Apo Reef off the island of Mindoro is one of the top dive sites in the Philippines and had been on our list of places to see while we are still here. Based on recommendations from friends we decided to book our Easter holiday at Pandan Island Resort so we could dive Apo Reef as well as other sites near the island. Yeah, I know Easter was the week before. Somehow the calendar got mixed up in Jane's brain and we didn’t realize we booked the wrong week until a few weeks before the trip. Whatever.
We took a flight to San Jose, Mindoro and then a 2 hour van ride and a short boat ride to Pandan Island. The resort is the only thing there. When we say resort, we are not talking about upscale accommodations with lounge chairs around a pool and waiters serving you umbrella drinks. This place is rather basic built mostly from natural materials, all solar powered, no air con, and salt
water showers with fresh water in a bucket for rinsing. There wasn’t much in the way of doors or windows on our room but there was a mosquito net over the bed to keep the bugs out. To keep us cool at night there was a recycled computer fan attached to a wood stand next to the bed. We must say, as basic as things were, the toilet did have an excellent flush which was truly refreshing since that is usually a problem most places in the Philippines. And the buffet was always a tasty combo of western and local, not surprising since the owners are French.
We signed up for the Apo Reef trip that was happening on Day 2 of our visit. We got the last two spots on the boat. The trip is hit or miss depending on how many sign up to go and how much you’re willing to pay if they don’t. The boat costs are split between the divers while the diving is a set price per dive. It’s a 2 hour ride to Apo Reef which we spent lounging on the mats on the
top deck. The dives were really nice. Our first dive was at Apo Menor which had a lot of white tip reef sharks, a thermalcline that ran between very cool to very warm, and way too many triggerfish for Russ’s comfort. It was like they were ganging up on him from every direction. Mostly Yellowmargin but plenty of really big Titan’s which are the nasty ones. Ever since Russ got clamped on the arm by one in Puerto Galera he’s been very aware of their presence. They seem to dislike him and even on day one of our trip, a Titan lunged at him while we were snorkeling. They normally are aggressive while nesting during full and new moons but this was neither. They just don’t like Russ! We did 3 dives in total on the reef and saw plenty of sharks, barracuda, tuna, turtles, schooling fish, and yes – triggerfish. Sorry Russ!
Unfortunately, after the dives were done and we were celebrating a great day with a cold San Miguel, Jane was walking on deck and kicked a plastic crate of dive equipment. It hurt badly and when she looked down the second to last toe was pointing sideways. Trying to put it back in place didn’t help. It just flopped to the side again. The dive master iced it and then wrapped it up in tape. There was discussion over whether it was broken or dislocated but with no medical staff on the island it was just a guess. An ER nurse from California happened to be visiting his girlfriend who works at the resort. Jane got some assurance that it wasn’t a crisis worthy of disrupting the trip. Ice, elevation and buddy taping would keep things together until we got back
to Manila. But that would be 5 days later. The inability to walk normally or put on a dive boot and fin meant doing pretty much nothing. Lots of time for relaxation, reflection, and reading. At first it was hard but got easier as the days progressed. Jane was able to hobble down to the beach a couple of times to snorkel. One day we saw four huge turtles, a sting ray and a triggerfish in a 30 minute period. Better than most dives.
The trip didn’t quite turn out as expected but was good all the same. We met some very interesting people who were mostly Europeans traveling extensively from place to place. It seemed people drifted in and out of here with whatever they could carry on their backs and without a solid plan of when or how they were getting to the next place. Some were traveling one month or two but we met a German couple who had been traveling for 6 months while their jobs were held for them at home! Everyone we met was pretty mellow except for the Irish girl who
was hugely disappointed that she couldn’t get on an Apo Reef trip immediately and left for another destination the next morning. She obviously didn’t know that this is the Philippines and everything will happen in its own time. These things can't be forced. Just kick back and relax.