Barely eight months after Typhoon Yolanda devastated the Central Philippines, Ate Claudia and I set foot in Guiuan, the southernmost municipality of Eastern Samar. The town was our rendezvous for a detour trip after our scheduled dives in Biliran Island got cancelled due to unfavorable weather.
Guilt was knocking on my conscience that we were there for fun while the town’s mood was generally the opposite. The devastation brought by the deluge were still evident and seeing them with my own eyes was seriously agonizing.
The weather also set the mood as we arrived in town in the late afternoon. The sky was gray and it started to drizzle while we were walking along the stretch of Holywood Street in search of our homestay. It was Ate Liberty, the owner of the place, that altered the mood. With her happy and lively persona, excitement kicked in.
Situated on the southern tip of Samar Island, Guiuan is where Typhoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan), with its full force, made its first landfall. It is a small and laid back town that relies on the bounty of its rich water for livelihood. The same rich water that attracted us.
Scuba diving in Guiuan is still on its infancy stage, a developing industry and yet a very promising one. With the rich water of Pacific Ocean and Leyte Gulf surrounding the town, I am pretty sure that there are other undiscovered dive spots in the area more than the handful of currently identified ones.
The most popular dive spot is the small islet off Calicoan Island named Katican Island, popularly known as Pearl Island because its surrounding water is a pearl farm.
The sky was still gray on the day of our dive but we went on with our schedule. Along with our dive master from a local dive shop, we crossed the water from Sulangan to Pearl Island on a choppy ride that took an hour.
Like the mainland Guiuan, Pearl Island was also in state of devastation. The concrete station was completely in ruins and the farm was totally wrecked by the surging current. But we were intrigued by the its depth that we still pursued with our descent.
We waded into the water and slowly swam towards the deeper part of the sea. The water was cold and choppy, and the sky was gray making the visibility unfavorable. Our plan was to circle the islet, aiming to see the pearl farm.
There were variety of soft and hard corals, sponges, sea fans, feather stars, lobsters, groupers, anemones and their resident fishes, anthias, juveniles and the usual tropical species. But what was more overwhelming than the sea life were the debris and wreckage brought by the typhoon into the ocean. Uprooted trees, logs, tin sheets, plywood and trashes. These were aside from overturned sponges and damaged corals. So heartbreaking.
A Lesson in Diving
As we went on with our dive, an unfortunate incident happened – I got separated from our group. I don’t know how it happened, everything was quick. I was just looking at them and in a snap, I lost them. It must have been because of the bad viz. I did the scuba diving protocol in such scenario… that is to search for my buddies then slowly ascend if the search yielded negative after a minute. Truth is, I broke the protocol, for I stayed underwater for more than a minute looking for them, hoping that I would be reunited with the group. But I didn’t find them.
After almost three minutes of search and three minutes of safety stop, I ascended and found our dive master on the surface. He was struggling and in a not so good state. I asked where Ate Claudia was and he just pointed downward, to the water. I looked around, the island was quite far and there was no one around except us. I started to get worried, I wanted to ask what happened but with the guy’s condition, I thought it would be best not.
I was torn between going down again to look for Ate Claudia or staying in the surface to assist our dive master. I was quick to decide that it was best to stay afloat and lead our dive master to the shore, my air was running out after all.
It took us approximately five minutes to reach the island where our dive master just lay down the shore, catching his breath. I surveyed the surface, hoping to see Ate Claudia on the surface but there was no other activity than the choppy water.
A Sigh of Relief
One… two… three… four… five minutes have passed and still nothing. We signaled our boatman to circle around the area and look for any sign of activity. It was already around twenty minutes since I got separated from the group and fifteen minutes since I surfaced. I was terribly worried. It was the longest fifteen minutes or so of my entire life.
Then I saw some activity on the surface, around 100 meters from where I was standing. It was Ate Claudia!
So I hurriedly ran into the water to fetch her. It was as if the sky cleared and a beam of light pointed to where she surfaced. I was elated to see her. I was smiling but I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. She was smiling too and her smiles erased all my worries.
The dive master called off the second dive and we found ourselves returning to the mainland. We are sure there’s more underneath the water of Guiuan… more underwater treasures and surprises that we missed. I can see myself returning to its depth in the future to explore more… when the conditions are favorable.