I live. But before you all get scared, let me say, that I never actually met one of those creatures. Even though I had to walk alone through the dark up to my room on several occasions. However, the tropical atmosphere, the beautiful dive sites, the amazing and friendly people working at the resort, and one or two cocktails make you forget about those crazy stories real fast. And if I still hear some weird sound outside in front of my window, always remember, its probably just the sound of a tokay-gecko trying to keep me awake at night.

Fourth Week

Last Sunday was my day off. So my diving equipment stayed dry and I had to find something to kill the time with. Since I didn’t want to break my daily routine, I still got up rather early. I had a lovely breakfast down at the bar, during which I decided to visit San Carlos. Around 11am I finally gathered enough motivation to hit the road. I had to make my way to Dap Dap, to the landing of the public boats. The sun was blazing up in the bright blue sky, making me break out into sweet summer sweat as I moved myself down the dusty trail, leaving behind palm trees and other tropical scrub. It was the beginning of October, it was bloody hot, but the Filipino radio stations still had the nerves to play Christmas songs in a seemingly continuous loop. Well, I forgot its October, a “ber-month”, which means Christmas season has started already and “Jingle Bells” and “Last Christmas” were dominating the airwaves. Now it was the sounds of “Rudolph The Rednose Reindeer” warbling away on some distant radio, accompanying me while passing through the small town of San Juan. Apparently the morning prayer had just ended as there was a crowd of people pouring out of the church onto the street, jumping on motorbikes, flashing by, leaving me melting away in the sun. A couple of minutes later I was in Dap Dap, following the pier, facing the wharf with the public boats. Suddenly I heard a loud hoot behind me. Turning around I saw the Whispering Palms Multicab with two guest sitting in the back. Damn me, I thought, should have gone just five minutes later. But no need to get worked up, so I slipped fifteen peso into the boat captains hand and jumped in his banca. After the boat was fully loaded with passengers, we went roaring across the glassy sea towards San Carlos City. Feeling the cool air stream on my skin filled me with new energy. On the wharf I grabbed myself a pedicab. Now someone else was sweating for me, but I actually felt quite sorry for the driver, who was pedalling like mad. So I offered him a generous tip when we arrived at Gaisano, which was the big mall in San Carlos. The guard gave me a nod, waving me inside, and I did some shopping in the supermarket. After I got all the stuff I needed, including a bag of shrimp crackers, I went up to one of the many counters, where I still had to wait ages until it was my turn to pay. But that was okay, because the whole mall was entirely air-conditioned. My stuff was finally neatly packed inside a brown paper bag. I left the Gaisano, making my way to the public market. This time I took the tricycle. The public market was located inside a big stone building. Inside of the stone building there was a huge labyrinth made up of narrow paths, stuffed with all sorts of good and products. I squeezed myself through to the fish market. The hallways here were a bit wider, on my left and on my right piles of dried fish, and in my nose a penetrating smell. It was the same in the fruit section, rows of tables covered with mostly strange looking fruits. But there was one fruit I already got to know and love. Rambutan, closely related to the lychee, kinda looks like one as well, just a lot hairier. I asked for one kilo. Before going back to the wharf I bought myself a small bag of fried chicken bites which looked like the ones from KFC, but were much cheaper and a lot tastier. At the wharf I managed to get the last seat on an overcrowded public boat and shortly after I arrived at Sipaway Island. In Dap Dap there was already a bunch of people waiting for the boat to land. Some of them began waving in my direction, calling “Whispering, Whispering”. I went with one of them to his motorbike, hopped on the back and off we roared towards the Resort.

Fifth Week

The hours are flying, the days are passing by, week after week. Sleep, Dive, Eat, Repeat. A bunch of new guests just arrived. A real fun group, mostly divers. Finally there is something happening, not only in the dive center, but also in the resort. In the daytime, during diving, and when the sun goes down at the bar. Consequently there is also lots to do. Carrying tanks, preparing the dive equipment, loading the boat, diving, diving, diving. And even though all of this can be quite exhausting, it is also a lot of fun. Especially with the divers we have now. They are full of cheerfulness. And they are singing every day. After diving “Ging Gang Goolie“, and in the evening, when someone rings the bell and everyone has a shot in front of them, you can hear them singing, requesting another round. I wouldn’t want any other guests. Additionally, there is also a new diver joining the ranks. As a result I was able to assist an Open Water Diver Course, and gather a lot of experience. The other day we took the whole group to the city. The Multicab drove two times to Dap Dap, there we took two public boats to San Carlos. After we arrived, we had to organize half a dozen tricycles. Shortly after we roared, beeping and singing through the streets of San Carlos. First we had to stop at the bank. Once everyone filled they pockets, we continued to the public market. While Oli tried to manoeuvre the group through the narrow alleys, I went my own way to get my shoe repaired. Then I bought one kilo of lanzones. Another exotic fruit on my list, it looks like a small potato, and tastes really good. Quickly rejoined with the group. While I was gone they had a look at the church of San Carlos. Shortly after we again squeezed ourselves into the tricycles and drove to Gaisano to buy Halloween costumes for the upcoming Halloween party. Then we had dinner in a restaurant called 10/9. Oli then ordered a bit of everything, and we made ourselves a little buffet so everyone was able to try all the dishes. After we finished eating, we went back to the port where the two public boats were waiting for us. It was dark already, and there was a storm coming, from time to time there was bright lightning illuminating the black water which was rushing along the outriggers of our banca. In Dap Dap we tried to get the guests back to the resort as quickly as possible. Oli and me were the last standing on the wharf when it started raining pitchforks. When we finally arrived at the resort, the guest where already waiting at the bar.

Sixth Week

Today we had a christening feast and an engagement party at the resort. And everyone was invited. When I woke up in the morning I was already looking forward to the evening. The whole thing was happening in the restaurant. The day before they already started to decorate everything. At first the christening was announced, then there was a bunch of young dancers coming up to the “stage” to perform a couple of Filipino folk dances. The audience was impressed, thus there was a lot of clapping of hands going on. Suddenly, to the future wife’s surprise, the christening was transformed into an engagement party. Shortly after the big buffet was declared open. We had pigling (lechon), and many other yummy dishes. But believe me, the pigling here is much more tasty then the one I once ate in Germany. So at the end everyone was full and rather satisfied. But the show wasn’t over yet. After dinner everyone went outside, in front of the gate there were fire dancers waiting for us, flames were thrown through the air, flashing through the night, twisting and turning. The whole spectacle was accompanied by a booming drum roll, that kept going even after the last flames went out. At the end there was a firework, painting colourful flowers at the nightly sky. Back at the restaurant we played some music and I mingled with the guests. Next thing on the list was Halloween. Costumes were already close at hand. The day before Halloween I got myself a wig and some make-up. Now I was standing in my room in front of the mirror, trying make myself look like the Joker. However, when I went down to the resort I had the feeling that I had more resemblance with a sleazy drag queen than with Heath Ledgers Joker. Down in the bar I encountered a skeleton, a bunch of witches, monster masks, scar faces, and a costume that had more than just resemblance with a she-male. So I easily passed as the Joker. Then, during the last minutes of Happy Hour a mummy came stumbling up the stairs. I have to admit, Oli really put some effort in his costume. One group picture, and off we went to the grill house, where we had BBQ plus spare ribs. As a dessert the guest were able to try some durian, a fruit that emits a stinky, penetrating smell. In my opinion it doesn’t taste much better than it smells, and I think most the guests thought so to. Eventually the fun was over, and I went up to fall into my bed.

Seventh Week

Yesterday was the 5th of November. And like ever November 5th, the City of San Carlos celebrated its annual Pintaflores Festival. We took our dive boat, going down to San Carlos at around 5pm, together with some of the staff and a couple of guests. The city was buzzing like crazy. The streets were full of tricycles, swarming around, carrying passengers to the festival ground. After Oli, me and the guests had some dinner, we also made our way to the main event. We were just walking around, watching, drifting with the crowd. To our sides there were tents. In some you could get yourself painted with the some Henna colour, or even tattoo yourself with permanent ink. Further behind they sold heaps of clothes, and the people swooped down on them like vultures. On every corner there was a guy selling air balloons. The price ranging from 25 up to 85 peso. Loud music was blasting away on the distant stage. You could see little push cards, selling beer, snacks, fried chicken, and also balut. These push carts could be recognized by the bright light bulb which was hovering above a pile of brown and white eggs. If you would choose the white egg, you quickly realized, that it wasn’t your normal chicken egg down from the supermarket. But something that most people wouldn’t dare putting into their mouths. Balut is indeed a kind of egg, however instead of egg yolk you would find a developing bird embryo (usually a duck or a chicken) inside the shell. The eggs are fertilized, usually incubated for around 17 days, boiled and the contents eaten directly from the shell. They are supposed to make you strong, and to increase your potency. Since its not a very pleasant thing to watch yourself eat an unborn baby chicken, balut is normally served during night time. However, even then you shouldn’t look to closely what you are actually putting in your mouth, because you can often see eyes, feathers and pecker quite clearly. Since I am not like most people, I couldn’t miss the chance to try this special dish myself. First you remove a bit of the shell, then you add some vinegar and a pinch of salt, after that its “cheers”. When you are finished slurping the liquid, which some people actually say is the pee, you eat the main dish. And I am able to tell that it doesn’t even taste that bad. Quite spicy, and it goes really well with a sip of San Miguel Light. I would definitely eat it again.

Eighth Week

On Thursday I decided to do a little exploring around the island. We only had one dive, so I had the rest of the day off. I hopped on one of the silver ladies bikes belonging to the resort, shouldered my camera and started pedalling. First I went to San Juan. There you were able to have a look at the giant, century old balete tree. This kind of tree, belonging to the family of fig trees, can be recognized by the network of downward-growing and increasingly widening, tentacle-like aerial roots pushing down and integrating themselves with the main trunk. Shortly after, I arrived at a small, white beach. Pulled onto the beach there was a little fisher boat. A wall of mangroves blocked the view, only behind the boat there was a narrow waterway leading to the open sea. Facing the shore there was a cobbled basketball hoop nailed to a palm tree. A hen and her chicken were dabbing in the sand, looking for something to eat. From time to time a motorbike passed by. From the other side of the road you could hear the brawling of a dozen, puffed up cocks, sitting on tires which were mounted on long poles. Colourful feathering paired with sharp peckers and claw feet. Game cocks which were bred for cock fighting. I left the fowl behind and kept on biking. Passing palm trees, jack-fruit trees, small wooden houses, pigs, chicken, goats, and waving and screaming children. I swerved around some wild dogs taking a sun bath in the middle of the street. After I biked through a banana plantation I reached Ermita, the biggest village on the island. I was rolling down the main road, further down until the road turned into a long pier. The last building I passed was the Basila White Beach Resort. The story goes that the resort was owned by a french guy whose wife hired a hit man to kill him. So now the french was dead, his wife in jail, and the resort went out of business. Offshore an armada of fisher boats bobbed up and down. I was sitting at the wharf, watching the clouded mountain rage on the horizon. Turning my head a little bit to the right I could see the city of San Carlos in the far distance. I was just about to make my way back home when suddenly a huge garfish jumped out of the water in front of me, flying through the air, disappearing back into the deep. Then I swung myself onto the bike, pedalling away. Shortly after I almost fell from my saddle as a group of children were playing around with a self-made plastic barrel shooting firecrackers across the road. Quickly I left the danger area behind. Loud music and off-key karaoke singing was blasting out of some of the houses I passed. A couple of guys were playing a rough game of basketball on the local court. After a while I turned left. I was pretty sure that this way would lead back to the resort. I followed a tricycle which was packed with people. And indeed, after I while I was back at the resort, ready for dinner.