We meet Gunter, a free-spirited German who is married to a Filipina woman and has settled here in Busuanga, for an iced drink at our resort bar the day before our first dive of the trip. He owns Ddivers, the company we’ll be diving with over the next two days around Busuanga. We make some light conversation and he has us grinning when he describes diving as ‘underwater yoga’. After half an hour has passed, we’ve come to a casual agreement on what we’d like our dive itinerary to be.
The next morning we awake bright and early, wolfing down some breakfast before we hop on a little boat, which chugs up towards a separate island five minutes away where the dive shop is located. There we are greeted by an extremely tanned, leathery man with a kind face – Divemaster Mensoy. As luck would have it, the only other diver that day is Bernadette, a fellow Londoner who also happens to be a Divemaster. We check our equipment, lug everything on to the boat, and head out to sea.
Busuanga boasts a multitude of wrecks; Japanese ships, bombed by Americans during World War II, sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Over time, coral has grown over these wrecks and many species of fish have made them home, resulting in fascinating and rewarding dives around these historically significant sites. Though we’ve heard dugongs and whale sharks are no strangers to these waters, we don’t hold any expectations. Gustav said that that in hundreds of dives, he’s only seen a dugong twice. What we do see down at 26 meters, however, is a rainbow of colourful sea life – box fish, clown fish, lionfish, nudibranchs, clams, stonefish, many, many jellyfish and more. We feel as though we surface far too soon.
Day two. Our first dive location is a ‘once in a lifetime’ sort of place: Barracuda lake. There are many reasons this is such an unusual dive. For starters, this is a fresh water lake dive, my first time diving outside of the ocean. Secondly, to reach Barracuda Lake, you first jump into the ocean in full gear, swim to the shore, drag yourself to land and then hike ten minutes up treacherous wooden steps built over enormous rocks and down towards the lake. Still in full gear!
Even more mind-boggling, Mensoy tells us that not so many years ago, before the stairs were built, they used to clamber over the bare rocks on their hands and knees. Reaching the lake (with slightly wobbly legs), I breathe a sigh of relief and take it all in. It’s breathtaking. For this dive, we haven’t even bothered with wetsuits, descending in swimsuits only.
As we reach about 18 meters, it’s clear why. The lake has many thermal layers, some which reach up to 38 degrees Celsius, as high as a hot bath. These layers are also visible, and I entertain myself by submerging my body in a warm layer and sticking my hand out into a cooler area. It’s a bizarre feeling.
The lake may not have as many exotic creatures as the ocean, but there are some cute little critters including shrimp, small catfish, crabs, Spanish dancers that move beautifully in the water, and somewhere, lurking in the depths, a large Barracuda for whom the lake is named.
We finish off the day with one more wreck dive on the Luzong gunboat and end our diving adventure elated and exhausted, falling asleep on the sunny deck as the boat makes its way back to Busuanga Bay.