Back to the Philippines!

I flew out of Honolulu on Tuesday afternoon, January 30th (yes I’m way behind :)). I had spent most of January working on my MSDT (Master Scuba Diver Trainer) program, which certified me to teach an additional 10 specialties. I finished that up on Sunday, January 28th. Monday and Tuesday I ran around taking care of last minute errands. I mailed most of my books and instructional manuals to my friend Jason Cunningham in Guam along with some of my dive gear. I still had plenty of dive gear in the Philippines. I dropped my vehicle off at the same dealer that I purchase it from. I’d arranged for them to sell the vehicle on consignment (much cheaper to buy a vehicle to use for 3 months then sell it, than rent). I got a cab to the airport from the dealership. It was a much shorter flight to Manila than when I fly from Houston! I arrived in the evening on January 31st (after crossing the International Date Line).

On February 4th I met my friends Ron and Dennis from California at the airport. Since we were able to split the cost 3 ways we opted for a van to take us from the airport to Batangas Port (P3300/$65). There we caught the ferry to Puerto Galera.

I’d made the arrangements over a month previously. Dennis had just over 2 weeks. Ron would be in the Philippines for 5 weeks. I would stay until March 25th and then fly to Guam. We planned a week in Puerto Galera and a week in Malapascua. In Puerto Galera we would dive with Frontier and in Malapascua with Evolution.

After arriving in Sabang, we dropped off dive gear at Frontier and then headed to AAA Hotel. I’d had a few days to recover from jet lag. Ron and Dennis had not. Diving could wait until the next day.

I’ve written pretty extensively about Puerto Galera in the past so I will not rehash that now. We had a great week in Puerto Galera! Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I’ve spent a fair amount of time diving Puerto Galera. I’ve made over 80 dives there. We dived a relaxed pace that week completing 13 dives in 6 dive days including multiple dives at a few sites. Dive sites included Sinadigan Wall, Sabang Point, Hole-in-the-Wall and Canyons, Kilima Steps, Alma Jane, Sabang Wrecks, Boulders, West Escarceo, and of course a trip over to Verde Island.

I will mention one particular dive though. We were diving Canyons and got separated. Canyons is often a roller coaster of a dive due to strong currents and that day was no exception! On top of that visibility was probably not more than 30-40 feet as we’d gotten a fair amount of rain that week. I stopped to take a photo and when I looked up the rest of the group was gone! Fortunately we were already close to the end of the dive at this point. I went with the current expecting to catch up with them. I saw bubbles ascending and thought it was them but when I reached them (in the 3rd canyon) and was able to see the divers and not just their bubbles, it turned out not to be them. There’s a ship anchor, a very large one near the 3rd canyon where we normally start our ascent. With current running strong, it’s a good idea to re-group before starting the ascent. Since they were in front of me I expected either to catch them or they would be waiting there. I thought for sure they would be there waiting for me but when I arrived they were nowhere to be seen!

With me bringing up the rear they should have reached this point before me. I decided that someone must be getting low on gas and they had already started their ascent. After hanging on too the anchor long enough to scan the area, I let go and started my ascent. I lost sight of the bottom very quickly and my ascent and safety stop were in the blue. Up and down currents can happen in this area so it’s important to watch your depth.

When I reached the surface I did a 360 scan and there was no one there…nobody…. no boat… nobody… and of course the current was carrying me away from shore! Still, I wasn’t too worried. I was confident I could attract a boat as I had my Dive Alert with me and there is plenty of boat traffic in that area.

Less than a minute I saw an SMB hit the surface. Knowing that chances are better for a group than someone by themselves to be spotted, I started kicking towards it…. “against” the current I might add 😄 A few minutes later heads started popping up and it was the rest of the group! Unfortunately for me, it was up current from where I was!  It may have just been a hundred yards or so but, they had been at the surface for several minutes before I reached them… did I mention it was against the current? 😀 
We decided that because of the low visibility that I must have passed by them when I went to investigate the bubbles that turned out to be a different group of divers in the 3rd canyon. I’d ascended a bit letting the current carry me and they were hugging the bottom where it was likely a bit slower.I was trying to catch up after all so we could do our ascent together.
Now we’re wondering, where the boat is? I’m sure we’ve drifted well over a mile from shore by this point! We saw a boat quite a distance maybe a mile away. I warned the others that I was going to use my DiveAlert. For those who haven’t heard of them, it’s a device that attaches to your LP inflator hose and then to your BCD inflator. Your BCD works normally, but the DiveAlert can be used as a signalling device. Below the surface it makes a quacking noise. Above it’s an air horn…. a very loud one! They claim it can be heard a mile away and I can attest that it’s true!
After the first blast we could see people on the boat looking but they hadn’t spotted us. A DSMB may seem fairly large and bright, but from a mile away it really isn’t! After the second blast, the boat turned towards us and we were picked up. That was when we discovered they were looking for us! Our boat had developed engine trouble and had to be towed back. They quickly found another boat that could look for us.  Lucky as we could have been out there much longer until a boat came close enough for us to signal! As it was we still drifted a good half hour before we were picked up!

Ron and Dennis flew to Cebu on the 13th. I ended up skipping Malapascua. I was sick and wasn’t going to be able to dive. As it turned out, there were issues with the weather and they were stuck in Maya for 2 days because the ferries weren’t going over to Malapascua Island. I improved a bit then felt I was relapsing. I went to Manila for a few days then went to Medical City Clark to get checked out. I was diagnosed with a bacteriological infection and apparently, my arthritis was acting up in a big way! Antibiotics and a strong pain reliever and I was feeling much better the following week.

Ron and Dennis were finishing up Malapascua at the same time I was getting checked out at Medical City Clark. Dennis headed back to the US and Ron went over to do some diving in Subic Bay.

I caught up with Ron there although I didn’t dive. He told me he’d had a great time diving with Evolution in Malapascua. I wasn’t surprised as I’ve been diving with them for years. We visited the Bureau of Immigration office in Olongapo and extended our visas. After some discussion, we headed back to Puerto Galera.

We arrived back in Puerto Galera on February 28th. It’s high season and the only rooms that were available in our price range was the opposite end of Sabang from Frontier at Reynaldo’s. We really enjoyed Reynaldo’s which had a great view, good service and a good breakfast for a very reasonable cost. We would usually sit on the balcony in the morning and have breakfast. We had a really nice view of Sabang Beach.

The morning view from the top of Reynaldo’s.

We stayed there until the 8th and then transferred to AAA. When we arrived back in Sabang, AAA was fully booked. Reynaldo’s became fully booked on the 8th so we didn’t really have a choice about moving (welcome to the high season… there’s a reason I recommend booking ahead of time this time of year). AAA doesn’t have the view, but then it was also substantially cheaper!

There are some really good restaurants in Puerto Galera. El Galleon Resort, home of Asia Divers, has a great breakfast buffet and we went there a few times. We often had lunch either at Tamarinds, which wasn’t far from the dive shop and had a great view, or at Papa Freds Steakhouse which had some nice lunch specials. For dinner, there was Atlantis Resort which has great food and service and Captain Greggs, which is another restaurant on the beach with a great view. Cheaper and also good was Tina’s Restaurant which was just below Reynaldo’s on the waterfront.

My personal favorite restaurant in Sabang is Vesuvio’s. They have a brick oven and make what I consider to be the best pizza in the Philippines! The restaurant used to be on the main street leading up from the pier but moved late last year. Walk up the street from the pier and turn left at the laundry, just in front of Tropicana Restaurant. Then straight a couple minutes walk at most and you will find it on the left. The kitchen is downstairs and dining is upstairs. Great selection of pizzas and they will make a custom pizza for you if you like. They also have great pasta.

Meat Lovers Pizza from Vesuvios! I love the pizza here! A brick oven is really the ONLY way to make pizza 🙂

We talked about going over to El Nido, but in the end, we opted to stay in Puerto Galera. One thing we had talked about doing that we had not done in February was rent motorbikes. They’re available for 500 pesos a day (around $10 bucks US). We made a visit to Tamaraw Falls and stopped and visited the ATM in Puerto Galera town on the way. The ATM at the bank in Sabang still does not accept debit or credit cards from foreign banks.

Ron left on the 12th but I decided to stay a bit longer not leaving until 18th. I took it easy and did only 11 dives. I ended up with only 24 dives this trip. Ron finished up with 50! Ron also became my first official student as a new scuba instructor. He completed his Advanced Open Water and Nitrox specialty.

As I finish this up I’m in my new apartment in Guam. I arrived on March 26th and I’ll write more about that and my plans here in my next post.

Short visit to Puerto Galera

I arrived in Puerto Galera on September 27th and stayed until October 2nd.   I took my gear and dropped it off at Frontier Scuba. I’ve dived with Frontier my last 3 visits to Puerto Galera now.  This trip I stayed at AAA Hotel.Condo.Apartment.  I had a small studio and the rate was reasonable. I took the 28th off. I decided to just spend a few days in Puerto Galera as I’d just been there 6 months earlier.

I did 2 dives a day on the 29th, 30th, and October 1st. The first day I dived West Escarceo and Monkey Beach. On the 30th I dived Dungon Beach and Sabang Point. Finally on October 1st I dived West Escarceo once again and finished up with Sabang Wrecks.

As with my previous blog post about my last visit to Anilao, I’m going to add photos here and let them do the “talking” 😉 For further information about diving in Puerto Galera I will refer y’all to my earlier blog posts from my previous visits there. Just type “Puerto Galera” in the Search box at the upper right hand corner of the page.

On October 2nd, I left Puerto Galera and headed back to Subic, where I often spend time when I’m not diving. I flew home to Texas October 22nd. After a week at home I flew to Hawaii arriving on October 31st. I started my IDC on November 6th. Those of you who follow me on Facebook may already have seen a few photos 🙂 I’ll be writing a bit about the IDC in my next blog post 🙂

Weekend in Puerto Galera-Part Two

On Saturday morning my friend and I met at 8 AM to go look for a place to eat breakfast. I grabbed my gear and we went to Frontier first to drop that off. We ended up at the breakfast buffet at El Galleon. Only 350 pesos. I had an omelet made to order, along with the usual complements… After breakfast we walked back to Frontier Scuba. ( )

At Frontier we completed the normal paperwork. I confirmed with Rick that my cardiologist had cleared me to dive. He wasn’t concerned. Knowing me he knew I wouldn’t be there if my doctor hadn’t give me the OK.

I got my dive gear set up and my camera equipment assembled. Much quicker than the day before! Frontier does the heavy lifting for all their guests. Once my tank was set up it was taken to the boat. I took my mask, fins, and camera equipment, along with a dry bag for a towel, drinking water, and my cell phone. My friend was set up with rental gear. By 9:15 AM we were all on the boat and on our way. The boat ride to Verde Island is usually around 30-45 minutes depending on weather.

Upon arrival we geared up and then entered the water. Harry was our guide on this trip. We were first in. It was myself, my friend from Mermaids, and another photographer who turned out to be a retired US Navy Captain. The other group (of 3) was from the US Embassy and were being guided by Rick. My dive started at 9:51 AM.

We were diving the Pinnacle at Verde Island which is one of my favorite dives anywhere in the Philippines. There wasn’t much current this first dive. In September when I’d dived Verde Island for the first time, the first dive was into a ripping current… I had to swim so hard to make it over to the pinnacle that I thought I was going to suck all the air out of my tank before the dive even got started! During that dive we finally made it around to the backside and out of the current and we actually ended up with a 45 minute dive with a maximum depth of 106 feet.

As it had been the day before at Monkey Beach, the water temperature was a bit cooler than it’d been in August and September. About 5 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. Technically it is winter in the Philippines which means water temperature can drop into the high 70’s. My friends who dive in California are laughing at this I’m sure! (when I lived in California I wore a dry suit whether it was summer or winter as temperatures seemed to always be in the 50’s no matter what time of year it was!)

Drifting down over the edge at the Pinnacle at Verde Island.

Since it’s a pinnacle, we’re basically talking about a wall dive. One of the things I love about Verde is that it’s always swarming with fish! Anthia’s, butterfly fish, schools of jacks, snapper, angelfish, cardinalfish, soldierfish, grouper… all the usual suspects! Also the visibility tends to be better as well. On this day visibility was easily 50-60 feet. The corals are in great shape here. Here and there were anemones with their accompanying clownfish. Moray eels peeking out from small crevices. Nudibranchs in various places. It really is one of my favorite places to dive! The first dive ended up being 45 minutes with a maximum depth of 89 feet.

Nudibranch (Glossodoris atromarginata) photographed at Verde Island.

When we popped up at the end of the dive the seas had gotten a bit rougher. The boat came to us. The method is for the group to line up behind the dive guide making it easier and safer for the boat to approach. No one wants to bonked on the head by the outrigger on a bangka boat! When we are close enough we grab onto a line that is rigged alongside to hold on too while waiting to get back on the boat. The usual procedure is to hand up cameras first. Then fins. When it’s your turn pull yourself to the ladder and climb out. Once you’re back on the boat, the boatman assists with removing the rest of your gear.

Group waiting in the water at Verde Island as the boat maneuvers for pickup

Once all the divers were retrieved, we approached Verde Island and anchored in a small cove for our surface interval. We spent an hour relaxing, then pulled anchor and went back out to the pinnacle. This time we approached it from the other side.

We felt a bit of current at the beginning of the 2nd dive, which started at 12:09 PM. I spotted some really large sweetlips and a big grouper below and drifted down to try and get a shot. The dive was going well, then we made the turn and the current picked up considerably! I was kicking hard and thinking to myself that this was perhaps not the best situation for my second day back in the water! I knew I’d lost a fair amount of conditioning over the previous months. In the back of mind was a small doubt that in spite of passing my exercise stress test with flying colors, the strain was going to be too much.

As I always do in situations of stress, I focused on my breathing and keeping it under control. Probably this is just a combination of my military and martial arts training and experience. I switched from the frog kick that I normally use to a flutter kick. The frog kick is good for conserving energy. Kick and coast, kick and coast… but in a heavy current there is no “coast”! If you aren’t kicking constantly you aren’t making headway! I was breathing very deeply and was very aware of my heart pounding in my chest! Then we made the turn and we were out of the current. I continued to breath deeply and gradually felt my heartbeat returning to normal. The telltale chest pain I was waiting for, never materialized. I would later joke on the boat that if I were going to have another heart attack, that would have been the time!

We continued on with the dive and as in the previous dive, I was again impressed with the numbers of fish, the beautiful corals, and the visibility that easily exceeded over 60 feet! I found numerous subjects to photograph, including scorpionfish, nudibranchs, and a white-eyed moray. Another beautiful dive at what is probably one of the top dive spots in the Philippines!

Tasseled Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis oxycephala) photographed during a dive at Verde Island.

Upon our return to Sabang we waded ashore with our fins, masks, and camera’s (if we’re photographers). If it were high tide, the boats would come all the way in to the shore in front of the dive operation, but we often had to wade out and back to embark and disembark the boat. As I mentioned earlier, the staff took care of the heavy lifting (as they do pretty much everywhere I’ve dived in the Philippines) and would bring the tanks in later. Leaving the BCD’s on the tanks allowed them to wear one tank on their back while leaving the hands free. Years ago, while shore diving in Japan, we were surveying a new spot that had a very steep and rocky entry to get down to the water. As we were hiking down with our gear from where we’d left the truck, I jokingly had said, “If we were in the Philippines we could get someone to carry our tanks down for 20 pesos!” Which got a laugh from everyone in the group who had been to the Philippines. A tip of 20 pesos or so for a porter to carry your gear or bags is pretty common at airports and ferry terminals. I’m not quite as young as I used to be, so I really appreciate these guys who do the heavy lifting and go out of their way to make sure everyone is enjoying their vacation. I know they really appreciate a guest who leave money in the tip box for them!

We went back to our hotel room at Mermaids and got cleaned up. I downloaded photos and then took a nap. I met my friend later for dinner and we opted for Hemingway’s. I had the chicken curry which was quite good and my friend had a steak. Hemingway’s is on the quite end of Sabang, just 15 yards or so past Frontier Scuba. We had a nice view of the water. I was beat and we made it an early night.

The next morning we met again for breakfast and decided on the breakfast buffet at El Galleon again. The food really was quite good there! After breakfast we walked to Frontier to get ready for our first dive of the day which turned out to be the Alma Jane wreck and one of my favorite dives in Puerto Galera! Its a former Filipino freighter and was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef. It’s very open and all the doors and hatches have been removed making it a very safe wreck to enter.

The Alma Jane is so close to the dive operations on Sabang, that you start gearing up as soon as the boat leaves. There was a Japanese photographer in the group and we were the first ones over the side. There was some mild current so we went straight down to the wreck which sits in about a 100 feet of water. We were joined by the rest of the group which included the same 3 divers from the US Embassy that had dived Verde Island with us the day before.

This is really a nice dive with schools of batfish hovering around the wreck, large sweetlips, schools of snapper, cardinalfish, and soldierfish. I spotted a nice nudibranch right on the gunwales of the ship and a couple more inside. At one point I switched to video and got some nice footage of divers in our group entering the hold of the ship (the video is posted on Instagram @underwater.adventures). Towards the end of the dive we discovered, not one, but two painted frogfishes! That was a really nice way to end the dive. My computer started flashing at me and it was time to go up. My maximum depth was 95 feet and I ended with a 35 minute dive. I had just over 70 bar still in my tank, a bit over a 1000 psi.

Nudibranch (Nembrotha chamberlaini) photographed during a dive on the Alma Jane wreck at Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines.

I was feeling a bit cold by the end of this dive. The water temperature was 73 degrees Fahrenheit! In the tropics I normally wear my 4th Element farmer john, which is equivalent to 2.5 mm and my Scubapro rash guard which has 0.5 mm neoprene in the chest. I’ve found I can get a bit chilled after a couple of dives in the winter here, especially deeper dives like this one. I was wishing I’d brought my hooded vest! Possibly after spending most of the last 17 months here, my body is “adjusting” to living in the tropics and often living with no air conditioning!

Schools of fish cluster around the wreck of the Alma Jane. The former Filipino freighter was sunk intentionally as an artificial reef in a 100 feet of water, at Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines.

After returning to Frontier we hung out at the dive shop during our surface interval, then loaded back up for the trip over to Manila Channel for our 2nd dive of the day. Our dive started at 11:15 AM. Towards the center of the channel is mainly sandy bottom. Along the sides though were some shallow walls, lots of corals, including some nice table corals. There were a lot of small fish like butterflyfish, bannerfish, lizardfish waiting for their next meal to swim by, and anemones with their clownfish. I ended up photographing 5 different species of nudibranchs on this dive so for me I felt it was quite productive! The water temperature was a little better at 75F. Maximum depth was 68 feet.

Tomato Anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus) photographed during a dive at Manila Channel, Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines.

After we got back we ended up at El Galleon once again for lunch. My friend had the Mongolian BBQ and I had a grilled chicken salad. The food really is quite good there!

I went back to my room and took a shower and a short nap. Then went to the ATM at the local bank to get some cash. Turned out the ATM was only working for “domestic” transactions. It wouldn’t work for foreign transactions. There is another bank in Puerto Galera town so I hired a trike to take me there. They initially wanted 350 pesos to go there and back which I thought was to much. I eventually found someone that would take me for 250. That’s still a bit high. I’d asked and the locals only pay 100 pesos each way so I knew I had some room to haggle. I’ve discovered that in a lot of places in the Philippines who get a large number of tourists, that foreigners will be charged more. I’m willing to pay a little more, but not when it’s approaching double! Reality is that I live here because the cost of living is low. For a tourist on vacation it doesn’t seem like much, but for me transportation costs add up. Out in the “provinces” where they don’t see many foreigners I never really run into this. Everyone pays the same. A jeepney would have been 20 pesos, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of time looking for the bank once I got there so I opted to have someone take me straight there.

After I got back I stopped in at the Sabang Sports Bar and had a beer and watched some UFC for a while. Then I went to Vesuvio’s which is my favorite pizza place in the Philippines! They have a wood-fired brick oven and you can really taste the difference in their pizza’s! I ate there quite a bit when I was in Puerto Galera last year. A really great place to eat and it’s also great for people-watching as it’s on the main road going into Sabang that dead-ends at the pier.

Monday morning after waking up, I had breakfast at Captain Gregg’s. It’s a nice view and the ham and cheese omelet I had for breakfast was really good! After that I packed my clothes and headed to the dive shop to pack my gear. From there I went to the pier and caught the ferry back to Batangas. There I caught a bus to Cubao. After I got off the bus, I took a short taxi ride to Victory Terminal and caught a bus for Olongapo City and Subic Bay.

I’m a bit behind in my blog.. I left Puerto Galera 2 1/2 weeks ago! Since then I’ve done a bit of traveling and scuba diving around the Philippines. I’ll be writing about Subic Bay next so stay tuned!

Weekend in Puerto Galera-Part One

I decided I’d go ahead and do one dive with Mermaids since I was staying there. Mermaids is a full-service operation. They essentially do everything for you and for people who want that degree of service they would be a good operation.

They price in US dollars which for me was a bit annoying since I’ve been in the Philippines for months and had no dollars. For me it doesn’t make much sense to price in dollars. They purchase their supplies in pesos and pay their employees in pesos. I ended up with an odd number of pesos since they converted from the dollar rate and it wasn’t cheap since the dollar is very strong right now. The girl in the dive shop had to call the manager to ask if I could get any type of discount since I was staying there. The answer was no, that they didn’t give discounts. I went ahead and did one dive with them since I was there.

I won’t say that I didn’t have a very small bit of apprehension leading up to that first dive. Only natural after everything I’d been through. I’d not been in the water for 5 1/2 months, 3 1/2 months longer than it would have been if I’d not had the heart attack. I was lucky though… had I not needed to return to the US for a couple of months, I would have been diving in the Visaya’s. They estimate that 20-30% of all diving fatalities are the result of myocardial infarction (medical speak for heart attack). I very easily could have ended up a statistic! It’s a reminder that no matter how good you think your health is, those of us who are a bit older and plan to dive remote areas, should have a thorough medical exam before we go.

When setting up the gear in the shop I discovered I was a bit rusty. I’d completely taken everything apart when I packed it away after returning from my last dive trip. Now I had to show the boatman how to set up my equipment and it took me a minute to remember how to thread the tank straps! It came back to me though!

I’d gotten in late the night before and had not set up my camera ahead of time as I normally would have. I was feeling a bit rushed and couldn’t locate the screw that attached the joint adapter to the strobe head! Without that I couldn’t attach the strobe to the arm! I was feeling rushed and decided I would just do the dive with no camera (I did find the screw later).

We got on the boat and headed to Monkey Beach which is only a few minutes from the dive op. At 9:18 AM, Thursday, March 10th I back-rolled into the water. It had been exactly 170 days since my last dive… not that I was counting!

It was a nice dive, but most dives are for me. Puerto Galera really is a great dive destination for a variety of reasons which I outline in my eBook (“Underwater Adventures-The Ultimate Guide to Diving the World: Book One-Puerto Galera, Philippines” available on Amazon). I rarely dive without a camera but when I do it seems that I always end up seeing plenty of things to photograph! This dive was no exception. I spied a nudibranch right at the beginning and would see a few more before the end of the dive. Triggerfish, butterflyfish, angelfish, rainbow runners, moray eel, all the “usual suspects” were in abundance! Also saw a really big turtle and a nice size grouper that was probably over 3 feet long! There was a mild current that we initially swam against. There is a wrecked sailboat there. After making a circuit around that we drifted. We ended up with a 51 minute dive. Maximum depth was 72 feet and water temperature was 77 Fahrenheit.

There was only me and one other person diving at Mermaids. He was paying even more than me as he was renting equipment also. I told him we could do better! We walked around that afternoon and every dive shop we checked was cheaper. In the end I went back to Frontier Scuba ( ), whom I’d dived with last time I was in Puerto Galera, and he came with me. I was given their best rate because I was a returning guest and my friend was also given a very good rate saving several hundred pesos a dive over what he’d been paying! I saved over 500 pesos per dive. At the current exchange rate thats around $10 bucks so not an inconsequential amount!

One of the things I stress throughout my eBook and that I also have pointed out here in my blog in the past is the importance of shopping around and negotiating. This is a prime example. If you really want the “full” service with the fancy boats, like new equipment, towels, hot coffee, after your dive, and never lifting a finger, etc… and don’t mind paying for it, then there is nothing wrong with that. Even the less expensive shops though will do the heavy lifting for you. They will setup your tank and carry it to the boat. You will carry your other gear which probably consists of mask, fins, (snorkel if you dive with one), and your camera if you’re into that. That saves the shop a bit on manpower costs which translates into a less expensive dive for you. You’re still going to get tanks, weights, the boat, and a guide no matter who you dive with or how much or how little it costs.

We stayed at Mermaids over the weekend checking out Monday. I couldn’t help but think, “what a waste” as they do have a very nice dive shop, but they had no divers! My opinion is that it’s better to be getting some income than no income. They’re investment is higher perhaps in equipment, but it’s not making them any money when it just sits there!

To be continued…

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…

Another update…

I went back in the hospital on January 26th (yes I know I’m way behind on my blog!). This time I was at The Medical City-Clark, which is one of the best hospitals in the Philippines. Also, important to me was that they would bill my insurance, so I only had to pay my deductible, which saved me several thousand dollars this time! Unfortunately I’m still waiting to be reimbursed for the hospital bill in Singapore!

On Friday, January 27th my cardiologist here in the Philippines, Dr. Elaine Payumo, performed another angioplasty, to clear the 80% blockage that I had on another branch of my left coronary artery. After clearing the blockage, she inserted another stint. Unfortunately, I had scar tissue on my wrist where they performed the previous angioplasty when I had my heart attack in Singapore 3 months ago, so they were unable to go in there this time. Instead they had to go in at the groin through my femoral artery, which was a lot more uncomfortable and required more recovery time. I spent the rest of Friday in ICU and most of Saturday. I again had issues with my blood pressure being too low and required support for that. By Saturday evening I was in the low normal range and was moved back to a regular room. I was discharged around lunch time on Sunday, January 29th, with instructions to take it easy for a week and then come back to see my doctor. A big part of that was because of going through the groin. An incision was made in my femoral artery and I needed to make sure it had a good start on healing.

On February 6th I went back to my cardiologist. She told me I’m doing well. I have very little scar tissue. My resting heart function has recovered to over 60%, both of which are good signs.

She renewed my prescriptions for my medications. Right now I’m on DAPT (Dual Anti-Platelet Therapy). I’m taking ticagrelor and aspirin as blood thinners. That’s recommended for at least 12 months. I’m also on atorvastatin for cholesterol. I take omeprazole in the morning as a precaution against internal bleeding due to the blood thinners.

I was instructed to take it easy as far as exercise. Walking and stretching only. I’ve been recovering in Olongapo where I have a place on the beach. I have a very nice view of Subic Bay from the balcony at my hotel. This has been torture at times because conditions have been excellent and I can’t help but think about all the diving I’ve been missing! My doctor told me to come back in a month and to have my labs done again and a stress test before coming to see her. I’ll be doing those this Friday. The results of the stress test should be ready by Tuesday and I’m scheduled to see Dr. Payumo again on Wednesday, the 8th.

Although I feel I’ve had a lot of improvement, I’m not sure if I will be cleared to dive next week. I’ve a feeling that I will only be cleared to exercise harder and will have to come back once again to be cleared to dive. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s what I expect right now. I still hope to be diving again by mid-April but we’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ve finally finished my eBook on diving in Puerto Galera! I know I’m way behind schedule on that! I started working on it in August. I was a bit optimistic in thinking I’d have it done sooner. It’s not a long book (most e-books aren’t). Just 48 pages. I’d finished most of it prior to my heart attack in November. I had a couple of chapters left to write and I’ve been procrastinating. Finally got back to work on it last week.

In it I’ve tried to distill the information one would need to plan a dive trip to Puerto Galera on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. It’s aimed mainly at people living in the United States, but anyone traveling from anywhere I think can find some value there especially at the price point that I’m going to offer it at.

Puerto Galera has a reputation as one of the premier dive destinations in the Philippines… a well deserved one in my opinion. The book is available on Amazon now! “Underwater Adventures-The Ultimate Guide to Diving the World: Book One-Puerto Galera, Philippines” by Bill Stewart.

I think you’ll find some good information there and it’s only $0.99 cents! Check it out!

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 to Batangas Pier. This can be around 3500-4000 pesos and can take 6-10 people depending on how much baggage you have. 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. Having said that, there is always some risk. This is true pretty much everywhere though.

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 take you the rest of the way.

If you arrive no later than mid-day,  you can hire a taxi to take you to Batangas Pier for 2500-3000 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 (Father and Son Lines). When you arrive in Puerto Galera you will pay a 50 peso environmental fee so make sure you have small change.

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. Locals pay even less.

After your bags go through x-ray and you’ve passed through the 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 last 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 carry-on 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. Again, 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. Again, this is more than what locals will pay.

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.

A great time in Puerto Galera!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verde Island, Philippines
Verde Island, Philippines

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

Verde Island, Philippines
Verde Island, Philippines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.