A great time in Puerto Galera!

I had originally planned a month in Puerto Galera, but ended up extending a week. I ended up getting sick and missed 2 weeks of diving. Initially the doctor thought it was flu, but after a few days I just had chest congestion and cough so it looked more like bronchitis. I was sick for a week before getting put on a stronger anti-biotic that finally got me headed in the right direction.

I was back in the water on Tuesday the 13th. I did Secret Bay in the morning. I think I saw more seahorses than I’ve ever seen in just one dive! Secret Bay is largely sandy bottom with some coral here and there. My maximum depth for this dive was 58 feet and I did a 1 hour and 10 minutes’ dive. Water temperature was 85 degrees Fahrenheit. There were tons of gobies and shrimps, lionfish, hermit crabs, wrasse, damselfish, nudibranchs, and right at the end of the dive a mimic octopus! I really enjoyed this dive for all the great macro opportunities. Right at the end of the dive we found a mimic octopus! A great finish!

Seahorse photographed in Secret Bay, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Seahorse photographed in Secret Bay, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

Mimic Octopus photographed during a dive in Secret Bay, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Mimic Octopus photographed during a dive in Secret Bay, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

In the afternoon we dived La Laguna Point. This point divides Big La Laguna Beach and Small La Laguna Beach. This was a 52 minute dive to a maximum depth 92 feet. Water temperature was 84 degrees Fahrenheit. We worked our way up to shallower water where we found a coral slope at about 65 feet. Some nice corals and the usual suspects, damselfish, anthia’s, lionfish, sweetlips, cardinalfish, angelfish, bannerfish… you get the picture! Up the slope there was a shallow wall at around 50 feet that went up to around 20 feet.

Cardinalfish photographed in Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Cardinalfish photographed in Puerto Galera, Philippines.

On Wednesday we dived Sabang Wrecks in the morning. This was a 52 minute dive with a maximum depth of 72 feet. Water temperature was recorded as a very warm 88 degrees Fahrenheit… maybe the warmest temperature I’ve recorded outside of Barracuda Lake in Coron! Sabang Wrecks include 3 wrecks of boats that were intentionally sunk to form artificial reefs. It’s possible to do all 3 wrecks in one dive and that’s what we did. Right at the beginning my guide spotted a Spiny Waspfish-Ablabys macracanthus. We found large schools of fish around every wreck. Batfish were in abundance as were damselfish, cardinalfish, and sweetlips. There was a small area of garden eels nearby and a snake eel.

Spiny Waspfish photographed during a dive at Sabang Wrecks, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Spiny Waspfish photographed during a dive at Sabang Wrecks, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

On the second wreck we saw a Broadhead Flathead, along with cardinalfish, goatfish, wrasse, damselfish and the rest of the gang! The third wreck I saw a peacock mantis shrimp but like most of his kind, he took off before I could get a photo. They almost always do, but occasionally I’ll get one that will actually hold still and let me take several photos. This happened during my last trip to Malapascua Island, this past April. For some reason the ones around Puerto Galera are much more shy. I don’t think I’ve ever succeeded in getting a photo of one here!
In the afternoon we returned to Secret Bay again. Again maximum depth was 58 feet. Water temperatures were 85 degrees this time and we ended up with a 1 hour and 3 minute dive.

A variety of fish swarm around one of the Sabang Wrecks.  Photographed during a dive in Puerto Galera, Philippines.
A variety of fish swarm around one of the Sabang Wrecks. Photographed during a dive in Puerto Galera, Philippines.

On Thursday we did Montani in the morning. Another 1 hour and 3 minute dive with a maximum depth of 61 feet. Water temperature was 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Montani is mainly sandy bottom with scattered coral outcroppings and coral rubble. It’s in front of Montani Dive Resort. Lots of macro opportunities here.

It was this dive I was reminded of the importance of tethering gear. Towards the end of the dive, I glanced down and saw that my focus light that had been mounted on the top of my Fantasea housing (I was using my Canon G16 on this dive) was gone! It appears that the attachment does not hold very well. I knew it hadn’t been lost very long, but I also realized that it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack! I signaled Myrene, my guide. I showed her that my light had fallen off and motioned to go back. We were spread out about 10 feet apart as we went back along our line of travel. Within a minute she spotted it! I was really happy about this as the light is fairly new. Only six months old. I made sure it was tethered after that.

In the afternoon we did a dive that the guide called the “Mini-Reef” which was almost directly in front of the dive shop. This was a 47 minute dive with a maximum depth of 91 feet. Water temperature was 84 degrees. That was a great dive with lots of fish and a turtle at the end came swimming right past me!
Friday I took a day off and slept in. Then worked on finishing up my blog post on DRT from the previous weekend and editing photos.

Saturday for the morning dive, we again went to Secret Bay. This dive ended up being exactly one hour with a maximum depth of 54 feet and water temperatures of 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Lot’s of the same including a devil scorpionfish!

Devil Scorpionfish photographed in Secret Bay, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Devil Scorpionfish photographed in Secret Bay, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

We had a really amazing dive in the afternoon at Sabang Point. Started with a white-eyed moray, then a nice little juvenile warty frogfish. Lots of the usual suspects, beautiful corals. I kept an eye out for nesting triggerfish, but nesting season is well over now! Dive time was 47 minutes with a maximum depth of 70 feet Water temperature was a bit cooler at 82 degrees Fahrenheit. I noticed a thermocline at around 60 feet with markedly cooler water.

Warty Frogfish (Antennarius maculatus) photographed on a dive at Sabang Point, Puerto Galera, Philippines on September 17th, 2016.
Warty Frogfish (Antennarius maculatus) photographed on a dive at Sabang Point, Puerto Galera, Philippines on September 17th, 2016.

On Sunday the 18th, I only did the afternoon dive. My friend Zee Malota from Australia was in town with a couple of other friends and he came over to meet me at Frontier Scuba and we did a dive at Hole-in-the-Wall. This would be a 50 minute dive to a maximum depth of 81 feet. Water temperatures was 83 degrees Fahrenheit. There is a huge rock with a hole through which you can swim. It’s just wide enough for one diver to fit through. It’s at a depth of around 40 feet. Up on top I found a nice scorpionfish. The rest of the “usual suspects” were there in abundance also.

Scorpionfish photographed during a dive at Hole-in-the-Wall, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Scorpionfish photographed during a dive at Hole-in-the-Wall, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

Right at the end of this dive while we were doing our safety stop, I found a camera. From looking at the photos on the camera we figured the camera had been underwater for around a week and the owner was likely Japanese. I’ve already tweeted about this and I’m having a friend translate into Japanese a notice that I can circulate online and hopefully find the owner. If you believe you are the owner of this camera, please contact me with a description and we’ll work on arrangements to get it back to you.

The following 3 days I did 3 dives a day. I had originally expected to do around 40 dives in a month. This would have been a nice relaxed 2 dives a day/5 day a week pace. Missing over 2 weeks of diving had put me behind. I reset my goal to 30 dives as Rick gives his best dive rate to those who do at least 30 dives. I needed 9 dives to get to 30! I wanted my last dive day to be Wednesday so that my gear would have time to dry out before departing Puerto Galera on Friday.

On Monday we started with Kilima Step. I ended up doing a 50 minute dive to a maximum depth of 74 feet. It has many different levels or steps. Essentially a series of walls that drops down to 75 feet or so. You can work your way back up with the last step being around 15 feet. A really nice dive. Lot’s of beautiful coral’s on this dive. I spent a lot of time stalking fish, trying to get a photo, which anyone who has tried it knows is not always so easy!

The second dive of the morning was at Coral Cove. 49 minutes with a maximum depth of 86 feet. Coral Cove is one of my favorites and not far from another one of my favorites, Sinandigan Wall. Coral Cove is a sloping reef that terminates at a small wall at around 65 feet. A really nice dive. Lot’s of macro opportunities. Nudibranchs, peacock mantis shrimp, moray’s, cuttlefish. Nice corals, whip corals, sea fans. Lot’s of color!

The third and last dive of the day was another dive at La Laguna Point. 48 minutes with a maximum depth of 72 feet. This dive was also a milestone of sorts as it was my 100th dive in the Philippines since arriving last year in October. 100 dives in 11 months is not to bad I think for a “non-professional”. At one point I spotted two triggerfish. Much smaller than the one the one that chased us last month, but I kept an eye on them anyway, especially when one appeared to follow me briefly! I know nesting season is well over now, but the image of large Titan Triggerfish snapping at my fins is not one I’ll soon forget! Towards the end I was able to photograph two Jorunna funebris mating. Behavior is what we love to photograph!

Tuesday we started with Sinandigan Wall. 52 minutes to a depth of 83 feet. I made two dives here during my time in Puerto Galera. Both great dives. Lot’s of nudibranchs on this dive!

The second dive was Dungon Beach. Rick told me he’d spotted a manta ray there…. 7 years ago! Nice dive. 52 minutes again and a maximum depth of 80 feet. There is a wall that starts around 40 feet going down to around 80 feet. Lot’s of places for nudibranchs, lionfish, moray’s, and scorpionfish.

The last dive was on the St Christopher. 51 minutes, 81 feet. The St Christopher is a former liveaboard dive boat sunk off the end of El Galleon pier in 1995. My second dive on this wreck. Lot’s of fish and we finish up on the reef in front of Small La Laguna Beach.

My last dive day was Wednesday the 21st, exactly 5 weeks after arriving in Puerto Galera. We went to Verde Island for two dives. I’d heard about Verde for years, but this would be the first time I dived there. It was actually a pretty quick trip. Only about 40 minutes.

Verde Island is essentially a pinnacle that barely sticks out of the water. After being briefed we back rolled into the water. The boatman handed me my camera and we began descending as we headed toward the pinnacle. My camera is a Nikon D300 in an Ikelite Housing with dual Ikelite sub-strobes. I also have a Light and Motion Sola 1200 focus light mounted on top. For this dive I’d chosen to go wide and had my Tokina 10-17mm Fisheye Zoom lens mounted on the Nikon.

It became apparent very quickly that we were in a fairly heavy current. I was kicking as hard as I could, and pushing a large DSLR in a housing with two large strobes… I was just barely making headway and became concerned I was going to suck all the air out of my tank and end up with a 15 minute dive!

We started making our way to the other side of the pinnacle. We worked our way down as we went around the pinnacle to escape the current. At my deepest point I was a 106 feet. Then we started working our way up the pinnacle. What an amazing place! We surrounded by CLOUDS of fish! Anthias, damselfish, wrasse, jacks, angelfish, butterflyfish. Visibility was easily 75-80 feet, the best visibility the whole trip!

After the dive I told Tom-Tom, my guide, that I’d just had easily a top 5 dive in the Philippines! To put that in perspective, I’ve been coming to the Philippines for over 9 years now with 300 plus dives here. I’ve dived all over the country…. Malapascua Island, Southern Leyte, Dauin, Apo Island, Tubbataha, Bohol, Moalboal, Puerto Princessa, El Nido, Coron, and Boracay. Top 5 is pretty sensational! With the depth and the hard current at the beginning we ended up with a 45 minute dive, although I did have 50 bar (735 psi) left in my tank. After surfacing we drifted while the boat came over and picked us up.

Verde Island, Philippines
Verde Island, Philippines

The second dive was actually a bit easier. We approached from the other side and missed the current this time. Only 68 feet for this dive. As before, huge schools of fish. I also saw several batfish and a few lionfish along with trumpetfish. I took my smaller photo setup for this dive. A Canon G16 in a Fantasea Housing with an Inon S-2000 strobe. I moved my Sola 1200 focus light from the Ikelite Housing to the Fantasea Housing. With this setup, in addition to some wider shots, I was also able to get some macro. We discovered several nudibranch during the course of the dive and I worked to get some individual fish shots. After another amazing dive. We headed back to Sabang.

Verde Island, Philippines
Verde Island, Philippines

Although I was back in time to do the afternoon dive that normally went out between 2 and 2:30 PM, I was exhausted after fighting the current. I’d already spoken to Rick the day before and he had offered to take me out on a night dive. Matthew who had just gotten his certification and was building experience fast was invited to go with us to do his first night dive. Rick told us to be back at 6 PM. I headed back to my apartment. I grabbed my laundry bag and dropped off laundry, then went back to my apartment for a nap!

I was back at the dive shop around 5:30. I opened my housing. Changed the port and the lens to my Nikkor 60mm. I’d put all the batteries on charge upon our return from Verde Island. After getting everything set up. We started gearing up. About 6:15 the boat left and we went just off Sabang Beach to dive Sabang Wrecks.

This was a really nice dive. I love night diving. Soldierfish, rainbow runners, Banded Coral Shrimp, pipefish, moray eels, snake eels, lionfish, blue-spotted ray… a great finish to my 5 weeks diving Puerto Galera!

Banded boxer coral shrimp photographed during a night dive on Sabang Wrecks, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Banded boxer coral shrimp photographed during a night dive on Sabang Wrecks, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

Blue-spotted Ray photographed during a night dive on Sabang Wrecks, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Blue-spotted Ray photographed during a night dive on Sabang Wrecks, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

The next day was a rest day. I mostly worked on photos in the morning. I spent the afternoon at the dive shop packing my gear.

After that I had a massage (something I did fairly often in Puerto Galera as a 1 hour massage was only 400 pesos. I normally would tip a 100 pesos, so barely $10 dollars with tip!) I picked up my laundry. Had dinner and went back to working on photos and working on my writing a bit.

I was up at 8 AM on Friday morning. Took a shower. Packed the few things I had in my apartment and went and checked out. I went by a souvenir shop to pick up some souvenirs for friends and then stopped and had breakfast. After that I went to the dive shop and finished packing my bag. I dropped some pesos in the tip box and two of the boys from the shop took a bag each and we headed down the beach to the pier. At the pier I paid for my ticket. They were already loading and a little after 10:30 AM the boat was on it’s way to Batangas.

At the pier I got on one of the waiting buses to Cubao in Manila. I’d planned to take a taxi from Cubao to Monumento to catch a bus to Batangas where I stay when I’m not on a dive trip (my brother has an apartment in San Fernando). The traffic was horrendous and it had started raining. In the end I paid the cab driver 2500 pesos to just take me and skip the bus. A little over $50 bucks.

A few final notes on expenses in Puerto Galera.
My electric ended up being 3750 pesos, about $80 dollars for a little over 5 weeks. My rent was 16500 pesos a month and it was prorated for the extra week. 20,350 pesos for just over 5 weeks. Around $438 dollars. Round it to around $520 to account for fluctuations in the exchange rate for accommodations for the whole time I was there. I paid a total of 100 pesos for drinking water while I was there. A 20 liter jug was 50 pesos and I went through two of them. I paid 200 pesos deposit for the jug which I got back when I returned it. I paid a 165 pesos for laundry while I was there. There was a minimum of 3 kilos that I never seemed to quite get too as I’d not brought that many clothes. I’d do laundry about once a week. Wash/dry/fold for about $3.50 a week.

The big expense for me was food as I opted not to cook. This was an option. I needed to only pay a deposit for the gas. I had a two burner stove and a refrigerator. They also provided pots, pans, dishes, utensils, etc… I just didn’t want to bother with it. I typically paid around 200 pesos for breakfast. You could pay 500 pesos depending on where you wanted to eat. Anything on the beach was of course more expensive.

I found a pretty amazing pizza place and probably tried every pizza on the menu while I was there in addition to some great pasta. I could get dinner for under 500 pesos. You could also pay several hundred or over a 1000 pesos if you wanted a steak in a place with a view! Or you could eat fried rice (enough for two normally) for a 150 pesos. Just depends on what your tastes and budget was. I typically probably spent about 500-600 pesos a day, but I usually only ate once a day while I was there with a few snacks thrown in.

My budget ended up being:
$520 Accommodations
$450 Food
$650 Diving (x30) including tips
$400 Misc (massages, souvenirs, transportation to from Manila, etc..)

Around $2000 dollars. Throw in round trip airfare from the US and it’s possible to spend a month in Puerto Galera for around $3000-$3500 dollars depending on where you are traveling from. The big savings was in accommodations. A one month stay can be much cheaper than a one week stay, depending on where you stay. Probably the other place I saved is that I stayed out of the bars. I stopped drinking several months ago so found no reason to go bar hopping. If you like to go out for drinks after a day of diving (I certainly have in the past and will again in the future I’m sure once I hit my goal weight), then less massage’s and more drinking!

I really enjoyed my time in Puerto Galera and am sure I’ll be diving there again in the future!

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