The day is sunny and hot
Not as oppressive as a sauna
but more oppressive than an apartment with no air conditioning.
We twelve wade out to the catamaran 50 meters apart from shore
holding our towels and knapsacks high to protect them from the
azure blue lapping at our knees.
We carefully mount the boat, flanked by Filipinos extending hands to help
as the rickety stepladder sways to the rhythm of the water.
"It's hot," I say. "Almost unbearably so."
Four men with dark skin and hair and friendly smiles take their positions
on the bark having done this a thousand times.
But this is our first time and we chatter "This is so cool!"
"I'm so glad we waited for good weather."
The sound of the engine suddenly drowns our musings,
it is working hard to back out of the shallow water at Boracay. The sails flick int the wind
We silence ourselves and secure our bright orange well-worn life preservers.
"Isn't this fun?" someone asks Anna. She interrupts her singing long enough to smile and nod
head full of braids flopping around in the breeze.
The wind is intense on the Sibuyan Sea. I hold my hat with one hand and the boat with the other.
Our group is talking again, laughing at the sea spray hitting and soaking us.
Alec holds tight to the boat and his blue eyes squinting lest more salt water splash in.
After refueling, we head to a small uninhabited island. Again, we wade in.
The sand is brown and rough, not nearly as soft as the white sand on Boracay Island.
The palm trees and sand welcome us. But it is quiet,
and only a few straw huts sit about empty
like a forgotten set for Jurassic Park.
We follow our leader around the island to two caves and two lookout points.
The waves are crashing quite violently on the ocean side of the island.
I decide not to descend the narrow spiral staircase to the tiny rock platform below.
My view is just fine.
I breathe in the deep blue of the water and the foamy white of the caps and spray.
The breeze threatens to snatch my sarong and hand it to the ocean as a gift.
I clutch it tighter and explore further, pondering what a tsunami must be like.
This place makes me think of shows like Lost or Cast Away or Survivor.
I wonder for a moment which of we twelve would be voted off of the island first
if stranded here by our guides to fend for ourselves.
Off again to the next leg of our outing, the part we've all been waiting for-
snorkeling around the coral.
The waves are too high to take us to the usual spot, so we hold tight as we move with the 6-foot powerhouses to another, quieter spot.
The kids are brave and excited to snorkel for real
Someone wonders aloud what we'll see "down there."
I secure the mask and fit the breathing tube snugly in my mouth then
Jump feet first into the sea.
The water is a rich sapphire blue and feels warm and refreshing
The mask forces me to breathe through my mouth and trust that
I'm not sucking in salt water.
I see the others are already floating away, discovering the treasures below.
As soon as I begin floating on my stomach with my face in the water
I know I've entered another world.
Even my ears are attuned only to the sounds of my breathing - like some sort of Darth Vader -
all sounds of the world above are blocked
The world below is primal.
We are visitors - or invaders, in the case of our anchor wedged in the coral below.
It is simply our privilege to view the life teeming beneath the floating human vessels.
Brown, green, blue coral, black spiky sea urchins, Nemos and Dories,
and a school of fish that swim upright and look like seaweed floating near the bottom.
Someone spots a blue starfish and we all make our way over to admire it.
No need to swim here, the current of the waves takes me to one exotic coral to another.
Fish with neon colors swim alone while others swim as a school.
This is the world under our very noses and we'd no idea it was here.
I muse about the existence of these two widely diverse worlds
and the thin membrane of water that separates the two.
Lift up my head - man's world full of sails and ships and coke bottles used as markers of waterways
full of poverty, and 16 hour days, threats of war, and unfinished grading
Lower my head - Triton's world of coral, fish, seaweed, starfish, and urchins.
Head up - creatures breathe air for oxygen
Head down - creatures breathe water.
Head up - airplanes, boat engines, men mumbling at a distance.
Head down - water, only muffled water.
I wonder if this is what it is like to enter the world of souls.
Head down. Earth, land, sea, and sky.
Head up. (Who knows?)
But if Life after Death is even a smidge as wondrous as the sea below us
I think I'm gonna like it there.
Dec. 27, 2010