We Survived Apo Island: A Travel Diary Update

After our adventures on Cebu island, we jumped on a small ferry to make the quick and easy 20-minute crossing to Dumaguete on Negros island. We were headed to Dauin – a stretch of coast famous for its beautifully protected wildlife and its proximity to Apo island. We found a teeny tiny cottage on the beach at a dive resort with two or three kittens and the teeniest tiniest puppy you could possibly imagine. Not a bad start.

Apo island is a volcanic island off the coast, about an hour’s boat from Dauin beach. There are a total of two dive resorts on the island, over 60 recorded sea turtles that hang around, and bunch of sea snakes. The visibility is great, the reefs are healthy, the water is the colour of paradise.

It’s diver’s heaven.

The clearest water at Apo Island

Only we didn’t dive.

The owner of Cebu Dive Centre in Moalboal (where we did the sardine storm dive) summed it up nicely. Comparing snorkelling to diving is like comparing a chicken sandwich to a roast chicken dinner. Both are good, but one is better.

But sometimes you just feel like a simple sandwich, you know? Though mostly you just can’t afford a roast chicken dinner each day. And sometimes you’re still so full from all the roast chicken you had the previous two days. You get it.

So we went as snorkelers on a diving trip.

We started strong when we moored by the village and jumped in the clearest water we’ve seen in the Philippines so far. Beautiful and bright corals span the seabed 5 to 10 meters below, inhabited by equally bright and beautiful tropical fish. And it wasn’t long before we spotted our first turtle. A magnificent giant thing, with its shiny tiled shell and honeycombed skin scratching its back against the reefs. We hovered and stared; it would go back up for some air, and then dip back down, cruising elsewhere. And then we saw another, and another.

Our second site was a bit deeper, but Joel spotted two black and white sea snakes, and we followed them as closely as we dared. An exciting first-time sighting for us.

Snorkelling at Apo Island

After lunch the boat was taken around to another point and things went south very quickly. The little boat, basically at capacity with 4 divers and 4 snorkelers, was rocking back and forth aggressively. There was a quick briefing for the divers; they jumped in and disappeared. Nothing mentioned to us poor snorkelers. It looked rough, but not as rough as our manta ray snorkelling expedition in Nusa Penida, and we were 100% not going to wait for divers for an hour on a sea-sickness-inducing boat with another snorkeler that already threw up on the way over. So we jumped in.

But it was deep; there was nothing to see; Joel’s rented mask kept fogging and flooding; my snorkel was mostly just filled with sea water; the corals were far to close to the cliff against which the waves threateningly broke.

We tried to see stuff, would give up, and start back towards the boat, only to see it sloshing back and forth, and stayed out. We made this decision multiple times over the next hour as the divers calmly floated below. Man, what we would have given to slip on a tank and escape the crashing waves and bumpy boat. So we just made it our mission to survive.

We managed to make light of it in between our frustration in the water. The situation was actually ridiculous. It’s one of those situations that are funnier in the moment than in hindsight. In hindsight it’s really freaking frustrating. We paid a lot to do this snorkelling trip, but we received no guidance, no briefing, and that last site was really not a snorkelling site. It was not fun, and it was not safe. But being out there in the water seemed better than having the contents of our lunch swooshed around in our stomachs on that little boat. I get that divers should be privileged, but if the snorkelers are just tagging along it should be at least 40% cheaper.

So this is a story of how we should have had that roast chicken dinner.

Even though we mostly make smart choices when we travel, we don’t always get it right. Hindsight is always 20/20, I guess. If we could do it all over again, we would 100% go back out to Apo island. It’s spectacular. But we would also 100% strap on our tanks and pop in our regulators. Lesson learnt. 


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