Apo Island is a very small spot of land, not even marked on some maps, that sits south of Negros about half an hour by boat. You can see it from the mainland, two humps separated by a small gap in which sits the only village on the island. The village is tiny and you can walk through from one side of the island to the other in about 10 minutes so that gives you the idea of scale. Our resort was situated on the West coast, so perfect for sunsets, and is set into the side of the hill which gives an excellent view across the water to mainland Negros, over which the sun sets creating a vivid red sky and a silhouette of the mountainous land mass. Our arrival was rather bizarre. We had booked a sea view room for Lucy and I and a dorm bed for Ed yet when we got up to the reception they were unaware of our booking, despite it being written down on the big whiteboard behind the desk! They had a room available for Lucy and I, however the only room available for Ed was a room situated in the village down the beach! Well, it was absolutely fine, we all got lovely discounts and as the food was included in the price we sat down to have some lunch before settling in to our rooms for the night...think Fawlty Towers and you may get an impression of the laid back attitude of the place. Before we arrived there had been a festival in celebration of the islands patron saint, which had left most of the staff rather hungover and tired...the chef especially, who apparently was still asleep
! This meant that the extensive menu was cut down to some simple dishes, nonetheless it was very good food and continued to be throughout our stay...although the veggies amongst us had to wait a few days before their beloved mungo soup and pizza returned to the menu! Despite asking at every meal time, it took a few days for the chef to return to his former glory and eventually get these two dishes rocking...although it did make me laugh every time Lucy or Ed asked for the mungo soup, the reply came back, "Mango soup?". Yes that's right, the mango soup that isn't on the menu and I have been asking for every day!! Couldn't help but stifle a small giggle every time...
Apo is without doubt a divers paradise with incredible waters and reef system surrounding the island. There are only two resorts here, one fairly expensive, the other very affordable and only the affordable one has a dive centre, however it was not rammed as expected. What did create a bit of SCUBA related congestion were the several dive centres on the mainland running trips to the island daily, although it did not create any bother underwater...the dive centre on the island had 3 or 4 divemasters all running simultaneous dives at different sites with different guests so the organisation was fantastic and this meant that I was on it like a car bonnet. Day two meant two dives for me :-) firstly teamed up with a lovely french couple and a canadian guy, we hopped into the water (standard backroll) and spent 60 minutes cruising around one part of the reef, finding all sorts of critters and creatures both large and small, beautiful and ugly
! It was actually comparable to Apo Reef with it's abundance of marine life and teaming shoals of fish. Simply brilliant! Get me in the water again! The afternoon dive was just with my new Canadian dive friend Paul, Lucy had come on the boat for a snorkel and we were joined by a dive master called Harnold. This time is was slightly different entry. Due to the proximity of all the dive sites to the shore, they use a very small boat where you sit with your legs dangling over the side, they kit you up then in order to get in, the boatman picks up your tank and throws you over the edge, hopefully sideways on if you can twist fast enough but generally face first! The killer is (and this was found out only afterwards when Lucy told me) that the boatmen actually laugh after they have thrown you in because sometimes you are literally starfishing face first into the water! I am going to name this the 'Philippino starfish entry!' Anyways, the three of us descended to find more bizarre and interesting creatures, including garden eels, cleaner shrimp and the very rarely found Orangutan Crab. Unfortunately this thing is a nightmare to get photos of as it is so damn tiny, but also if you get too close, it shakes it's claws at you as if beating it's chest! It is also orange and hairy, hence the name it is given! Another wonderful dive and Harnold was a great divemaster, really picking out the rare and interesting things to see. All the while we had left Lucy snorkelling....as had the boatmen...in she jumped and then within 5 minutes, the captain just let her know they were going to do something and they would be back shortly!
! Thankfully Lucy is an experienced snorkeller and just remained near the buoy until they returned, around 15 minutes later! It was a great day of diving and snorkelling in one of the most rich marine environments I have seen, I felt very lucky to have been underwater in such a diverse ecosystem, I couldn't resit booking in other two for two days time! That evening was spent relaxing around the dinner table with Paul and his travelling companion, Colleen, chatting about travels and politics. Very friendly and interesting people to have met!
As there is actually not much else to do on the island, the following day (after we had all located to the correct rooms!) we decided to walk up one of the small hills to the view point in the morning. It was a bit of a walk, making our way through the town to the other side of the island and then scaling one of the hills which took us out on to the very southern tip of the island where there had been constructed a small relaxing deck with chairs and tables and more importantly, no-one else! Once again we were the only people here so we relaxed and took in the incredible 180° view, overlooking the turquoise water and simply relaxing our heads off. A short while here and we decided it was time to get in the water again so the three of us headed back down to the resort and donned our gear, within seconds of hitting the water, we were face to face with a sea snake and a beautiful hawks bill turtle
. One the most docile and majestic creatures in the sea, and the other equally docile but the most venomous creature underwater. I was very excited as this was my first clear glimpse of the snake, actually know as the Banded Sea Crate, and I was fascinated by it's graceful movements and unfased attitude towards us. However, it was still a little unnerving to know it has such strong venom that only 1% would be deadly. They are incredibly docile creatures however and you can actually handle them gently without any bother (yeh, that's not going to happen anytime soon!). So another day underwater and by now a well used pokey-stick we retired to dinner and got chatting to a British couple and their travel companion, Wendy, a very bubbly Dutch girl who was here diving and had joined up with the British couple along the way. This meant a very interesting following day for diving!
The next morning Wendy and the British chap joined myself and Harnold for a new dive site; Coconut. A cheeky drift dive around the northern tip of the island. A standard Philippino Starship Entry and we were down into the coral reef, gradually drifting through huge schools of Jack and past wonderfully coloured hard and soft corals swaying in the current. With my new Rescue Qualification and my pokey-stick in hand, Harnold had sort of left me to my own devices at the back of the foursome, with the other two buddied up together
. As we drifted along in the current, the other three moved out to go around a large head of coral jutting out and as I saw it a little later, I decided to move into the reef and go in between the main reef and the coral head sticking out. The split second after I made that decision and finned inwards, I saw something that literally made me almost freeze with shock. From in between the main coral and the large head jutting out (my route) appeared a banded sea crate....about 10 feet long!!! This thing was huge and was swimming directly towards me. We got closer to each other and I stared into it's hypnotising eyes, its lips an almost luminous yellow and it's body undulating behind it. I remembered my pokey-stick and banged on my tank to signal to the others, they turned around just in time to see this venemous giant gently breeze past my head about 4 feet away, my eyes fixated by the black and white stripes down the length of it's muscly body....then I remembered I had a camera!!! By the time I managed to get it together, the snake was around 15-20 feet past me so I could not get a decent photo but this was possibly the most incredible animal encounter I had experienced as a diver!
Of course the afternoon dive was spectacular as expected, revisiting the reef at the front of the island with Wendy and the British guy. Plenty of life and abundant coral on show ready to be watched and observed by its international guests
. The evening time was spent sharing photos (if your reading this Wendy...sorry in advance!) with plenty of funny photos from the dutch representative, mostly of coral and blurry yellow fish! Lots of shared travelling stories inspired us to look into the best place for whale shark watching, a plan we originally had but information made us think of alternatives as our plan to go to Donsol at some point seemed fruitles due to the lack of sightinhgs and the stories of overcrowding...anyway, that will be a later story to tell. We were all incredibly tired, not only due to the intensive snorkelling and diving but also because of the electricity on the island. It only comes on until 9 at night so when trying to sleep there is no fan to keep you cool, and it was very very hot....we hit the hot sack for our last nights sleep, exhausted but really amazed by the underwater paradise at Apo Island.
The following morning we packed up and headed out back to Negros for a couple of days of rest and relaxation, parting ways with Ed as he went on ahead to Siquijor. We had spent a lovely time travelling with our companion and the people we had met on Apo Island, including Harnold, left us with a very warm glow of friendship and companionship and as we skipped over the choppy waters towards Negros, we couldn't wait for some cool sleep and the next adventure to unfold before us. Ari na ko Apo Islands, salamat. Maayong hapon Dauin, kumusta?! (See you soon Apo Island, thank you. Good afternoon Dauin, how are you?!)
So until next time...
Ari Na Ko
So...by now we had done a large chunk of the Philippines. There is so much more to do but we felt that we were starting to make headway. We had to get to Dumaguete which is on the other side of Negros in order to reach the famous Apo Island, one of the top dive sites, not only in the Philippines, but in the world. In order to get across Negros we had to get to the bus station which involved (from our resort) an hour tricycle ride, 45 minute wait, 30 mins boat then 30 minute jeepney...then our 7 hour bus journey began! By the time we reached the bus station it was midday and the bus left at 12.30 so we didn't arrive in Dumeguete until nearly 8pm...it was just too much travelling! We were exhausted and spent the night in a travellers hostel before we could get to Apo Island and when we eventually got ourselves a boat over to the Island the following day it was gone midday again...so our total time taken to get from Guimaras to Apo Island was around 30 hours and we were very very tired! However this made no difference as we glided over the reef surrounding the island...the water was gin clear, we could see the corals below in their splendid and colourful glory and as the island approached we knew this was going to be an underwater spectacle not to be forgotten