CEBU ISLAND, Philippines
“What time are you going snorkeling?” Ellen asked.
“I’m not sure. Snorkeling is supposed to be best at high or low tide, so I’m going to the dive shop to check the charts.”
“Wait, look over there,” She said, gesturing towards the wall calendar behind the hotel reception desk. “Many calendars published in the Philippines include tide charts.”
Ellen’s first holiday here was 12 years ago.
A keen snorkeler and diver, she fell in love with the Philippines — and she was right about the calendar. Along with phases of the moon and important holidays, the neat, separate squares announced the times and heights of daily tides. Most days posted two high and two low tides, but on occasion there was only one of each.
“Right! Low tide today was 9:17 a.m.. I was looking for seashells along the shore about then.”
The two curled, fluted shells now sitting on a small shelf back in my room must have become exposed when the water level dropped. “And high tide is … well, right about now. Perfect! Thanks, Ellen; see you later!”
Rushing around gathering up suntan lotion, mask, snorkel, and flippers I noticed I had accidentally brushed one of the new seashells onto the floor while folding up a beach towel or sarong. Luckily it hadn’t broken, and I hurriedly replaced it on the shelf on the way out the door.
A long reef provided incredible snorkeling only 15 or 20 flipper strokes out from shore. Orange clown fish, green-blue parrotfish, striped Moorish idols, Picasso triggerfish and yellow butterfly fish were just a few of the bright tropicals that flashed between the hundreds of different corals.
A turtle, just visible some distance below, moved slowly along the edge of the steep drop-off as if flying in water.
An hour later, the water had dropped a foot or more. Arriving back at the hotel room, I was imagining some poor soul sitting down with a whole year of tide charts, trying to work out a ferry schedule in a country made up of some 7,000 islands when something caught my eye — the seashell, still in that same spot on the floor.
I had meant to put it back on the shelf, but in my hurry had obviously forgotten.
A half hour later I wandered over to the waterfront lounge where an informal collection of locals and travellers gathered to watch sunsets and chat about the events of the day, who was leaving, who was staying and who had books to trade in which language.
The subject of tides morphed into discussions about local fishermen, their outrigger-style boats, ocean currents, typhoons, full moons and fish horoscopes.
Returning to the hotel once again, I scanned the floor as I switched on the light … the seashell wasn’t there. I turned to look on the shelf … and it wasn’t there either.
This whole shell thing was becoming a little creepy. Grabbing the flashlight, I peered around and finally found it — under a table, gliding along as if being pulled by an invisible magnet under the floor.
I quickly picked it up and turned it over. Tiny, waving crab legs immediately disappeared, retracting into the safety of the curled, fluted shell.
Taking the flashlight, I carried the shell, resident included, back to the beach. High tide, low tide, or anywhere-in-between tide, it was time to help this persistent creature return to the sea.
Catherine Millar is a Whitehorse-based writer on a months-long tour of far-flung places. Her chronicle appears here every Monday.