Sibale island in Romblon is two or three hours by pump boat from the so-called port town of Pinamalayan, Mindoro. The town has no pier or anything resembling docks, and to get on the boat, you either pay porters to carry you on their shoulders, or brave the surf and clamber up a rickety plank.
There is only one trip daily, at around nine in the morning, and the boat is loaded with everything from people to sacks of rice to pigs to a motorcycle (but pig not on motorcycle because that would be unsafe.)
If you miss the boat, you spend the night in Pinamalayan, nightlife capital of Pinamalayan. One hour into the trip, with waves crashing into the boat and with little children crying in fear and discomfort, getting left behind does not seem like a very bad thing.
The island itself is typical, as islands go: a massive green landmass rising out of the water. There are no flying pterodactyls or sea monsters to drive off outsiders, no war drums to announce your arrival, no Shakespearean gorilla to offer sacrifices to.
The pump boat docks in a cove where a Japanese frigate once hid to escape Allied forces, but was ultimately sunk and is now guarded by sea urchins the size of your head.
There are no cars on the island, and everyone gets around on foot or on bicycles. Recently, motorcycles were brought to the island, but these are workhorses, and not the gaudy, drag-race bikes of Manila.
On our second day there, we crossed the cove on bancas, and despite my fear of drowning and my luck with boats, I was handed a paddle to swish almost-effectively through the water. The other boat capsized in the middle of the cove and we had to rescue them, towing them to the other shore before the current dragged us out to sea.
It was tense enough to keep me from lighting up a cigarette or even talking. It was probably not all that dangerous, in hindsight, but it was dangerous enough.
On the shore, we hired a motorized banca to tow the crippled boat back to town, and I ended up hanging on to the outrigger, mask on, snorkel on, and nothing to rely on except my grip. It was like flying, eventually, when we got to the deeper parts and I no longer had to watch out for corals and rocks that would tear gashes in my soft underbelly.
I could see starfish and actual fish swimming about, ten maybe twenty feet below me and I may have been screaming the whole time because everything was so hyper-real.
There were patches of sea grass and colonies of sea urchins overlaid by the play of light on the surface of the water. Every now and then, a jellyfish would flit past, and I had to resist the urge to jerk away and lose my grip on the slippery bamboo.
When we crossed the deep part of the cove, I couldn’t see anything , and there was nothing except the water against my body and the thrum of the engines and the occasional jellyfish.
And I kept imagining some sea creature, a moray eel, say, or shark suddenly rising up and picking me off. And that would not have been a bad way to go, but it would have meant going, and that was not something that I was prepared to do just yet.
And do you know what? Through all that, even before getting in the car to head to the Batangas pier, through the long, bumpy drive across Mindoro, to the pump boat and back, all I could think of was how much more awesome the trip would have been if you were there to share it with me.
To have held your hand while crossing the cove, to have heard you gasp at the creatures, or scream at a fish would have made the trip so much more of an experience.
And the thing is, I don’t remember thinking, oh, I wish I had someone with me right now, it was all about, oh, I wish she was with me right now. And it’s probably stupid and sappy to, but there is no one I would rather experience things with than you.
(May 2008. We had broken up. It was a last ditch effort to impress her and get back together. It seems to have worked.*)
[EDIT: *But not for long.]