Whale sharks

Christmas Eve, 2012: 10 hour journey to snorkel with the whale sharks for an hour.

whale shark head
(12.24 – 359)

They were oddly “tame” — coming to the boats where fishermen feed them — but it was still quite stunning.


They didn’t swim quite as much as I’d imagined — they just kind of kept their voracious mouths open and gurgled food.


The journey was more prolonged than we expected — first a drive, then a ferry, then a drive, then the outrigger to the whale sharks.

When we were done swimming, we had sandwiches and waited by a series of souvenir and food shacks, and were serenaded by a rasta with a guitar singing a muddled version of O Holy Night.

o holy

The woman in the food hut joined in, with a stunning, surprising, clear voice.

We waited, and I knitted, and there was driving, and then waiting for an hour and a half on a ferry that didn’t move. We finally got up and got off it and drove another 20 minutes to a different ferry.

A bigger, better ferry.


We waited for a while among the chickens and indolent dogs, and finally sailed back. I knit, more. There was a young girl with silver braces wearing a fuzzy polar bear hat.


Rachel and I have long joked that if only we could apply, we’d be great on The Amazing Race. We decided today that we’re ON The Amazing Race: Surreptitious Edition. I can’t wait to get some sort of prize for this trip.

I’m appreciating Rachel and her live-and-let-live-ness.

When we got back, I felt too wrung out to go through the palaver of getting ready to dive, so I went for a short run, up on the main road. I like to feel the soil of a new place under my running soles, and to run off the edge of turmoil. I saw a “tricycle” — motorcycle with sidecar type hut — emblazoned with “Jesus is my Shield,” completely stuff with melons. Children greeted me with Merry Christmas, and a trio of musicians waited for a bus, one of them with an enormous harp with a horse head on it. A Coca cola sponsored sigh jauntily enjoined, Thank you for Leaving!

For Christmas dinner, we had white tablecloths and turkey and bubbly servers eager for us to finish so they can go home, go to Mass, eat pork and chicken and cake with their families. I felt grateful for the many many incredible people I have in my world.


Vernie, our divemaster, keeps looking at me with sad eyes. “You didn’t sleep, miss cate?” He thinks I am sad, but admirable, because I told him about the kids in Uganda, and he wants to ease my path. He dresses me like a waterlogged valet, slips my fins off for me so I can climb the ladder back into the boat. We talk about his impulses to immigrate somewhere, anywhere, maybe Bahrain.

I asked him the other day the deepest dive he’d done. “100 metres,” he said. “It was a bullshit dive.”

“A bullshit dive?”

“To retrieve the body of the course director.”

Using the computer of the buddy who survived, but who was brain damaged forever, they think he ran out of air.

We took a second day trip to Apo Island today, three sedate and peaceful dives. My camera packed in on the third dive again — it was Finch’s old camera and housing, and the battery connectors just seem tired. I’m still learning to breathe more smoothly and not suck up all my air too soon, and these calm, shallowish dives are good for practicing.

Until I start swimming with green turtles.

turtle face
(12.23 – 358)

This one was unbelievably unbothered by Rachel swimming with it and generally getting up in its business.

rachel turtle

We were anchored offshore, which meant that pedlars of sarongs and tshirts paddled out to us in a little kayak type of outrigger and hauled bundles onto the deck. When they appeared on the outrigger in our first trip, I couldn’t quite process where they’d come from. “Jeez, everytime I look up I see someone I didn’t notice was even on this boat,” I said to Watson, the Thai American who dives in a jaunty two piece red and black wetsuit.

“I don’t see anyone,” he said.

“Those women,” I laughed.

“Hallucinating gypsy women is the first sign of decompression sickness.”

The village was drumming and singing today, it being Sunday and just before Christmas. They have an enormous Christmas tree on the beach.

village tree

If you look closely, you can see that instead of a star on the top, there is a boat.

I thought it was charming and perfect for a village that makes its living from the sea. One of the Finnish women was perplexed by its non-stellar-ness.

Just before my camera pffted out, I found a particularly Christmassy nudibranch.

green nudi

Our ride home was rough, and the woman from Boise lolled nearly unconscious on the bench, limbless, felled first by seasickness while diving and then from the overdosing I gave her on seasickness meds. Her son’s Taiwanese girlfriend spent the ride back clinging to an empty cylinder, hunched over the side, apologizing to me with a small smile before she vomited politely. I found a well of relaxation in my stomach for the first time in days, rolling with the boat, not clenched against seasickness. I put on my raincoat and sat on the cooler in the middle, getting drenched, reading a sodden copy of Dark Star Safari, enjoying the ride.

Eely things

We did a different kind of wreck dive this morning — car wrecks. Bits of car jettisoned into the sea, now habitat.

Overstretched metaphor of the day: things growing in wrecks. Things poking out of unexpected places. Wounds beginning to be repaired. ETC.

There was an eely thing living in what used to be a gas tank.

eely thing
(12.22 – #357)

(Technically it’s a white-eyed moray, but I like “eely thing.”)

Fish coming out of some kind of pipe.

other eely thing

Lovely, destroyed oceanside patio being shored up after the destruction of the typhoon a few weeks ago.


It was a day for regrouping, after I stayed up too late booking travel for the end leg of this journey, trying to find something meaningful to do with the days that were supposed to be in England. It turned out to require a lot of decision making and multiple logistics and then it was midnight and I was talking to people in my homeland. (I can’t decide if being able to talk about this weird crazy breakup as it’s happening is a good thing or a bad thing. I’m going to vote for good meaning making, with gratitude to my long-suffering and endlessly supportive friends).

I wasn’t sure if I was going to dive or not, after not sleeping well, but hauled myself up to not dwell. And discovered that Diving While Anxious doesn’t always lead to relaxation — had an accidental inverted regulator while entering the water on the first dive so lost air, and sucked up all of my air way too quickly.

I did like the many many bubble coral shrimp.

shrimp bubble corral

The site was also lousy with lionfish, but I couldn’t capture them well.

lion fish

… and a few nudibranchs I hadn’t seen before.


Second dive I had buoyancy issues, and my camera battery died just as we saw remarkable things like a relatively cooperative harlequin shrimp that stopped and showed me its elusive face, and a tiny, stunning flamboyant cuttlefish.

But I dived twice, then felt kind of emptied out, and spent the rest of the afternoon doing something that probably no one in the history of dive resorts has ever done before: lying in a hammock, knitting, listening to Pema Chodron calm my cells.

feet hammock

More diving tomorrow. More affirmations.

Fun games

Yesterday I found myself saying goodbye to my partner of nearly two years at an airport security gate in Manila, as he gave me a polite peck on each cheek with hands on my shoulders.

Then there I was, eating two char siu bau (bbq pork buns) out of a cardboard box, standing in the middle of the gate area, with my partner’s stepdaughter.

I’ve had some strange and overwrought travel days, but this began to verge on sounding like a dream that people are too polite to say bores them as you go on and on.

AND then I was eating pork buns that reminded me of my long ago ex T, the first woman I kissed, with whom I slurped cheng fun and har gau and discovered dim sum and so many other delights.

And THEN I was on the plane, and halfway through the flight the flight attendants, all orange and yellow perky, called for our attention and said “it’s time for the FUN GAMES, the best part of a Cebu flight!” And we had a chance to win collapsible tote bags with the name of the airline on them, by being the first to hold up a valid picture id or find a certain page of the inflight magazine. We tried hard but didn’t win.

(12.20.12 — #355)

And THEN R described a friend of hers as “a bizarre combination of GRRR and handbags.”

And THEN we got on a really posh jeepney and went to a dive resort, passing street vendors selling fireworks and shoes, and where the staff kept saying, like a sesame street counting game for the very young, there were supposed to be three of you, but there are only two. The other one, did not come?

Here I find myself (1?)

Here, I find myself in a dive resort in the southern Philippines, on the day the world was supposed to end, spending Christmas not with my boyfriend and his step-daughter, but with his step-daughter alone, said boyfriend now ex and gone off in some other direction of his own.

R and I looked at each other when we arrived here at the second resort of the trip yesterday: “who did you spend Christmas with?” “Some random woman from the internet.”

Diving is all about what’s underneath, what’s hidden, and then looking under THAT layer for what’s even more obscure, what’s hiding. Like this cuttlefish, that just looked like a shadow. Until Rachel pointed her pointing stick at it.

(12.21 #356)

When it swam out, I literally jumped back with astonishment at its size and shape and sheer presence.

And yes, that is a whack-in-the-head metaphor.

Coming on this trip, Finch and I had talked about our relationship having an expiration date, about the limits of long distance and the different needs we have around intimacy. That conversation was hard, but it made sense, and I thought we could have a sort of coda/ending time to our relationship where we could be together in a way to honour what we’d been to each other.

Turns out, it’s pretty hard to connect and disconnect at the same time. And well nigh impossible for two people whose faultlines already include different ways of expressing intimacy.

So as the mid-point of our trip hit, the faultline cracked, I got too close to the pretty, deeply poisonous banded sea crate that glides incredibly, unexpectedly quickly through water.

banded sea crate

And now, Christmas in a dive resort in the Philippines with a young woman I have deep respect for and affection but who, I will point out, I don’t ACTUALLY REALLY KNOW VERY WELL.

And she, who was supposed to be having a kind of family holiday, is now with her step-father’s ex-girlfriend.

I think I might have to start writing fiction again.

Enriched Air

We had our last two dives at Puerto Galera today, and are moving to a different place tomorrow. So we had a “dry” afternoon, and I spent a couple of hours getting certified to use nitrox. There was math involved, and Hazards, and now I can, theoretically, dive longer without the same decompression limits, because the air in my tank will have a higher concentration of oxygen. Theoretically, since I am a bit of an air pig, still and haven’t quite mastered the art of breathing deeply, steadily and calmly in such a way that I don’t burn through my air at depth faster than everyone else. And in diving, that means someone has to come up with you, so it’s a communal issue.

cate diving gear

Everyone raves about nitrox, so I go certified, and learned how to recognize oxygen toxicity and how to check that my own tank has the right blend. There’s a lot of Tech in diving.

Our first dive was quick for me, because it started out deep, but I did get another decent photo of a slightly different type of nudibranch.


We went in search of Giant Clams for our second dive, which were really quite amazing, though the water was murky, and no one obligingly got a foot stuck in one for good photo.

giant clam

The rest of the dive was sandy gravel (rather than a coral reef, or rock, or a wreck, or something like that), usually called a “muck dive.” This is where the truly weird creatures lurk, like this black finned snake eel, whose little head just poked out of its burrow.

black finned snake eel

Most creatures in muck dives are really elusive, and well camouflaged, and truly bizarre, and can only be found by sharp eyes and coaxed out with a poking stick. I was surprised to spot this dragon sea moth by myself — mostly I float around and wait to see what other people bang on their tanks for, or spend time photographing.

dragon sea moth

We also found a weird kind of lion fish, called a gurnard lionfish, which sort of scuttled along the bottom. In this shot you can see its majestic inner colours.

gurnard lion fish

The rest is a bit out of focus in that shot — it’s very hard to get really good shots with a compact with a bit of a time delay, and without a strobe — you really need the light underwater. Here’s what it looks like from the side, blue span more hidden.


I found this almost translucent banded coral shrimp, nestled beside an anemone for shelter.

banded coral shrimp
(12.19.12 – #354)

I spent a long time with knees dug into the gravel to try to get a decent shot of it, and kept getting too close to the anemone, which prompted several bites on my hand by this territorial clown fish.

clown fish

In this era of birding and diving, I have now been pecked at and warned off by fish and by arctic terms swooping at my head, and briefly charged at by a blackback mountain gorilla. I wonder what it says about me that I’ve got used to it.