Tag Archives: Manila

Bauan Divers Sanctuary

I first met Lourdes and Mark Lowings at last years DRT Show. Surprisingly they still remembered me when I walked by their booth at this years show! It was September 9th and I’d just returned to the Philippines after being home in the US for two months. DRT happened to be taking place the weekend I flew in.

While at home I’d made only 15 dives and was itching to get back in the water. The first week I was back there was a weather system passing by and conditions not the best. I opted to go spend the week at Subic Bay and Olongapo, where I often hang out in between dive trips. I have many friends in the area and it’s a popular place for expats like myself. I arrived in Olongapo the day after DRT ended as I wrote about in my last blog post.

I emailed Lourdes after arriving and negotiated a rate to visit the resort for a week, checking in on Sunday and leaving Saturday. I’d not really expected to dive that week, but towards the end of the week conditions improved and I decided to get a couple days of diving in Subic Bay. I wrote about the diving there in my previous blog piece.

Sunday morning, September 17th, I caught a trike to Victory Terminal in Olongapo. There I caught a bus to Cubao in Manila. From the Victory Terminal in Cubao, I walked a couple of blocks to the DLTB Terminal where I caught a bus to Lemery. I kept in touch with the resort via text messaging and when I arrived in Lemery, there was a driver there to pick me up. From there we had a short drive to meet a boat which was a short 10 minute ride to the resort.

I was a little blown away by the resort to be honest… much nicer than the places I normally stay! I tend to skimp when it comes to accommodations to save more money for diving. Bauan Divers Sanctuary Resort is a very picturesque place, built into the side of a hill it overlooks Balayan Bay. The resort has a total of 32 rooms. 16 suites that will sleep up to 8 people, 6 standard rooms that will sleep up too 5 people, 6 non-aircon backpacker rooms with a cold shower, 2 spa suites, and 1 instructor suite that will sleep 4. There is also a cottage with 4 showers and comfort rooms that will sleep up to 10 people. The resort is obviously very capable of accommodating large groups. There are two pavilions that are ideal for groups. They are complete with rinse tanks and places to hang gear.

When I arrived it turned out that I was the only guest in the resort! A couple of days later a group arrived from China but until then I had the place to myself. I was shown to one of the standard rooms. An absolutely beautiful room. Marble floors, beautifully decorated, and huge! Two king-size beds and one twin bed. What we call a “bathroom” or “restroom” in the US is called a “comfort room” or “CR” in the Philippines. This one had modern fittings and enclosed shower with hot water! (I stay in fan rooms with no hot water quite often to save money so a nice luxury for me 😉 ) There was also a dressing area with plenty of closet space. The resort has wifi throughout. There was a bench on the porch outside the room where you could sit, relax, and watch the sunset if you liked. A very nice room! I got unpacked and put all my batteries on charge.

The restaurant is located in a very nice pavilion complete with a bar. It appeared to be capable of easily seating a 100 people at one time. A great place to sit and watch the sunset. I was really impressed with the food there. Food was amazing and plenty of it! The first couple of days when I was there by myself I was served at the table. Once more people arrived they put out a really nice buffet. Every afternoon after the 3rd dive they would bring a snack and drink down to me. My only complaint initially when it was just me, was they were providing me with too much food! I felt surely I was gaining weight! 😀

Obviously a lot of thought and planning had gone into the resort. Everything from the multiple rinse tanks and racks for hanging gear to showers, to the swimming pool, to where we entered the water, everything was oriented towards the diver. There are two pavilions that are capable of handling different large groups. There are male and female comfort rooms and individual showers. Towels are provided. They have rental equipment and nitrox available.

Unlike in other resorts in the Philippines I’d dived where the emphasis is on boat diving, the focus at Bauan Divers Sanctuary is on shore entry. I knew before I went that I would be shore diving and I was frankly, quite curious about just how good the diving in the sanctuary would be. It turned out I was not prepared!

I’ve been diving the Philippines since 2007 and have logged almost 400 dives there. I have experienced a lot of great diving there. I have to say that Bauan Divers Sanctuary has the best “house reef” of any resort I’ve dived with! A diverse and healthy fish population and nice corals. There are multiple entry points from the resort and different routes making a number of “different” dives possible. Whether we went straight, left, or right. Sometimes we would come back to the entry point, but more often we would exit at a different spot than where we entered. Water temperatures ran around 84F and visibility averaged 40+ feet.

There are wall’s, caves, an island, an underwater pinnacle, sandy areas, and the opportunity to see something new on every dive, all from shore diving from the resort itself. Anthia’s, groupers, damselfish, pipefish, batfish, moray’s, crabs, shrimps, clams, soldierfish, squirrelfish, numerous nudibranch species, trevally, razorfish, trumpetfish, ribbon eels, butterflyfish, peacock mantis shrimp, sea turtles, filefish, hawkfish, even lobster… all the “usual suspects”! I made 3 dives a day for 3 days and never tired of the diving! On the 4th day I did my only boat dives heading south along the coast and doing boat dives in front of Dive and Trek and at Portulano House Reef. After we returned we did a 3rd dive in the sanctuary. I ended up with 12 dives in 4 dive days.

I really enjoyed the 4 days of diving with Bauan Divers Sanctuary Resort. In all I did 12 dives with them. On Friday, September 22nd I took a break and after talking with Lourdes at dinner that night she offered one of the resorts boats to take me across to Anilao. By boat it was less than 30 minutes versus a boat ride, followed by a trike, followed by a jeepney, transfer to another jeepney, then another trike. I was really appreciative of being able to take the direct route! Next morning as promised, I was taken by boat to Anilao.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let the photos speak about the diving at Bauan Divers Sanctuary 🙂 I will be back!

Next up I’ll cover my 2nd trip to Anilao this year and second time diving with Anilao Scuba Dive Center so stay tuned! I arrived in Anilao on September 23rd and left on September 27th.

I’m in Hawaii now and trying to get caught up so I can start writing about what I’m currently doing. I still have my visits to Anilao and Puerto Galera to write about. I’ll be here in Hawaii for about 2 1/2 months so stay tuned!

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Diving Subic Bay with Arizona Dive Resort

I checked out of my hotel the next morning after DRT on September 11th and caught a cab to the bus station in Cubao. From there I got on a bus to Olongapo where I caught a jeepney to Barretto. I arrived roughly 4 hours later (traffic has been horrible in Manila) still recovering from jet lag with the 13 hour time difference.

One of the nice things about Subic Bay for people who will be traveling there from out of the country, is how easy it is to reach from Manila. Take a cab from the airport (if you’re flying in) to the Victory Terminal in Cubao. Taxi should be around 300 pesos, give or take depending on traffic and route taken. If they want to negotiate a flat rate keep this in mind. It they take the toll road they will want you to pay the toll and that’s fair as it’s saving time. Sometimes taxi drivers in Manila don’t want to use the meter because they feel they aren’t getting adequately compensated because of the amount of time spent sitting in traffic. I’m not totally unsympathetic to this so take into account when negotiating or tipping. I don’t tip on negotiated rates so if the asking price is within the range I would probably tip anyway, then it’s an easy negotiation. If they know that I know what the meter rate would be it’s easier to get them to come down. Expect roughly 350 with tip plus tolls. I sometimes offer “meter plus 50 pesos” and they will pretty much always agree to that. Just some things to keep in mind while negotiating 🙂

In Cubao, hop a bus to Olongapo (205 pesos). From there you can catch a taxi or trike to where you need to go. Going rate for a trike from Victory Terminal in Olongapo to Barretto is a 150 pesos. I almost always take a trike if I have dive gear with me as it’s just too much trouble in a jeepney 🙂 A taxi/van will be around 350 pesos. So to get from the airport in Manila to Arizona would be about $15 dollars US via public transport. A bit over $20 if you take a van instead of a trike from the terminal in Olongapo. A private van to pick you up is more convenient but expect to pay at least 5000 pesos ($100 bucks). If you’re in a group though the difference may make the convenience worth it 🙂

I stayed at The Coffee Shop Restaurant and Rooftop Hotel a Filipino-owned place whom I’ve mentioned previously here in my blog. The Coffee Shop Restaurant is open 24 hours and serves good Filipino food. I’ve eaten there many a night. They’re also known for their tacos which are huge! A standard room in their Rooftop Hotel is 1095 pesos a night (little less than $22 dollars at the current exchange rate). I consider the rooms to be US standard. Rooms are clean and well-maintained. There is free wi-fi included and the rooms have cable television which include HBO and Cinemax as well news channels from the US, Discovery Channel, History Channel, etc.. I go there sometimes just to relax after I’ve been diving somewhere else in the provinces because the amenities are all there at a reasonable price.

Across the street is Arizona International Resort, an Australian-owned operation, which is beachfront on Subic Bay. I’ve spoken with the folks at the Arizona Dive Shop a few times as I have spent a lot of time in the Olongapo area the last couple of years. I eat in the resorts restaurant on a fairly regular basis when I’m in town and would occasionally stop in to chat with the guys in the dive shop. Their Economy Rooms are 1350 pesos a night (cash price) with a Standard Room going for 1550 pesos. About $27 and $31 dollars a night respectively. They do offer package deals if you are diving with them according to their website. If I were coming just to dive I’d look into that. I’ve never stayed at Arizona, as I spend time in Olongapo as much as to relax and catch up on things as to dive. Arizona does have a great reputation, though and my experience with the restaurant, bar operation and dive operations bear that out. I can say it is very convenient to stay at the same place you’re diving speaking from past experience. Since retirement though I try to save money where I can with only the occasional splurge… that leaves more money for diving 🙂

For places to eat and drink I’ve eaten in the Arizona restaurant quite often over the last couple of years when I’ve been in town. Their restaurant is one of the better ones in the area in my opinion. I eat breakfast usually at Arizona are at VFW. VFW is further down the road on the left just across from Crazy Horse Bar and next door to Sit-in-Bull Annex. I usually have dinner at Sit-in-Bull Restaurant on Del Pilar Street which is American-owned and operated and in my opinion the best restaurant in Barretto. If I don’t have dinner at Sit-n-Bull I go to Arizona and occasionally to Shamboli’s, an Italian place also American-owned which is just a few minutes walk from Arizona. For Filipino food Coffee Shop is one of the most popular. For drinks, I like Dynamite Dicks, Two Can, or Sit-n-Bull Annex. Those are the essentially “neighborhood” bars. Score Bar is on the premises at Arizona and has plenty of big screen tv’s. Arizona also has a Floating Bar when it’s not typhoon season and that is a cool place to relax too.

Now about the dive operation…. Arizona is a PADI 5 Star Resort and offers training all the way up to Instructor Development Courses and Specialty Instructor courses. They have a reputation as one of the premier dive operations in the area. I’ve run into people who have dived and taken courses with them over the last couple of years and always heard good things about them. I’d also spoken with Kent Simmonds the dive shop manager a few times. Kent is from Australia and is a very personable guy. Arizona has a strong focus on offering good training. With their great location being on Subic Bay people come from all over for training in Wreck, Deep, and EANx. With such a great reputation I decided I would do a few dives with them myself so I could form my own opinion.

The operation is quite professional with high standards. Their boats all carry oxygen onboard and their boat crews are trained in first aid/CPR and as oxygen providers. They provide hot towels after your dive to wipe your face which is a nice touch and free hot snacks, along with coffee, tea, and water on the boat during surface intervals. They go out twice a day and try to allow guests to choose the dive sites they want to dive on when conditions allow.

I’ve almost always had Filipino dive guides over the years except for a couple of times I dived with the owner of a dive operation which happened I think as much as because they were really busy as anything else. This time my guide was James Sims one of the instructors there. A companionable and down to earth guy who was very knowledgeable about the wrecks and their history. James, who is from England has been an instructor for just a year but has a 100 certifications under his belt already. He calls himself a bit of a “metalhead” and loves diving the wrecks. He did a thorough dive briefing before each dive and was quite familiar with a lot of the history surrounding the wrecks. A lot of the experience for wreck divers I think is the history of the wreck they are diving on so diving with someone who is familiar is a nice plus!

I did 5 dives with Arizona over the course of 2 days September 14th and 15th. Barges, San Quentin, and LST all dives I’ve done multiple times (Barges and San Quentin are two of my favorite dive sites in Subic). They also took me too two dive sites I’d not dived previously, Beer Barrels and the Skyraider wreck which I quite enjoyed.

The first dive on the 14th was Beer Barrels. Beer Barrels is a large structure composed of steel trusses, with large cylinders inside of it. The cylinders reminded someone of beer barrels, hence the name. The structure was alive with life including black and green frogfish, lot’s of scorpionfish, spider crabs, nudibranchs, and even a lobster! There were also the usual suspects, lots of fish life which can always be found around any large underwater structure. It’s a square profile as it sits in approximate 100 feet in open water so we were on 32% nitrox. Our dive started at 3:16 PM and was 38 minutes. My maximum depth was 97 feet. Visibility was maybe 30 feet and water temperature was 83F. This could easily become my new favorite dive site! 🙂 This was my first dive with Arizona and was a great dive! James impressed me with his ability as a spotter also. A really great start 🙂

Giant Frogfish (Antennarius commerson) photographed at Beer Barrels in Subic Bay, Philippines.

In addition to Beer Barrels, on September 14th we also dived the Barges near Grande Island. One of my favorite dive sites in Subic Bay it was a floating dock that eventually sank after it was abandoned. The sections of the dock form a rough “T” and sit on a mainly sandy bottom. There is some separation of the sections. One side drops off from roughly 20 feet to around 60 feet. The other drops to over a 100 feet. The wreckage is a haven for a large variety of marine life. When I think about the photos I’ve taken at this site peacock mantis shrimp, nudibranchs, snapper, lionfish, pufferfish, butterflyfish, cardinalfish, all come to mind. I’m absolutely positive I’ve lost track! This dive was very typical of my previous experiences there. We did a 51 minute dive there. Visibility was typical at about 40-45 feet. Water temperature was 84 degrees Fahrenheit.

Yellow Longnose Butterflyfish (Forcipiger flavissimus) photographed on “The Barges” in Subic Bay, Philippines.

The first dive on the 15th was the LST. LST’s (Landing Ship Tanks) were a very versatile ship designed for transporting tanks and vehicles. Over a 1000 of them were built in the US during WW II. Many were later converted to use as floating repair ships, hospital ships, troop transports, or floating barracks for accommodations.

This one sits upright on a sandy slope on the eastern side of the bay in 90-118 feet of water. Our dive started at 9:40 AM and was 44 minutes diving with 32% nitrox. Maximum depth was 100 feet and water temperature was 84F. Visibility, as is often the case closer in to the shore was less than 30 feet. As always the wreck was alive with fish. We did a limited penetration and then we roamed around the exterior of the wreck looking for subjects for my camera. An enjoyable dive!

Longfin Batfish (Platax teira) photographed on the the LST wreck in Subic Bay, Philippines.

Our second dive on the 15th was the San Quentin, another of my favorites that I’ve written about before. The San Quentin was a Spanish gun boat that was scuttled at the entrance to Subic Bay in 1898 to block the American Navy from entering during the Spanish-American War. Although the ship is largely deteriorated, the stern with it’s rudders, along with the boilers and the bow are all still easily recognizable. It sits in shallow enough water to give good light and the visibility is almost always good. In the past I’ve observed that when other sites within the bay had poor visibility due to weather, San Quentin (along with Barges) was the go too site as it’s almost always good there lying as it does near the entrance to the bay. It’s close by Barges as it’s just to the southeast of Grande Island.

Our dive on San Quentin started at 11:24 AM and lasted for 61 minutes. We were diving 32% nitrox. There was tons of fish swarming around. Quite a few nudibranchs. I spent some time stalking a coral grouper with limited success. I’ve spotted everything from flying gunard’s and blue-spotted ray’s on the sand surrounding the wreck to various species of nudibranchs, and lot’s of sweetlips, jacks, and grunts around the wreck. A very nice dive and as I mentioned one of my favorites in Subic Bay. Water temperature was 85F and visibility was around 40 feet.

Hypselodoris tryoni photographed on the wreck of the San Quentin, Subic Bay, Philippines.

The third dive on the 15th was Skyraider. This was another dive site that Arizona took me to that I had not dived previously. The Douglas A-1 Bomber, known as the Skyraider, was used extensively during the Korean War. It was still being used when this one lost power and crashed just off the end of the runway on 27 April 1964.

Coral grouper near the nose of the Skyraider which is overgrown in places with coral and crinoids.

Another deep dive with a square profile we opted for 28% nitrox. The wreck is intact and sits upright on the bottom in 118 feet of water. The wreck was alive with fish and other marine life. I spotted two different species of grouper, numerous cardinalfish, along with tiny shrimps in the cockpit. Maximum depth was 116 feet and our dive was 27 minutes. Even with nitrox you can only stretch it so long without running into deco 🙂 Water temperature was 83 degrees Fahrenheit and visibility was only about 20 feet.

Instruments still clearly visible inside the cockpit of the Douglas A1 Skyraider.

Back at the shop the crew took care of washing my dive gear and hanging it up to dry. I let it hang and dry and just picked up my gear later when I came in to settle my bill. I met James later that evening at the Score Bar with a couple of guys who’d just completed their Divemaster training with Arizona for a couple of beers. It was an enjoyable experience and I’m sure I’ll be diving with them again!

On Sunday morning, September 17th, after breakfast at Arizona, I packed and checked out of my hotel. Grabbed a trike and started my journey to Bauan Divers Sanctuary who I’ll be writing about in my next blog post.

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DRT-Philippines 2017

I arrived back in the Philippines on September 9th. After passing through immigration and customs I changed some cash at the airport, then got a Grab car to take me to the hotel. Although I have days I don’t mind haggling with the taxi drivers of Manila over the meter, some days I’d rather pay a few pesos more and ride in a nicer car without the hassle 😀

I had reserved a hotel room at BSA Twin Towers Ortigas, across the street from the rear entrance to SM Megamall, the venue for the DRT Show (Divers, Resort, and Travel). I used the Agoda app on my smart phone for the reservation. DRT brings together many vendors in the dive and travel industry and provides an opportunity for divers to check out the latest in dive equipment and to also explore potential dive destinations.

I arrived late in the day and by the time I’d showered and changed (after almost 24 hours of travel I needed it!) I dropped by the show. I got there in time for the last couple of hours. I walked around and said hi to a few people. I always seem to run into people I know at these shows. It’s been true at DRT the last couple of years and also true at ADEX in Singapore in April. For me it’s as much a social event as it is an opportunity to check out current trends in dive equipment, investigate future dive trips, and attend seminars on a variety of subjects (underwater photography being a large number of those seminars).

I took in the photo exhibit with entries for this years photo contest. There were some really amazing shots entered. It’s always interesting for me as a photographer to look at a photo and think about how they were able to achieve certain shots. When there are so many great photos I’m sure that makes it difficult for the judges!

Attendees of DRT Manila checking out the photos of some of the top underwater photographer’s work in the Philippines. Many amazing shots!

I ran into Lourdes and Mark Lowings the owners of Bauan Divers Sanctuary who had a booth at the show. I was surprised they remembered me from last year. They invited me to check out their resort again. I told them I would definitely give it some thought (read about my visit there in an upcoming blog post).

Bauan Divers Sanctuary owned by Lourdes and Mark Lowings was once again present at DRT to give out information about their resort. I spent a week there later in September and will have an upcoming blog post on their resort.

I ran into my friend Jovic Santos from Splash Underwater Photography and Stride and Stroke and we chatted for a few minutes. He was surprised to see me back. My decision to come back had been done fairly quickly and as someone who loves to surprise people, I’d not told anyone in the Philippines I was coming back 🙂

Owned by Jovic Santos, Stride and Stroke is a chain of stores in the Philippines selling anything to do with the aquatic life. Splash Underwater Imaging specializes in underwater photography and videography and is a dealer for many well known brands of equipment.

Penn De Los Santos gave a great talk on Sunday about “New Dive Destinations in the Philippines”. He’s involved with a new dive operation in Batangas that just opened this year and they seem to be doing well. Scott Gutsy Tuason also gave a talk on diving destinations entitled “Diving out of the Box”. The last diving destination seminar was about “The Top Dive Destinations with Liveaboard in Indonesia around the Year” given by Parnupong Norasethkamol (Nu)

Noted underwater photographer and scuba instructor Penn De Los Santos gave a talk on new dive destinations in the Philippines.

Other highlights on Sunday included underwater photography seminars by Reggie Reyes-“Photography with Purpose”, Ivan Manzanares-“Understand the Source of Light-Sun, Torch, and Strobe”, Mike Bartick-“Expanding Your Portfolio”, Ben Sarinda-“Lighting, Angle, & Composition”, and Jerome Kim-“Essential Tips for Underwater Macro Photography”.

Ivan Manzanares gave an informative talk on “Understand the Source of Light-Sun, Torch, and Strobe”.

Ben Sarinda gives a talk on “Lighting, Angle, & Composition”.

Marese Secades gave a talk on “Freediving in a Plastic Ocean” about freediving and ocean conservation. Gordos Gojunco delivered a diving safety seminar on “Diving Incident Command System”. There was a cave diving seminar given by Bernil H. Gastardo on “The Underwater Caves of Pawod and Casili”. Alex Santos gave a wreck diving seminar entitled, “Revisiting a Maritime Disaster”.

Gordos Gojunco delivered a diving safety seminar on “Diving Incident Command System”.

One of the things that I enjoy about DRT is the seminars and although I can’t attend all of them I definitely try to make as many as I can!

At the end of each day of the show they had a Lucky Draw. Everyone who attended the show received tickets for a drawing with many great prizes.

Getting ready to draw tickets for the Lucky Draw.

One of the winners from the Lucky Draw poses for a photo with her new dive mask.

All in all it was an enjoyable show. I’m sorry I missed the first day and most of the second, but there is always next year!

I dived almost non-stop for the rest of September and into October. Next up will be diving in Subic Bay. A place I’ve written about before. This time I gave Arizona Dive Shop a try and I’ll be writing about my experience in my next post. Stay tuned!

Anilao-Part One

After returning from Cebu I debated where to go next. It can be difficult to choose in the Philippines because there is just so much great diving here! I also toyed with the idea of going to Malaysia, but ultimately I’ve decided to put that off. I had to wait until the 9th so I could renew my visa. I’ll talk about that in another blog post. For those who are contemplating visiting the Philippines for longer than 30 days, I’ll outline the process.

After renewing my visa on the 9th, I decided on Anilao and started doing some research. I’ve dived Anilao twice before, the last time being a year ago. I wanted a place that was reasonably priced and relatively easy to get to via public transportation. Ultimately I decided on Anilao Scuba Dive Center. ASDC is an all-inclusive resort. Accommodations, meals (served family style), 3 boat dives a day with guide, and marine park fees are all included in the price.

The problem in Anilao for most foreigners or others who might be diving during the week, is pricing. Unlike other areas I’ve dived in the Philippines, the price for diving in most resorts in Anilao is for the boat and dive guide. That cost is divided by the divers on the boat. The more divers, the lower the price. On a weekend at a popular resort you could dive quite cheaply, but if you are by yourself or diving during the week and you are the only diver, it can be prohibitively expensive! At 4500 pesos a day it’s the best price in Anilao that I’ve found for single divers. For someone like myself who usually travels alone, it’s a very good deal! I did do a few dives by myself and did not pay extra. Gina explained she is able to do this because she owns her boats and therefore controls her costs. Apparently many of the resorts hire boats and crews to support their dive operations which means they don’t have control of that part of their operational costs.

ASDC is also relatively easy to get too. I broke up my trip and spent the night in Manila, leaving there on Friday morning. The route initially, is virtually the same as going to Puerto Galera. I stayed in Cubao at Eurotel near Araneta Center. I booked my room in Cubao online as I’ve found that it’s cheaper than walking in. When I checked out I asked the hotel to hail a cab for me. I just didn’t want to deal with carrying my heavy dive bag. The day before I’d transported it 3 blocks and up and down a couple flights of stairs (crossing the walkway above the street) to get from the Victory Bus Terminal, down and over EDSA to the hotel. The taxi took me to the JAM terminal where I caught a bus to Batangas Grand Terminal. 80 pesos well spent in my opinion!

I was sitting on the bus at 7:30 AM on Friday, May 12th and it pulled out at 7:45. We arrived at the Grand Terminal in Batangas at 11:05, so just over 3 hours by bus during morning rush hour leaving Manila. Not to bad! Bus fare was a 175 pesos. Here if I were going to Puerto Galera, I would stay on the bus for another 10-15 minutes to Batangas Pier, but instead I got off. I asked which way to the jeepney’s and someone showed me the way. I walked through an area that contained shops and small eateries to the opposite side of where I got off the bus. There I caught a jeepney to Mabini. I let the driver know I needed to get off at Mabini Crossing. The fare was 37 pesos. Be ready to get asked to pay extra. The not uncommon story is that if you’re willing to pay for the empty seats, they can leave now. I just told the driver I wasn’t in a hurry and we still left within a few minutes. Possibly you might get asked to pay for an extra seat for your bag. You’re not going to get an extra seat for your bag, it’s going to be in the middle aisle, like everyone else, who aren’t paying extra by the way! If you want to pay for a seat for the bag, you can place the bag on the seat. In my experience, If I put the bag on the seat, it’s actually taking 3 seats! In the smaller jeepney’s I’ve done that when I can sit near the door. It’s easier to get in and out rather than move the bag down the aisle where everyone’s feet are!

The ride to Mabini Crossing was just over an hour. From there I caught a trike to ASDC which turned out to be about a 15 minute ride. 50 pesos is fair and if you give him 20 pesos for a tip, he’ll be pretty happy! To sum up to get to Anilao from Manila, I paid the equivalent of less than $7 dollars. The total trip took around 5 hours. Contrast that with a private driver which would be 4500 pesos from Manila, about $90 dollars at the current exchange rate! That’s a whole day of expense at ASDC! I’ll save the money on transport any day in order to have an extra day of meals, accommodations, and diving!

You can expect to shave a couple hours off your travel time by coming direct and obviously a van or car will move through traffic more quickly than a bus. I’m retired now so I tried to save money where I can, but someone who is coming with a group that can split the cost. Someone coming from half-way around the world, may see it as inconsequential compared to the overall cost of the trip. If you aren’t used to getting around in foreign countries, it will give you some peace of mind. Having said that, English is widely spoken here so it’s certainly doable!

When I came in it was around lunch time and people were eating. Gina, who is the owner stood up from the table and I told her I had emailed about diving and was expected. She asked if I’d eaten and when I told her no invited me to eat lunch first. Although the people at the table were almost done, they brought another plate and there was plenty of food. The food was all home cooked and served family style. It was Filipino food and quite good! Over the next 5 days we usually had chicken, pork, or fish, prepared a few different ways, rice of course. Always fresh fruit. Breakfast was typical Filipino breakfast. Fried egg over rice (scrambled on request), toast, with butter and jam. They had a coffee pot set up with unlimited refills which is nice. I’ve never quite gotten used to the common practice in the Philippines of charging full price for refills when I have coffee in a restaurant.

After lunch Gina showed me to my room. It turned out to be an air-conditioned room which was a surprise given what I was paying! I asked about doing a night dive and that was also no problem. I unpacked my clothes, and took out my battery chargers and put all my batteries on charge in preparation for the night dive later. I went back out and met Carlo the dive guide. He told me to be back around 5:30 PM. I also did the normal paperwork and waivers. I had been up late the night before so I headed back to my room for a nap.

I was back at the gearing up area right around 5:30. I started pulling gear out of my dive bag and we got my tank set up. This area basically consisted of a metal rack with a split bamboo platform to sit on to change and hold gear that was drying. This was convenient to the equipment room where everything was stored at night and where all the rental equipment was kept. On the other side of the rack was an area with freshwater shower stalls. Near the steps down to the small rocky beach were rinse tanks for gear.

After my nap I installed all my batteries and set up my camera gear. Carlo was the dive guide and Vishal who is from India, but lives and works in Singapore would be diving as well. I got my gear unpacked and we got my tank set up. The boat crew loaded the tank and I grabbed the rest of my gear after putting on my wetsuit. It was a little after 6 PM when we pulled away.

The dive site was Matu Point. Our dive started at 6:23 PM. The bottom here is a rocky slope. It was dark by the time we entered the water. Fairly early in the dive, Carlo pointed out a tiny coral crab. Then I spotted a dark purple nudibranch (Berthella martensi). After that we saw a moray eel out for the hunt. Unlike during the day, at night they are out of their holes and moving about. After that I found a bug-eyed crab in it’s hole, another nudibranch (Flabellina rubrolineata), and then a hermit crab. A large devil scorpionfish, and yet another species of nudibranch (a juvenile Hexabranchus sanguineus I believe). I found a large devil scorpionfish, a very nice one I thought! There were hingebeak prawns hiding among the rocks. An anemone crab came scuttling along. Right at the end Carlo found a large black seahorse and I spotted yet another scorpionfish. The dive ended at 65 minutes. Maximum depth was 41 feet and water temperature was 81 degrees Fahrenheit.

In Part Two I’ll write about the other dive sites I visited in Anilao and the things I saw and why people travel from around the world to dive here! Please stay with me I’m going to try and finish this up in the next couple of days. I fly to Guam tomorrow and from there to Chuuk where I will be diving the world famous Truk Lagoon next week. Truk Lagoon has the largest concentration of shipwrecks in the world, thanks to Operation Hailstone during WW II.

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Cleared to dive! Travel to Puerto Galera…

On Wednesday, March 8th I met with my cardiologist at Medical City-Clark here in the Philippines. Doctor Payumo confirmed that I’d done very well on the exercise stress test which was good news! I had achieved 15.1 MET’s well above the 13 MET’s minimum, recommended by DAN. Additionally all my labs were within normal range. She gave me a clearance to dive and recommended I have a followup in 4 months.

The following day I left for Puerto Galera!

I took a bus from San Fernando, Pampanga to Cubao in Metro-Manila. From there I took a JAM Bus to Batangas Pier (175 pesos). We left around 3:45 PM and arrived at the pier 2 1/2 hours later. I expected to miss the last ferry and planned to either spend the night at a hotel near the pier or see if a private boat might be available. As it turned out, a private boat was available.

This was my first time taking a private boat and it turned out to be a learning experience. I was approached near the terminal and told I could hire a boat to go across for 5000 pesos. My reaction was to laugh! Then they said they could take me for 1500 if they could find 2 other people. I agreed, reasoning that would spend a good percentage of that amount to get a room for the night. Two other people did show up, a guy from Ireland and his Filipina girlfriend, but did not want to go for 1500 pesos stating they would just get a hotel room instead. After further negotiation, an agreement was reached that they would take us for 3000 pesos, so a 1000 pesos each. Even better I thought!

We were led to another area of the piers. I paid 50 pesos for a port fee. The guy who was organizing the crossing said he needed the money before we got on the boat as he needed to pay the people who pointed us to him. As I had entered the terminal area there were men standing near the entrance who were asking everyone coming in if they were going to Puerto Galera. I admitted that I was and someone walked with me to the terminal and pointed me out to the guy coordinating. I didn’t ask him to walk with me and certainly didn’t need him to show me to anyone, but I’m sure he got a few pesos for walking with me.

Without giving it much thought I handed a 1000 pesos (around $20 bucks at the current exchange rate) to the coordinator. The Irish guy said he would give half and give the rest in Puerto Galera which the coordinator agreed too. We got on the boat and then sat a few minutes waiting to leave. After we were on the boat 3 more people came and got on the boat (locals). My Tagalog is somewhat limited. I understand a lot, but I’m far from conversational. The Irishman’s girlfriend didn’t have that problem and overheard everything being said. It turned out the 3 locals had only paid 500 pesos each! Then the Irish guy was told he had to pay the balance of another 1000 pesos before the boat would leave!

He said no! We had been told that the 3 of us were hiring the boat for 3000 pesos. Now they had 3 more people who are paying half what we were! He told them flat out that he’d already paid the same amount that the 3 late arrivals had paid and as far as he was concerned that our agreement had been broken. If it were a problem, then they could give him his money back and he and his girlfriend would just spend the night in Batangas. Of course the coordinator didn’t want to do that. The boatman wouldn’t leave because he’s not gotten his money yet. Everyone is pretty calm but now we are at an impasse.

I’m on the Irish guys side, but other than offer verbal and moral support, there isn’t much leverage on my side as I’ve already paid in full. We saw it as being scammed. I couldn’t do much beyond laugh! They went back and forth for a good 30 minutes (the coordinator left a couple of times and came back). Finally an agreement was made that they would pay another 600 pesos (not 1000) and we could go! It was a small moral victory at least. What I learned from it was that someone can get a small bangka boat to make the crossing for 4100 pesos minimum. No one is going to be happy though! 4500-5000 pesos is reasonable to hire the boat, but not if they are going to put extra passengers on the boat. Then they are just making extra profit at your expense.

We finally got underway around 7PM. The crossing was pretty nice. A little slower of course than on the ferry, but weather was good (else the Coast Guard would not have allowed us to go) and the moon was almost full and visibility was good. We arrived around 9 PM at Sabang. I was able to get a room at Mermaids Resort and Dive Center. The main resort is up the hill on the main road from the pier, but they also have rooms over the dive shop. I was able to get a room for 1450 pesos a night. I got checked in, went and grabbed a bite to eat, then went back to my room to get some rest.

To be continued…

Getting to Puerto Galera from Manila

I received a message on Twitter asking how long it takes to get to the ferry terminal from the airport in Manila…. the short answer is around 3 hours, give or take, depending on traffic.  Of course there is a little more too getting to Puerto Galera than that!  I promised to write more about this process on my blog, so here we are!

There are a few different ways to get to Puerto Galera. The easiest and fastest is to let your dive operation organize transport for you.  They can have a private van meet you at the airport and take you direct. This can be around 4000 pesos and can take 6-10 people. This is cost effective if you are traveling with a group. They can also have a private boat bring you across which will probably run another 4000 pesos. Looking at around $170 dollars at current exchange rate of approximately 47 pesos to the dollar. For someone who is already spending a couple of thousand dollars to come from half-way around the world and doesn’t want to hassle with moving their bags around, then this is definitely an option.  If you have money to burn, you can even hire a seaplane… I’m going to assume most of you reading are not millionaires though!

A lot depends on what time of day you fly in.  The last ferry to Puerto Galera leaves around 5 PM. There are 4 different destinations for the bangka ferries, Sabang Pier, Muelle Pier, Balatero Pier, and White Beach. Times will vary for the last ferry based on destination so make sure to check with your operator. They are your best source for the most current information on schedules. If you fly into Manila in the afternoon you will end up having to spend the night somewhere if you don’t get a private boat and depending on conditions a boat may not be allowed to cross at night.

Assuming you get there early enough, then my suggestion is go to the departures area and get a metered cab.  Make sure you ask before you get in because they won’t all use the meter.  Have them take you to Buendia or Cubao if you want to take a bus. Time to the terminal will be dependent on traffic. It can take an hour or more depending on time of day.

I went to Cubao and use ALPS to get to Batangas Ferry Terminal on my last trip.  I wasn’t coming from the airport, but from Pampanga where I was staying.  Other than a 4 week trip home, I was in the Philippines from the middle of October last year until the end of September. I just returned to the US the end of September.  

This trip I rode a bus from Pampanga to Cubao.  After getting out, I waved down an ALPS bus going to Batangas Pier so I actually saved a few minutes walk to the ALPS terminal.  I caught the bus at around 8 AM and was at the ferry terminal by 11:30 AM.  That was during morning rush hour!  The cost was a 175 pesos. After multiple trips between Cubao an Batangas Pier, the average time seemed to be between 2 hours 30 minutes to 2 hours 45 minutes. Add around 45 minutes during rush hour.

I know some people advise against putting your bags underneath on the bus, but I normally do this and have never had a problem. You can keep your bags with you, but you can be asked to purchase a seat for the bag. This approaches certainty if the bus is full!

Whichever bus you take, make sure it says Batangas Pier and it’s the express bus. Look also for “Calabarzon” which stands for Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon.  Buses run throughout the day, but if you don’t make it to the ferry terminal in time for the last ferry to Puerto Galera, you will end up spending the night somewhere. The last direct ferry to Sabang should be around 3 PM. Something to consider when you are planning your flight.  Leave plenty of time to get to the bus terminal and then for the ride to Batangas.  Manila has a well-earned reputation for horrendous traffic! There are later ferries, but if staying in Sabang you will have to get a trike or jeepney to Sabang.

If you arrive no later than mid-day,  you can hire a taxi to take you to Batangas Pier for 2000-3000 pesos.  Remember everything is negotiable!   This will almost certainly end up being cheaper than a hotel room for the night so it’s something to consider if you are pressed for time.

When you arrive at Batangas Pier if you are obviously a foreigner or you’re loaded down with dive gear, you will be swarmed by porters. If you come by bus you’ll leave the area where buses unload and load and walk straight ahead towards the water. After crossing the road turn left on the sidewalk. You’ll cross over another vehicular entrance to the pier area. Just keep going until you have to turn right. I doubt the distance is more than 70-80 yards.

You’ll walk down the sidewalk until you have to turn left again. You’ll come to another fence where you will make a jog to the right then left into a courtyard. Across the courtyard you will see two buildings with a walkway in between. This will bring you to another small courtyard. The building on the right is the terminal building. The one one on the left has ferry line ticket windows. Pass between the two buildings and you will see a small courtyard to the left. If you look straight across the courtyard there is another building with ticket windows for multiple ferry lines. The majority of the dive operations are in Sabang. Pick your destination based on where your dive operator/hotel is. Your choices are Sabang Pier, Muelle Pier, Balatero Pier, and White Beach. Your operator will advise you. Once you purchase your ticket turn around a 180 degrees and walk back across the courtyard and in the right hand corner is where you will pay your terminal fee of 30 pesos. In September I paid 230 pesos to Sabang on FSL. When you arrive in Puerto Galera you will pay a 50 peso environmental fee.

After that you can enter the terminal building which will be just up the steps into the building along the water. If a porter has been helping you with your bags, be advised that they cannot enter the building. They will ask for a 100 pesos… at least. 50 pesos is plenty.

After having your bags x-rayed and passing through a metal detector, turn to the right and enter the waiting area. In the front right corner is the entrance to the pier. Along the left side will be desks with representatives of some of the hotels and dive operators. Along the back will be vendors to purchase food and in the back corner will be restrooms (CR or Comfort Room in the Philippines). When your ferry is called you will show your ticket and be directed to your ferry.

My trip to Puerto Galera I carried 4 bags. A small Pelican case with my cameras, lenses, dive computers, and electronic accessories. A larger bag with my Ikelite housing, ports, and strobes. And then the really heavy bag which is all my dive gear, spare parts, tools, clothes, etc.. I also normally have a smaller carry bag for my laptop, journal for keeping notes, power bank for my phone, etc.. Things I might need on the bus. My Akona bag that I carry my Ikelite accessories in can be rigged with backpack straps. I carry this one on my back while pulling the Pelican case and my dive gear bag. My carryon I sling in front of me. I can manage this for short distances, but I did allow someone to help me put the large bag on the boat. The gangway is a bit narrow and I have no wish to fall in the water! From the bus to the terminal I can handle this by myself. They will ask for a 100 pesos from the bus to the terminal. That is way to high! If you want help, 50 pesos should be plenty. 50 pesos to get the bag on the ferry should be fine also.

On the other end after you reach Puerto Galera, there will be numerous porters who will want to carry your bag from the boat to wherever you are staying. You can tip according to distance. When I came in August I tipped a 100 pesos (a little over $2 dollars) because it was a pretty good distance from the pier to the dive shop and my bag was heavy. Some people might think I tipped to much, some to little. I think it was a happy medium. A normal bag I think 50 pesos should be good, again depending on how far they carry it and how heavy.

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!