The early morning sun glints off the calm azure ripples of the Batangas Channel, whilst the small outrigger banca whisks across the bay to the first dive site. The time is just before nine in the morning. Only thirty minutes before I was in deep slumber in my more than comfortable bed. I awoke to the sun streaming in through the rattan blinds, to another perfect day in paradise. After a swift cup of tea, I grab my personal kit and walk out to the boat for my morning ‘freshener’.

The engine stops, as the guide positions the boat into the correct location. With assistance from the dive crew my cylinder is eased onto my back, and I carry out the final checks. With the sleep still not out of my eyes, we count down, three, two, one…with a casual backward roll, one hand on my regulator and mask we are baptised once more. The whirl of bubbles and brief disorientation pass in seconds, and with a glance down the coral reef is already at rush hour. We slowly descend to meet the sea bed at a comfortable nine meters, the current gently pushing us along like a spacecraft passing over the surface of an alien planet. The vista of life is overwhelming, beautiful coral heads with every colour of the rainbow. Fish of every shape, size, colour and species are already up and going about there everyday roles upon the reef. A small Banner Fish darts under a table coral, as we fly overhead, probably spooked by the sounds of our exhaust bubbles from our breathing equipment. A large school of silvery Jacks glint in the morning sun, aimlessly following one another like soldiers on patrol.

We continue descending further, now passing 20 meters, ahead of us the reef juts out at right angles and we see below our target. Just along the wall a small hole has been formed over the centuries, just large enough to fit a single diver. I signal my buddy and we pass through the small tunnel in single file. Upon reaching the exit the current is much stronger, so we hit the deck, holding onto a small rocky outcrop. Composing ourselves we signal to let go and the current takes us, like parachutists in free fall we rotate around in our weightless environment and line ourselves up with the first canyon. As we continue to descend further, now passing 25 meters we fly down the coral trench like a scene from a George Lucas movie. Above us large schools of Humpback Snapper are feeding in the morning current. We tuck in behind a large rock formation and enter the second canyon. A large sandy-bottomed fish bowl offers us shelter from the surrounding rush of water, and all is tranquil once again. On one side a large red Gregorian fan offers shelter to a pair of Panther Grouper, a bright yellow trumpet fish is having it’s morning manicure from a couple of blue striped Cleaner Wrasse and thousands of small light red fish dart to and fro, covering the reef in a pink cloak. A school of Sweet lips glide effortlessly like sail boats facing into wind, while several Bat fish pick food from a sea fan. Sitting motionless on the sandy bottom feels like sitting in an Imax 360 degree theatre, life is thriving all around us and a true sense of tranquility sets in. My breathing slows, as I relax and marvel in wonder at the spectacle of the undersea world. Thoughts from the world above become distant memories, everything seems so much clearer and sharper.

I check my pressure gauge and see that I am at 80 bar and will soon need to think about making a move. Just a little longer, I convince myself, as I take in the literally breathtaking ambience. I try to slow my breathing down even further to stretch out my time in this Eden Paradise. Finally, I signal to my buddy to head towards the edge of the fish bowl canyon. As we emerge over the top, the racing current forces the mask tighter to my face, I guess a similarity would be sticking your head out of the window of a speeding car. We bale out and fly with the current, heading over the last canyon to the other side, heading up over a coral plateau we spot an unnatural shape jutting from the coral. A small puffer fish is sheltering beneath what we discover to be a huge iron anchor, encrusted with coral and anemones it would be easy to swim past unnoticed. A timeless reminder from a Spanish galleon that the ocean had claimed as its own, this was probably caught fast and sacrificed to the sea several hundred years ago. We hold on to the top, as we have one last look around before we begin our journey back to ‘our’ world. As we let go and slowly begin our ascent from 26 meters, the reef slowly fades into the deep aqua as we ride the current once again.

All attention is now focused onto our dive computers, ensuring we ascend at a controlled rate up to our safety stop at five meters. Here we stop, floating weightlessly in mid-water as we look up at the surface just above. The timers start our countdown for the recommended three minutes before we can surface. I reach into my pocket and deploy a surface marker buoy to signal our location to our boat. We float effortlessly, each personally reflecting on the show we have just witnessed. This was not a natural history documentary on a television set, this was the real thing, first hand. My computer beeps as the timer signals that we can safely approach the surface. We slowly fin upward, the sun is streaming through the surface as we break through it. I inflate my jacket, remove my regulator and take a large breath of fresh Philippine air. Wow….what a way to wake up, must be time for breakfast.

Gary Stokes,
Underwater Photographer & Videographer for Oceanic Love.

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