Two children snorkel out to a sandbank, Busuanga Island, Philippines Busuanga Island

RAG: Coron – Toxic Trauma

I’ve followed his instructions and quickly swim 20 meters away from the boat. I don’t see the point. The water’s crystal clear – this won’t leave much to the imagination. I’m in another rabid rush as round two approaches. At least I can breathe here, I think. Not a bad view for it too.

And so on this beautiful spring day I find myself seated, defeated on the water. My shorts halfway down my semi-submerged bottom I’m struggling to keep my balance. They don’t teach you jobby-buoyancy on the scuba diving courses.

Bobbing on the water with my hands behind my knees, things have improved considerably. Except for the nudity, the singed arsehole and the distinct smell of shame, I suppose. I think of all the atmospheres, all the environments. I’m polluting this one. I’m the toxic pollution in this one. The brown hour is never a welcome one.

***

Coron Town is a boisterous atmosphere: brisk bikes come at us like bombs just left ballast. Each sundown brings dancing and reggae, roots and Tanduay, teasing backpackers all night long. It bubbles to boiling point and No Name Bar’s rum and calamansi concoctions claim the powerful morning headaches. The traumatized eyes. No can of coffee cures this one.

The small-city smog stings the air and ever-trying trikes start early. It’s grating, gray and thankfully we did our island-hopping yesterday. We force our eyes open. Today we search for other atmospheres.

After a too-quick introduction to semi-automatic bike riding we’re grinding through gears, minds malfunctioning. I crush it in to gear and soon we’re moving. Soon the town’s behind us. The country road is wide and winding, opening up and the clearing skies are glorious. Busuanga Island’s green and rounded hills surround us like volcanic bubbles burst upward. Occasional rain whips exposed skin but we barely notice. Our drive hugs the coast and we try make sense of the islands we can see; how many are there? They’re not so far and there’s probably a paradise out there. The fresh smell of jungle. All mud here.

Friendly locals wave back and we slow to a slumber – one sure hand’s always free to wave back. Boys light bangers and we all laugh when they explode, near-traumatizing the younger ones. The motorbike crawls past and peters around the corner.

The atmosphere’s fresher here. Coron Town’s screeching is replaced with the sounds of streams meeting. We park and follow the flow of water to its source at Concepcion Falls. There’s space to swim and take in the circumference of the calm blue pool. Some of us try the small jump from the rocks, the cool water our crashmat. We all find time to relax. Melt in to the water.

Sunset sneaks our way. San Miguel Light’s the excuse tonight and bare feet dangle above brilliant blue water. You can hear the crackling of fire, smell the crackling of dinner, candles being lit. The sun’s excused until tomorrow and leaves us with pink, orange, purple brush-stroke. All atmospheres across the sea-life-sky. After twenty minutes the bats start tonight’s flight in tunnels and torments of blind battle. Gentle waves kiss the shore, fish poke their heads above the surface. The golden hour’s always a welcome one.

There’s a quiet parking the bike. Quite content finding the door lock in the dark, there’s a Mediterranean feel tonight. Puppies putter down pathways, crunch leaves, cake themselves in all sorts of soft dirt. We hear the murmurs of news in a televised background and plastic chairs scrape scrappy floors. Bad lights flicker. Shapes emerge then disappear again, napkins stuffed under the plastic table legs are stained in secrets and spilled sauces. Our mosquito net nestled around us. Branches break on to the roof, the tree leaves scatter over soft ground. Everything lulls us in to a soft sleep and an appreciation for each of the day’s atmospheres.

***

This morning’s sore stomachs was a curt concern, but quickly forgotten. Our divemaster for the day – Sascha – smiles ‘we’re ready’ and we pile forward to the boat. The family already on board are on holiday for Christmas and new year. Deserted islands and a brilliant blue sky above us. There’s a paradise out here. Our boat purrs patterns in the emerald waters and we’re a short fifteen minutes to the first dive site.

Purged, primed and weight-belted, we drop in to the water and another environment altogether. Quickly horizontal, we paddle to The Sandbank’s coral. It’s a mesmerising dive, and it’s hard to look everywhere at once. Fish of every size and colour stare back, some more daring than others. Underwater fauna dance in the current as if under attack. Sun lights coral pink, orange, purple. There’s angel fish, clown fish, grouper and even barracuda. For 40 minutes we swim with this underwater atmosphere of lion fish, hard coral, even shy turtles. I hear a grumble, something grinding and oh no.

Oh, no.

It’s no quiet murmur when my stomach drops. Disintegrates even further. Oh, fuck. Why now? I look down and follow Sascha’s flow, very suddenly concerned about the new chemtrail that might follow me.

And something inside me explodes. Fuck, fuck, FUCK. Why now? Why after travelling through South-East Asia for near three months, shitting soundly and wiping well, have my fortunes brought me to this underwater hell? 15 meters down my mind is racing, a volcanic bubble sure to burst out of me soon.

If I thrash toward the surface from here will I still need to do a 3-minute stop? Does this count as an emergency ascent? Because this is an emergency. I’ll take the bends. Oxygen in your blood is better than shit in your suit. The old saying.

More sharp pain shoots through me and I don’t know how much longer I can hold this. My eyes are forced wide open in horror and thoughts are loose. I’m in a full-length wetsuit. Where will it go? What will I do with it? Can sharks smell it? Will they head for us? Will it bob about inside my suit and float me to the top? They don’t teach you jobby-buoyancy on the scuba diving courses.

I’m panic-breathing through my remaining air in a blind battle. I try force my wetsuit open, scrambling at my back for the zip. Clawing at my spine it’s a ticking poo-bomb. If only I can poke my pale arse out. Just one cheek would do. Panicked and prepared for exposed skin I’ve lost all balance, almost spinning and nearly upside down when I turn back just in time. Just in time for my arsehole to collapse without pardon.

And the underwater pest is purged from me. It explodes out of me like lava and quite literally fills my boots. The flow is not incipient and is instead quickly all-encompassing. None of it solid. The rest of my body’s stunned in to stillness: I’m painting my body in pollution. Motionless. Stunned in to toxic trauma.

Here arrives the stern realization that every single decision I have ever made has led me here. 15 meters under paradise waters in a wetsuit surely dripping diarrhea. At 26 years old I can’t explain how this has happened. Was it the added sphincter pressure? I suppose it’s never been trained to handle such turmoil 50 feet under. Not much of me has. When did I soil myself last? I’m a grown man for fuck sake. I feel like crying.

Sascha’s incessant and pointing out the resident damselfish. It’s giant and violent. I’m not particularly curious about this fascinating fish for the moment, Sascha. But he keeps pointing and I think through the underwater signals I know. There’s ‘ok’ and ‘look at that turtle’…there’s ‘I have a problem’…what’s the hand symbol for ‘fuck the fuck off and get me to the fucking surface because I’ve sprayed shit through my fucking suit?’ What do they even teach you on the scuba diving courses?

Like a prisoner walking the line I swim behind, sullen and shaken. As we reach the surface Sascha removes his regulator and immediately asks if everything’s ok. I think that he already knows the answer. Unfortunately, it’s not over.

I’ve followed his instructions and quickly swim 20 meters away from the boat. Pulling my soiled wetsuit down I’m in another rabid rush as round two approaches. This one’s more solid. A brief release and then turd-torpedoes blast in my direction like bombs just left ballast. And the smell, my god the smell.

I hope my bum-bangers haven’t traumatized the children watching, their parents scowling. I’ve quite literally sent Mr. Brown off to sea. Emma’s howling. Gentle jobbies appear and kiss the shore, poke their heads above the surface. I find myself using the waves to try bat them away like mosquitos. A semi-submerged, foul-smelling, shit-swatting mess. No appreciation for the toxic pollution in this atmosphere. The brown hour is never a welcome one.

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