To The Foot of Mt. Mayon

Despite looking like a child’s toy, the All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) is in reality one badass vehicle. It can cross landscapes that would break the axle of an automobile or sink  its wheels. It can keep pace with any motorized two-wheeler. And it is easy to drive: consider yourself a competent ATV-driver if you know how to grip the throttle and the brake.

I enjoyed the long ATV drive to the foot of Mt. Mayon. My inner speed demon possessed me, and I momentarily forgot that I was a cinephile and a literati. Still – square person that I am – I  followed safety precautions by   maintaining distance between my ATV and the  guide’s ATV, and avoiding grasping the throttle whenever the vehicle moved downward on a slope.

It was a thrill to cross muddy terrain, rocky landscapes,  and streams of water.  We also passed by a sleepy village where all the children playing on the roadside waved at us. My ATV seemed unstoppable.

The trip lasted for an hour, and we arrived at a cluster of bamboo sheds. This was the spot where we abandon the ATVs and hike to the pile of lava rocks. I was wet and muddy, and my arms were sore from driving, but I was ready – raring even – to walk.

* * *

When the guides told me we were to hike to the mound of lava rocks, I did not expect the hike also involved clambering up a tall heap of slippery rocks.  My foot slipped a couple of times going up the mound, and I automatically clung to rocks for dear life. One of the guides advised me – for reasons I cannot comprehend – to avoid clinging to the rocks while walking up the pile. He held my hand so that  I wouldn’t fall in case I slipped again. Yes I reached the top, but my manliness rolled down the hill, battered and bruised as it hit the ground.

A surreal sight on top of the lava rocks: a helipad with a small wooden table in one corner. Stretches of lava rocks and large patches of treetops surrounded the helipad. These are bounded by Lignon Hill on one side and the mighty and magnificent Mayon on another side.

Before climbing down the heap of lava rocks, the guides asked if I wanted to zipline back to the ATVs (a zipline structure stood a few meters from the helipad). Noticing the absence of safety helmets and walkie-talkies in their persons, I declined. Again I slipped a couple of times but managed to walk back to the site in one piece.

We drove our ATVs back to the Barangay we came from.


Aquanaut Voyage: Aquarium Diving at Manila Ocean Park

The things I endure to get my kicks.

I walked briskly inside the Manila Ocean Park Mall, eager to return to my hotel room. I tried remaining incognito by avoiding the gaze of guests thronging the entrance of the exhibits. I was embarrassed because I had no underwear inside my pants – the truant garment was soaking wet and had to spend time being stuffed into the left back pocket of my pants (the disagreeable alternative was for me to stroll the passageways holding my dripping briefs). Had my shirt not been lengthy, an observer might have seen a big wet spot on my backside, and then imagine that I had been the victim of an untimely bowel movement.

When I arrived at my room, I vowed that the next time I dive – if I dive again – I would bring a bag and extra underwear.

* * *

Manila Ocean Park’s Aquanaut Voyage. P995 for 10 minutes at the bottom of an aquarium is steep, but diving was a new experience for me, and (more importantly) someone else paid for it.

I arrived at the entrance around 3 pm (the Aquanaut Voyager occupies the same room as the Glass Bottom Ride and is open after lunchtime).  The person who took my Access Card said I had to spend a few minutes listening to a short briefing by the diving instructor – to prevent my unnecessary and untimely demise I presume.

The first part of the briefing was on underwater communication: the instructor and I would be unable to communicate vocally (obviously), so we needed to use hand signals.   He taught me how to gesture ‘I’m okay’ and ‘There is a problem.’ The instructor said that he would check on me regularly while we were underwater, and I had to respond by using the appropriate hand gesture. He also taught me the hand gestures that he would be making: ‘Are you okay?’ ‘Look around,’ and ‘Kneel.’

The second part of the briefing consisted of some do’s and don’ts. The instructor told me to walk on my heels so that I wouldn’t float upwards. He also advised me that before submerging, I had to pull the neck of my wetsuit outward to let the water inside  my suit (I forgot the reason for this, but it had something to do with compression). He warned me not to touch the fishes.

The diving instructor asked me if I had extra underwear. It dawned on me that since I was going underwater, I would get wet and would need extra briefs; apparently I did not think this endeavor through. He suggested that I just go back to my hotel room after the dive without my underwear.

He then pointed to the helmet that I would be wearing – a gigantic monstrosity weighing 30 kilograms with a tube attached to an oxygen-producing machine; the helmet would probably break my neck if it were not made buoyant by the waters. The instructor reassured me that in case of brownouts, the gizmo can still provide 10-minutes worth of oxygen, plus the generator of the Park would be kicking in.

Safety measures discussed and apprehensions addressed, I brought the wetsuit and the footwear given to me to the shower room, and changed clothing.

* * *

Underwater. I was fascinated that no water was coming inside the helmet, despite  the helmet not being sealed to the suit. Perhaps the pressure from the air inside the head gear kept the water out, though this pressure was probably also the reason why I felt slight pain in the ears (which I would continue to feel 30 minutes after the dive). Though I had sufficient air, I was afraid of hyperventilating underwater. I took slow and calming breaths. Ten minutes, I told myself, the dive is just 10 minutes.

It was hard walking underwater. I must have forgotten the rule to walk on my heels because I floated upwards thrice and the instructor had to catch my wrist and hold me down.  He walked backward so that he has me in his sights while he guided me around the aquarium. I saw a manta ray dart behind his back and thought he would bump into it, so I pointed towards his shoulder. He merely nodded and did not bother turning his head.

The instructor pointed toward one side of the aquarium; I noticed that it was the side of tunnel inside the Oceanarium, and people were gathering in front of the glass wall to look at the fishes… and me. Parents and kids were making thumbs-up sign (to which I responded in kind), and some of the ladies took pictures of  the fishes and me with their cellphone camera.

* * *

No hitches during the dive. I took a shower and went back to my hotel room where I chanced upon a hair dryer inside the bathroom drawer. Time to dry my underwear.