At last, the vans are loaded with box after box of equipment, dozens of pieces of luggage, leaving just enough room for the dozen of us. As I write, we are on the highway south to Batangas at a slightly more snail-like pace than most of us would like, as eager as we are to get into the water for the first time.
Bob questions the driver about his light foot on the throttle
The highway from Manila to Batangas has been greatly improved in recent years, but we seem not to be taking full advantage of that. However, given the tonage of stuff in the trucks, maybe this nudibranch-like speed is more appropriate than the usual way I drive on 280, the autobahn of San Mateo.
We have been joined by two students from the Marine Science Institute (MSI) at the University of the Philippines. Much to my personal delight, both of them have a passion for sea urchins, and I expect lots of happy conversations with them during our hunt for the wily echinoids that form the focus of my work here.
I am certainly not the first to make the observation that in order to keep on learning, you need to have students. Already, I am learning from Inggat and Bryan. They work with a species of sea urchin harvested (and in some places, cultured) here in the Philippines for food. Aficionados of sushi will recognize this as uni, and it is best explained as the roe of sea urchins. It is, judging by the nose-upturning of some, an acquired taste. But I love it.
The local Philippine species, Tripneustes gratilla, produces uni of high quality, sweet with only a hint of the marine to it, and a slightly nutty finish. One of my aims here is to taste-test as many species of urchin as I can to make a sort of admittedly subjective assessment of tropical urchin flavors. I kind of pride myself in thinking that I have eaten roe of more species of urchins than just about anyone else (hey, everyone needs to be proud of something).
Tripneustes gratilla, interesting to look at, and fun to eat
Diadema savignyi, with spines that demand respect
So I laid out this plan to my newfound MSI student colleagues, saying that I was particularly interested in trying Diadema, the long-spined black urchin that is so often the bane of unwary divers who very quickly get the point of that protective spine cover. I figured that I might be among the first to try eating this formidable living pincushion. As usual for me, I’m behind in the game. Bryan tells me that Diadema is even better than Tripneustes.
I can hardly wait.