‘Hi! Hello! Where are you from?’
I stepped off the little boat knee-deep into the azure waters. A few meters away, children from the island yelled out to me. I waved to them as they dodged one another on the sand, waiting for me to step onto the beach.
Apo Island is tiny. Three kilometers in diameter, it is like a dot in the middle of the Philippine Sea. It gives new meaning to the word remote, and also to the word paradise. Black crops of shale rock dotted the sandy white shores. Tall palms swayed against the green hills in the background. I figured I must have traveled using every known form of transportation to get here, including tricycles, those hybrid motorbikes with riding sidecars. I turned and thanked the boatman, and waded to the shore.
There are just two resorts and a dive shop on the island. The rest of the houses belong to the villagers and fishermen. There are no cars, no TV’s, and limited electricity. I stayed at Liberty Lodge, a resort built like a fortress, with winding staircases and stone passageways. The rooms are built from natural materials - wood, cane, and bamboo. Its open air restaurant has a clear view across the horizon, and in the distance you can see the shadowy mountains of Negros.
Apo Island is one of the premier scuba diving destinations in the Philippines. It is known specifically for its pristine coral reefs and marine sanctuaries. I must admit that as I was gearing up to dive, I wasn’t expecting to see anything that unique. But an hour after exploring the reefs, I wanted to trade in my lungs for a pair of gills. I have never been so close to so many giant sea turtles before! They cruise along, not the least bit bothered by these strange humans masquerading as aquatic life. The diving is more expensive than in other parts, but it is so worth it.
Back on land, I decided to explore the place. I ran into a bunch of island kids, who offered to take me on a tour of the island in return for biscuits and chocolate from the local store. Apo has a lonely lighthouse on top of a mountain, and you have to climb a good two hundred steps to get to the top. The kids skipped up the stairs as I huffed and puffed and dragged myself up with the handrail. But the view was breathtaking; it made the images from my simple point-and-shoot camera look almost professional. The kids took me around to the other side of the island, to the mangroves, to the haunted well, to their village school and playground. Their English was mostly broken phrases, but I could understand. I asked them if they’d ever been to a big city, like Manila. None of them had. I wonder what its like, to grow up never having seen an elevator or escalator.
I soon realized that there are a lot of inventions we take for granted. Simple things like taps and flushes, for example! On Apo, cold water was given out in buckets for washing and electricity was only available from 6pm to 6am. Its fun to live like a nomad, but after a few days you really start to miss things like showers!
Gorgeous colors streaked across the sky as the sun sank into the sea. Sipping on a mango shake, I sat on the beach and played with the dogs from the dive centre. I loved their names – Scuba and Snorkel. My beach time soon turned into a photo session featuring almost all the kids on the island… they weren’t the least bit camera shy and were fascinated by the video record feature.