Typical Morning in Paradise

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If you look closely you can still see the spots on my back from being Cupped in China. Malapascua Island, Cebu, Philippines. Copyright Michael Bencik 2013

Let me start with a typical morning here on the island. I wake up between five and six, not sure why, just do. Roll out of bed, take care of any of my bathroom needs, then wander out of he air-conditioned bungalow to the front porch. We are considered luxury backpackers like I said before, even possibly wimpy ones by most the people we meet. We’re ok with it. We don’t like waking up covered in sweat. Even at this hour it’s hot, and a furnace blast of heat welcomes the swooshing sound of the door as I step out.

At this hour, the sun is shining directly into my face coming from the east, which is on my left side. It’s bright and wonderful outside. In front of me the ocean is blue and endless. I can hear the waves lapping at the shore, which I am no more than fifty feet in front of me. There’s a gentle breeze that stirs the fern tree and mango tree in front of me, waving their palms in a gentle caressing motion. The sound of cocks crowing can be heard from all parts of the island, near and far, but none too close to be annoying. It’s an early hour but people are all up and about. Kids are playing in the surf, women are going bout their chores, men are cleaning up their bottles from the night before. Fishermen are already bringing in their catch from early morning, so you see the occasional boat motoring by. I am greeted by my dog, Lobo. She stretches her little body and yawns, gets off the front step, and puts her paws on the raised balcony and licks my hand in greeting. Ultimately, what more could you want, it’s paradise, and I love every minute of it.

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Malapascua Island, Cebu, Philippines. Copyright Michael Bencik 2013

On most days, once the heat pushes me off the porch, (it’s hottest in the morning when the sun is low) I grab my snorkel, wade out our side door, pass the two bungalows filled to the rim with Philippine tourists, cross the small beach at high tide, and step into the water. On the shore line the water is warm, barely chilling my toes, but a few strides in and gloriously cool water envelopes me. Looking down I can see my toes clear as day, perhaps even magnified in the crystal clear water. Little white fish dart around your steps as you walk, and little bits of sand billow out after each step in concentric circles around my feet. I arch my body and dive in. Once the water hits my face it’s like my entire body cools down instantly, an amazing sensation. Depending on the tide, the currents can pull hard one way or the other, but between the tides there is no current at all, it’s all so beautifully still. At high tide the seaweed starts about thirty feet out, during low tide the grass can be exposed to the air, and you can walk twenty meters out. The water is about chest high at this time. I don my snorkel, and allow the underwater world envelope me, and it’s never disappointing. The only thing I can compare it to is being in an Imax theater, the underwater imagery is that intense. Most tourists just want to snorkel near corals, I on the other hand love snorkeling everywhere. It’s sandy for ten meters, then transitions to seaweed, but not the gross clingy kind, but more like a sandy suburban lawn.

This lasts for fifty meters, then various coral boulders start jutting out of the sea grass, like spots on a teenagers face. The coral is mainly soft with some hard coral mixed in, but there is the occasional hard coral. Some of the boulders look like bread batter balls that have been squashed on top, while others are teeming with maze like patterns with odd protrusions. Coral is amazing stuff, and I plan on spending a considerable amount of time to learn more about it. The shapes range from balls that have a brain like pattern, orange cabbage leaves, and thickets of oozy knobby cacti. In all three environments there is an abundance of life to look at.

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Malapascua Island, Cebu, Philippines. Copyright Michael Bencik 2013

In the sandy shoals there are white fish that blend perfectly with the sand, so from above you don’t even see them. Then there’s young flounders, a flat fish that has two eyes on one side of their bodies. They are sandy colored with a speckled texture to them that when sitting still make them impossible to see. Crawling along the bottom are a plethora of crabs, from light colored ones who disappear in the sand, natures gypsies carrying their houses on their back, the hermit crab. My favorite crab looks like an armored ball, with two huge pinchers up front that fit perfectly to his shell, completing the ball image. Only problem is the lower part of the pincher is so small that it’s useless for defense. When startled they use their back legs to dig themselves under the sand, and within two or three strokes they are buried. On my last day the nature gods were looking out for me because I was gifted the rare sight of a small octopus. These guys with their bulbous head and natural mimicry’s always amaze me. When I first found him he was contorting his body around a basketball sized rock, filling a depression in. His color changed to the same color as the rock. I being the nice guy flipped the rock over which sent him shooting away like an arrow, settling five feet over on the sand, his body changing white before my eyes. I left him to his hunt and swam into the grassy section.

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Malapascua Island, Cebu, Philippines. Copyright Michael Bencik 2013

Then we move to the sea grass. This section is filled with life, you just have too look for it. There are huge schools of green fish, maybe one inch long, which flitter amongst the grass. There are so many of them that their schools form shapes. I love to swim in the middle of them as they scatter like oil on water does when you drop soap in it. When they move amongst the grass they turn sideways eating, it looks like jewels glittering in the sun. Along the sides of the fish there are long slender green fish that are constantly dash into the school, scattering it. All the fish are practically the same exact color of the grass. Other schools that you see here are the black and white salt water cat fish. These fish stay in such tight schools that it’s near impossible to count them. They swarm in tight groups, eating in a neat row, looking very much like a military charge. Then there are numerous starfishes down here, big fat chocolate chip star fish to the bristly sea star with its really long arms. Than there are groups of black sea urchins, walking along on their spines. There are ones with neon blue eyes and streaks to some really unique ones with a fiery orange color, which I dubbed the Lava Urchins.

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Malapascua Island, Cebu, Philippines. Copyright Michael Bencik 2013

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Malapascua Island, Cebu, Philippines. Copyright Michael Bencik 2013

At this point the grass is still around but boulders appear in the grass, with spots of coral shooting off them. The coral and boulders are scattered around, looking like some giant tossed a hand full in the air, which spread and fell in random spots. The life around each boulder is vibrant and endlessly moving. Fish dart in and out, under, and around. They each hold their little territories, and guard it religiously. If you are really lucky, you might spot a snowflake eel. These sinuous gorgeous black and white eels don’t grow to large, but still have a fearsome look. I love them, and it’s always a successful dive if I spot one. They are very shy, so you don’t get too much time before they dash for cover.

Sometimes, I might get some company as I snorkel around. The local children often forage for food in the morning; catching crabs, sea urchins, and various other stuff for their families to eat. Most the time they just goof around though, having fun like all children should. Often they follow me around, trying to figure out what I am looking at. Then in a burst of giggles they will swim away as quickly as they came.

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Malapascua Island, Cebu, Philippines. Copyright Michael Bencik 2013

On a really lucky day you might even spot a sea turtle, though that is really rare. I was never so lucky, but the fun is in the hunt anyway. After a few hours of floating around I would head back to the beach to lay out, play with all the dogs, and hit some café for a mango smoothie.

4 responses to “Typical Morning in Paradise

  1. I’ve been there ten years ago (I know long time since) but I failed to appreciate the island (I regret that now) It’s not the place it’s the company. I wonder if Maldito Bar still exist and the motorbikes for hire.

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