Tag Archives: Sabang

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 ( http://www.frontierscuba.com/ ), 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 then 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…

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!