Go For It

Go For It!

by Betsy Royal                                                                                                                                                            

with Carolyn Pascal

After a few adult beverages at my friend Carolyn’s daughter Melissa’s wedding, our mutual friend Margo suggested we join her on an upcoming Kids Sea Camp trip to the Philippines. She loved it there, and so would we, she said.  Thrilled to be spending time at a happy celebration with friends, it was one of those offers that I just could not refuse.

Seriously, WHY NOT? That is how Carolyn and I proceeded in our conversations. We could think of absolutely no reason why we should not do this. So we said Yes, and pulled out some vintage lycra skins from our old warm water diving days. We were on our way!

Margo Peyton and  Kids Sea Camp have been connecting families to scuba diving adventures for almost 20 years. Carolyn and I no longer have young kids, but we certainly did enjoy many Kids Sea Camps when we did. Thing is we really didn’t want to give it up just because we now happen to be empty nesters. On one trip a few years back, I had to borrow Carolyn’s 10-year-old grandson so we felt comfortable in one of the Kids Sea Camp activities. We performed (admirably I might add) ‘Who’s Your Buddy?’. Our youngest family member was my daughter Ashley, 20 at the time. We had a blast, but I digress from our summer 2018 Philippine adventure!

Carolyn and I met up in LA, and at the last minute, I got now 30 something Ashley to join us! After a long haul flight to Manila and another short flight to Dumaguete, transfers to Pura Vida Homes Luxury Resort was made easy by the welcoming staff headed by Biggs Eggert. Running PADI 5* IDC Sea Explorers and managing our group’s activities over 2 islands and 2 weeks was a piece of cake for this larger than life powerhouse. Her enthusiasm was contagious and her can-do personality was most inspiring.

The families we met hailed from London, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, San Francisco – a wonderful well-traveled group,  many had met on past trips and planned to reconnect. We began to absorb the magnitude of this adventure, and that the memories would be priceless.

Biggs has assembled a dive staff that is second to absolutely none in the world. The dive guides were locals – sometimes they traveled a great distance to work with us, and some lived locally, away from family, for the chance to work with Sea Explorers. These guys were patient, professional, excellent divers and extremely attentive. And both Carolyn and I can honestly say in our 40+ years of diving, no dive guide has ever helped us on with our fins like they were glass slippers, or off with our gear before we stepped up the ladder. Our Prince Charmings were operating in full force. (Note: they did this for the younger divers too!)

Fresh mangos, cookies, and hot tea were highlights for us after every dive. The boats were very unique with their bamboo outriggers…super stable,  spacious and efficient. Kids had their own boats, and high energy dive guides, that were even able to get them separated from their beloved electronic devices for long stretches of time.

Which brings us to the diving. Ahh, the diving. Well, my professional life started in sporting goods, and the diving business specifically. Certified in Long Island Sound, NY with much coldwater diving experience, I Landed my first job out of college working with Capt’n Don’s Habitat in Bonaire: Lucky me! This led to diving all over our water planet, which I loved. But along the way, I had developed a ‘been there, done that’ frame of mind. Yet here in the Philippines, it was impossible to be jaded. Each dive was so beautiful, it refreshed our senses and renewed our love of diving. Water temperatures were in the mid to upper 80s. No neoprene, just our colorful & comfortable lycra skins. The freedom of wearing a skin was wonderful and even on a 2nd, 3rd or night dive, I never got cold.

If macro photography or seeking out some of the tiniest critters you’ll ever find is for you, then this is the place! Our guide pointed out pregnant pygmy seahorses, delicate nudibranchs, ghost pipefish and the tiniest crabs I’ve ever seen. To go from marine life smaller than your fingernail to the awe-inspiring whale sharks all in one day..we lacked adjectives.

Whale Sharks! Another check off our bucket list! How can you describe being surrounded by these amazing creatures, calm, curious and seriously gentle giants? Thank Goodness Kids Sea Camp provides each family with a flash drive of all the professional quality photos that are taken during the week, so we don’t have to worry about capturing all these exceptional moments…because they do.

Frogfish that turn neon green to match their host coral. Thresher sharks, turtles, and exotic tropicals could come straight out of a Lucas film design department. One of our favorites on every dive though were the playful clownfish, quite happy in their elegant anemone homes.

‘Muck diving for aliens’, is how the orientation began. As a marketer, I might find a different word than muck for this type of diving, but after dive one, I heartily agree that ‘alien’ is a great description for these miniature sea critters off Dauin, Apos Island, and Cabilao, where we dove the muck. Basically, we hover over a silty bottom and search for the elusive alien or two. If all else fails, we practice our buoyancy and appreciate the life of the garden eels, swaying slowly with the rhythm of the sea.

Evening meals were buffet style, great fresh food, casual & friendly atmosphere.  One evening we enjoyed a talk about the Whale Sharks, fascinating fun facts for all ages. On Karaoke Night, kids and adults took the mike into their own hands to entertain along with popular music videos. But my favorite evening at Kids Sea Camp is when we recite our poems or sing our songs for the group, and hear our friends recount the highlights of their week.

The villas at Pura Vida in Dauin included a large living area, balcony, and full kitchen, but we had very little time in the room. Whenever we weren’t diving, sleeping or eating, we were at the coolest and most reasonable spa, getting messages that we so deserved. (Carolyn enjoyed the infinity pool, watching the kid’s horse around, and reading a paperback she borrowed from the front desk titled ‘My Not So Perfect Life’.  Although at this point in the trip, we were thinking our lives were pretty close to perfect.)

After week 1, Our group crossed to Cabilao, a small island off Bohol.  Pura Vida Resort and Sea Explorers were our hosts there too. The crossing was calm and beautiful, with a stop to once again enjoy the magnificent Whale Sharks along the way.

At the request of Margo and her husband Tom, our group had brought basketball shoes for our dive guides and other staff.  I learned that basketball is a sport the locals enjoy whenever they can, and when we visit, Tom and the guys join in. It was fun to watch them in their new footwear and big smiles!  Asking us to get involved and support with this local activity was such a meaningful gesture. It brought our group closer to the people we were living and diving with each day.

We are energized and reminded of why we fell in love with diving, travel and the undersea world decades ago. This was such a special experience that I got to share with my daughter, great friends, and some new ones too. But it’s the beauty of the local people and their underwater treasures that inspire me to return. A big long trip, yes. Worth it? Absolutely!

Hope to see you there in 2019!