Our first few days in Dumaguete, Philippines (and the one thing you never want to happen while diving)

banded shrimp with babies. Mom really protected the area from fish trying to enter the wreck here.
©Jean Janssen

In the morning we have our dive orientation and a tour of the dive shop.  It is very similar to the set up in Puerto Galera.  We unpacked dive gear, but the seas were rough and the morning dives were cancelled.  We were able to dive early in the afternoon.  The Princesses are diving with Vernie, the most experienced dive master.  Not only did he find amazing things, but he was so helpful.  Donna didn’t dive due to continuing rough seas.

We were muck diving just outside the resort in an area were the coral has overtaken a pile of tires.  More scoriponfish, banded shrimp, and these diver fish that live in the sand (there seem like hundreds of them and they all pop under the sand when you come close-fun.)

The village church from the 1600s.
©Jean Janssen

Ann, Emily, Cheryl, and I all went into the village for mass at the church built in the 1600s (or so is the rumor).  It is all crumbling stone with lots of plant life growing in it.  Most of the mass was in English ; the only one for the week which is why we are going at this time.  Monsignor Robert was very welcoming and said he had been to Texas for mission work, speaking at a church in Pearland, near Houston.  On the outside of the church was a lovely covered candle “shed” and I lit a candle for Mom, as I have done all over the world.

No morning dives again the next day.  Horrible storms.  When things hadn’t cleared by midday, Marco, one of the dive masters, offered to give us a city tour.  We took one of the special jeepneys.  We stopped at a handicraft store and passed through Sillman University which was established in the early 1900s, the oldest building is still standing and Marco pointed out another older building used by the Japanese as a headquarters during WWII.

Marco and Donna in the city market, Dumaguete.
©Jean Janssen

The highlight was the city market. There were a few straw goods, but mostly fruits, meats, fish, and vegetables, and flowers.  The open air market for meat and fish is strange for us, but common in this part of the world.  The area is actually quite clean.

Chicken anyone? Dumaguete City Market, Philippines
©Jean Janssen

The market is next to the city bell tower which looks to be about the age of the village church we visited yesterday.  Next to the tower is a stone grotto for the Virgin Mary and open air candle stands.  There are also venders selling candles and others offering a foot massage, an interesting combination.  The grotto is next to the Dumaguete Cathedral.

We didn’t get wet, but the seas still raged and the storms were strong during the night.  Still no diving in the morning due to rough seas, so we visited a local factory were they make unique lacquered crafts.  They took us through the process-very labor intensive-and then of course there was a gift shop.

Candle offerings at Mary’s Grotto outside the Dumaguete Cathedral.
©Jean Janssen

After lunch a single afternoon dive was being offered for those willing to brave a rough entry.  At least there was some sunshine.  They carried all our gear to the boat and then we walked out to the boat through the swells with the help on a line and crew positioned along the way.  I was fortunate to have been among those that had an easier time getting to the boat.  Donna just said no and stayed in.

The resort is going out of their way to give us a safe dive experience.  I was focused on all the wrong things and forgot one of my basics.  They sailed through the rough seas (with some people sitting on the floor) and found a relatively protected area farther down the beach.  The crew put all our gear together and helped us into our equipment.  I had everything, my air was on, and I went in.  I was diving with a different buddy and a new dive master, Junnar.

Tropical flowers that are rare and expensive at home were found in abundance in the Dumaguete City Market.
©Jean Janssen

All went well and I saw a few new things, when I took a breath and the air flow was shallow.  I checked to make sure my new second stage was open as was my tank.  Second breath was worse.  I swam to a buddy.  Third breath in the series-nothing came out.  I asked buddy for their safe second which they quickly gave me.  (For non-divers this means I was now breathing off of an extra line into the buddy’s tank.).  We checked my air gauge and the look on my buddy’s face said it all.  The gauge confirmed what I already suspected.  I was out of air.  Not low, but completely out.

Transporting Eggs by tricyle outside the Dumaguete City Market.
©Jean Janssen

This is the dive experience you never want to happen.  We were in about 64 feet of water and 24 minutes into the dive.  There are lots of reasons why this happened.  Someone else handled my equipment, I was focused on the rough seas, it was so early in the dive that I wasn’t watching my air yet…But the fact is that this was my fault.  Trying to make a quick entry in rocky seas, I didn’t check my air gauge before I went in.  Usually, I record my pressure and  always check my gauges.  I went down with a short tank-low on air.  We usually dive with 3000 psi.  I usually come up with 1100-1500 psi after an hour.  The last dive I surfaced with 750 psi; if they didn’t change my tank that is where I started.  That is the level you exit with, not begin.  This is why you can’t forget a step.

The purple eggs are soaked in brine giving them a salty flavor. Marco said they were great in salads. The are dyed to distinguish them from the regular eggs.
©Jean Janssen

My dive guide came over right away and I moved to the safe second on his tank.  We made a slow, steady controlled assent and did our 3-minute safety stop at 15 feet.  All was well. Think I will do that again?  No way.  As I said to Junnar when we surfaced and I orally inflated my BCD, the training worked.  I had done it the way I was taught.  He told me that he had never had to do that (other than in his training).  He was great.  It was a very stupid mistake on my part, but I was proud of how I handled it.  Dive Mom was my buddy in the water who gave me her second.  She said she was proud and couldn’t believe how calm I was.  As Emily put it later, “cool as a cucumber”.

Junnar on the Titan with Apo Island in the background.
©Jean Janssen

Junnar and I gave our equipment to the boat captain and swam to shore.  Then we walked back to the resort on the beach.  He lives next to the resort so he knows the area well.  He commented that he hadn’t walked this way in a while and lots of new building had gone on along the shore.  I got to know him and it was a calming experience for me.  Not a story I ever wanted to tell, but I hope that it inspires people to follow their training and always dive with a buddy.  Oh yea, and check your air gauge before you go down.

Dive Mom invited me to do the night dive, but I declined in favor of two banana daiquiri. I’ll get back on that horse tomorrow.

About travelbynatasha

I am a retired attorney who loves to travel. Several years ago I began working on a Century Club membership achieved by traveling to 100 "foreign" countries. Today, at 49 years of age the count is at 82. Many were visited on land based trips. Some were cruise ports. Some were dive sites. Most have been fascinating.
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