skull Wet t-shirts and whale sharks skull
skull Negros, Philippines skull

December 22

I woke up today feeling much better (although still not up for cold breakfast noodles) but, despite the festive feel the whole of Philippines has, hadn’t realized Christmas was only a few days away. While I was lying in bed sick Christmas had snuck up on me…and with it the Christmas Blues (yes, I was singing Elvis!). It would be our first Christmas with just the two of us. We had booked into a decent dive resort and hoped we could stay busy enough to keep our minds off it.

On the way to the airport I tried to take a peek around, I really hadn’t seen much of POP in the week we’d been here. In the usual Asian fashion we breezed through departure/flying/arrival stuff and were landing on the Island of Negros in slightly southern Philippines. I added the “slightly” part to let everyone know we didn’t go south south to the not so safe part of the Philippines. Like adding South to Korea. We were staying in a small town about an hour from the airport, that is closer to the diving – ie shorter boat rides everyday.

Stupid Santa at the Staff Party

The sexy dance show at the party. Most of the same staff were also in the wet t-shirt contest that came later

A few days ago we had received an email from the resort, Mike’s, explaining that their staff Christmas party was the day we were arriving. They asked us to be patient as there would be the typical Christmas party games, music, drinking and dancing. There would also be a buffet and free beer. Free beer! No problem, do as you want! When we arrived the party was just starting. We had a quick tour by Hilary, the manager, and were shown to our room. It was a lovely second floor room with a giant balcony overlooking the grounds. It was a tiny and quiet (well it would be after tonight) and just what we wanted for our Christmas distraction. I got all excited and un-packed, I love clean hotel rooms with clean drawers! Then we joined the party….well we grabbed a beer and giggled at everyone. It’s funny…the games were different than I’d seen/played, but really the same. A lot of jumping, yelling, screaming and laughing went on. We got talked into playing one game. It was an eating contest and we tried to explain that it was unfair to have James in any eating contest with people half his size, but they insisted. And we of course won! Way to go James, I am so proud…and not surprised. (James’ Note: She makes it sound like I wolfing down my own weight in pie or something, it was nothing more than eating a single apple as fast as you can, in a slightly sexualized way)

The buffet was amazing; a whole roasted big and all the fixings. After we ate we just sat back and watched the fun. I had showed up a little, maybe a lot, on the depressed side but found myself smiling. I did have a moment when they played their version of Secret Santa (aka Stupid Santa) but again ended up laughing at it after a few minutes. We decided to call if a night when the wet t-shirt contest started…although it was tempting. $50 was a day’s budget – and just to show my boobies. It was a bit strange. It was a staff and families party so there were kids running around. A few minutes before the wet t-shirt contest they did a half assed talent dance like Korea girl band show dressed like Brittany Spears. Everyone – kids included – sang and clapped along. James couldn’t help but take one last look from our balcony as the new contest was announced. The swim with not boxers contest. I am happy to note that most, maybe all, the kids had left by that point. Regardless, it was a fun night – and who hasn’t done something they wished they hadn’t at their work Christmas Party?

Christmas games
(Click on picture for link to video, appx. 2.2MB)

Relaxing between dives

December 23

When we got up the next day it was like being at a different resort. It was so peaceful. The staff looked a bit hung over and Hilary was doing a bit of chasing to get them moving but everything was what we expected. Over breakfast she talked to us about diving and asked if we wanted to see whale sharks? Huh?!? Who doesn’t! She then explained that a few weeks ago a group (pod? family? gang?) of whale sharks had started to come to the area and the fishermen had been feeding them. A few days ago they told the dive shops who had been excitedly visiting them since. She said we’d go tomorrow if the weather cooperated. The sea was still rough from the typhoon that had ripped through the southern part of the Philippines. It had done some damage in this area; a few boats were lost or sunk and about 20 people lost their lives due to mud slides. It was really sad to be so close; and a bit scary.

We told her we were interested (DUH?) and then got our gear ready for a day of diving.

Our dive boat was a big wooden out rigger that we had to wade to from the beach. Normally it would be easy peasy but the waves made it a bit tricky. James got wacked by the ladder, but thankfully it was the right shin. Now he just has a matching scar from the fall in Mount Bromo, very sexy. It was a wet bumpy ride to the dive spots but also kind of fun. The diving was pretty good and it felt good to be exercising (even the little bit diving requires) after spending a week in bed. The storm had done a little bit of damage to the reefs but it still looked healthy and alive. There was great critter life and it was fishy. We did two dives then had a box lunch. It was amazing, a real honest to goodness club sandwich with NO egg! (It’s a bit embarrassing that that was a highlight of my day.) We did a third dive and began the long, wet, bumpy ride back to the resort.

We spent most of the night just sitting outside. The resort had a nice set up with the restaurant tables scattered around the pool and it’s lite up beautiful natural looking waterfall. It was very relaxing with the lantern filled palm trees swaying, waves breaking on the beach a few feet away and the trickle of the water fall.

Whale sharks...again

December 24

How can a day started with homemade banana pancakes and crispy bacon be anything but great? It can’t!

The dive boat was busy today; about 6 divers and a family of snorkelers. We were off in search of whale sharks! We were all a bit disappointed when we were told it would be the second dive of the day but tried to settle down and enjoy the first. It was hard, a great dive but to be honest I barely remember it.

After our surface interval we headed towards some fishermen in small wooden outriggers. They were the ones who had been feeding the whale sharks. I’m not a big fan of this type of practice…but on the other hand I was about to dive with whale sharks. We could see them circling in the water as soon as we got close. I had that same feeling I had in Ahe; Yeah! Wholly Crap they’re huge! Yeah! Wholly Crap they’re huge! Yeah! The Yeah! Won out again and I geared up and jumped in. I was trying to hide my fear. The family of snorkelers had two small boys, maybe 5 & 7 and if they could jump in then so could I. Right?

It was amazing! Not the same amazing as Ahe when we had the place pretty much to ourselves, and the sharks were even huger. But amazing. There were six of them and most of them were young, so only about the size of a mini-bus and they swam all around and over and under us. So amazing. I got much closer this time (the young kids were so brave it wore off on me) and even pet one. I was also close enough to feel the force from the gills of one as it belched out after eating a mouth full of fish.

Still not bored with them

I had quite a giggle when I looked up to see the young snorkeler get a gooseing by one of the whale sharks. He was swimming and looked up…a few seconds later a whale shark swam up (they can sneak up on you) and his dorsal fin caught the poor little guy between the legs. I think he jumped a few feet out of the water. Back on the boat he was laughing about how the whale shark got him in the bum…an experience he will now never forget.

We dove with them for about an hour and then had to get out. Everyone had those goofy I just won the lottery smiles on their faces. An older guy, the last out of the water, was beaming. He explained it was something he had always wanted to do and had not expected it here. A wonderful surprise for all of us I think.

The whalesharks
(Click on picture for link to videos, appx. 4MB, 1.5MB and 5MB)

I want to mention now that they are new to the area, and a few weeks later someone had posted a link to an article about it. As far as I know they might still be there, I think as long as the fishermen feed them they will stay. We didn’t plan it or have advance warning. So Blaine please please please forgive your travel agent for having you go to the ends of the earth and stay on nothing more than Gilligan’s Island where you caught something nasty that made you so sick paramedics met you on your 9th and final (yes NINE) flight home that you passed on to your poor unsuspecting wife to see… whale sharks. On a more serious note; the two experiences were completely different and I would do Ahe again in a heartbeat.

Back at Mike’s we were all smiling and giggling and sharing pictures and videos. A Canadian/Australian couple had checked in and they were as surprised and excited as us at having the chance to see whale sharks. Once we got the excitement out of our systems (if that was possible) we ended up having a nice long dinner with the new couple. They had been working in Philippines for a while and were enjoying the “splurge” as much as us. I think she oohed and ahhed about the hot water a few times, but I knew how she felt. The company was so good and the setting was so perfect we ended up drinking wine (James had beer) into the wee hours.

I was surprised at my mood crawling into bed. It was Christmas Eve and I desperately missed my family but with today’s early Christmas present of whale sharks it was hard not to be smiling. “sigh”

Christmas company

December 25

Merry Christmas! I didn’t get my usual Christmas orange in my stocking or raisin toast for breakfast but the banana pan-cakes and crispy bacon were just as good. Diving on Christmas wasn’t that bad either (said with a huge smile!).

We were only doing two dives, so the staff could have the afternoon off to be with their families. I felt a bit mean for making them work, but the owner insisted that was what we came for and they do this every year. We were very thankful. During our surface interval the dive guide asked us to do him a favor. Let him pick up some of his girlfriend’s family members (who were having a Christmas gathering on the beach near us) and take them for a ride. He explained that they only go on boats once or twice a year and would love the treat. I think it ended up being a treat for us.

We have realized that Philipinos don’t seem to be able to go anywhere without food especially if they are guests. When the group of 20 or so climbed on board they had drinks, pasta and sauce, salad, chips, nuts….bags of food! When everyone was on board we headed out into the bumpy sea. When we hot big waves everyone shrieked and got wet. It was so much fun. They tried on our dive gear and took pictures of themselves, and a few of us with them. We eventually turned around and took them back. They climbed off wet and smiling.

Creepy,cute, and just plain weird creatures
(Click on picture for link to videos, appx. 4MB, 5MB and 6MB)

After diving we spent the rest of Christmas lounging around. The weather was overcast and it had been raining off and on since we arrived so we used it as an excuse to nap and watch tv. For dinner we had another delicious buffet and chatted with our new friends. We didn’t stay up as late but still enjoyed the night.

Some of my favorites

December 26

Happy Boxing Day!

We had another great day in paradise. Good food, good diving, good company…what more could you ask for?

December 27

We had grand plans today. Actually lot of plans. We were thinking of taking a boat to another island, renting bikes and taking a tour. We were thinking of catching a tuk tuk to town, doing some shopping and sight-seeing. We did…nothing! It was wonderful. I felt a bit guilty because we’d had a week of nothing in POP but it was different, I was sick. Having a day off when you are healthy is soooo much better. I swam, blogged, napped, ate, drank too much, visited… yes, it was wonderful.

I’m happy to announce that during dinner a mouse (Mike called it a mole, but same diff) ran along the bar and I stayed in my seat. I lifted my feet but no squealing, no jumping onto my chair, no running for my covers (yes I have been known to do that once or twice); I stayed calm. A second one ran into a ground floor room (teaches them for leaving the door open!) and I still stayed calm. Impressed? If it had of been a rat I still would have had my usual anxiety attack but I think I am getting better with mice. And all it took was 3 years in mice/rat infested Asia.

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