Nalusuan Marine Sanctuary, a snorkel mask, and me. Who would have thought? Until a year ago, I didn’t know how to swim. And a lot of people I’ve admitted that fact to react rather incredulously, disbelief writ large on their faces. So I begin the usual story of how I grew up in a city in South India where most of us didn’t learn swimming (my brother, most of my friends and extended family, don’t swim either) and as I grew older I didn’t think about learning because I’ve never felt the need to. All of that changed in 2013 when Rave and I took a trip to Thailand. I decided it was about time I learned how to swim and signed up for classes (I was also doing it to prove to myself that I wasn’t getting too old to learn a new physical skill!). The classes were great, I loved swimming even though I wasn’t as great as Rave was at it and kicked myself for not having pushed myself to do this earlier in life.
Fast-forward to September 2014. We were off to the Philippines and it was week-long break by the sun, sea and water. We were really looking forward to this short break as an antidote to the stress we’ve both been going through the last few months with work (we both have regular day jobs that often run into 12-14 hour workdays). So we landed in Cebu and headed to the pool closest to our room as soon as we checked in!
Everything went great until Rave reminded me of our plan to go island hopping and snorkelling. Wait…snorkelling? I love boat rides and being out at sea but I’ve never swum in it, let alone snorkel!
“Sure, let’s figure where to head,” I replied. And the voice inside my head boomed, “Are you mad? You can just about swim…but snorkel?? In the sea??”
That voice in my head obviously boomed loud enough for Rave to hear it so she immediately added that we’ll look for sites that are closer to the shore and where my feet can find ground if they want to. For a while I actually contemplated putting a lifejacket on and jumping off the side of the boat and holding onto the banca beams on the sides. But she would have none of it, knowing fully well that a bad first experience might put me off entirely from doing it again in the future.
So we settled on Nalusuan Marine Sanctuary. The water didn’t seem too deep even if you were well into the shore and from the videos and pictures we saw online, there were lots of fish to see. So we hired a banca and left the next morning at 9 am to Nalusuan.
The banca ride was nice and smooth, although Rave still gets the jitters every time she’s on a boat. I never could understand that considering she’s an ace swimmer and feels fully at home swimming in the sea. The ride took us past another popular island stop, Hilutungan, which we discovered online to be slightly more touristy. 40 min later we found ourselves at the pier at Nalusuan and our banca captain dropped us off along with lifejackets, snorkel gear, towels and his brother, Jason.
The island itself is actually Nalusuan Island Resort and Sanctuary and offers various options to people coming over. You can book a stilt cottage if you choose to stay there or just hop over to indulge in a few water activities that range from banana boating to scuba diving or just visit the island paying a day trip fee of PHP 200 per head or a day trip with food for PHP 600. We opted for the PHP 200 day trip considering we’d be done well before lunch and didn’t want to miss the fabulous lunch waiting for us back at our resort.
From where the boat docks, it’s a long walk to the island over a wooden pier. Along the walk, you catch a good glimpse of the marine life the waters have waiting for you.
We found the island itself rather dull. Just a large shack with a restaurant attached that served up the regular fare. Much to Jason’s disappointment, we spent all of 15 minutes on the island because there really isn’t too much else to see or do. Once we were done, we walked back along the pier to pick the spot we wanted to climb down into. The pier has ladders that go down into the sea at regular intervals and we picked one closer to the end.
I bought some fish food with the hope of enticing the fishes to stay around us and I soon found myself climbing down the ladder to join Rave in the water. Surprisingly, I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be. Once in, I had to get my feet used to the slippery bottom. All these years, I’d only felt sand under my feet and it was strange to be out at sea and feel slimy, hard rock and stones under my feet. Now all I had to deal with was this snorkelling business.
I’d never worn a snorkel before but the minute I slipped the goggles on, I knew I was going to love it! With a few quick instructions from Rave on how to bite down into the tube, I dunked myself flat out into the water. It was fantastic. The water was clear, there were lots of fishes around and it really felt like I was in one of the many snorkelling videos I’d seen online…only this was much, much better! And for some strange reason, I had no problems at all breathing through the snorkel. It was strangely exciting though for someone experiencing this for the first time. Think about it, I’d never ever put my head into the sea and looked at what was happening beneath the surface. I couldn’t just stop looking at the fish swimming around me. It’s a surreal first-time experience to have fish brush against you as they swim by, a few others nibble parts of your leg and a rare couple just stop by stare you in the face.
Rave doesn’t like wearing any kind of gear and she was content swimming around wearing regular swimming goggles. With just the fish and a couple of other swimmers, it felt like we had the entire sea all to ourselves. But all of that changed just when we climbed out of the water about an hour later. Boatloads of tourists arrived and before you knew it, there were more tourists in the water than fish.
At the end of the trip, I was really glad this was my first snorkelling experience. Not one that was bang in the middle of the sea but one that was closer to shore and where I could see the bottom! Chances are I would have been more worried about how safe I was rather than enjoy the experience if I was really out at sea. Here, I had no worries. I just had my fantastic first snorkel experience to enjoy.
A few tips if you want to visit Nalusuan:
- Ensure you have some kind of footwear as you get off the pier. Some of the wooden planks you walk across are peeling and there are a few spots where rusty nails stick out.
- There isn’t much to actually see on the island. Although it’s the only option if you’re hungry or want to get a small bite and a drink.
- There are cottages available if you want to stay on the island. We didn’t stay there because our resort was just 40 minutes away on Mactan Island.
- Carry water and snacks. Although the restaurant menu didn’t seem very pricey, it’s still roughly about PHP 100 for a soft drink.
- Getting there early is a good idea. We were there by 10 am and the crowds started pouring in around 11.30 am.
- Even if you aren’t using the island or the restaurant, there’s a PHP 200 fee you need to pay.
- Carry sunscreen!