After a very rushed trip from Indonesia to the Philippines, punctuated by a very welcome 5-hour transit at the world's most entertaining airport (Changi in Singapore), I eventually arrived at my hostel in the Makarti Avenue area of Manila. I stayed in a very peculiar place called Our Melting Pot, which was essentially a penthouse apartment in a very posh development which they'd just jammed a bunch of bunk beds into. A great idea, and a friendly place too, if a bit claustrophobic. It didn't matter too much though as I only slept there for about 5 hours before having to get up again and fly to Dumaguete on the island of Negros Oriental. When I arrived there though I was very pleased to find a man outside enthusiastically waving a sign saying Rob James... wow, a man with a sign with my name on it - this marked the beginning of a brief spell of living the privileged life!
I first met Emma when I was doing my undergrad, as she was in the year above doing the same course, but I got to know her much better when I was doing my PhD, as I was in the same lab as one of her best friends - a delightfully ridiculous person called Christian Drew (Dr Dre). Anyway, a few years later we ended up working opposite each other at the Wellcome Trust where we kept one another sane, sticking out, as we did, as beacons of reason drowning in the sea of collective nonsense that is 'The Trust'. We became good friends. Then I went travelling, and so did she in fact, during which time her besotted boyfriend decided to secretly fly out to Mongolia and seek her out in the middle of the Steppe to make the most absurdly romantic surprise proposal man has ever known. I truly believe that nothing short of travelling into space to propose will ever top it, and if you haven't seen it already I recommend that you take a look at the YouTube video diary of the event here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fc3VPD6HBks. By then they had plans to move to the Philippines, and that's where they are now, living in an ultra-luxury resort designed, built and run by Simon's cousin and his wife, where Emma is now working as a diving instructor. Not a bad life then. They had planned to get married at the resort, and indeed there was a wedding, but due to the blind alley beaurocracy of the local Filipino authorities they had to go elsewhere to actually legally tie the knot. And where else better to satisfy such a formality than Vegas, and a ceremony sanctioned by Elvis himself? So, after 24 hours in the state of Nevada in the US of frickin A, Emma and Simon returned married, but not wed, as it were.
We had exclusive use of the resort, and since the wedding group was quite small we all got to know one another very quickly; in fact, the complement of people who were actually able to attend seemed to balance out perfectly. Everyone got on so well and there was always somebody you knew sitting by the pool or propping up the bar - we all felt so spoilt that there was always a great atmosphere.
There was also the diving of course. Since it was a dive resort most of us had signed up for a dive package of some kind, and I spent the first two mornings doing a couple of shore dives on the house reef, including one at night, plus a couple of dives off the boat at a car wreck and around some pyramid cages that had been sunk to stimulate new coral growth. The coast of Negros Oriental island near the resort is particularly famous for what they called 'macro' wildlife - ironically very small things. There are certainly a lot of cool fish, but the reefs are teeming with myriad tiny invertebrates and the like, which you would never spot if your guide didn't point them out. These local guides were so observant and knowledgeable, and I was just as impressed with them as I was the reef. Every few minutes my guide would discover some infitestibly small thing waving about under a flap of soft coral and would jot down some exquisite and esoteric name on his little slate board; names like harlequin sweetlips, velvet ghost pipe, warty frog fish, squat lobster, nudibranch or pigmy pipe horse. We also saw lots of banded sea snakes (eek), moray eels, trigger fish, marble groupers, mangrove snappers, thorny seahorses, stargazers, lionfish, scorpion fish and spiny devil fish, to name but a few. The best diving, though, came on the last day at the resort, when we took the boat out to Apo Island -one of the finest dive sites in the world. The locals on the island have engaged so tirelessly with the conservation effort that the reefs around the island have just gone crazy, forming one of the most vibrant underwater habitats imaginable. I've never seen such a great reef, at least not on that sort of scale; it was aesthetically, perfect.
We were lucky to have gone to Apo at all since the two days previous had been really rainy, thanks to some typhoon passing up north somewhere. However, rain did not spoil the day of the wedding, which couldn't have passed more sweetly. The groom and best men were dressed in suits, with sandals, but the order was for everyone else to be dressed casual... of course, that never happened, but there wasn't a tie in sight, and everyone looked very relaxed, bright and summery. The ceremony took place on the beach under a modest bamboo arch, with frangipani petals underfoot, surrounded by simple pews for the guests, and lasted a very palatable 10 minutes. Emma and Simon had done well; it was pretty much ideal, as wedding services go. The rest of the wedding was a little more conventional, i.e. champagne, nibbles, photos, speeches, a big meal, embarrassing dancing etc, and eventually most of us ended up in the pool, in various states of undress.
This escapade to a top-end resort was obviously ludicrously expensive, and I burnt through a month's budget in just four days; but, of course, it was all worth it. What an amazing wedding, and an amazing couple - I wish them all the very best.
So, when it was finally time to leave I donned my backpack once again and jumped on a local bus (a jeepney) to take me the 45 mins back to the city of Dumaguete (for about 35 cents), from where I would start travelling again. Back to the cheap seats; back to reality.