My wife glares at me with contempt in her eyes, scoffing: “You should be ashamed of yourself!” Instinctively, I open my mouth to defend myself. But on second thought,  I opt to disengage in silence, knowing full well the consequence of risking a Word War 3. 

So I just give my flabbergasted wife my game-face sweet smile. And remain silent. Silence, at that moment, seems the best defensive option. 

What’s with Balicasag anyway? What could be so fascinating there that could cause me such great disfavor and distress?

So the next time I go back to Bohol, I dutifully march off to Panglao Island like the good soldier that I am, to catch a boat-ride to that mysterious island called Balicasag. Heck, just to humor her, I tell myself, and collect some trophy points to give me some valuable lead time before the next volcano eruption.

Turns out that the-then Navy Chief, Adm Ernie De Leon – a good friend and mentor – was there to dive. And he asks me to join him. I try to wiggle out of the difficult situation, not having prepared to dive. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. And so I soon find myself suiting up, to the amusement of some Navy Seabees present. Who then proceed to give me a peptalk. Shades of a resigning plebe being given a sympathetic talk by his upperclass squadmates.

So after suiting up, I’m on the rubber boat on the way to our dive site. And I have this strange, uneasy feeling, considering it’s been quite a while since my last dive. I am bewitched, bothered, and bewildered. Just like the song. What have I gotten myself into?

But the moment I enter the crystal-clear waters, the gloom I had pictured so vividly in my mind slowly begin to fade. Right at the surface, a school of tiny colorful fish come to welcome me. What’s truly amazing is that the fish don’t scamper away from you as you enter their domain. Instead, this bunch of little Nemos and their friends race towards you with their imaginary arms a-kimbo, demanding: “So where’s our food-fee, mister? You’re  supposed to feed us, remember?”

We tread the water ever so slowly, trying to enjoy the sights unfolding before us. The water is alluringly calm and clear. Even the taste of the water is not as salty as one would imagine.

The colors of the corals are so vibrant. There is a broad variety of them nestled peacefully on the sea bed. And if you look closely at these brightly-colored corals and sponges, you discover tiny, shy fishes peeking at you.

But most of the bigger fish will be playing around, so active and friendly. They know that by showing off their swimming prowess, the clumsy creatures from above will marvel at them and feed them generously. This is Balicasag’s Fish Sanctuary, where the fish reign as masters, and we their slaves.

Different schools of fish parade around in the oddest formations. At one point, we make a turn off a cliff wall and encounter another huge dark wall. But as we come closer, we realize it is a wall of fish that magically opens up to let us pass through.

Looking up, I spot a young boy snorkeling aimlessly at the water’s surface. He has a fish entourage following him around, like a Santa Claus with a bag of goodies.

I am so absorbed by the beauty around me that I don’t realize it is now time to come up. Indeed, if there is an underwater heaven, then surely this must be it.

Thus begun my romance with the waters of Balicasag. I have since returned, countless times over. I have gone back to diving, and convinced my wife and kids to dive with me. The kids actually didn’t need any convincing, but the wife did.

We have been able to dive all over, and have marveled at the unique and spectacular offerings of the different dive spots in the country. But my love affair with diving was only rekindled when I went to that tiny speck of an island off Bohol. Thanks for forcing me into it, Sir Ernie! You’re the man!

So now, it’s my turn to harrass you guys. You’re going to Bohol and you’re missing Balicasag? That’s treason to the nth degree! You should all be arrested, tried and sentenced to be fed to the fishes! May your example be a moral lesson to all mortals. And may the tiny Nemos in Balicasag have mercy on your morsels!

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Published by Charly Holganza