by Sandra B. Martínez
Another day on the island. 5:30 am and the sun is already peeping through the palms and colouring the sky with the softest tones. The water is looking serene and undisturbed, it is holding in its transparency all the secrets of the amazing reef we are lucky to call a survey area. We prepare and leave home walking among the same familiar smiles that give us their ‘maayong buntag’ (good morning) when we pass by.
While completing the water sessions it was impossible for me not to feel completely amazed by the sites of the coral I was swimming over. Being in the water gave me strong and quite contradictory feelings. So vulnerable and clumsy compared with the creatures around me (especially on days with crazy amount of stingers) and still immense and confident enough to go deeper while whishing something pelagic and extraordinary emerged from the blue. Each day was different despite covering the same session, the same areas. When you live so close to the ocean you begin to appreciate small details such as the change of tide, the intensity of the current or an improvement in visibility.
Data collection was only one way of experiencing volunteering. Living in a tiny island full of particularities, sharing a house with people from all around the world with such different stories and customs certainly gives life a whole new perspective. Volunteer islander life is like having a brand new pair of eyes. Ones with which you can see better through, notice and admire everything that makes a new day different from the previous one.
The whole relationship with hunger and tiredness is redefined every day. Duties such as fetching water from the well, digging holes to bury the organic waste, recovering stuff from the balcony or chasing the tide to refill a bucket with salty water became routines as normal and necessary as eating or cleaning.
Life in Apo was definitely full of gifts that came in the shape of amazing people and beautiful moments. Karaoke nights, family dinners with brownies, sunset walks, shakes, sleeping on the hammock and feeling the breeze cooling down everything are just a few. Keeping life simple and learning to appreciate the value of little things as small and so many times taken for granted as fresh water, electricity, the importance of rain, the effort behind a meal for many or chocolate/cookies are one of the most valuable things volunteering has to teach.
They say that the cure for everything is always salty water: sea, sweat and tears. I’ve had moments in which the three were happening at the same time and by now I am pretty convinced that it is a universal truth.
Sandra B. Martínez volunteered for LAMAVE's Apo Island Turtle Research Project in 2018. Originally from Bogotá, Colombia, she is a biology student and keen diver and is incredibly passionate about the ocean.