Is it wise to travel by sea in the wake of a tropical typhoon? No, it is not. Circumstances beat intuition, however, and I found myself an unintentional victim of our unscrupulous Mother Nature.
Already I had delayed my trip to the island of Coron an extra day so that I could “Ride the Joe” – the only boat that even attempts to make the El Nido-to-Coron journey worth the outrageous market price. Day-two-that-I-wanted-to-be-in-Coron dawned with wisps of a category 2 storm ferociously swirling about. My long-anticipated boat ride was cancelled. Day-three-that-I-wanted-to-be-in-Coron contained tail-end typhoon action too hazardous to allow any souls to journey beyond the harbor. So, then, you can imagine my divided thoughts on day-four-that-I-wanted-to-be-in-Coron when we finally got the green light to depart.
Yes, the coast guard was under pressure from the boat owners and employees earning cash from the trips. Yes, they were under pressure from the time-strapped-tourists stressed about their vacations not going as planned. Yes, this is an organization whose field office in El Nido is basically a few men who sit around watching T.V. waiting for cell phone calls from “head quarters” to tell them what to do. Yes, this was last possible day* I could arrive in Coron and be able to partake in world-renowned-mind-blowingly-beautiful diving. Yes, I was about to get on the Geo Metro of ocean-craft. Yes, except for the boat I wanted to go on three days ago, these boats have a maintenance standard that would make a Consumer Protection Director turn in his grave.
*To keep from getting “the bends” – a potentially fatal post-diving condition – ascending thousands of feet via airplane to much-lower-pressure altitudes sooner than 18 hours after your last dive is an absolute no-no.
Oh, but there’s more.
Allow me to describe this ocean-going “Geo Metro.” It’s slightly more narrow and slightly longer than your average fifth-wheel camper, with an outrigger on each side to keep the thing from tipping over. It’s powered by one – yes ONE – four-cylinder, rebuilt diesel auto engine with god-knows how many miles on it. The main cabin has the equivalent of eight park benches to accommodate more than forty passengers. Really think about that. Visualize. Insert sardines/clown car metaphor here. This is how I ended up making the journey on the roof, lounging across the laughable-excuse-for-a-lifeboat. And why I had a bird’s eye view of the boat’s rusted night-time-navigation light breaking clean off as the boat crashed into the trough of a ten foot wave. “Good thing we’re making this trip in the daylight!” I thought to myself.
Cue music of suspense and impending doom.
That’s right. Our 4 p.m. arrival time had slowly slipped away, and now the winter sun was following its example. A repair job on our navigation light commenced as my fellow traveling compatriot and I did the only thing you can do in this type of situation: we laughed our asses off.
In fact, I laughed all day long! Stuck on the roof of the boat in the glaring tropical sun without sunscreen or anything to cover myself? Ha, ha, ha! Lunch consisting of less food than I would offer a toddler for a snack? Hilarious! Riding giant ocean swells and crashing into oncoming walls of water? Fits of giggles. A salty crust developing in my hair, on my arms and face, and all over my clothes? Pure joy!
Honestly, I had the best seat in the house. And not just because I was hanging out with the young, Spanish version of George Clooney. In the four minutes I spent on the main deck for a bathroom visit, I became wildly nauseated. And I don’t get sea sick**. Granted, the nausea could have been my karmic pay-back for the peals of laughter I let rip when – on the way to the bathroom – yet another wave blasted through the window absolutely soaking this stocky, grey-haired, middle-aged westerner. I couldn’t help myself. I just stopped in my tracks while laughter wracked my body. I laughed so hard and so long, eventually even he had to smile. Awesome.
**It’s one of my superpowers. In fact, I’m composing this story on a boat. In choppy seas. On my way to the island of Siquijor. One of the boat boys has been handing out barf bags for the last hour, over half the passengers have their hands clamped over their mouths, and I’m happily tapping away at my keyboard and focusing intently on a computer screen. The odor of vomit might get me eventually, though. Never have I been so thankful for the smell of a Frenchman’s cigarette!
And this is why I think I had the best possible situation worthy of non-stop smiles and laughter. The people utilizing the aforementioned benches inside the main cabin were getting absolutely drenched. Yes, I already confessed that I was wearing my fair share of waves up top, but I was probably subjected to half of what those down below experienced. Plus, I was so comfortable. With my head propped up on one side of the lifeboat, my feet propped on the other, the bow coddling me like a baby, and a serendipitous pillow-shaped packaged rounding out the equation, I was in bad-boat-ride heaven. Only three of us fit in the life boat anyway, and I got the unobstructed view. A handful of other passengers were laying around the roof – a platform smaller than the floor of a box-car with nary a barrier between us and the churning sea. But most of the unfortunate souls were stuck on port and starboard benches – meaning they couldn’t face in the direction of travel. And they were getting blasted by a fire-hose every five seconds. And the six-hour journey had turned into ten because of the rough seas, with the finale taking place in the black of night.
Yes, my friends, the glass was definitely half-full. ♣
Update 2017: This isn’t the whole story. I wrote up another version as the basis for a Moth-like story recently.
No photo album on this one. My camera was in the same place as my sunscreen – locked away for the duration of the journey.