Tag Archives: Manila

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!