DRT Show-Manila

I attended the DRT (Dive, Recreation, and Travel) Expo at SM MegaMall in Manila this past weekend. Normal admission was 200 pesos, but you could save that simply by registering online ahead of time which I did.

In an effort to get the word out about the show they had also encouraged people to share the flyer and tag six of their friends on Facebook. My Facebook friend Isabella Maffei from Italy had tagged me in a promotion to win a free dry bag. They said they had 50 dry bags to hand out even though I thought I had no chance of winning I did the same (I only tagged people in the Philippines that I thought might have the chance to actually attend). I was quite surprised when I was contacted by the show and informed that I too had won a free dry bag!

I attended all 3 days. On Friday as I was standing in line to register I ran into my friend Evie Go. Evie is a very accomplished photographer and had a photo that was entered in the show. I met Evie as a result of the Philippine Paradise Divers sub-forum at www.scubaboard.com I discovered this forum when I was planning my second trip to the Philippines in 2007. The members were quite helpful in offering their expertise and advice as I planned that trip. I later met many of them in person during the many trips to the Philippines that followed. Believe it or not it was members of this group that suggested that we all join Facebook and have our own group page there. I’ve tried to give back to that group by posting about some of my adventures in the Philippines there.

Evie told me another member of our group from scubaboard, Penn De Los Santos was speaking right then. Penn is a well known underwater photographer here in the Philippines and does some amazing work. I’d planned on being there for his talk, but traffic had been worse than expected and I was running late. I thought I had missed his talk, because there was another speaker on stage when I got there, but realized later that I’d gone to the wrong end of the exhibit hall! I ran into him later in the day and was able to make his talk on the last day of the show.

I also ran into Jag Garcia, another PPD’er from scubaboard. He’s also an underwater photographer and had an entry in the show. We walked around together and caught up a bit. Although we are friends on facebook and so have a general idea of what’s going on in each other’s life, we’d not seen each other in person since 2010! While walking around, he introduced me too Miguel Zulueta who is a Tech Diving Instructor here in the Philippines and also happens to be Jag’s instructor. He’s a very enthusiastic guy with a real passion for diving. He invited me to come give tech diving a try when I’m finished diving Puerto Galera and I might just take him up on it!

Posing for a photo with my friend and fellow underwater photographer, Jag Garcia.
Posing for a photo with my friend and fellow underwater photographer, Jag Garcia.

Over the course of the weekend I attended several seminars and talks and had some great conversations with people about diving and underwater photography. Some highlights of the first day were Dennis Corpuz sharing techniques on “How to Make a Perfect Black Background”, Howard and Michelle Hall on “Making Underwater IMAX Movies”, a really fascinating Marine Conservation seminar by Steven Surina on “Shark/Human Interaction” and last but certainly not least, “Creating with Different Light Techniques” by Isabella Maffei which I really enjoyed.

I met Isabella Maffei for the first time in person although we’ve been friends on Facebook for a couple of years. I sat with her and Evie during Dennis’s presentation.

Posing for a photo with Isabella Maffei and Evie Go at DRT 2016.
Posing for a photo with Isabella Maffei and Evie Go at DRT 2016.

I also met Cindy Madduma who is Miss Scuba International 2015 and chatted with her for a few minutes. She DOES dive and recently earned her Rescue Diver certification. She’s a very sweet girl and a great ambassador for the sport!

Posing for a photo with Miss Scuba International 2015, Cindy Madduma from the Philippines.
Posing for a photo with Miss Scuba International 2015, Cindy Madduma from the Philippines.

The second day I attended seminars with Mike Bartick, “Anilao Nudibranch World Record”, “Shooting Wide Angle-A Path to Freedom” by Beth Watson, and a presentation by Nu Parnupong on “South Africa-Diving in the Wild Coast”. I love nudibranchs, I’m always looking to pick up new techniques for underwater photography, and South Africa is one of my dream trips so it was a great afternoon for me!

I also ran into James Loyola, another friend from scubaboard whom I’ve not seen in years and we chatted for a few minutes.

Posing with my friend James Loyola who I ran into while we were both checking out the photo gallery.
Posing with my friend James Loyola who I ran into while we were both checking out the photo gallery.

I met Lucky Manzano who in addition to being an underwater photographer, is also an actor in the Philippines. It was quite fascinating watching him get swarmed by the girls! I got my picture taken with him mainly for the benefit of my Filipina friends!

Posing for a photo with Philippines movie star and underwater photographer, Luis "Lucky" Manzano.
Posing for a photo with Philippines movie star and underwater photographer, Luis “Lucky” Manzano.

An additional highlight of the show was the appearance of actual mermaids who were happy to pose for photos!

Posing with a mermaid at DRT-Manila 2016
Posing with a mermaid at DRT-Manila 2016

On the 3rd and last day, I was able to attend another seminar with Isabella Maffei on “The Secrets of A Good Composition with Lighting”. I’m really impressed with her work and her passion for creating amazing photographs! I also watched an interesting seminar with Alex Tyrrell on “Capturing Shots Animals with Eggs/Mating-Cracking the Egg Shot”. From there I went to Penn De Los Santos seminar, “Ordinary to Extraordinary” which was very well received and gave some great insights into the creative process. The last seminar of the day was “Marine Biodiversity Conservation through Social Media” by Dr. AA Yaptinchay who gave another interesting talk addressing how social media has been utilized to enhance Marine Conservation.

The great thing about these talks is that is that you are learning how other photographers shoot and also getting ideas to improve your own work. Although I had extensive training and experience in photography from my days as a US Navy Photographer, working as a Cameraman Specialist at Cape Canaveral, and later as a Photo Lab manager and Certified Photographic Consultant, it doesn’t mean we aren’t still learning. I started back in the days of film. I’ve spent a lot of time adapting to new technology over the years. Underwater photography I have learned mostly on my own. I’ve had a few tips given to me here and there and read books to give me ideas and I’ve dived a lot with a camera (one of the things that Penn really encourages). The show was a great opportunity to “talk shop” with other photographers and a wonderful learning opportunity for all of us with an interest in recording the underwater world!

The rest of the time was spent wandering around and talking to people representing the many dive-related products and resorts at the show. It was a great weekend!

2nd week in Puerto Galera

Thursday the 25th was a nice day. We dived Alma Jane which is one of my favorite dives in Puerto Galera. The Alma Jane is an old Filipino freighter that was scuttled in 2003. An 80 ton ship, at 30 meters (98 feet) long and 10 meters (33 feet) tall, it’s a really nice size. It’s a very open wreck and easy to penetrate the cargo holds. It sits in more or less a 100 feet of water.

Schools of snappers, squirrelfish, schools of batfish are all-around the wreck. Lot’s of cardinalfish inside, I spotted a couple of lionfish. Really nice dive. This was my deepest dive of this trip so far at a 101 feet.

A school of snapper follow a squirrelfish around the hull of the Alma Jane in Puerto Galera, Philippines. Photo taken on August 25th, 2016.
A school of snapper follow a squirrelfish around the hull of the Alma Jane in Puerto Galera, Philippines. Photo taken on August 25th, 2016.

We worked our way along the bottom towards the bow and then came up the port side and over the rail amidships. We then worked our way through the cargo holds forward, then up and out and back down the starboard side before departing the wreck amidships and heading towards shallower water.

As we left the mostly sandy area around the wreck we found plenty of coral. The “usual suspects” were out. I spotted a banded boxer coral shrimp and later my guide pointed out a white-eyed moray. At the end of the dive we spotted 2 different turtles who didn’t seemed bothered by our presence at all! They looked like they’d been around enough to ignore having their photo taken. We ended up with a 58 minute dive.

Hawksbill Turtle photographed in Puerto Galera, Philippines on August 25th, 2016.
Hawksbill Turtle photographed in Puerto Galera, Philippines on August 25th, 2016.

My second dive of the day we went to Manila Channel. We dropped into the water over a sandy area. Right at the beginning of the dive as we were just starting our descent, I saw my guide make a quick motion to grab a 20 peso note that was floating in the water. I thought lucky for her. When we reached the bottom I glanced down and saw a 1 peso coin. I thought cool! Then I spotted a 5 peso coin and then another 1 peso coin. I thought about showing her what I’d found but decided it could wait until we were on the boat. I tucked the coins into the pocket on my harness and continued with the dive.

When I caught up to her she had found two dragon sea moths. I snapped some photos then we continued the dive. We came across a small wreck. Nowhere near the size of the Alma Jane… maybe a 20 foot small boat. I spotted a good size Emperor and the batfish that seem to hang out at every wreck.

Small school of batfish on a wreck in Manila Channel, Puerto Galera, Philippines. Photographed on August 25th, 2016.
Small school of batfish on a wreck in Manila Channel, Puerto Galera, Philippines. Photographed on August 25th, 2016.

Although not really the time of year for nudibranchs we did spot them as we have on other dives… 3 different species. Hawkfish seemed to be in abundance (I have a fascination with the for some reason), lot’s of butterflyfish, anthia’s, damselfish, wrasse, two different species of moray eels, and coral outcroppings. Towards the end of the dive we had a lot of coral on our left and mostly sandy bottom on our right with coral outcroppings here and there. Coral Gardens can be a dive in and of itself. We just got a little taste that day.
A pair of Dragon Sea Moths crawl across the sandy bottom in the Manila Channel, Puerto Galera, Philippines.  Photographed August 25th, 2016
A pair of Dragon Sea Moths crawl across the sandy bottom in the Manila Channel, Puerto Galera, Philippines. Photographed August 25th, 2016

Our maximum depth was 74 feet. When we hit the surface our dive time was 1 hour and 12 minutes. We arrived to a bit of a current and swells that hadn’t been there when we descended. There was a bit of boat traffic but that’s normal with so many dive operations around.
Our bangka boat approaches us for pickup after a dive in Manila Channel, Puerto Galera, Philippines.
Our bangka boat approaches us for pickup after a dive in Manila Channel, Puerto Galera, Philippines.

Back on the boat I showed the guide the 7 pesos I found. Turned out that she had tucked change in the pocket of her shorts after buying something and forgotten it was there! When we started our descent the money came out. I asked how much change as I handed her the 7 pesos and she thought for a moment and said 27 pesos. What are the odds that after that, she would get all back?!

As it turned out that was my last dive of the week. I took Friday off from diving. Saturday I was sick and Saturday night I was really sick (vomiting and diarrhea)! I went to the doctor on Monday and he prescribed Bioflu for my symptoms (which by then were severe cough, congestion, headache). I’m a bit better today, but expect it’s still going to be at least a couple of days before I can dive again.

Unfortunately not much to report this week, but I am trying to blog at least once a week just to keep up to date. I’m spending almost all my time in bed now trying to beat this flu and get healthy so I can dive again. A week from now I’m expecting to be heading to Manila for the DRT Show. That should be a fun weekend! Hopefully I will see some of you there!

First week diving in Puerto Galera

Unicornfish photographed at Sabang Point, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines
Unicornfish photographed at Sabang Point, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines

It’s been a great first week diving in Puerto Galera.  I’ve completed 10 dives so far.  Water temperatures have been running from 82-84 degrees fahrenheit.  It’s rained almost every day, but no surprise there as it’s the rainy season!  I’ve never let rain bother me.  I’m going to get wet anyway and I like to say “It doesn’t rain underwater”!

I’m pacing myself as I’m going to be here for a month.  Although I’m on track to do 40 dives as planned, I may drop that back to 30.  I’m spending a bit more for meals than I had planned (I may have to actually break down and cook!) and there are a few above water activities that I’m looking at.

I got here last Wednesday.  The weather hasn’t really been great, but Frontier Scuba has still been going out at least 3 times a day, even if I’m the only diver on the boat!  This was one of the reasons I ended up picking them.  They were not the least expensive (they were 2nd least though).  The cheapest dive op was only going out twice a day (usually) and since it’s the off-season I knew (from past experience) there would be times when I’d be the only one on the boat. Beyond those two dives a day, I had to have someone with me or it was a 150 pesos more a dive than Frontier Scuba.  That could add up to a point that I wasn’t saving any money, or not that much.  I had more flexibility with Frontier.

I don’t mind paying a little more if I think I’m getting better service and Rick impressed me with his responsiveness to emails also.  I need to do 30 dives to get Frontier’s cheapest rate (850 pesos a dive) and 3 dives a day gives me confidence that even if I want to sleep in occasionally or take a day off here and there, I can easily make 30 dives in 4 weeks.

I did my first dive on Thursday afternoon at Monkey Beach. It had been six weeks since I’d been diving!  My gills were drying out again!! Bottom time ended up being 45 minutes with a maximum depth of 78 feet.

I ended up doing 3 dives on Friday.  Montani, Lalaguna Point, and West Escarceo.  Montani is mostly a sandy bottom and is in a protected area. 54 minute dive to a maximum depth of 63 feet.  The next dive was Lalaguna Point between Big Lalaguna Beach and Small Lalaguna Beach.  A nice dive, again ending up at 45 minutes with a maximum depth this time of 78 feet. The last dive at West Escarceo ended up being a train ride as the current picked up towards the end of the dive and we called it early.  I wasn’t going to get any photos anyway at that point!

On Saturday I dived the Clam Farm (so called because Giant Clams have been transported there from around the Philippines and “planted” as a dive site).  In addition to the Giant Clams, my guide spotted a blenny near the beginning of the dive.  We also saw two sea moths and a stonefish.  Dive time was 62 minutes and maximum depth was 62 feet.  No I didn’t plan it that way!

Spotted a Giant Frogfish on the last dive of the day at “The Speedboat” which is near the St. Christopher.  The St. Christopher, which is also known as Anton’s wreck is a 65 foot live-aboard dive boat, that was sunk off the end of El Galleon pier in 1995.  Lots of the “usual suspects” as I call them at most of the dive sites here.  Nudibranchs, sweetlips, snapper, anthias, jacks, lionfish, butterflyfish, wrasse… the list goes on!  Dive time on these two wrecks was 45 minutes.  Maximum depth was 79 feet.

On Sunday I dived two of my favorites.  We went to Coral Cove for the first dive.  Nice amount of nudibranchs, a moray eel, and of course… the “usual suspects”!  Total dive time was 64 minutes. Maximum depth was 83 feet.

After our surface interval we did Sinandigan Wall which turned out to be another nice dive!  Started seeing nudibranchs almost immediately.  Lionfish and a nice size sea snake that was probably over 3 feet long. 61 minute dive time with maximum depth of 89 feet.

Monday was my birthday and I ended up deciding not to dive.

Tuesday I dived West Escarceo again.  Much nicer this time as we didn’t have to deal with the current.  Was a nice dive with plenty of the “usual suspects” to observe!

Dwarf Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys falco) photographed at West Escarceo, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines in August 2016.
Dwarf Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys falco) photographed at West Escarceo, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines in August 2016.

Today I dived Sabang Point.  A nice dive with a little excitement at the end.  I was taking photos when I looked up and saw my dive guide being chased by a Titan Triggerfish!  Crap!  We’d stumbled onto a nesting area!

I started swimming at an angle away from my guide as fast as I could!  We lost sight of each other rather quickly as visibility was only about 40 feet.  Fortunately I kept looking behind me because all of a sudden the triggerfish was right behind me, literally snapping at my fins as I swam as fast as I could while dumping air from my wing!  Finally after what seemed like forever, but I’m sure was less than a minute the triggerfish broke off pursuit…. I continued to watch in case he came back and broke out my SMB.  Enough for one day!  Just before I could deploy it the guide found me and had already deployed theirs.

A good first week!

Moray eel photographed at Sabang Point, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines.
Moray eel photographed at Sabang Point, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines.


Finally made it to Puerto Galera!

The weather finally gave me a break!  The rain stopped around 1 AM on Wednesday where I was staying in Pampanga.  I was packed and out the door by 5:30 AM.  A short jeepney ride followed by a short wait and I was on the bus to Manila at 6.  The ride to Manila was 2 hours as we hit morning rush hour.  Got off the bus in Cubao and waved down an ALPS bus going to Batangas (175 pesos).  Morning rush hour was well underway and it was 3 1/2 hours by the time we made it to the pier.

I was swarmed by “porters” as soon as I got off the bus which I ignored all the way to the ticket window.  Ferry was 230 pesos. The boat was already loading so I allowed one to go and pay my port fee (30 pesos) and another to help with one of my bags.  When the porter came back with my slip for my port fee, I let him take another bag and we started towards the ferry.  The security checkpoint was just up a few steps and inside the doorway.  About 10 yards…. this is where I found out they couldn’t go any further!  They wanted a 100 pesos each.  I laughed and gave them 50 pesos and felt like I paid to much!  They did help a little, but I would have just took the bags myself had I realized that.

I was the last one to board the ferry.  The ride wasn’t that rough I thought, but I noticed a few people were looking a little green.  I chatted with a retired Australian guy who was on holiday. The crew went around and passed out little green bags (appropriate color I thought).  A couple of people in front of me did ended up puking… not just once, but several times!

The passage took about an hour and a half to Puerto Galera Town.  Which surprised me as I’d bought a ticket to Sabang.  Guess there weren’t enough passengers for separate ferries since it’s the off-season.  We were told there would be free transportation to Sabang so no worries there!

Upon arrival we paid a 50 pesos environmental fee and then went to a large jeepney.  A porter had taken my large bag to the jeepney.  It wasn’t far but its my heaviest bag!  I gave him 50 pesos and he seemed happy with that.  When everyone was loaded (I got the front seat :)), we left for Sabang.  After about a 10 minute ride we were at Sabang Pier.

Again there were numerous porters available.  I allowed one of them to carry my bag as it was a bit of a hike to the dive shop.  I checked in their and left my dive gear.  Then walked to Jack Daniels Apartments where I’m staying this month.  I dived on Thursday and Friday.  Today I’m catching up with my blog and editing photos, although I suspect I’m going to dive later!

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!

Getting ready….

I’ve been very busy this week.  I’m continuing to learn and research the self-publishing field.  My career in the Navy included opportunities to write along with my primary responsibilities as a photographer while serving from 1976-1986 and later during 12 years in the Naval Reserves.  My last assignment in the Reserves was as the Unit Public Affairs Coordinator while assigned to the USS John F. Kennedy CV-67 from 1999-2001.

I returned to active duty the end of 2001 and retired the beginning of 2012. My second stint on active duty I changed jobs working in a different field. I continued to write though as report writing was a regular part of my duties.  I also discovered that I could write about diving online and was a regular contributor for a time on a couple of online forums.

At the same time I’ve been researching self-publishing, I’ve been doing the research for my first book and preparing for my upcoming trip to Puerto Galera.  I’m over 3000 words into what I expect to be a 15,000-25,000 word e-book. I plan to self-publish on Amazon and I will definitely keep everyone posted when it comes out. This will be the first of what I expect to be several e-books on diving in the Philippines.

I’ll be heading to Puerto Galera the end of next week after renewing my visa.  I’m planning at least a month there while I finish my book. Expect the latest information on planning a trip to one of the top destinations in the Philippines!

Last but not least was the work involved in getting my website up and running.  Please bear with me as this is a work in progress!