Surprisingly, I did not have a hangover next morning. Either I did not drink as much as I thought I did, or the quality of the local rum was much better than I expected. Therefore I, as usual, appeared by the pool of Club Serena at 10 a.m.
We had a depth diving scheduled for the morning. A buoy was put right beyond the reef for us, and those few people who were able after the previous day’s celebration swam to it, accompanied by Julia. To be honest, I did not want to dive deeply on that day. Although I still wanted to know what I was capable of and knew that I hadn’t reached my limit, somehow I was sure I wouldn’t dive deeper than I already did during that stay. And besides, my ear started to ache. Earache is an occupational illness for all depth divers. The combination of cold sea water and high pressure does its work, and a diver is prone to picking up ear infections. The nearest doctor was three hours away, so I decided to wait until I got home to Melbourne.
We started to dive in turns, but apparently everybody was worn out. I dived to 22 meters. It was a good result for me, and it showed that I could dive to 20+ meters pretty comfortably. Although I did not beat my previous record on that day, I was OK with it. Everything has its place and time, and I knew I would have another opportunity sooner or later.
Furthermore, I began to realise what was holding me back. It wasn’t the pressure – even at 26 meters I could successfully equalise pressure in my ears and I felt no chest compression. That is, I could go deeper. But I was getting out of breath. Also, I just didn’t have the proper equipment. My Mares Volo Race fins were good for swimming, and they proved to be excellent for underwater hockey. But still they were very soft and not made for freediving. They simply did not give the necessary propulsion. The first stage during a deep dive, when you have to overcome your own buoyancy together with the resistance of water, is very important. And you will need all the power your fins can develop. The monofin, of course, is the most effective in this case. Especially the so-called “hyperfin” – almost all of our experienced guys had them. “Hypers” have a different foot pocket design. In them, the heel is raised above the surface of the blade to compensate for the relative weakness of the ankle muscles. This is uncomfortable but effective. “Hypers” are sold in many countries, but manufactured mainly in Russia. They have already revolutionised the fin swimming sport and now almost completely conquered the world of freediving. Fins made of carbon fibre or glass fibre are also very efficient, whereas my fins, made of rubber and plastic, were not as good.
Besides, I was plainly freezing. As I mentioned earlier, my own open cell wetsuit was too warm for the tropical waters of the Philippines, while the borrowed 3mm steamer, as it turned out, was too cold. The problem was not even that the wetsuit itself was thin, but that the cold seawater could freely pour under the collar, cancelling out all the thermal insulation provided by the rubber. There are suits with tricky zippers, in which this problem is solved. Next time, if I won’t be able to find an appropriate open cell suit, I will at least get one like that. As I said before, in between dives freedivers lie still on the surface of water with little or no movement. Those were the moments when I was freezing. I had to twitch my arms and legs to warm up, and as a result I could not relax.
That morning I was not the only one who was freezing; and after diving for an hour, we returned to the shore. After dinner we settled upon going to another reef, where Julia wanted to film for her TV project. Since I was getting cold in the water, I decided to try to dive in my own open cell wetsuit. The reef turned out to be very close to the place where we were diving to the plane. Once we arrived, the preparations for the filming started. The theme was musical. The guys fetched out a violin and a guitar. The guitar was bought here on the island a few days earlier. I saw it before, but couldn’t guess what kind of fate awaited it. The guitar was a key part of the script. However, getting it underwater turned out to be not easy. The guitar was too buoyant and it took a 2-pound weight to sink it. I pulled on my wetsuit and plunged into the water. And then I was up for a big surprise.
When I had dived in the borrowed steamer, I attached a 2 kg weight to the belt to offset its buoyancy, and that was enough. I knew that my open cell wetsuit was more buoyant, and put 3 kg of weight on the belt. Turned out, that was not enough! I could dive with great difficulty – the suit kept me on the surface. So I had to go back to the boat and fasten one more weight. That helped a little, but still was not enough. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any more weights. Furthermore, the suit was clearly too thick for tropical waters, and I was getting hot. Meanwhile, a few meters below the surface the underwater concert was in a full swing. The show was really beautiful; and maybe we will see the video one day. However, I soon realised that my clumsy figure could accidentally get on camera so I preferred to wander off. Since I couldn’t really dive because of my buoyancy, and I was getting hot, I soon returned to the boat, pulled the suit off, and just relaxed and waited for the rest of the guys to return. It was not my day.
We had yet another trip planned for the evening. We booked a dinner at a prestigious hotel, Badian Island Resort. Julia stayed at that resort with friends on the previous New Year’s Eve and loved it. That resort is on a separate tiny island, and usually only the resort’s guests are allowed there. But we boldly introduced ourselves as a team of tour operators from Moscow, and they made an exception for us. For a modest fee of 1500 pesos (around $30) we were promised a tour, a buffet dinner, and an entertainment program.
It was already dark when we set off. From our hotel we had to ride 40 minutes by car to the pier, and then travel for another 10 minutes on a boat to that island. Once we disembarked from the boat, we were welcomed by girls from the Badian Resort’s staff. They presented each of us a necklace made of flowers and asked us to walk over to the reception. There we were asked to pay upfront. Then the tour followed. The problem with the tour was that it was already completely dark, and we couldn’t see anything. Nevertheless, we were shown around the island. Despite the pitch black, it was obvious that Badian was an exclusive resort for the rich, where the number of staff exceeded the number of guests. Massage rooms and spas with baths covered with rose petals were all around. At one place a cascade of personal swimming pools was arranged so that occupants could lie on special couches (yes, right in the pool) while watching the sunset. After some time, since we could not see anything anyway, we were shown directly to the area around the main pool, where the dinner tables were set up. I have to admit that the dinner was delicious.However, we soon found out that drinks were not included into the price we paid. In front of me at the table stood a bottle of red Australian wine – Hardy’s. I asked how much it was. Having received the answer, I converted it into Australian dollars, and it turned out that the price was about three times more than I would pay in Australia. I decided to pass with Hardy’s and ordered a glass of a house red instead. In the meantime, we were all looking forward to the show.
For those 10 days while we were in the Philippines, we didn’t see any manifestation of the local culture. And we were very interested to hear and see some local songs and dances, something ethnically Filipino. On the other side of the pool, where a small stage was installed, two men with guitars appeared sometime later and started singing. They sang in an unfamiliar language, perhaps one of the Filipino languages. When they finished, lights turned on over the lawn next to the stage. Music started playing, and a group of dancers in ethnic costumes ran out onto that impromptu dance stage. I can not say that they danced badly, on the contrary – it looked very nice. It just didn’t feel like Filipino dancing. Rather, it was entertainment for foreigners, folk dancing to Western music.
They danced a few numbers and even tried to lure us into a dance and, to some extent, succeeded. After them a man with a guitar came to our table and started singing. He sang a very sad and very long song in an unfamiliar language. It is unclear why he decided that this song was perfectly suited to this moment. For the first few minutes we endured that. Then someone offered to give him money to go away. After a few more minutes we couldn’t take it anymore, and one after another started fleeing from the table. Finally he finished his song and left. After that an elderly Caucasian man walked to our table.He turned out to be the hotel’s owner himself. He greeted us on behalf of the resort and presented a free drink for everyone, which slightly warmed our Russian souls. And then the entertainment continued, presented by the already familiar Filipino “Simon and Garfunkel” and dance revue. The man with a guitar didn’t come back, thank God.
When the entertainment program was over, we decided that we ate and drank enough, and made for our hotel. But we had a discussion and decided that, as “tour operators”, we would not recommend that place to our clients. Maybe it’s good for wealthy retirees, but personally we liked the hotels we stayed in much better.
When we returned to Club Serena and I, having opened the bus’s door, set my foot on the ground, I saw a tall Caucasian man waiting for us.
“Is one of you Sergey?” he asked. “I am Michael, the owner of ’Blue Orchid’”.
The end of the tenth day
The text © 2010 Sergey Stadnik
The photos © 2010 Sergey Stadnik, Vasily Avseenko