I couldn’t possibly expect that our trip to Apo, a small Philippino island, would turn into a chain of unpleasant experiences that have shaken me to the point that I am starting to question my own bravery.
Although many people may think so and although there are moments when I think that my strongest quality is my bravery, apparently I’m not fearless. It turns out that I’m scared of tropical typhoons, being stuck on remote islands, houses that are falling apart, and shitty boats that are about to sink when crossing rough open seas.
After spending a lovely day on Apo doing some great diving, it was a time to catch a ride back to the mainland. We were told that finding a boat wouldn’t be a problem so, full of hope, we started to ask all the boat captains who were on the beach to take us back. Surprisingly, none of them were willing to take us because the sea was getting too choppy. Someone even mentioned that there was a typhoon alert, but we didn’t really take it too seriously as the person talking about it didn’t look very concerned. Our bad.
We were told that we would have to stay another night on the island and try our luck the day after. That was quite bad news for us – we really had to get back to get some work done (there’s no internet on Apo and also no electricity after 10 PM). Although me and Alona have pretty flexible schedules when it comes to delivering projects, we both have deadlines that we have to meet and staying one day longer on the island was problematic.
Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do about that. That is the charm of lovely remote places – sometimes you can get in, but you won’t be able to get out if nature decides to play games with you. There are not many places you can stay for the night in Apo (especially if you are on a budget), because the island is really tiny, and most tourists just come for a day trip. We were quite concerned about finding a roof for the night and even joked about sleeping on the beach…boy, we didn’t know back then that sleeping under the stars was so out of the question.
In the end, we were lucky enough to find a place with a bed and roof but mostly no windows or walls to protect us from what was coming. It was a typical Philippino accommodation, perfectly adjusted for warm and sunny days and nights but not so much for windstorms and tropical rain. The second we got in it started to rain – at first it was just regular rain but it very quickly developed into heavy rain. It was getting dark, the electricity was about to turn off, and the wind had started to pick up. The wind and some rain were also coming into our room, we didn’t have a proper blanket or clothes to protect ourselves, and I got the feeling that it was not gonna be a fun night.
We were both very tired and upset with the situation so I guess that was why Alona passed out very quickly, but I was not able to sleep at all. The wind was making terrifying noises and was penetrating our room from all possible directions. The palm trees outside were bending like flexible yoginis in an advanced yoga class, hitting our roof and the weak windows we had. I felt like the roof, or maybe the whole place would fly away in a second or maybe the whole construction would collapse, killing me, Alona and the rest of the people in the building.
I really don’t get that dramatic – like EVER – but this wind, this rain, and that place completely freaked me out. I was shaking from the cold most of the time and had only little breaks from shivering when holding my breath, thinking that THIS is the moment we’re gonna die. It went on for the whole night and it felt like an eternity. I can remember only one accident in my life when I was so terrified – it was when I accidentally found myself in the same house with a gun-wielding maniac in Malaga. I was scared for my life.
Suddenly, I remembered the man on the beach mentioning the typhoon and I thought that even If we made it till the morning there would be no way for us to take the boat back because the sea would be too wavy and the wind would be too strong. The idea of being stuck in Apo in this hut falling apart with almost no cash (obviously, you can’t pay for anything with a card there), plus no warm clothes and no communication with the world, was even scarier than the storm itself. I was awake for hours with all those paralyzing thoughts, thinking that maybe the sun would never come.
Just before dawn, the rain stopped and the wind got weaker. It was a good sign, but I still wasn’t sure if we would be able to cross the sea. Once we arrived at the beach, we saw some boats leaving – one of them was ready to take us. It was a very small boat and I didn’t want to sail on it, but it was this or risk not being able to leave at all. We hopped in, and let me just say that not only were we smashed all over by the waves during this 40-minute trip, but several times I felt like the boat would flip and sink. In my head, I was already checking the current and wave direction, calculating what our chances were of surviving out of the boat. Guess what? They were not great.
Our story finished with a happy ending, but this experience made me realize that I’m not so fearless. I never thought that I was a superhero or something like that, but this incident really brought up some dark thoughts and feelings. I really need to do something to shake off those emotions and keep only the beautiful memories from Apo: great diving, trekking in the jungle and witnessing one of the most beautiful sunsets.