Malapascua Magic (January, 2018)

Cue music. Buble coming through.

“Birds flying high, You know how I feel

Sun in the sky, You know how I feel

Breeze driftin' on by, You know how I feel

It's a new dawn, It's a new day

It's a new life, For me

And I'm feeling good, I'm feeling good”

Our state of mind, as Hussain and I began our long and arduous journey from grim London huddled up in many layers to sunny Filipino skies; half way around the world.

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Me: Do you realise we’re going to be meeting a bunch of strangers on this trip, and diving with them for 7 days straight, stuck on the same boat all day?

Hussain: Yeah! How exciting is that?!

Me: Oh (crestfallen), yeah exciting. Thank goodness Arun’s coming, and Sumer will be there – friendly faces to the rescue.

All my premature apprehensions couldn’t have been farther from the truth, for we were “stuck” with the most amazing diving team, cast and crew and with that, let the stories begin!

Having been to South East Asia quite a bit, I thought I knew what to expect upon landing in Philippines, but as we left Cebu behind (and Amitabh, at the restaurant- classic case of ‘got the keys’? and got the keys!) and made our winding journey towards the south most tip of Cebu; Philippines seemed that much more pristine and unfathomable.

It took all of one 30-min gorgeous boat ride from Cebu to dreamy Malapascua; to go from being strangers to acquaintances and one dive to become comfortable new friends. We couldn’t have gotten luckier to be honest. Such diverse backgrounds, such stark realities, so different in every sense and yet we all came together to share our love and passion for diving and that was enough to keep our beaming faces lit up for seven days straight.

 

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Photography by Sumer Verma

 Malapascua

 Magical. Inside out. Upside down. Flip both ways and again. So, freakin’ unbelievable. Watch every animation movie there is to watch on life under the sea and life on an island and then drop yourself in any part and there you’d have it, an out of this world experience.

 The first morning we woke up, raring to go see the Threshers, the whole reason why we made it out to this unheard of island and yet, we had to wait another day before we began our daily Monad shoal rituals.

 Instead, on our first few dives we were greeted with spectacular corals and strangely enough, star fish by the dozens! I’ve never seen so many types of living, breathing, crawling starfish in a single location, the feather star fish very easily stole my heart. Given that Hussain and I were diving after what felt like eternity and our diving skills had probably dipped a bit, Sumer and the ever-supportive staff at Evolution were pivotal in ensuring we reached our comfort zone in the waters pretty quickly.

 To cut to the chase, come day two; all of us were energizer bunnies that couldn’t wait to immerse ourselves in Thresher land! Having woken up at the wee hours of the morning to prepare for Shark diving, we parked ourselves in comfortable spots on the boat to catch up on last minute winks, as the boat sped on in to the horizon, chasing the rising sun. Electrifying excitement ever so slightly coated with anxiety was palpable as each of us took one giant stride in to the deep blue.  The currents were strong, and it took a while to train our eyes in such dense seas. As we descended and settled in high probable spots, I noticed more and more people pointing excitedly and looking very content. Damn, I hadn’t even noticed one! And our bottom time was soon coming to a close. “Did you see! Did you see them?! Did you see how amazing they were?” was all I heard on the boat after we surfaced and I hadn’t even seen one Thresher! Later that day, Sumer showed us an image he had so brilliantly captured of us descending and a Thresher gliding silently above us, and there I am, posing for the camera in all my glory!

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 Photography by Sumer Verma

 Malapascua is a glorious ecosystem of not just Threshers, but Sea Kraits, Devil Rays, Sea Horse, Octopuses, White tips, turtles and so much more than can be described however spotting the Threshers the next day was by far my most surreal moment. Watching these glorious creatures glide seamlessly by and with one swift flick change course and head towards you is both invigorating and frightening at the same time.  My heart too was finally content, and began overflowing with satisfaction in the days to come.

 Further magical highlights included spotting two white tipped reef sharks snoring in a cave; diving against the Kalangamman wall – a one-day getaway from Malapascua where we chanced upon paradise above waters and heaven beneath. Diving across the length of the Kalangamman wall is like floating across a massive Michelangelo canvas, perceiving it’s vivid colour and form and seeing it all come together to create one euphoric experience. Schools of Groupers beneath us, Eels swam by, a big happy turtle appeared from well within the ocean and cruised on to the coral bed for a nap, ah bliss. We needed to keep moving despite desperately fixating our eyes on specific spots hoping to take it all in. No amount of time spent is enough at the Kalangamman.

 

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Photography by Sumer Verma

For me, this trip was about friendship and love. Shared love for the ocean, sharing it with people I love. Arun and I have known each other for 21 years. Hussain is my best friend for life and my life partner. The people who we spent these days at Malapascua with enriched our lives with joy and merriment, experiences and memories. We learnt that spotting a Nudibranch (this tiny colourful guy who I’ve never noticed before!) is a big deal.

 

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Photography by Ian Harper

 Hussain and I signed up for some night dives to get over our first traumatic one (story for another day). We made friends who we now still regularly check in on and we were pampered by the fantastic powerhouse crews; Lacadives and Evolution Divers. We fed our soul, rebooted our system and paid our gratitude to the mighty ocean; and that’s all we’d hoped Malapascua would give us. Magic. And it did.

Krithika Radhakrishnan, Lacadives guest