Ninjas of the Sea

The scene at the hostel was this: there were four bunk beds in the second-floor dormitory. Marco had the top bunk directly to the left of the stairs, positioned right in front one of the dorm’s many electric fans. The bunk below him, as mentioned earlier, was home to a creepy shirtless German tourist who never seemed to change his shorts. Marco was unsure of whether or not the tourist had indeed changed his shorts; keen observation told him that on both days he had spent at the hostel, the tourist wore brown shorts with white piping running down either leg. The self-preservation of good taste instinct, on the other hand, told Marco that there was a distinct possibility that the tourist simply wore two pairs of similar style, and that he was not as unhygienic as originally assumed.

On the top bunk to the left of Marco’s was Rica, a friend from college with whom he had the privilege of getting to know better just a few hours ago. She was awake at this point, which was nothing short of impressive considering how drunk she was the night before. She had taken at least four shots of a cocktail known as the Shark Bite, which was bright blue – which was, as most lushes know, the color of liver punishment. There is nothing edible that is naturally of bright blue coloration, and just as much as the blue stuff at buffet tables are often the most warned against, bright blue cocktails are usually the most delicious and potent. Bright blue cocktails are, for lack of a better term, dickish flamingos, disguising themselves as fanciful creatures before unleashing a vicious kick to one’s groin.

Below Rica’s bunk was Marie, a fascinating American traveler whom Marco, Lauren, and Rica had the pleasure of meeting just as they were about to retire from the night’s drunken revelry. She was currently visiting Moalboal to learn how to dive. The trio unfortunately got neither her surname nor her Facebook details, eliminating any conceivable chance that they’d have had of connecting with her when sober and inviting her to a trip to Dumaguete. It was like a summer fling, only friendship-oriented and not quite as awkward when the time to part arrived.

Two bunks in front of Rica’s was Lauren’s bunk, but Lauren didn’t spend the night there. The placement of the nearby electric fan was ridiculous at best, and downright mean at worst. The wind from the fan just missed the area where Lauren’s head would have been, and cooled the dead space between Lauren’s and some random stranger’s bunk. Why management thought the wall needed more comfort than its guests, the three never learned.

Lauren instead took the hammock stretched out in front of the stairs, which was conveniently near open windows. Instead of being ass-crack hot as the weather would have it, the hammock’s area was mercifully only ass-cheek hot, and therefore bearable. Regardless, the heat was one of the reasons Lauren agreed to finally wake up at 7:30a.m. for snorkeling. The gorgeous aquatic life just a few minutes away from the shoreline was the other.

The three friends had come to Moalboal to get away from it all, most especially work. Like Marco, Lauren and Rica were having serious thoughts about their career paths and where exactly said paths led. Floating on the surface of the open sea seemed apt for what they were feeling, and the added bonus of following fish around made snorkeling the only sensible activity at the moment.

They gathered their things, watched Marie have breakfast at the lobby, and waited about half an hour for the hostel staff to wake up and rent them the snorkeling gear. It may be of significant value for some readers to know that Marie’s breakfast consisted of peanut butter, bread, and instant coffee.

Decked out like massive dorks in their masks and booties, Marco, Lauren, and Rica ventured out into the ocean. They were greeted by testicle-shrinking cold, a notion unfamiliar to the two ladies, yet still evocative enough to induce the chattering of teeth. As Marco set out into deeper waters, he privately thanked the universe that neither of his companions would ever fully understand the metaphor.

Minutes later, the water’s chill was evened out by the heart-warming sight of guppies. The moment of cuteness soon transformed into awe as the friends came across a feeding frenzy among the coral. Fish of all shapes and sizes came out that morning, unafraid of the people floating among them. Having little to no knowledge of marine taxonomy (an area of expertise in which Marie would undoubtedly have helped), the three began pointing out “blue fishies”, “purple fishies”, and “tiny fishies”.

The reef led out into a steep drop; an aquatic cliff face facing out into the abyss. In the inaccessible waters below, Lauren spotted a turtle swimming merrily along. Her pointed finger was taken by all present to be a cue to stalk the turtle, who was likely wondering if he had done something rude to warrant all the pointing and fussing.

It was around this time that Marco felt a familiar tingling on his right arm. On the previous day’s snorkeling adventure, he had experienced his very first jellyfish sting. Unlike most jellyfish he’d encountered in the past, the varieties present at Moalboal were very small and very transparent, making them difficult to avoid. Marco had been watching a school of small silver fishies and unwittingly stumbled shoulder-first into a jellyfish orgy.

This day was no different – the jellyfish were like ninjas, striking out of nowhere and disappearing from sight before one could say, “What the hell was that?!” All Marco knew was that he was getting stung, and quite frequently. He looked to Lauren and Rica and saw that they, too, were being besieged.

Fortunately, the ninja jellyfish – according to Marco’s taxonomy – weren’t as potent as their namesake; their stings were more annoyances than actual threats. On a scale of “harmless” to “the very sun itself pressed against your flesh”, the pain fell just a few notches below “neighborhood kid with a slingshot”. The three were left ultimately unharmed, if a little frazzled by their frantic swim back to shore.

While Lauren and Rica were none the worse for wear from the little pansy stings, Marco found himself covered in swollen red blotches. It appeared that Mother Nature had chosen this exact moment to inform Marco he was allergic to jellyfish stings, including the minute ones that infants easily brush off, and to do so as inelegantly as possible, with a veritable army of the creatures. It was also at this moment that Marco began to realize that swimming when the fish – and therefore the jellyfish that preyed on them – were most active near the surface of the water might not have been the brightest idea.

Unfazed by nature’s attempt to emasculate him, Marco found himself agreeing with Lauren that the three should try snorkeling again – this time, with wetsuits. After renting them from a very friendly if unintelligible Japanese lady who knew limited English, the three found that the wetsuits were indeed extremely effective at keeping the stings at bay. They also learned that it might have been a good idea to ask if the friendly if unintelligible Japanese lady also rented out gloves, much to the chagrin of Marco’s newly-swollen hands.

Allergies aside, snorkeling was amazing at Moalboal, so much so that the three friends decided to go on another snorkeling trip together. By lunchtime, they were sad that their stay at the beach couldn’t have been longer. Still, there was much to look forward to in Cebu City: a friend, some of the best ribs that Lauren had ever tasted, the famous Cebu lechon, air conditioning, and antihistamines.

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