I decided I’d go ahead and do one dive with Mermaids since I was staying there. Mermaids is a full-service operation. They essentially do everything for you and for people who want that degree of service they would be a good operation.
They price in US dollars which for me was a bit annoying since I’ve been in the Philippines for months and had no dollars. For me it doesn’t make much sense to price in dollars. They purchase their supplies in pesos and pay their employees in pesos. I ended up with an odd number of pesos since they converted from the dollar rate and it wasn’t cheap since the dollar is very strong right now. The girl in the dive shop had to call the manager to ask if I could get any type of discount since I was staying there. The answer was no, that they didn’t give discounts. I went ahead and did one dive with them since I was there.
I won’t say that I didn’t have a very small bit of apprehension leading up to that first dive. Only natural after everything I’d been through. I’d not been in the water for 5 1/2 months, 3 1/2 months longer than it would have been if I’d not had the heart attack. I was lucky though… had I not needed to return to the US for a couple of months, I would have been diving in the Visaya’s. They estimate that 20-30% of all diving fatalities are the result of myocardial infarction (medical speak for heart attack). I very easily could have ended up a statistic! It’s a reminder that no matter how good you think your health is, those of us who are a bit older and plan to dive remote areas, should have a thorough medical exam before we go.
When setting up the gear in the shop I discovered I was a bit rusty. I’d completely taken everything apart when I packed it away after returning from my last dive trip. Now I had to show the boatman how to set up my equipment and it took me a minute to remember how to thread the tank straps! It came back to me though!
I’d gotten in late the night before and had not set up my camera ahead of time as I normally would have. I was feeling a bit rushed and couldn’t locate the screw that attached the joint adapter to the strobe head! Without that I couldn’t attach the strobe to the arm! I was feeling rushed and decided I would just do the dive with no camera (I did find the screw later).
We got on the boat and headed to Monkey Beach which is only a few minutes from the dive op. At 9:18 AM, Thursday, March 10th I back-rolled into the water. It had been exactly 170 days since my last dive… not that I was counting!
It was a nice dive, but most dives are for me. Puerto Galera really is a great dive destination for a variety of reasons which I outline in my eBook (“Underwater Adventures-The Ultimate Guide to Diving the World: Book One-Puerto Galera, Philippines” available on Amazon). I rarely dive without a camera but when I do it seems that I always end up seeing plenty of things to photograph! This dive was no exception. I spied a nudibranch right at the beginning and would see a few more before the end of the dive. Triggerfish, butterflyfish, angelfish, rainbow runners, moray eel, all the “usual suspects” were in abundance! Also saw a really big turtle and a nice size grouper that was probably over 3 feet long! There was a mild current that we initially swam against. There is a wrecked sailboat there. After making a circuit around that we drifted. We ended up with a 51 minute dive. Maximum depth was 72 feet and water temperature was 77 Fahrenheit.
There was only me and one other person diving at Mermaids. He was paying even more than me as he was renting equipment also. I told him we could do better! We walked around that afternoon and every dive shop we checked was cheaper. In the end I went back to Frontier Scuba ( http://www.frontierscuba.com/ ), whom I’d dived with last time I was in Puerto Galera, and he came with me. I was given their best rate because I was a returning guest and my friend was also given a very good rate saving several hundred pesos a dive over what he’d been paying! I saved over 500 pesos per dive. At the current exchange rate thats around $10 bucks so not an inconsequential amount!
One of the things I stress throughout my eBook and that I also have pointed out here in my blog in the past is the importance of shopping around and negotiating. This is a prime example. If you really want the “full” service with the fancy boats, like new equipment, towels, hot coffee, after your dive, and never lifting a finger, etc… and don’t mind paying for it, then there is nothing wrong with that. Even the less expensive shops though will do the heavy lifting for you. They will setup your tank and carry it to the boat. You will carry your other gear which probably consists of mask, fins, (snorkel if you dive with one), and your camera if you’re into that. That saves the shop a bit on manpower costs which translates into a less expensive dive for you. You’re still going to get tanks, weights, the boat, and a guide no matter who you dive with or how much or how little it costs.
We stayed at Mermaids over the weekend checking out Monday. I couldn’t help but think, “what a waste” as they do have a very nice dive shop, but they had no divers! My opinion is that it’s better to be getting some income than no income. They’re investment is higher perhaps in equipment, but it’s not making them any money when it just sits there!
To be continued…