Of Diving, Faith, and Everything Else in Between

I have been on a hiatus for quite awhile and this is not because of the usual work-related toxicity that I would always complain of. Three weeks ago, my mother underwent major surgery for what we initially thought was just an ordinary, nothing-to-worry-about ovarian cyst. Little did we know that her case was advanced already, subjecting her to a longer, more complicated surgery under the good hands of Dr. Jay Arnold Famador, a gynecologic oncologist at the Makati Medical Center. The operation, which originally would only take about two hours had it been just a total abdominal hysterectomy by my OB-Gyne, Dr. Marinette Sto. Domingo, lasted for a grueling six hours. Six bloody freakin' hours of not knowing what was happening inside the delivery room--the longest six hours of my life. At that time, I could only pray hardest (or shall I say beg? plead?) and let all my tears run dry. For years and years, I haven't cried buckets like I did during that time. My tears won't stop; my chest as if about to explode with a melange of emotions. The pain was just too excruciating for me that I was so speechless and numb. We then stayed another five days at the hospital and everything went fast and busy that I don't even know how was I able to cope up. Well, I guess God gave me all the strength, right? I knew he was beside me all the time, no doubt.

These things happened amidst my PADI Open Water certification course with no less than Sir Bell Cruzet, a PADI IDC Staff Instructor who has been diving for over 20 years now. Sir Bell is very good friend of my friend, Susan Lara (of Arts of Asia fame), who convinced me to take the course after showing me the photos of their dive trip in the Maldives. I will forever be thankful to Ma'am Susan for introducing me to diving, and to Sir Bell for patiently guiding me all the way until the end of the course.

The Course
As you may know, the entry-level PADI Open Water certification course consists of a series of lectures to understand basic principles of scuba diving, confined water dives (usually in a pool) to learn basic scuba skills, and lastly, open water dives to use your skills. We did most of the lectures in Makati City for two nights, the contained water dives in Tali Beach, and finally the checkout dives in Anilao, Batangas. During the contained and open water dives, we were taught some skills that would be helpful in case of problems underwater. It is very important that you master these skills for your own safety and survival. After all, scuba diving is not just all about fun and recreation--you'll never know when things will go wrong. There's a final written exam in the end to assess if you understand all these principles. Should you pass all these, you will be conferred your PADI Open Water certification, which will enable you to dive into a maximum depth of 18 meters or 60 feet.

Checkout Dives in Casa Bahia Dive Camp
Sir Bell arranged for a weekend dive at the Casa Bahia Dive Camp, a homey lodging and dive operator in Anilao. The property is just a stone’s throw away from Arthur’s and Koala dive sites, and a short boat ride away from the iconic Cathedral dive site.

Casa Bahia Dive Camp
Casa Bahia Dive Camp features cozy and tastefully designed rooms, as well as open spaces perfect for lounging after a day out in the sea. The rooms are spacious and can comfortably fit up to three people. The bathrooms have hot and cold shower, as well as basic bath amenities and clean towels. There's also a safety deposit box for your valuables. I must say the property is well-maintained and staff are all friendly and efficient. Payments can be by cash or credit card, although the latter requires an additional surcharge and the signal can be intermittent at times.

The room
The bathroom
Dive packages at Casa Bahia Dive Camp usually come with full board meals prepared by the in-house cook. All our meals here were hearty, some sinful. =) The dining area commands beautiful views of the sea as well as the nearby islands of Tingloy and Sombrero. At dusk, sunset can be best viewed from here or from the roof deck.

Charming accents at the dining room
Glass windows wrap the dining room
The Dives
For the weekend, we were required to do two dives per day. To kickstart the day, we set up our gears on our own and with direct supervision from Sir Bell. It is important to know how to properly set up your tank, BCD (buoyancy control device), and regulator so you'll be able to check if everything is working properly before you take the plunge.

Next was an orientation of which dive sites we would be exploring as well as what exercises we would do underwater. For the first day, we went to Layag-Layag and Koala dive sites. Anilao has a plethora of dive sites to choose from, be it for beginners or advanced divers.

After lunch, out we went to our first stop, the Layag-Layag dive site just a short boat ride away from Casa Bahia Dive Camp. We were supposed to go to Caban dive site but the waves were unforgiving, and so Sir Bell decided to take us to the former instead. Layag-Layag is perfect for beginner and experienced divers alike as it features an extensive shallow area of scattered big boulders, rocks and widespread of coral formations teeming with marine life.

We were told to gear up and do the backroll entry, which I was so skeptical to do at first. I have fear of heights and  imagining myself falling even from minimal heights gives me butterflies in the stomach. But heck, I have to do it because there's no other way I can enter the water without doing the bloody backroll. My first attempt was wrong, as I was full of hesitation that halfway through the backroll I held onto one of the boats pillars. My instructor said never to do that again as I nearly hit my head. Doing the backroll requires you to let go...of your fears; of everything you are holding on to. Just like what I realized when we I got to accept that mom has the big C--I offered everything to God and let go of all my fears.

Sombrero Island from afar
Our next stop was a dive site named Koala. Again, we were asked to do the backroll and while this time I did it better than the first, I still feel the fear lurching in my tummy. I have to get over this, I told myself.

We then descended through a reference line, making sure to equalize as we go deeper. The views underwater were surreal; it made me forget all the negativities of the past weeks at least for awhile. Breathing my first breathe through the regulator while under the clear seawaters is such an experience that I will forever remember. It's amazing! We swam ahead and saw beautiful corals and rich marine life. Each frame in front of my defogged mask is "Instagrammable" if I may say so.

Sir Bell Cruzet, one of the pioneer dive instructors in the country
Tin, Aween, and Mica


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Koala from Matet Garcia Reyes on Vimeo.

On our second day, we went to the iconic dive site, Cathedral (also known as Cathedral Marine Park Sanctuary), a marine sanctuary swarming with different kinds of underwater life, and the Classroom where we were supposed to finish the exercises to complete our certification course.

The Cathedral is perhaps the best site we've visited that weekend. It features a giant rock formation that looks like a roofless underwater dome and between the two is a small cross. planted at 50 feet by former Philippine President Fidel Ramos in 1983 and blessed by Pope John Paul II. Again, we were told to do the backroll here in order to enter the water. I was more relaxed, albeit still a bit scared, this time. There's still that fear of falling into God-knows-how-deep-water, but slowly, I must get the hang of it. I just need to learn how to effortlessly let go.

Fish feeding at the Cathedral is awesome so make sure to bring some bread or crackers with you. Don't forget your underwater camera, too!

Hey, Pong!

Do not touch the fire corals!

Cathedral from Matet Garcia Reyes on Vimeo.

Capping our dive weekend was a visit to what they call the "Classroom", a dive site that is perfectly conducive for scuba diving exercises.

Diving taught me a lot of things including discipline and managing my fears. You have to listen to your instructor and practice what you've learned, paying attention to even the simplest safety measures he'd teach. No matter how experienced a diver you are, you still need to double, triple check everything before going underwater. Also, I've learned that the more you hesitate, the more you'll be in danger. Just follow rules and let go. You are in for a fun and relaxing activity underwater; recreational diving was not designed to give you anxiety. Just like in life, the golden rule in diving is that you breathe slowly, deeply, and continuously.

So here I am, letting go and lifting everything to God, positive that he has good plans for mommy and claiming that he'll guide us along the way in this difficult journey. Just like diving, I take it slowly, one breathe at a time.

'Til our next dive!


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