byJean Claire Dy
LANUZA, Surigao del Sur – It was one of those ordinary days in Ayoke, an island lying serenely on the placid blue waters of Lanuza Bay. After a 40-minute pump-boat ride from the mainland Cantilan, Surigao del Sur, I set foot on Ayoke’s two-kilometer sun-bleached coastline and saw several pastel-colored bancas parked among lofty coconut trees. A fisherman wearing a wide buli hat sat near a cottage weaving fishnets. Near an unimposing nipa hut four women were huddled around a clay pot placed atop a sug-ang. “Inday, you have to eat lunch with us,” one of them shouted out to me and with a grin added, “We’re having eels.” They laughed loudly among themselves. Faraway to the East, children with baskets in hand waded in the shallow water searching for baby crabs.
Ayoke’s blue-green waters looked enticing. It took me only a few seconds to dump my things-backpack, camera and all inside one of the cottages-and plunged into the sea. I swam towards what seemed like a “nowhere,” a sort of blue horizon lining the edge of the sky.
Through the lens of a fisherman’s goggles I could see the blurred image of a little girl’s red dress bobbing on the wave’s surface. A chorus of giggles resonated with the rushing waves. I squinted and saw a bamboo raft floating a few meters away from where I was treading. On the raft sat two giggling girls watching one of their friends making little flips into the water. The “flipper”, in a red baby-doll dress, executed an awkward belly-flop. Her friends laughed making silly faces at her as she surfaced wearing a sheepish grin.
The three girls of Ayoke Island that midday appeared to be having the time of their lives.
They greeted me with giggles as I swam towards them and hauled myself up on the raft. Wide grins pasted on their bronzed faces, they gave me their names through a rhyming song, then proceeded to watching the “flipper” making several attempts at perfecting a back flip.
Not long after I squatted on the raft, I found myself trying back flips and falling smack on the water with my back first. The girls squealed as they watched me make a fool of myself. We spent almost an hour trying on new and weird diving tricks and experienced a few perfect straight dives of our own.
Once I finally managed to do a perfect back flip. It was a deep dive. It took me a while to go up the surface. While underwater, I caught glimpses of Ayoke’s marine paradise: corals huddled on the sea bed, surrounded with seaweed swaying with the underwater current, as schools of puffer fish circled around algae. I stayed underwater for as long as I could until I ran out of oxygen. As I shot up the water’s surface, I raised my face up the sky with eyes wide open to welcome the heat of the sun beating on my cheeks and forehead. My eyes stung but I forced it open until the white light slowly darkened. When I opened my eyes, I saw the “flipper” smiling at me. She bobbed a meter away from me, looking like a young sea-nymph: her red dress looking redder framed her brown angelic face, parts of it covered by her wet hair. She giggled then swam towards the shore.
I floated on my back for a while to calm my body. The adrenaline rush I experienced from the dive had tired my nerves. When I eventually decided to stop floating, the raft was already empty, as the girls had swum with the “flipper” back to the shore. I squinted at the sun-bleached two-kilometer shoreline of Ayoke: the colorful bancas lining the shore, the coconut trees, the fishermen and their fishnets, the women preparing what would probably turn out to be a scrumptious yet “exotic” meal, and the shiny bronzed faces of the girls of Ayoke who were sitting on the sand grinning at me. All these I took in and with one big breath, I swam back to my temporary home, to the girls of Ayoke Island who have somehow become my friends. Come to think of it, it was no ordinary day in Ayoke Island after all.
(How to get there: Take a bus from Davao City to Tandag City in Surigao Del Sur. From there, you either ride a jeepney or a van to Cantilan, the fifth town from Tandag. Once you arrive in Cantilan, you take a tricycle to the pier where you’ll be able to rent a pumpboat that would take you to Ayoke Island. While sailing through Lanuza Bay by pumpboat, don’t forget to enjoy the view of other islands surrounding Lanuza Bay.)