Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Diving in Cebu

Grant and I took off early on Monday 8th June for Cebu Philippines. Arriving and having just cleared customs, Greg realized he'd left his bible in the seat in the plane. Doh! But in what would prove to be true Filipino accommodation, I had it back in minutes. Meanwhile, Grant had negotiated a pretty good deal at a hotel. Now I'm not normally a Hilton jobs of guy, but the deal was too good to pass up. A short cab ride and we were met with the tallest, and only pink building on the horizon. Nice room, but to be honest I slept better on the $10/night foam mattress you'll read about in my next update.

Shocked at the Hilton Spa massage prices we made our way down to one outside, stopping on the way for some delicious Spanish cuisine. I rather enjoyed the massage, but Grant said he felt like he'd received some sort of corporal punishment. I was in a different room so I can neither confirm nor deny his claim, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt this time.

Dinner was an adventure as we narrowly avoided the S$120 lobster from a hole in the wall seafood place. And the tricycle driver just couldn't get it through his head that, YES, I DO want a nice lady, but that I'd prefer to meet her at church rather than wherever he wanted to take us. Needless to say we parted ways quickly.
The Gustavian bistro was our fare of choice and the dining was delish!

Tuesday morning brought us a bright, clear, sunny day. Perfect for a dive! At the dive shop next door we met Big D who sorted out all the details for out dives and after catching a few rays we set out. Dive number one took us down to a beautiful wall. It's amazing the way the ocean floor just disappears beneath you! We saw lots if corals and sponges and at one point, sitting at 60ft deep, we saw a large school of fish just chilling above us. We also came across the remnant of a wooden ship's bow that has become home to several schools of fish. They all seemed to have staked a claim to a different decaying plank or board. That made for a nice finish.

Our second dive brought us numerous sponges and some cool fish. While getting a closer look at a clown fish and it's anemone it decided I was a threat and started attacking my mask. Fearless little creatures, those clown fish... Funny too. OK, yeah, that was bad, but had to be done. We also saw some barracuda, a cuttlefish, and one friendly remora liked Grant and took to swimming all around him and his tank and managed to avoid his detection even after I pointed it out.

After our dives Big D reminisced about the diving less than 10 years ago when he'd frequently see whale sharks, there was beautiful coral right off the shore, and scads of fish. Sadly dynamite fishing, and continued over fishing, as well as pollution have had dramatic effects and it will take ages for nature to come back. And that process can only begin once we stop destroying God's beautiful creation.

Dinner brought Grant and I into Cebu City. We were unimpressed with the food near Mango Square, but I did meet numerous street kids all asking for money or food. The one first to find me was lucky as I cleaned out my wallet on him at Jollibee with fried chicken, rice, upsize, coke, and ice cream. But I don't think he shared. Anyway, he said thank you. Please don't give money to the kids. It only goes to the big boss. Buy them food instead!

With a little time to kill we hit another massage place and oh boy! One tenth the price and better quality. Nice!

We decide to hit club Vudu, but only after u was assured there wouldn't actually be any voodoo performed on the premises. It wasn't quite what I expected. Karaoke was the main draw and in the end Grant and I stayed true to whitey by performing Ice Ice Baby!

The morrow brought more lounging and the impending departure for Manila where Grant and I Parted ways.

Expat Magazine Article

They had to make a few changes, and now I don't even know if they're going to run it, but here's what I wrote for my debut publication that was to come out in Expat Magazine in Singapore for the July 2009 issue. Enjoy!

Surviving “The Best Job in the World” Interview Process

Being selected as one of the 16 finalists for The Best Job in the World was quite an honor and an incredible experience. In fact life has been so crazy since then that the writing of this article may well be the first time I’ll be able to process the whole thing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

In the weeks leading up to my departure for the interview process on Hamilton Island I experienced more media than I thought I’d see in a lifetime. Apparently I had no idea what I was in for upon my arrival to the Great Barrier Reef! Meeting the other fifteen candidates from all over the world started us off on the right track. I’m glad to report, and much to the chagrin of the on-site media, there wasn’t any jostling for position or ill will amongst any of the sixteen of us. Bonds of friendship formed quickly and before long we were all quite comfortable with one another. Comfort in front of the plethora of cameras was a different story. Having what I judge to be the least amount of media exposure, I felt rather in over my head. Touching down on Hamilton Island with this elite group of candidates attracted media from all over the world. We were the last to disembark and we were met by what I called “a firing squad of cameras.” Unsure of their expectation a short rendition of the Can-can broke out and then we were off to collect our luggage and smile for more and, yes, even more cameras.

We were also greeted by several of the lovely Tourism Queensland (TQ) staff with whom we’d been in so frequent contact and putting faces to names was great. TQ staff proceeded to herd us onto a bus where the excitement continued to mount as we made out way to The Reef View Hotel which was to be our accommodation for the duration of the interview process.

The majority of us were on the same floor and I happened to room next to Ben, the guy who will shortly be assuming the role of Island Caretaker. I’d had the pleasure of meeting Ben right here at Changi Airport where I almost literally ran into him as we were both meandering about. He, however, had an entourage of BBC documentary-makers with him. I also met George at Changi, and I’m happy to say I became pretty good friends with the both of them during our short stay in paradise. But I digress.

Outside my room was a balcony with an amazing view and in the miniscule amount of free time we had, Ben and I would enjoy a bit of respite from cameras while watching the colony of squawking cockatiels.

Speaking of cockatiels, please heed the advice of The Reef View staff and be sure to close your balcony doors when you’re not around as they will ransack your room and even get into the mini bar – they know where it is! I know this for a fact as I was in the restroom when I heard strange noises from my room. I ran out with nothing more than a towel and had to whip it at them to get them to leave. It’s amazing how vulnerable one feels after one must remove one’s towel to chase away several large birds milling about one’s hotel room. But I’m getting way ahead of myself and must back up a little.

Before we were even allowed to check into our hotel, all sixteen of us were ushered into our debriefing/prep area for our first introduction to al the TQ staff and to hear our expectations. In true military style, we were given the entire schedule that seemed planned better than any black-ops mission I’ve ever heard of. The overarching theme of the debrief was “you’re being assessed”. This statement was repeated at the end of most details in our itinerary and by the end I was asking myself what in the world I had gotten myself into; and I’m pretty sure we all felt about the same.

Next up was a swimming test and I was surprised to learn a few of the candidates had only just learnt to swim in recent months. Having been arranged in alphabetical order by first name I was ninth for everything and this gave me plenty of time to get nervous. Why? I’m not really sure. I’m a certified lifeguard, open-water diver, triathlete, and former competitive swimmer. I guess it was the cameras. I was struggling to decide if I should go for some humor or just dive in and swim. Fortunately George did a massive belly flop, unintentionally, just before me and knowing I couldn’t top that I decided to just swim.

I realize, good readers, you may wish for continued elaboration on everything that happened, but as I’ve already exceeded my limit, I must be brief. The next day consisted of early morning debriefs, personality & IQ tests, and full-on itineraries from snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef to helicopter and sea plane transfers to sampling world-class cuisine in six-star restaurants, if there is such a thing, and a luxury cruise back to Hamilton. Follow all that up with media interviews, a random question about swine flu, blogging assessments, and dinner, and you’ve got day two in a nutshell.

Day three had a similar pace, but with a small respite at the Daydream Island spa where we each received different treatments. Mine was rather Frankenstein-esque, as I was hooked up to electrodes that supposedly read my internal age. I’m 31 on the outside, but some of my students say I’m more like a 10-year-old trapped in a 31-year-old body. It turns out I’m actually 26 on the inside. My “therapist” said that my 5-year-younger difference was the most she’d ever seen. Sweet!

Day four, the day of reckoning for us as candidates! TQ did their best to put us at easy and keep us occupied with various activities whilst bringing us one by one to the formal interviews throughout the morning. Little good that did me – I’d managed to get myself rather worked up before arriving to face the selection committee for some official face time. I guess I did alright, but I thought of about thirty-eight things I should have said or wished I hadn’t said. Alas, my time-travel device is still in its prototype stages; I still haven’t seen hide nor hair of that gerbil. But, again, I digress.

Military mode was once again upon us as we were ushered into a formal meet and greet with Queensland’s Premier, Anna Bligh. From there we lined up, sat down, lined up, sat down, and lined up once again to go LIVE TO THE WORLD! I think I looked like I was in pain the whole time, standing just behind Anna Bligh with a bright spotlight in my face. My stress had risen so high by the point that when she announced Ben as the Island Caretaker I actually breathed a sigh of relief! He was an excellent choice and I believe we all agree.

That evening we could finally relax and TQ threw a huge party for everyone involved in the entire process. Good times! The next morning I was off on my extended itinerary to see Hervey Bay, Lady Elliot Island, Fraser Island, the Sunshine Coast, and the Australia Zoo. There’s much more to say about all that, but I’m writing this from Cebu, my hour of PC usage is almost up, and I’m writing pro bono. Hence the abrupt ending and this ensuing shameless plug… If you liked what you read, let the editor know and maybe I can dish some more details next month. In the meantime, I’ll be headed to Queensland again to do an 8-day promo of their adventure tourism and I’ll be creating web content for http://www.queenslandholidays.com.au/. Make sure you stop by and tell them I sent you. I’m also looking to begin hosting an adventure travel television show so I you’re interested in supporting me please contact the Tourism Queensland office in Singapore or in Australia.