It’s raining!

Rainy season is in full swing here in the Philippines.  I’m trying to remember the last day it DIDN’T rain right now and having trouble doing that!

I traveled with my brother Benny over to Olongapo City on Friday to renew our visa’s. My brother has an apartment in San Fernando here in Pampanga.  He decided to check things out here and came back to the Philippines with me in June after my 4 week visit home to the US.  It rained pretty much the entire day.  We caught the bus in front of SM Mall Pampanga.  102 pesos to Olongapo City.  Once there we took a jeepney to SM Mall Olongapo (7 pesos) and then a trike to the Bureau of Immigration office (20 pesos). After immigration we went to SM Mall and then walked over across the bridge so I could show him Harbor Point Mall on SBMA while we were there.  Had coffee and then started back to San Fernando. We’re good for another 2 months now.

My brother seems well settled now, so time to get back to diving!   I’ve only made a handful of dives since coming back.  I think my gills are drying out! :))   I made it over to Subic Bay for diving twice since I got back.  I normally dive with Johan’s who’s located on Baloy Long Beach.  He’s been around for many years.  Friendly people and reasonable rates.  1000 pesos a dive there a little over $21 dollars a dive.

I sometimes compare diving in the Philippines with diving in the US just to give people an idea of how inexpensive it is to dive here.  Typically in the US you provide your own tanks and weights (or rent theirs).  If you don’t bring a buddy with you they will buddy you with someone on the boat.  In the Florida Keys it would end up costing around a $100 bucks, give or take $10 dollars or so, to go out and do 2 dives. Prices in San Diego when I lived there prior to retiring from the US Navy were similar.  Contrast this with the Philippines where it’s possible to do two dives for around $40 bucks, including tanks, weights, and a guide!

I’ve been making inquiries in Sabang, Puerto Galera.  My process is to do a web search.  Almost all dive shops have a website. I contact at least 5 or 6 to get a feel for what current prices are. I haggle a bit to get the best price out of each dive shop.  Price is not the only consideration, but it can be a major one.  I look at things like how long they’ve been in business, responsiveness to email, and I also do a web search on them to see what people who have dived with their operation have to say. The websites don’t normally include pricing for the large number of dives that I’m doing so I always consider prices to be negotiable (they usually are). It’s currently being the off-season doesn’t hurt my negotiating position either 😉

The other thing I research is accommodations.  Because I’m retired I can stay as long as I want.  Accommodations are cheap enough here in the Philippines in general, that I don’t really have a fixed address.  I just go month to month.  I’ve not paid more than 24,000 pesos a month since I got here last year, and that included all utilities, appliances, kitchen, utensils, dishes, etc… and internet in a studio apartment. I usually pay significantly less. 24,000 pesos is about $510 dollars a month at the current exchange rate.

I normally contact different people that I find on the web.  I can also ask the dive operation to help.  During off-season I can also just show up, leave my baggage at the dive shop and ask around.  Plenty of rooms available normally during off-season. Right now I’m looking at Jack Daniels Apartments in Sabang.  16,500 pesos for a month, plus electric and gas for cooking.  Around $350 dollars. Another apartment with similar conditions that I stayed in during my time in Olongapo usually ran around 2000 pesos a month for electricity (around $40 bucks) and I ran my air conditioning a lot!  This is for a 1 bedroom apartment with living room and kitchen.  Reality is that meals are normally cheap enough that I cook very little.  I almost always eat out.

Of the dive operations that I made inquiries too, 2 were too expensive (1600 pesos a dive and 1400 pesos a dive respectively). One wrote back to tell me their instructor had left for the day but he would get back with me the next day (he didn’t) and 3 were within the price range I was looking for (1000 pesos a dive or less).  I’ve narrowed it down between Captain Gregg’s and Frontier Scuba.

My inquiry essentially is:  “Hello, I’m looking at coming to Puerto Galera soon.  I plan to stay at least 4 weeks.  I expect to do 30-40 dives… maybe more depends on the rate.  I’m a PADI Divemaster with close to 600 dives. I have my own equipment.  My last dive was last month.  My primary interest is underwater photography.  This will be my 3rd trip to Puerto Galera.  I live in the Philippines. What rates can you offer?  Thanks!”  

By telling them a little about myself, my experience, and my interests, they have an idea of my expectations.  Giving them length of stay and minimum number of dives I want to do gives them the information they need for pricing.

Captain Gregg’s is the least expensive, but they’re only doing 2 dives a day now (usually).  The rate they offered is the best I’ve been offered in the Philippines, but requires me to have someone else dive with me which I totally understand!  To go out by myself would be a 1000 pesos though which is more than Frontier.  Last time I was in PG during the off-season I dived by myself pretty often so that I’m not necessarily going to save that much money. They’ve been around forever and are located really well. Chuck was very responsive to my inquiry (most of the dive ops responded within a few hours). They get mostly good reviews (no one get’s ALL good reviews, but the bad ones are worth reading).

Frontier Scuba was who I was going to dive with in December before getting side-tracked by the VA in Manila. They’re doing 3 dives a day guaranteed and will take me out by myself.  They will do an additional 2 dives a day as long as they have more than one diver.  They are more oriented to underwater photographers.  Their normal rate is 875 pesos a dive if you’re doing at least 25 dives.  That works out to around $19 dollars a dive at the current exchange rate!  They cater to a lot of underwater photographers.  They have a dedicated staff many of whom have been with them for a long time.  Rick has been very responsive to email.  They also get mainly good reviews. All positives I think!

So today I’m catching up on social media and my website.  I’ll finish packing and hopefully the rain will take enough of a break for me to get on my way soon!

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