Tag Archives: underwater

El Nido, Philippines

After returning to the Philippines from my trip to Chuuk in Micronesia I started thinking about my next trip. I knew I would be headed back to the US on July 12th so I decided I would pick a destination in the Philippines. I’d been thinking about going to El Nido again ever since my buddy Ron from California had told me what a good time he had there. I had not been there since 2009 so I decided another trip was in order!

After a web search, I emailed three different dive operations to ask about rates. One criteria of course will be price, but I also want to see how responsive they are to email. This can be an indication about the service that I will receive. If I don’t have a personal recommendation then I will just pick and hope for the best. Normally it works out! Oliver Bachmann, one of the owners of Tabanka Divers, got back to me the same afternoon and offered me a great off-season rate! For diving I paid 3000 pesos a day for 3 dives a day, tanks, weights, boat, and a guide, and including lunch! At current exchange rates that’s less than $20 bucks a dive! I was also able to get a fan room in OG’s Pension House, which is above the dive shop. That was 800 pesos a night, which equates to around $16 dollars. I bought tickets for my flight through Cebu Pacific which is usually the cheapest way to fly in the Philippines.

I traveled by bus to Manila and as I normally do, stayed in a hotel overnight in Cubao. The next morning I took a cab to the airport. At 6:30 AM on Wednesday, June 21st the traffic was relatively light for Manila. Checking in online is the only way to go. Although I had my boarding pass on my phone, they still printed a boarding pass for me when I checked my bag.

The flight to Puerto Princesa was routine arriving at 11:45 AM. Transportation from the airport to El Nido was offered by the flight crew during the flight for 600 pesos. I along with other passengers opted to take advantage. We waited just outside the terminal for about 30 minutes before boarding a van to leave the airport. We were then taken to a parking lot just off the airport property where we boarded a different van. From there we went to the transportation terminal. There we waited another half hour for other passengers to join us before finally heading to El Nido shortly after 1 PM. Late June is the beginning of rainy season and we would have rain off and on on the road north to El Nido. We arrived around 7 PM, so about 6 hours for the trip.

It was rainy and already getting dark when the van arrived in El Nido at the transportation terminal where a trike took me too Tabanka Divers. Joy and Chris were waiting. Joy is the secretary and her husband Chris is one of the divemasters and guides. I got my gear unpacked and then checked in to my room upstairs.

After a good nights sleep (it rained off and on) I went downstairs to the shop. I was assigned a mesh gear bag for my gear. Each day the shop would load tanks and everyone’s gear on the boat. I opted to setup and break down my own gear. This was done on the boat. The shop would wash it and hang it up each day. Each day we went out in the morning and did 3 dives, breaking for lunch after the second dive. The boat usually left around 8:30 or so and we were usually making the first dive before 9:30 but it depended on how long it took to get Coast Guard clearance to depart and how far the first dive site was. The first dive of the day was always the deepest dive followed by more moderate depths. Every dive except one though was more than 60 feet deep.

One thing that was a bit annoying was that boats in El Nido are not allowed to go out until they are given clearance by the Coast Guard. Someone actually comes through each day and clears them. They also require all passengers to be in life vests before they can depart (of course the vests came off pretty quickly once we were out). I’ve not run in too this anywhere else in the Philippines! This was relatively minor though in the overall scheme of things.

I stayed for 5 dive days and did 15 dives at 11 different dive sites. Visibility was very good all five days, averaging 50 feet or more.

South Entalula- This was my first dive on Thursday, June 22nd. My dive started at 9:48 AM. This is a flat reef that begins in about 12-13 feet of water and drops to over 90 feet. Corals were in good shape. I spotted schools of fusilier’s, batfish, nudibranchs, angelfish, lionfish, lizardfish, anemonefish, parrotfish, and gobies. My dive time was 50 minutes and maximum depth was 94 feet.

South Miniloc-Lot’s of corals. It’s a flat reef with sloping sides. The top of the reef is around 15 feet. It slopes off to over a 140 feet. I did 2 dives here. The first dive was my second dive on the first day. That dive was 38 minutes (a beginner in the group) and had a maximum depth of 55 feet. Again the corals here were in good shape. I spotted, parrotfish, damselfish, cleaner wrasse, angelfish, blue-ribbon eel’s, bream, and the highlight of the dive was the large schools of snapper. Water temperature was 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

This was the third dive on Saturday, June 24th. This dive started at 1:44 PM and lasted 63 minutes. Blue-ribbon eel, butterflyfish, groupers, and moorish idol’s were all spotted during this dive. More of the same from the previous dive including a large school of snapper. There was also a large school of sweepers and small schools of fusiliers on this dive. Trumpetfish, a boxfish, and a few nudibranchs of course! Towards the end of the dive we spotted a turtle and I got some shots along with about a minute of video. Maximum depth was 64 feet and water temperature 84F.

Twin Rocks-This dive site is on the north side of Miniloc. It slopes from about 40 feet to around 70 feet with a sandy bottom. Large number of table corals and sponges. Lot’s of groupers on this dive. This was the third dive on the first day. The dive started at 3:36 PM and lasted 58 minutes. Maximum depth was 63 feet and water temperature was 81F. I spotted a snub-nose grouper near the beginning of the dive. Then a blacktip grouper and a coral grouper. There were schools of fusiliers flitting around. Another blacktip grouper. A variety of bream, and a leopard coral grouper. A small group of 3 nudibranchs, Chromodoris willani. Another coral grouper hiding under a table coral. Two nudibranchs near each other, Chromodoris annae. Damselfish, lionfish, anemonefish, and another nudibranch, Phyllidiella nigra. A Titan triggerfish with two cleaner wrasse working him over, damselfish, and more anemonefish. My maximum depth was 63 feet. Water temperature was 81 Fahrenheit.

Dilumacad Island AKA Helicopter Island-. My first dive on Friday, June 23rd. The dive started at 9:40 AM and was 49 minutes with a maximum depth of 97 feet. Water temperature was 83 Fahrenheit. Right at the beginning I saw a school of catfish, a fairly common sight. There was a nice anemone out in the sand with saddleback anemonefish and a porcelain crab. I saw a couple of blue-spotted rays during the dive. Nice corals, including a lot of lettuce corals. Schools of fusiliers that seemed to be everywhere in El Nido. Nudibranchs, whip corals, squirrelfish, blacktip grouper, moorish idol’s, emperor’s, and damselfish were all spotted on this dive.

It also turned out to be my last dive in El Nido as it was the third dive of the day on Monday, June 26th. The dive started at 1:47 PM and lasted 63 minutes. As before there were schools of fusiliers flitting around, anemones with anemonefish, and lot’s of nice hard corals. I spotted a blue-spotted ray, lots of damselfish, a trumpetfish, grouper, and more anemones and anemonefish. There was a snake eel buried in the sand with just it’s head sticking out, wrasse, juvenile sweetlips, and a really nice scorpionfish. Maximum depth was 76 feet and water temperature was 84F.

North Rock-Depths from 40-100 feet. This was my second dive on Friday, June 23rd. The dive started at 11:43 AM and lasted 43 minutes. Maximum depth was 85 feet and water temperature was 83F. There are some beautiful table corals here. Lot’s of damselfish, anemonefish, grouper, and schools of yellow-tailed fusilier’s were all spotted on this dive. Also cardinalfish, squirrelfish, and some really nice soft corals. There were nudibranchs, lionfish, decorator crabs, and ambon shrimp. Some nice swim-throughs that were huge rocks set close together and covered in corals. Right at the end a yellow boxfish. I really enjoyed this dive!

NatNat-Sloping reef to a sandy bottom with beautiful corals and plenty of fish. This was my third dive on Friday, June 23rd. The dive started at 1:57 PM and lasted 61 minutes. Right at the beginning we saw a Dendritic Jawfish-Opistognathus dendriticus. Commensal shrimp perched on an anemone followed by a devil scorpionfish. Out on the sand we found a nudibranch Chromodoris geometrica and a number of pipefish. There were grouper and schools of fusiliers. I spotted another nudibranch, Thorunna halourga. Next was a tiny Harlequin crab Lissocarcinus orbicularis on a sea cucumber. More commensal shrimp, this time on soft corals. Then a banded boxer coral shrimp hiding underneath a table coral along with cardinalfish. In a sandy patch I spotted a shrimpgoby with an alpheid shrimp. There were small schools of bream, various anemones with anemonefish, and at the end a trumpetfish. Maximum depth was 74 feet and water temperature was 85F.

It was also my third dive on Sunday, June 25th. The dive started at 1:50 PM and lasted 55 minutes. Damselfish, two nudibranchs, Risbecia tryoni a chocolate grouper, another nudibranch, Phyllidiella pustulosa, a small blue-ribbon eel, lionfish, commensal shrimp, goatfish, and yet another nudibranch, Phyllidia ocellata. Then two more nudibranchs, a Phyllidiella pustulosa and a Hypselodoris bullockii. Filefish, butterlyfish, damselfish, wrasse, and ending with a scorpionfish. A very enjoyable dive! Maximum depth was 67 feet and water temperature was 87F.

Popolcan-Sloping reef from 15 to over a 100 feet. This was my first dive on Saturday, June 24th. My dive started at 9:32 AM for 56 minutes. Nice corals here. Lot’s of wrasse and damselfish. I spotted a toby near the beginning of the dive. Clams here and there, grouper, and a nudibranch, followed by a pufferfish. Snapper, lionfish, and anemonefish. Schools of bream, a filefish, more anemonefish, and near the end of the dive a beautiful nudibranch, Ardeadoris egretta, one of my favorite nudibranchs. White with a yellow edge on the margin of the mantle.

This was the nudibranch I’d pointed at a picture in the shop when I made my first trip to El Nido and said, “I want a photo of that one”! I did spot just one during that trip and was told how lucky I was, as they’re not common. It was the only one I saw on that trip and this turned out to be the only time on this trip that I saw one too, so I feel pretty lucky! 🙂 My maximum depth was 105 feet and water temperature was 85F.

Paglugaban-Sloping reef with rocks. The top of the reef is in about 25 feet of water and slopes to over 95 feet. The corals were in nice shape, as they were everywhere I dived in El Nido. There were damselfish, and I would spot 4 different species of nudibranchs during the dive. Lionfish and pufferfish, all the usual suspects were around! There were some nice swim-throughs as well. This was my second dive on Saturday, June 24th. The dive started at 11:36 AM and lasted 55 minutes. My maximum depth was 69 feet and water temperature was 84F.

Dilumacad Island/Tunnel-The island has a tunnel on the north side at a depth of about 30-40 feet. This was the first dive on Sunday, June 25th. We were in the water at 9:21 AM and had a 54 minute dive. We did a dive on a wall outside the tunnel to a depth of 105 feet first and then worked our way back to shallower depths. There were large rock formations underwater with gave a few mini-walls to explore. Three different species of nudibranchs, Hypselodoris bullockii, Phyllidia elegans, and Chromodoris annae were spotted along with an octopus, a peacock mantis shrimp, and a juvenile sweetlips. We also saw banded pipefish, grouper, and a decorator crab. After exploring the area outside it was time for the tunnel.

The tunnel qualifies as a cavern dive as surface light is not completely lost, but you do need a light! There are openings in the middle that let light in to a fairly large cavern there. Lot’s of fish inside. A school of sweepers. Soldierfish and squirrelfish and even a couple of sweetlips. There was a lionfish loitering around the exit on the other side. Just outside was a cowrie with the mantle extruded and covering the shell. On the way back through we found an electric clam. A nudibranch up on the ceiling, a Chromodoris fidelis near the exit, and crawling along the bottom along the wall was a devil scorpionfish. Just outside another nudibranch, a Halgerda batangas. A very nice dive!

Paradise Beach-Sloping reef 3-70 feet. Some nice corals patches with large sandy areas. This was my second dive on Sunday, June 25th. The dive started at 11:31 AM and lasted 65 minutes. Shrimpgobies with shrimp, with a pair of sea moths to start out. An anemone with ambon shrimp, clams, more gobies, schools of bream, anemone’s with anemonefish, goatfish sifting through the sand, hermit crabs, and juvenile pufferfish. Lot’s of life! Maximum depth was 62 feet and water temperature was 87F.

It was my first dive of the day on Monday, June 26th, the last dive day. Dive started at 9:12 AM and lasted 54 minutes. Similar to the first dive. On this one spotted a mantis shrimp hiding in it’s hole, anemone’s with anemonefish, moorish idols, cardinalfish, and a nice size flounder. Schools of fusliers, and a sea snake on the hunt. A stingray buried in the sand, and a few nice corals. Maximum depth was 69 feet and water temperature was 87F.

Denise Reef-Beautiful coral garden that slopes down to a sandy bottom. This was my second dive on the last day. The dive started at 11:27 AM and lasted for 58 minutes. Lot’s of nice hard corals, damselfish, yellow boxfish, butterflyfish, a nudibranch, Phyllidia varicosa, schools of fusiliers, a toby, and a pufferfish. A pair of nudibranchs, Risbecia tryoni, engaged in mating, another Phyllidia varicosa, anemone’s with anemonefish, and yet another nudibranch, Phyllidiella nigra. Schools of fusiliers, butterflyfish, lionfish, gobies, and flounder out in the sandy area. Another great dive! Maximum depth was 74 feet and water temperature was 83F.

I think 4-5 days is about right for El Nido and will give you the opportunity to dive all the top dive sites there. Three dives a day also seemed like a good pace.

El Nido seemed drastically different to me from the sleepy little town I remember from my last trip there in 2009. There has been a lot of construction. In 2009 I only remember 3 dive ops. Now there are well over a dozen. Tourism is big business here with lots of tours (island hopping, snorkeling, etc…), souvenir shops, and some really great restaurants.

There were 3 restaurants that stand out in my memory… one because it was so bad and two because they were so good. I ate at Squido’s the first night I was in El Nido. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, but the service was terrible and so was the food. I won’t eat there again.

The second night Joy recommended Artcafe which turned out to be really good. Artcafe is really in to locally grown and produced food I had the El Nido Salad which is a combination of fresh greens, mango, and nuts with a homemade dressing. Very tasty! They also have live music in the evening and a great 2nd floor balcony you can sit on. I also had breakfast my last morning. Great omelette and really nice, locally grown, coffee. Also very good.

The other restaurant that stands out is Pinche’s. This is a Mexican restaurant that is right on the beach. The food was so good there that I had dinner there twice while I was in El Nido. Great homemade chips and salsa, excellent fish tacos, and amazing chicken enchilada’s! The service was really good too. It was so good I asked to speak to the manager (turned out to be the owner) the first time I went in. Turned out the owner was from El Paso, Texas which explained everything to me! He was using his grandmother’s recipe’s which also explained the great taste. I’ve been going to the Philippines for 10 years and this is the absolute best Mexican food I’ve had there! I’m from Texas and I know good Mexican food when I taste it. Great food, great service, and great location on the beach!

After breakfast on the 27th I grabbed some cash from the ATM and settled my bill at Tabanka Divers. Then a trike to the transportation terminal, followed by a long (almost 6 hour) ride back to Puerto Princesa. I stayed at Grandma’s Home Bed and Breakfast for 2 nights. Because of the rainy weather my gear wasn’t quite dried out so I hung it on the balcony there. The place was gated and had security cameras and someone awake to watch over everything 24 hours a day so it was a very secure place to stay. Made the trip to the famous Underground River on the 28th and flew back to Manila on the 29th. A very nice trip!

So now I am just over a week behind… amazing I know! 🙂 Next I’ll be writing about my trip to South Padre Island where I dived the Texas Clipper on July 29th. I’ll be leaving tomorrow to head to Florida where I will be diving the worlds largest artificial reef, the USS Oriskany CV-34 on Friday, August 11th. Stay tuned!

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Anilao-Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dumaguete and SEA Photo Contest-Part Three

I was up early on Sunday, April 23rd. After breakfast I grabbed a trike out front and headed to the dive shop. This was the day we were going to Apo Island and I was looking forward to that!

Apo Island is considered one of the top diving and snorkeling destinations in the Philippines. It’s located about 19 miles (30 kilometers) south of Dumaguete. From Dauin it’s about a 30-45 minute boat ride. The marine habitat around the island is a marine reserve. There are over 650 documented species of fish and over 400 species of coral found here. Sport Diver Magazine listed Apo Island as one of the top 100 dive destinations in the world in 2008.

As we had the previous two mornings, after meeting at the dive shop we were transported by jeepney to the Dauin Marine Sanctuary where a boat was waiting to transport us to Apo Island. We made a stop at a convenience store on the way to purchase snacks. At Dauin our gear was loaded on the boat for us. Once all the gear was loaded and everyone was aboard, we departed for Apo Island.

Okay, maybe I’ve been in the Philippines too long (selfie’s are popular here 😉 )

The weather was beautiful and sunny as we headed across. A nice morning to be out on the water I thought! We had a large group of divers with us, probably 20 at least. There was music being played and everyone was enjoying themselves. Once we arrived there was a dive brief and then we all started gearing up.

Apo Island near Chapel Point.

The first dive was at Chapel Point which gets it’s name from a church overlooking the dive site. Although there were a fair number of boats there and quite a few divers, it didn’t feel crowded. My dive started at 9:44 AM. Where we dropped in was about 40 feet deep. It was a sandy area with patches of coral that sloped towards a drop-off and a very nice wall.

As I moved towards the drop-off I saw a nice anemone with a female tomato anemonefish. Even though I’ve photographed anemonefish many times I can never resist taking a few more 🙂 There were lots of anthia’s and damselfish. As I dropped down the wall I saw bigeyes, squirrelfish, and grouper. The corals were in really nice shape. There were gorgonian seafans. Lot’s of tube sponges. There were ledges and overhangs with plenty of fish underneath. Towards the end of my dive I found a nudibranch (Chromodoris magnifica) and took several photos. A very nice dive! My dive time ended up at 52 minutes with a maximum depth of 95 feet. Water temperature was 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tomato Anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus) photographed on a dive at Chapel Point, Apo Island, Philippines.

After everyone was back on the boat we moved to the second dive site which was Katipanan. After our surface interval and another brief, we started entering the water. My dive started at 11:55 AM. Katipanan is a gentle slope. It has lot’s of corals. Soft corals, huge brain corals, lettuce corals, and numerous fish. Lot’s of damselfish, anthia’s, butterflyfish, triggerfish, and tobies. I took a photo of a titan triggerfish chomping away and couldn’t help but remember being chased by one last August in Puerto Galera! (read about it here in my blog). I ended up with a 67 minute dive with a maximum depth of 80 feet. Water temperature was again 79 degrees.

Titan Triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens) photographed on a dive at Katipanan, Apo Island, Philippines.

The boat moved again, this time to Largahan. After our surface interval and our last dive brief of the day we geared up and began stepping into the water. This dive site has lots of soft corals on the shallow side. As you move deeper there are more hard coral formations, with ledges and undercuts and a fair sized wall. What was interesting about this site is the streams of bubbles coming up from the sand that are caused by geo-thermal activity. My dive started at 2:40 PM. I was one of the first in the water and took advantage of that as it was the last dive of the day. I stayed relatively shallow with my maximum depth being only 38 feet. As at the other sites, there were plenty of fish! I saw a nice grouper near the beginning of the dive but was unable to get close enough to get a decent photo. There were plenty of damselfish, anthia’s, and wrasse. I photographed a damselfish and a cleaner wrasse. A toby, a lizardfish, then a curious staghorn damselfish that stayed around for several photos.

Staghorn Damsel (Amblyglyphidodon curacao) photographed during a dive at Largahan, Apo Island, Philippines.

After working the goby for several minutes, I found another lizardfish that I was able to spend some time on also. I took some photos of some of the corals, then another goby to finish up the dive. I ended up with a total dive time of 80 minutes. (No I wasn’t the last one out of the water 😉 ) Water temperature was again 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Goby photographed at Largahan, Apo Island, Philippines.

After recovering everyone we started back to Dauin. I sat at the front of the boat and reflected a bit on the way back. The sun was descending to the west. It’s quite beautiful here! I love being out on the water. Perhaps it’s the sailor in me, but some of my best memories are out on the ocean or in it! I thought how fortunate I am to be here and doing the things that I love to do. Each day is a gift. It’s so easy to forget that sometimes! I’d had a great weekend of diving!

After arriving back at the dive shop, I rinsed my gear and let Snoopy know I was finished diving as I needed to review photos and make picks so I could make the deadline the next day. I didn’t think I’d have time to dive again and still get that done.

The next day, Monday, April 24th, I met my friend Mark for lunch. Mark suggested the Cafe Racer Diner. He told me it had the best cheeseburger he’d eaten in the Philippines! After lunch, I had to agree! We caught up a bit more on what we’d been doing and Mark talked about his plans for the dive resort that is being built at Dauin. After lunch Mark had a meeting with his architect and I went along. I believe it’s going to be a really great resort! It’s in a perfect location on the beach with the Dauin Marine Sanctuary being directly in front of it!

There will be deluxe rooms, a home for the owner, a meeting room/lounge, and a gym. There will also be standard rooms and backpackers as well. One of the things Mark is going to offer is the opportunity for experienced divers to do their own dives. From his place you can literally just walk into the water and you’re in the marine sanctuary! After a checkout dive (and a waiver of course) he’s going to let experienced divers buddy up and do their own dives at a reduced rate. This is a great idea in my opinion. I know that all of my diving in the US is done this way. All my diving in Japan was this way. All of my diving in Guam was like this as well. 99% of my diving in the Philippines has been done with a guide, because that’s the way they do it here. Of course it’s also very inexpensive to have a guide compared to the US or Australia too!

After the meeting with the architect, Mark drove me over to House Reef to pick up my gear. I introduced him to Snoopy. It turned out that although they had never met, Mark did know him by reputation. They started talking and really hit it off. By the time we left they were discussing doing some business together. I had copied my entries for the photo contest to a USB drive and took care of getting those entered while Snoopy and Mark talked.

Mark dropped me off at Gabby’s afterward. I went up to my room and started packing. After packing, I took a shower, and was on the computer for a bit, then went down and had dinner. I turned in early.

The next morning I checked out. I was in a trike at 7:30 AM on my way to the port. The trike ride was 50 pesos (around $1 dollar). All of the ferry lines were near the gate to the ferry terminal, except Ocean Jet. That turned out to be across the main street before entering the area of the gate. Once I got straightened out and had my ticket I went back to the gate where I was checked by a security guard and waived through (you have to have a ticket to get in). I paid 15 pesos for a terminal fee and 80 pesos portage fees for my dive bag. They took the big bag and I held on too my pelican case that my camera and electronics are in. I was on the ferry by 8 AM.

The ferry left at 8:30 AM and we arrived in Tagbilaran at 10:30 AM. After leaving the ferry I was directed to go around to the ticket window in the front and show my ticket. Then I had to pass through security again to get back into the terminal (no this didn’t make much sense to me either!)

While sitting in the terminal a guy walked by me who had a pelican case very similar to mine (except mine has stickers all over it). I noticed from his hat that he was a diver and we struck up a conversation. We introduced ourselves. He turned out to have just been diving in Dumaguete and was on his way to Malapascua where I’d been the week before. We chatted in the terminal while waiting for our ferry.

We were both in business class and we continued our conversation once we’d boarded. We expressed some concern to each other that our gear had made it on the ferry and I offered to step out and check. He pulled up a photo of his baggage (two big footlockers and a large bag actually). He commented that was just to make it easier to get help finding his bags, especially if there were a language barrier. Pretty smart I thought! I went outside to check and sure enough everything was there.

After that we started sharing photos that we had (mine on my smart phone and him on his small tablet). One of the first photos I saw I thought looked familiar. Turned out it had been a magazine cover! When he’d introduced himself, I thought the name sounded familiar. I had just met David Fleetham, one of the most published underwater photographers in the world! He didn’t say that by the way, I looked him up later. Here’s a guy who has had over 200 magazine covers, including the only underwater photo to ever make the cover of Life Magazine! He was a super nice guy and we spent an enjoyable couple of hours talking about photography and places we’d dived.

When we got to Cebu City we put our bags together and I watched his while he went to see if he could find the guy who was meeting him to take him to Malapascua. He came back with his driver and they picked up his cases. We walked out to the main gate, wished each other well and he got in the van to Malapascua and I got in a taxi to my hotel.

The next day I flew back to Clark. This concludes my trip to Dumaguete…. Finally! Aren’t y’all happy I’m finished? 😉

A short epilogue: Results came out a few days ago and I did not make the list of finalists in the photo contest. I wasn’t surprised. I thought my photos were fine, but nothing exceptional. It’s a very demanding contest and the competition was quite stiff. I saw some of the photos my fellow competitors were shooting and I was really impressed! What was important to me was that I had a good time doing the things that I really enjoy. I also feel that the conditions of the contest caused me to think about some things that will help me be a better photographer. Always striving to be better is a worthy goal in itself!

I chatted with my friend Mark in Australia yesterday and he and Snoopy have decided to work together on some things. Mark was quite happy about that as he would not have met Snoopy if not for me diving with him during the contest. They’re setting up an area now for Snoopy to work from right there on the beach at the Dauin Marine Sanctuary. For now Snoopy will be the instructor for anyone booking a course (Mark is an avid diver, but not an instructor). Anyone booking dives will be diving through Snoopy until they are fully operational. Snoopy will be able to book accommodations at the resort for his guests (as I mentioned earlier he has limited rooms). They will work together to fill boats for Apo Island, Oslob, and Siquijor Island trips. It’s a win/win for both of them. As of now, the fence has been completed and construction has started on 2 deluxe rooms and a home for the owner. It’s going to be hard to beat the convenience of being able to dive where you are staying! I’ve been invited to come back down and I fully expect that I will! I’m sure I’ll be writing more about his place in a future blog post!

Almost caught up! I was diving in Anilao just last week and I’ll be writing about that trip next. One of the things that people have lamented about for as long as I’ve been aware of Anilao is the way “pricing” is done there. It can be quite expensive for divers traveling alone. Well I’ve discovered a place that is quite reasonable and I’m going to write about it in my next blog post.

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Until next time!

Dumaguete and SEA Photo Contest-Part Two

After the days diving we stripped off our gear and put it in our crates for transport back to the dive shop. We then loaded into the jeepney for the ride back. There seemed to be a bit more traffic on the way back. Once at the dive shop, I gave my camera gear a good rinse, said my goodbyes, and walked the half block to the main road. From there I waved down a trike and headed back to Gabby’s.

The doorway to my room. Every room had a theme and I thought it was kind of cool that mine was “Lionfish” 🙂

After a shower, I went down and grabbed some food. Breakfast of course 🙂 Afterwards, I went back to my room, put all my batteries on charge, worked on photos a bit, checked Facebook, and went to sleep early.

Breakfast at Gabby’s. I know it might sound strange to some, but I LOVE spam and was really happy I could order it for breakfast 🙂

The next morning, Saturday, April 22nd, after a good nights sleep and breakfast, I set up my camera equipment with fully charged batteries. Then went out front and waived down a trike for the ride to dive shop. There we had a repeat more or less of the day before. A small amount of socializing. Verified all our gear was back in our crate, and then we loaded up for the trip to Dauin.

The dives on the second day were boat dives and we were to visit some sites outside of the sanctuary. The sites were all close by and we started gearing up once everyone was on the boat and we took off. The first dive site was called San Miguel (maybe after the beer?). It was mainly sandy bottom with some debris and coral here and there. My dive started at 9:17 AM. Although we dropped in with guides, we became spread out fairly quickly as we found subjects to focus our attention on. At the beginning of the dive I spotted a couple of sea snails creeping along the bottom. Then I saw a sunken piece of driftwood with a few gobies on the top. I saw that as an opportunity to work with the snoot I’d just purchased for my strobe.

What a snoot does is restrict the light from your strobe to a smaller area. They’re used to highlight the subject or certain areas of the subject. I’d used them in studio photography, but never underwater. When I was in Singapore for ADEX, one of the seminars I attended talked about the use of snoots and I was intrigued by the idea. When I visited Splash in Manila I talked to Jovic about it and bought one to add to my equipment. One of the things Jovic said to me was that some of the subjects I photographed would often blend into the background. Maybe not surprising when you consider that camouflage is a tool used by both predator and prey in the ocean. A snoot could help separate the subject from the background. The goby seemed a perfect subject to practice this on! I ended up spending a good period of time there… as long as I could get away with until my computer told me it was time. This was the maximum depth of my dive at 68 feet.

The use of a snoot highlights the subject by restricting light from the background and directing it directly where it is aimed. This results in a nice separation without a distracting background.

As I worked my way back up the slope, I saw a squat lobster on another piece of sunken driftwood. Took a few photos, then moved towards the area where the boat was moored. It was running close to an hour at this time and I could see other divers getting back on the boat. Although we’d been a bit spread out, we had always been in sight of other divers. Depth here was maybe 15-20 feet. By the time it was clear, my safety stop was finished. My total dive time ended up at 63 minutes. Water temperature was 80 degrees Fahrenheit and as I mentioned earlier, my maximum depth was 68 feet.

The boat moved to the second dive site called Ginaman. Most of the photographers spent the surface interval chatting and sharing what they had shot with their friends. When it was time we geared up and stepped in for our second dive. This dive started at 11:33 AM. Almost immediately I discovered that a large pillar of concrete almost completely encrusted in corals with plenty of life on it in less than 15 feet of water. I took my time moving around it. First was a juvenile lionfish. After taking several photos, I moved on and discovered a seahorse moving along the base. After photographing that, I found a banded boxer coral shrimp. Then another seahorse! Then a shortfin lionfish (also a juvenile), then a juvenile filefish. A little toby, then three more shortfin lionfish! Of course there were the usual cardinalfish, wrasse, and damselfish. It was a very small area, not more than a couple of yards on a side, but it was teeming with life!

Cardinalfish photographed in Dauin.

From there I moved out onto the sand and seagrass. I found a bottle with a crab dug in underneath. Commensal shrimp, there were a few fire urchins about. I found a small white sea hare. Then some coral outcroppings with Christmas Tree worms, and an anemone with saddleback anemonefish. To finish off the dive I photographed a small school of juvenile catfish. I was right underneath the boat and waiting for people to get on. They came along, feeding and swarming along the bottom as everyone who dives has seen numerous times! I thought, “why not?” and snapped a few shots! The second dive ended up being 69 minutes long with a maximum depth of only 17 feet. Water temperature was 81 degrees Fahrenheit. I ended up back on the boat with my tanks still over half full!

Sea Hare photographed at Dauin.

At this point we headed in to the beach at the marine sanctuary. I was invited to have lunch, but I opted to stay on the boat and take a nap! I think I was still recovering from my trip down from Malapascua!

After lunch, everyone started returning to the boat. For the third dive we dropped in a site called Punta. My dive started at 2:59 PM. Punta also turned out to be a sandy bottom with some coral here and there. I almost immediately discovered a waspfish! I haven’t seen them very often so I was happy to find one! The last one I’d seen was in Puerto Galera last year. I took several photos and moved on.

Waspfish photographed during a dive at Dauin.

I spied a goby and took a few photos. As I kicked away from the goby I saw a small frogfish! As I began to work around the frogfish it occurred to me that I’d never gotten a picture of one with it’s mouth open. I’d heard that all one had to be was patient and here was an opportunity as I was in a group of people who could quite easily spend a significant amount of time photographing just one subject to get it right! After shooting several angles and checking exposures. I settled down to wait. 30 minutes later the frogfish yawned! After getting the shot from the side I knew that I was going to have to do this again at some point to get the same shot from the front. Still I was pretty happy to get the shot!

Frogfish yawning photographed during a dive at Dauin.

After getting that shot I started towards the guide and the other photographer curious about what they were shooting and had a crab come scuttling along. As I maneuvered for a shot, he seemed quite willing to attack me if I got to close! After taking a couple of photos I let him go! I’d spent so much time on the frogfish, that ended up being my last shot of the dive! I checked my time and it was time to head for the boat so I caught up just in time. I never did see what the other photographer was shooting! I ended up with a dive time of 62 minutes with a maximum depth of only 13 feet! Yes I had well over half a tank left again! 🙂 Water temperature was 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Not surprising it was a bit warmer given the shallow depth.

A crab photographed during a dive at Dauin. He seemed quite ready to remove one of my fingers if I got to close!

We headed back to the marine sanctuary after the dive where we offloaded and were transported back to the dive shop in Dumaguete. Again taking about an hour with traffic. At the dive shop, it was a repeat of the day before. I rinsed my camera equipment, said my goodbye’s and walked down to the main road to catch a trike to the hotel.

I grabbed a quick shower and then went to meet my friend Mark Gormley. Mark and I met the first time I came to Dumaguete in December 2009. Mark is from Australia where he’s in manufacturing. His wife Marmae is from Cebu. When he and I dived together at Dauin he showed me his lot which is beachfront at the Dauin Marine Sanctuary and talked about his plans to someday build a dive resort there. Although it’s been 7 years since we’d seen each other, we’d kept in touch via Facebook and occasionally chatting. By sheer coincidence he and his wife were in town the same time I was there. He’d messaged me a couple of weeks earlier and I’d let him know that I was going to be there so of course we made plans to get together.

Mark called me on the phone from Australia last December and talked to me for 3 hours after I got out of the hospital in Singapore following my heart attack. Mark also had gone through a heart attack a few years ago and he wanted me to know that it didn’t mean that I wouldn’t be able to dive again.

I’d been told by the cardiologist that did my first angioplasty and stent in Singapore (and I have to say also saved my life), that I shouldn’t be in denial and that I’d likely never dive again. Mark assured me that lots of people, including him, did come back to diving after a heart attack so this was not necessarily true. I was really appreciative of that at the time as although I’d put on a positive face for “Facebook”, I was quite depressed about the possibility that I wouldn’t dive again. I never knew about Mark’s heart attack as he’d never mentioned it to me when we’d chatted.

I met Mark and his wife and niece at the Hayahay which is a great local restaurant. They will let you pick out your seafood and cook it to order. They have good pizza’s too! We had an enjoyable evening catching up. Mark has spent a lot of time in the Philippines and has been coming here even longer than I have. He’s a wealth of knowledge on the Philippines and also on the local dive scene. They gave me a ride back to Gabby’s and we made plans to try and see each other again before I left. I’ll talk a bit more about the resort he’s going to open in my next post.

My next post will start with our day trip to Apo Island. I’ll be working on that tomorrow so stay tuned!

Dumaguete and SEA Photo Contest-Part One

I left Malapascua Island on Wednesday, the 19th. I decided to break up the trip and spend the night in Cebu. I used the Agoda app on my phone to book again with Travelbee Business Inn. After catching the ferry over, I caught a bus from Maya to Cebu City. Bus fare was 200 pesos. The bus departed at 12:05 PM and arrived in Cebu City, North Bus Terminal at 5:15 PM. From there I caught a cab to the hotel. To find the loading area for taxis, walk out to the main road and turn right. Walk until you see the sign for the loading area. It’s not far, maybe 50 yards down the road.

After arriving at the hotel, I spent some time working on enhancing my website and getting a new Facebook page setup. I continued working on it the next morning. I got involved with that and I ended up with a much later start than I had originally planned. I thought I still had plenty of time. It turned out I was wrong!

I had checked the ferry schedules and it looked like the last ferry was at 1 PM so plenty of time I thought when I left the hotel at 11:30 AM. That turned out not to be the case. The ferry I needed to be on was leaving about the time I was leaving the hotel!

The last time I went to Dumaguete, I’d ridden the same ferry all the way to Dumaguete from Cebu City, with a stop at Tagbiliran. That has changed. Now you have to get off at Tagbiliran and catch a different ferry, In order to meet the check-in time I needed to already be there before the scheduled departure at Tagbiliran for Dumaguete. In hindsight I should have checked, but I was tired from my long trip (and getting up early that day to dive Monad Shoal), and didn’t get near as much sleep as I should have the night before. Lesson learned!

I also discovered the ticket counters for the different ferry terminals (I use Ocean Jet) are no longer inside the terminal. They are on the main road entering the pier area. On the right, just before going through the gate. I’d had the taxi drop me next to the terminal building as that was where all the ticket counters were last year.

I got on my phone and did some quick checking and found that I could get a bus to Dumaguete. I caught a taxi to the South Bus Terminal and just made the bus. This is a much less comfortable trip, but I did save quite a bit of money at least! Bus fare was only 270 pesos. The bus departed at 12:25 PM to Dumaguete via Oslob, which meant the bus went down the east coast of the island of Cebu. The bus actually drove onto a ferry and we got off while the ferry made the crossing to Negros Oriental. The ferry was not included and we had to pay an additional 70 pesos which was a bit surprising. Count on it taking 5-6 hours. As always, it depends on the bus and how many stops it makes. Because most buses in the Philippines will stop wherever they are asked to by passengers, that can mean more or less stops depending on “who” is on the bus! It ended up taking just over 5 hours to the ferry, with one stop for passengers to get off the bus so they could use the CR and grab some food. The crossing was fairly quick, less than an hour, then less than an hour to Dumaguete after that. The bus passes through the city so if your accommodations are on the northeast side of the city you can let the conductor know and they will let you out.

I enjoy taking the ferry myself and always take business class. It’s one of the few areas where I opt to pay the money. After the long bus ride the day before, I’d been looking forward to a nice relaxing ferry ride… unfortunately it wasn’t to be!

I’d used the Agoda app again to book a room at Gabby’s Bed and Breakfast. As has happened to me before, it turned out to be cheaper to book online than to book in person! After getting off the bus, I had a trike transport me with my bags to the hotel. The hotel turned out to be very nice. They have all day breakfast (my favorite meal, I’ve been known to eat “breakfast” 3 times a day:)). The people were friendly and it was a very laid back atmosphere. The owner definitely had an artistic bend and the rooms had a nautical/scuba diving theme. The theme of my room was lionfish and I thought given that I’m a Leo and I have photographed so many lionfish, that it was somehow appropriate 🙂

My room at Gabby’s B&B in Dumaguete. Not large, but all that I needed and less than $20 bucks a night!

After checking in and being shown to my room, I went down to the restaurant to grab some food. I’d not eaten anything but a couple of snacks all day so I was ready to eat! I had breakfast of course 🙂 The food turned out to be really good… exceptional actually. I have to add it to one of my favorite restaurant’s in the Philippines… yes it was that good!

So, why did I change my original plan made in March of spending a couple of weeks diving in Malapascua in April? I’d planned on going back to Dumaguete eventually as it’s world-renowned for the muck diving. Before I went to Singapore I had visited the Splash UW Photo-Video store in Manila and my friend Jovic Santos who is the owner. I met Jovic last year as he is the local Ikelite dealer. He also owns a chain of stores called Stride and Stroke which focus on on outdoor sports, especially water sports and scuba diving.

I went by to visit because I’ve been thinking about upgrading my camera system and knew he would be a good person to discuss that with. It was the first time he’d seen me since I’d had my heart attack and he was really happy that I was diving again. He mentioned the yearly photo contest and that there would be 2 legs this year. The first leg was in Dumaguete and he encouraged me to participate. I thought, “why not?” and decided to plan on attending. Although I’d made tentative plans to go to Singapore, I’d really leaned towards going back to Malapascua the beginning of April. In the end I did decide to go to Singapore and had a great time so no regrets.

SEA (Small Exotic Animals) Philippines is a yearly photographic contest that is sponsored by Splash. It’s been around since 2011. It’s an amateur contest with rules that practically force you to become a better photographer! To start with, there are no enhancements… at all! No cropping, no adjustments for color or density, no removing backscatter. Everything is done with the camera so you have to get it right the first time. No coming back to fix it later!

We all take photos that when we look at them on our computer we say, “I like it the way it is” and we don’t do anything to it. Believe it or not, that doesn’t happen all the time! 🙂 The goal should be to make all our photos look that way. It’s a goal we’ll never reach (lot’s of variables in photography), but it’s still a goal worth striving for… to take a perfect photo every time. In this contest, the goal is to take a perfect photo… that makes technical proficiency a very big part of the contest. Even if you don’t win, you learn, and that is the real goal. To become a better photographer!

The first day of the contest I was up early. I charged all my batteries the night before. I took out my clothes and things I would need at the hotel. After a great breakfast, I grabbed my gear, went outside, and waived a trike over. It took a bit of work as my Visayan is pretty much non-existent (I’ve really only studied Tagalog), and the trike driver spoke very little English, but with the help of Google Maps on my smart phone I was able to explain where we needed to go. The dive shop was actually fairly close by. Maybe 5 minutes at most.

The name of the dive shop is “House Reef” and it’s owned and operated by Andre Montenegro, who goes by “Snoopy”. Someone with decades of experience who grew up right in Dumaguete. He has a BS in Civil Engineering from Silliman University in Dumaguete. Snoopy is a PADI Master Instructor. From the PADI website “PADI Master Instructors are recognized as elite scuba diving educators who, through dedication and hard work, have proven to be dive industry leaders. You earn the Master Instructor rating by exemplifying what it means to be a scuba diving professional through your teaching efforts and professional conduct.”

Snoopy is an accomplished underwater photographer. He is well known within the diving community both in the Philippines and abroad. They’ve been around for over 30 years now so obviously they’re doing something right! Snoopy also happens to be a laid-back and super nice guy 🙂

The dive shop is very modern. It has it’s own pool for training, along with office, classroom, and showroom space. There is a small bed and breakfast on the premises, but book ahead as those rooms can be booked well in advance. Convenient accommodations can be arranged nearby if they are full (they were when I visited, but I decided quite late to participate in the contest). I had a great weekend of diving with them and would have no problem recommending this dive operation to anyone looking to experience some of the better known dive destinations in the Philippines!

Jovic was at the dive shop when I arrived. He introduced me to a few of the other divers and to Snoopy. I took care of registration and then got my camera set up. My gear was put into a crate and I stored my dive bag in the shop, along with my Pelican case that I transport my camera equipment in. I’d already staged all my chargers at the hotel so I could re-charge batteries in the evening.

The shop has it’s own jeepney’s and trucks for transporting equipment and people. Once the dive gear was loaded we grabbed our camera equipment and jumped into the jeepney for the ride to Dauin. The first day of diving was in the Dauin Poblacion Marine Sanctuary. The shop is on the other side of Dumaguete so a good 45 minute ride with traffic. After arriving we were assigned a guide and we started gearing up for the first dive.

The sanctuary is mostly sandy bottom… in with a few areas of coral. There have also been areas where items have been sunk to provide mini-artificial reefs and these items have become encrusted with coral. Everything from an old car to automobile tires have been placed and they generally swarm with life. My dive started at 10:15 AM. During this first dive we followed the slope down to 90 feet where an old car was sunk. Here were two groupers chasing each other in and out of the car. This was quite entertaining to watch. This was the deepest part of the dive. After several minutes we began making our way up the slope. One of the first things we got a chance to photograph was an Ornate Ghost Pipefish. Then a juvenile white frogfish, followed shortly after by a black frogfish! A very nice dive to start my weekend. Dive time ended up at 69 minutes with a maximum depth of 91 feet. Water temperature was 79 degrees fahrenheit.

Tomato Grouper-Variation (Cephalopholis sonnerati) photographed in Dauin Marine Sanctuary.

The second dive started at 12:23 and was a different area within the sanctuary. I spied a tiny hawkfish perching on top of some bubble coral, cardinalfish, and commensal shrimp dancing it’s way across the top of an anemone. A pufferfish, more cardinalfish, then two pufferfish together but different species. A lionfish, then a neon damselfish. Another frogfish and right at the end a snake eel down in it’s hole that refused to come out to have his picture taken! Dive time was 54 minutes with a maximum depth of 79 feet. Water temperature was 80 degrees on the second dive.

A striped pufferfish and whitespotted pufferfish (variation) side by side.

Once we were back ashore we had a break for lunch. There are places there on the beach where you can purchase lunch. After food and a short break we geared up for the third dive of the day.

My third dive started at 3:07 PM. The area we were diving had open structures that had been constructed of blocks and old tires to form artificial reefs. Laying in the bottom inside one of these was a reef stonefish.

Reef Stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa) photgraphed at Dauin Marine Sanctuary.

There were schools of snapper moving around the structures also. We moved up the slope where we spotted plenty of gobies in the sand. A decorator crab, then a hermit crab. An anemone with a commensal shrimp. Near another area of debris and old rope we found another ornate ghost pipefish.

A school of snapper photographed on a dive at Dauin Marine Sanctuary.

More cardinalfish, filefish, and near the end of the dive a seahorse making it’s way along the sand. Dive time ended up at 61 minutes with a maximum depth of 86 feet. Water temperature was again 80 degrees.

Seahorse photographed in Dauin Marine Sanctuary.

I’m going to break this up into two parts as I’ve done with other posts. I still have two more dive days in Dumaguete that I will write about next. I’m still running a month behind, but at least it’s not getting longer than that! After that I’ll be writing about my long weekend in Anilao earlier this month so stay tuned!

Malapascua-Part Two

Gato Island is one of my favorites when I visit Malapascua. It’s about 45 minutes by boat from Evolution. It’s a day trip. After the first dive, lunch is served. After lunch there is a second dive, then return to the dive shop. It’s a protected breeding area for the sea krait (sea snake) and I’ve seen them on a regular basis. It’s a great spot for nudibranchs, ornate ghost pipefish, and frogfish, as well as white tip reef sharks. One dive will normally include the “Tunnel” where you enter on the northeast side of the island and exit on the west side. I’ve often seen sharks in the tunnel on the west side. This is “technically” a cavern dive. You’re diving in an overhead environment, but you never completely lose light from one opening or the other. It’s relatively safe as the chance of a silt-out is nil and you can’t get lost. It is quite dark in the middle so a light is a necessity!

Our guide for this dive was Gino. When I returned to diving in 2014 after a break of almost 4 years (I was working in the middle east for a big chunk of that), I made a trip to Malapascua Island and stayed a week. Gino was my guide for almost every dive that week and took very good care of me. It was Gino who spotted a warty frogfish on a night dive that was maybe an inch and a half big. On another night dive he pointed out a tiny juvenile bobtail squid smaller than my fingernail! He is an amazing spotter!

As with Monad, everyone starts gearing up as we approach so that as soon as we arrive, we can jump in. It was just Gino, myself, and one other diver. My dive started at 10:50 AM. We started through the tunnel and right near the entrance I spotted an anemonecrab. Crabs are quite common in the tunnel. Not unexpectedly, as we exited the tunnel, there was a white tip reef shark, actively moving about.

A white tip reef shark swims around near the exit to the tunnel at Gato Island.

There are a number of swim-through’s we passed through as we made our way around. I photographed a cowrie with it’s mantle partially extruded, then a banded boxer coral shrimp under an overhang. Then we came upon three cuttlefish. We stopped and observed them for a few minutes. I took a few photos and then switched to video. Perhaps it was two males and a female? As I was videoing, one cuttlefish appeared to violently go after the other one. I reflexively tightened my grip on my housing and my thumb stopped the video! The one cuttlefish decided to depart the area and the attacking one came back. We looked at each other and shrugged, that was interesting.. then continued with our dive.

Cuttlefish at Gato Island.

It was a very nice dive. Gino spotted an ornate ghost pipefish near a crinoid, I found a couple of nudibranchs, and a pufferfish, lionfish, scorpionfish, more nudibranchs. I would end up photographing 8 different species of nudibranchs at Gato! This first dive at Gato ended up being 58 minutes with a maximum depth of 64 feet and a water temperature of 77F. Very nice dive!

Scorpionfish at Gato Island.

For lunch we had chicken with a nice curry sauce, vegetables and rice. There were bananas for dessert. Lunch out of the way we waited until we’d had an hour surface interval, then started gearing up for the second dive. We started our 2nd dive at 1:07 PM. The second dive was more of the first. More nudibranchs, pipefish, lionfish, an octopus, hermit crab, a seahorse, and a nice frogfish. Another white tip reef shark, this one sleeping. Dive time was 50 minutes with a maximum depth of 72 feet. Water temperature was again 77F.

As we were getting back to the boat, my buddy who we were diving with told me he was sorry he’d dropped the light I’d loaned him just before the dive. He was very apologetic and said he’d buy me a new light. I told him not to worry about it as these things happen. Gino said he’d go back and look for it. We were both saying there was no way he would find it. By the time Gino’s head popped up we were already back on the boat and had our gear off. I was standing at the bow as Gino swam back. As he approached the boat, I said, “didn’t find it did you?”. His response was to hold up the light! The ability of Filipino dive guides continues to amaze me even after all these years!

Once everyone was back on-board we got underway back to Malapascua Island. We were back before 3:30. I had brought all my chargers with me that morning and left them in the office at Evolution. As soon as we were back, I gave everything a quick rinse and then dried it off and started pulling batteries. I wanted to allow them to charge as long as possible before heading out for the night dive later. I had a bit less than 2 hours so I was hoping for the best!

I ended up at the bar in The Craic House having a mango shake and working on photos since I had also brought my laptop and left it in the office. I did a bit of writing and killed time waiting for the next dive to start. After an hour I started checking my batteries. At 5:15 we had the brief and by 5:30 we were on our way to Pipefish Bay. It’s very close so we started gearing up almost immediately once we were on the boat. There were 4 people diving plus the dive guide.

My dive started at 5:48 PM. Alex was the dive guide again. It wasn’t quite full dark yet, but it was close enough. I think I enjoy this time for the same reason I enjoy Monad Shoal in the morning. At twilight, you get that mixture of day and night. We see activities associated with both. My first photo was a nudibranch, Chromodoris magnifica. There were pipefish everywhere, making “Pipefish Bay” an apt name. Lionfish were still out and about. The usual assortment of crabs were in abundance including hermit crabs and anemone crabs. I spotted a twinspot lionfish, a fish I rarely see during the day. That was followed by a pair of ornate ghost pipefish. There were rabbitfish, and banded boxer coral shrimp of which I saw several throughout the dive. All in all a very nice dive. I ended up with a 60 minute dive with a maximum depth of 46 feet and water temperatures at 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

Crab photographed on a dive at Pipefish Bay.

By 7:15 we were all back at Evolution. I rinsed my camera gear, wiped it down and removed my camera. Then closed it back up. I ordered dinner and had a beer and reviewed photos while waiting for it. Once I’d finished dinner, I headed for my room at Sharks Tale. It had been a long day and I was getting up early again the next morning to go dive with the thresher sharks again. Once I reached my room, I put everything on charge, grabbed a shower and went to sleep.

My alarm woke me at 4:15 AM on Saturday the 25th. My last dive day of the trip as I was headed back to Cebu City the next day. I got up, washed my face and got dressed. I set up my camera which basically consisted of inserting a fully charged battery into my camera, and then inserting the camera into the housing, and then closing it up.

When I was ready, I walked out my door and down the stairs, carefully because it was still dark outside! There are no streetlights in Malapascua (no streets really as there are no 4 wheeled vehicles that I’m aware of). Lot’s of paths cross and cris-cross the island. A flashlight isn’t a bad idea! Evolution is about a 5 minute walk from Sharks Tail. I was at the dive op about 10 minutes early for the 4:45 AM dive brief.

The process in the morning runs pretty much the same everyday. After the brief the process from the day before repeated. After boarding the boat and checking our boxes, the boat got underway for Monad. This morning our guide was Jo, another long time guide at Evolution. I remember doing a dive with him at Gato Island last year and we were followed by a group from another dive shop. Jo would spot something and I’d start taking photos. I’d look over my shoulder and the guide from the other shop was there looking to see what Jo had spotted 😀 I’d look over my shoulder as I finned away and he’d be showing his group what I’d just photographed. This happened a few times and we had a good laugh about it back on the boat! At 5:46 AM (a whole minute earlier than the day before) I was starting my first dive of the day.

This morning as the day before, visibility was about 30-40 feet. Unlike the day before, we were looking at sharks almost the entire dive! When we reached the first viewing station, we saw sharks almost immediately, what appeared to be 2. They circled in and out of sight for several minutes, then they were gone. We moved on to a second viewing spot. On our way there a shark crossed in front of us. After reaching the second viewing spot, again within a few minutes, we had a pair of sharks circling in front of us which we were able to observe for several minutes. Likely we saw at least 5 sharks. I say likely because reality is that while they were circling in front of us, they were circling in and out of view due to visibility. It’s often difficult to know exactly how “many” sharks you’ve seen because of that. Unfortunately, this morning I didn’t have a shark come close enough for a really sharp photo, but it was still awesome just to see them! I ended up with a 44 minute dive. My maximum depth was again 77 feet and water temperature was 80 degrees Fahrenheit… a degree warmer than the day before.

Divers observing a thresher shark at Monad Shoal.

My second dive of the day was at Bugtong Bato. As one of the dive sites around Malapascua Island itself, it only takes about 15 minutes to reach there from the resort. Bugtong Bato is a small pinnacle. The top of the pinnacle is at about 50 feet and covered in corals. It descends to a sandy bottom at around a 100 feet. I really enjoy this dive site. There is a large school of batfish that hang out there and plenty of macro opportunities. For this dive we had Gino again. It didn’t take long for him to spot a nudibranch for me and by the time the dive was over we would find six different species, including a couple I’d not seen before! Also spotted plenty of fish, including rainbow runner, snapper, cardinalfish. Gino spotted a nice snowflake moray eel (Echidna nebulosa). Not uncommon, but not as common as the white eyed moray that I see on a regular basis in the Philippines. All in all a nice dive that ended up being only 36 minutes as we spent a bit too much time near the bottom of the pinnacle. Maximum depth was 86 feet and water temperature was 78 F.

Snowflake Moray
Eel (Echidna nebulosa) at Bugtong Bato.

Butong Bato would be a good dive for nitrox although I don’t normally dive nitrox much these days. Not because I don’t see the advantages of it, but because I’m normally diving so much that it would just add up to less diving for me. I’m “retired” now and I have to watch my budget sometimes so I can continue to travel and dive. Having said that I do still occasionally dive nitrox, but usually only if I’m diving in a group of people are using it.

After we the dive we headed back to Evolution and I had a leisurely lunch at The Craic House. It’s probably one of the best restaurants on the island, which probably explains why I eat there so much!

The last dive of the day was at Deep Slope. The briefing was at 1:15 PM and we were underway shortly after. Deep Slope lies off the northeast tip of Malapascua Island. The plan was to follow the mooring line down, then make our way around a short wall and then up a sandy slope back to the top. We had Gino as our dive guide once again.

Right at the beginning of the dive we saw a dragonnet. I still haven’t figured out the exact species so if anyone would like to help I’d appreciate it! Again lot’s of life here around Malapascua Island. Next was a nudibranch, then a pair of banded pipefish. Grouper, lionfish, a toby, another nudibranch, and then a white eyed moray. A twin-spotted lionfish, then another white-eyed moray. Yet another nudibranch, a cuttlefish, then a pair of filefish. A fifth species of nudibranch, wrasse, cowfish, and a school of catfish fry. The dive ended up being 54 minutes with a maximum depth of 71 feet. Water temperature was again 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

That night I packed after dinner and went to bed early. The next morning I settled my bill at Sharks Tale, then went and did the same at Evolution. I decided that although I was going to take a break, that I would come back to Malapascua Island after attending ADEX in Singapore. I left my dive gear and my underwater photography gear at Evolution, rather than carry it. The next morning after breakfast, I headed to the ferry terminal at the port. I purchased my ticket for a 100 pesos. As it was low tide a small boat took us out to the ferry that was moored in deeper water. 20 pesos for the trip out. We were dropped off at the old pier in Maya. I was lucky to catch a ride with a fellow American who was hiring a taxi for the trip back. 1500 pesos, but we were in Cebu City in just 2 1/2 hours, half the time of the bus! I checked in too Kiwi Lodge. After cleaning up and resting for a bit, I grabbed a taxi to Ayala Mall and had a bite to eat. Then called it an early night.

The next morning I was up early for the free breakfast. The desk sent someone to wave down a taxi for me. I was on my way to the airport by 7:30 AM As expected, taxi fare in a white taxi ended up being significantly less than it was in the yellow taxi. Only a 184 pesos!

In Cebu as at other airport in the Philippines, I passed through security, including metal detector and baggage x-ray before going to the check-in counter. Since I had no bags to check, I’d checked in online and took a screenshot of my boarding pass and saved it on my phone. I went directly to the gate passing through security again before going to the area of the gates. My flight was at 10:35 AM and I reached Clark International Airport in Pampanga a little after noon.

My trip had started on March 9th, the day after my cardiologist agreed that I had recovered enough to dive again after my heart attack in November while transiting Singapore (read about it elsewhere in my blog). I started in Puerto Galera, then Subic Bay, followed by Moalboal, and finishing in Malapascua. 21 dives in two weeks.

Time for a break!

Next I’ll be writing about my weekend at ADEX (Asia Dive Expo) in Singapore. Then my return to Malapascua Island and weekend in Dumaguete competing in the annual “SEA (Small Exotic Animals) Philippines” photo contest.

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Malapascua-Part One

After a decent nights sleep, I woke up on Wednesday, March 22nd (yes my blog is over a month behind but I’m going to catch up I promise!), had breakfast, then had the desk call a taxi. The North Bus Station in Cebu City is about the same distance from Kiwi Lodge as the South Bus Station. A short ride to the bus station and then I was on a bus headed to Maya. 5 hours later we arrived at the pier in Maya.

At Maya the bus lets you out at the new pier. You’ll be asked to log in with the tourist association, then you will purchase a ticket. Price of a ticket on the ferry is a 100 pesos. When the boat was ready we were directed to the boat and someone took our tickets. Be prepared to wade through the water (usually not more than ankle deep) to a ramp to get up on the boat. About 35 minutes later we were walking off the boat at Bounty Beach.

I should add here that last year when I spent 4 weeks on Malapascua Island that I came and went 4 times. Only one of those times did the ferry go to Bounty Beach. When I was in Malapascua again a couple of weeks ago, we were also dropped off at Bounty Beach so perhaps this is something new. What was more normal last year was to go to the port and if it were low tide, a small boat would transport us for 20 pesos. Again, be prepared to get your feet wet.

I opted to stay at Purple Snapper which is under new management and ownership. I knew from having stayed there last year, that the rooms were much more inexpensive than anything I would find on the beach! When I arrived I discovered everything was in the process of being changed over, including the name which has been changed to Sharks Tail. Interestingly enough, I again ended up in the same room that I’d stayed at on my last visit when I stayed for 4 weeks last April. As I’ve said in other blog posts, I often will get the least expensive room. This usually turns out to be a fan room with no television in some places.

Unlike my last trip, the bar and kitchen were open this time, and there was water in the swimming pool! Last year the pool was empty! I met Greg, the new manager, and it sounds like they’re really going to do a lot with the place.

Although I was offered the opportunity to dive with Shark’s Tail, I opted to dive with Evolution. Nothing against Shark’s Tale, but I’ve been diving with Evolution since 2010 and don’t feel any need to go somewhere else. I’ve been very happy with their operation which I consider to be a very professional one.

I was in Malapascua again just over a week ago and have done over 80 dives with Evolution now. At present I’ve done over a 100 dives in Malapascua. I made my first dive there in October 2007. I’ve not gone every year, but I have made six trips now… there must be some reason I keep going back!

This trip I was only planning 3 dive days. I was exhausted after the long bus ride so I opted NOT to get up early for the shark dive. Instead there was trip going to Kalanggaman Island the next day and of course I signed up!

Kalanggaman Island technically is in Leyte so it’s a bit of boat ride to get there. It’s an all day trip. It leaves around 9 AM and takes an hour and a half to two hours to get there, depending on weather of course. There is an extra fee involved of course because of the long boat ride, 650 pesos, which also included lunch. There is also a Marine Fee charged by the Leyte government of 500 pesos, so yes you are paying an extra 575 pesos per dive (don’t forget lunch is included though). I always try to go to Kalanggaman every time I visit Malapascua though. The diving is just that amazing!

Kalanggaman Island is wall diving for the most part. You drop in over a sandy area, then swim over the wall and descend from there. Visibility is often well over 50 feet to as much as a 100 feet!

Wall diving at Kalanggaman Island.

After a good nights sleep and breakfast at The Craic House (Evolution Dive Resorts restaurant), we had our briefing at 8:45 AM. By 9 AM everyone was on the boat and we were underway.

I always try to sit in the middle of the boat. I’m one of those people who just cannot get a tan it seems. I can get very red though! It was a nice relaxing trip. The weather was absolutely beautiful! As we were approaching the island a pod of dolphins was spotted and the boat briefly followed them. Sometimes dolphins seem to want to play and will race along in front of the boat, with occasional leaps into the air, like they are just having fun with us! Today though they seemed to have other things on their agenda so we continued on to the island.

At 10:55 we were starting our first dive. Our guide was Mette Hallum who is a dive instructor from Denmark. I actually have a photo of her from a dive on Monad Shoal last year. Right at the beginning of the dive there was an eagle ray hanging out near the mooring line and I took several photos of Mette shooting video of an eagle ray with her GoPro.

I’m never disappointed when I dive Kalanggaman. Visibility was easily 50-60 feet. Right at the beginning of the dive Mette spotted a black frogfish. I never seem to get tired of photographing frogfish! There are loads of hard and soft corals at Kalanggaman Island and they are in good shape. You can see schools of jacks and rainbow runners. Lots of wrasse and damselfish. Scorpionfish, frogfish, nudibranchs, triggerfish, parrotfish, schools of anthia’s, hawkfish sitting on coral, just waiting to swoop somewhere, coleman shrimp, anemonefish, ghost shrimp, butterflyfish,… all the “usual suspects” as I’m prone to call them. Water temperature was 78 degrees Fahrenheit and my maximum depth ended up being 88 feet. The dive ended up being 44 minutes.

Frogfish at Kalanggaman Island.

During the surface interval we pulled in too shore and had lunch. After lunch we were able to get off the boat and walk around the island. There are a few basic facilities there, but no water or food. You have to bring your own. I walked around the island a bit and snapped a few photos then back to the boat. The boat pulled out again and we headed to do our second dive.

Evolution’s dive boat, The Haldane, beached at Kalanggaman Island.

I started the second dive at 1:28 PM. We again were diving the wall, but a different area than the first dive. Pretty early in the dive Mette found an ornate ghost pipefish next to a crinoid which I took several shots of. The rest of the dive was much like the first one. Lot’s of fish, anthia’s, damselfish, more hawkfish, a couple of different white-eyed moray’s… just another awesome dive! Maximum depth on this dive was 66 feet. Water temperatures were a bit warmer at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, since we didn’t go quite as deep as the first dive. This dive was 56 minutes.

Freckled Hawkfish were everywhere while diving Kalanggaman Island.

After everyone was back on board, we got underway and headed back to Malapascua Island. We arrived at Evolution Dive Resort before 5 PM. I checked out the board for dives that were scheduled for the next day. I had planned a full day of diving for the next day, but trips to Gato Island require a minimum of four divers. I’d let it be known that I really wanted to dive Gato Island and it had been put on the board before we left that morning. I was happy to see there were enough divers. I signed up to do the early morning Thresher Shark dive at Monad Shoal and also the night dive at Pipefish Bay. After dinner at Craic House, I headed back to Sharks Tale for some rest. It was going to be a long day the next day!

The big draw that Malapascua Island has for most people is thresher sharks. It’s the only place in the world where recreational divers can see them on a reliable basis. Is it a 100%? No of course not and no reputable dive operation should promise that. We’re still dealing with a wild animal and conditions, especially current can affect sightings. Having said that, I’d estimate that over 80% of the dives I’ve made on Monad Shoal, I saw thresher sharks. Another way of looking at it would be in a one month period there might be a half dozen or so days when no sharks or sighted which means you’re much more likely than not to see sharks!

Monad Shoal is an underwater island that is actually larger than Malapascua. Scientists currently believe that thresher sharks migrate to the area of Monad Shoal to utilize the services of particular species of cleaner fish that are found there. It’s about a 40 minute boat ride depending on conditions. You have to get up early to see thresher sharks. Early morning is the only time when sightings are consistent. The species that is seen here is the pelagic thresher shark (Alopias pelagicus).

Dive briefings at Evolution for the morning trip to Monad take place at 4:45 AM. The staff and boat crews are there much earlier making preparations and loading all the gear on the boat. Divers who have already been diving will grab their wetsuits. Wetsuits are always hung up separately from the gear to allow them to be at least somewhat dry from the previous days diving. It’s easier to let divers find their own wetsuit where it’s hung up. It would be difficult for the crew to know which is which since they’re hung up together, especially in the dark! Once the briefing is over everyone will be transported by small boat (it’s low tide in the morning) out to one of the large bangka boats for the trip to Monad.

I was up at 4:15 AM the next morning. I give myself enough time to wake up in the morning and get my camera gear set up. The walk to Evolution is only about 5 minutes, so not far at all. When I got there I grabbed my wetsuit and then sat and waited for the brief. The brief was given right on time at 4:45 AM. One of the rules is that if you don’t show up for the brief, then you will be charged for the dive. This is just to make sure that people don’t blow off the dive. The crew comes in early to load the boats so there is a lot of work to be done in preparation to go out. Having said that, as long as you show up, if you decide that you are not up to a dive that day, or want to call the dive for any reason, you can do so and there will be no charge.

As soon as the brief was finished, we headed to the beach where a small boat took us out to the Haldane, one of Evolutions dive bangka’s. It’s still dark outside at this point, but we can see a hint of light off to the east. Once on the boat, a boat brief is given for everyone who is on the boat for the first time. Everyone checks their boxes to double-check that there gear is all there. People are human, so things can get mis-placed, although in my experience, having dived with them for years, this is extremely rare. Always best to err on the side of caution. No one wants to get out to the dive site and not have all their equipment. The tanks are normally already set up and I double check mine. After all, I’m the one who is diving with it! After that I go and make myself a cup of coffee and sit in the back while the boat gets underway. By 5 AM we were on our way to Monad Shoal.

As we approach Monad Shoal everyone starts getting ready. People put on their wetsuits and booties, strap on dive computers, apply de-fog (or spit for all the old-school divers), and stage mask, fins, camera’s, etc… By now there is plenty of light as the sky brightens with the arrival of sunrise. Within minutes of arriving at Monad, the crew assists divers with their tanks, final checks are completed and divers start stepping into the water with a giant stride entry. I was in the first group. Our guide this morning was Alex, one of Evolution’s Filipino guides. I’ve been diving with Filipino guides for almost 10 years now and they have always impressed me with their skills. Evolution has some of the best guides I’ve had the pleasure of diving with over the years. I’ve often said that almost everything I learned about spotting, I learned from my Filipino guides!

I stepped in, was handed my camera by a crew member and then finned over to Alex while we waited for the rest of our group. Once we were all together, Alex got a final ok from everyone, then a thumbs down for descent. I dumped the air from my wing and my dive began at 5:47 AM.

The best word to describe Monad Shoal at this time of the morning is “twilight”. By now there is enough light in the sky that you can see quite well, but it is far from “bright”. The top of the shoal slopes and is at about 60 feet on the shallow side. The slope continues down to over 80 feet. Around the edge of the shoal it drops off into over 700 feet of water. Visibility runs 30-60 feet depending on time of year and conditions. Where we started our dive it was about 60 feet deep. When I started to drop, I could not initially see the bottom, but it came into view very quickly. There are permanent mooring lines attached at different places. If there is current then you can use the mooring line to descend. This morning current was almost non-existent.

For most of the dive there were no sharks… this happens sometimes. Nothing is exact when it comes to predicting when they will be there. Sometimes we see them briefly, sometimes we see them the whole dive, and occasionally the sea gods are against us and we don’t them. Still, for me there really isn’t any such thing as a “bad” dive. As I said before there is plenty of life there on the shoal. I spotted a free swimming moray early on in this particular dive. Something you rarely see in full daylight conditions. There are also the usual marine life that you would see, anemonefish, damselfish, batfish, jacks, cleaner wrasse, shrimps, crabs, etc… All the “usual suspects” that those of you who follow my blog have heard me refer to them as.

One of the “rules” agreed to by all the dive operations on Malapascua Island, is that divers will not take lights are strobes on the morning thresher shark dive. There is a concern that if that was allowed, that the sharks might be scared away, and of course no one wants that! So, although I do often see other marine life, I rarely photograph it during that dive. At that depth and under those lighting conditions everything tends to be very “blue”! Sometimes in post-processing I convert to black and white because of that, and sometimes I leave it blue. It kind of depends on how I’m feeling at the moment!

When there are no sharks, I sometimes entertain myself by photographing the other divers. I usually want a few shots of divers anyway. My background in photo-journalism drives home the point that divers are a part of the “story” here and they really are. Diving is so much better when we have someone to share the experience with! I sometimes also will take the time to look at the other life on the shoal. I spend most of though like everyone else… looking for sharks!

At Monad there are a number of observation stations that have been set up. There are concrete blocks that have been sunk there and line attached. This is to give the sharks room to approach on their own. Again, if there were no organization here, and with so many divers in the water, there could be a possibility that the sharks would go elsewhere. During the morning dive when there are so many divers there, groups are to confine themselves to areas behind the lines. If no sharks are appearing at one viewing station, then a leisurely move to another station is allowed. Just keep away from the edges and behind the area where the lines have been installed. This maximizes sighting opportunities for the majority of divers. The system must work… as I said earlier seeing sharks is easily 80%! It’s important to understand though, that sharks can approach from any direction, occasionally they even come from behind you!

This morning, as luck would have it, we just weren’t seeing sharks. It happens…. Towards the end of the dive we had returned back to the area of the mooring line and a little beyond it, when Alex spotted a thresher shark in the distance in front of us, coming towards us! The shark swam right by me and I was able to take a few still photos, then switch to video. The shark went by, circled back a couple of times, then was gone into the blue. Awesome!

Thresher shark at Monad Shoal.

Back on the boat everyone was all smiles! People were talking, the photographers were sharing their photos and video’s, and it’s just general happiness, especially from those who have traveled from half-way around the world and sometimes only have a brief few days. Does life get any better? I ended with a 43 minute dive with a maximum depth of 77 feet. Water temperature was 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

We headed back to Evolution. I gave my camera gear a quick rinse, then headed to the restaurant for breakfast. I ordered, then dried off my housing so I could remove the camera and download photos from the morning dive. By 7:35 my breakfast was in front of me. After breakfast, I relaxed until it was time for the briefing for Gato Island at 9:45 AM. By 10:00 AM we were back on the boat and headed to Gato.

To be continued…

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Moalboal

I was up early on Sunday morning, March 19th. Breakfast was included with my room. Simple, just an egg on toast with bacon and coffee. Then I settled up with the front desk and they got me a taxi.

One of the things I like about Kiwi Lodge is that it’s only a short taxi ride away no matter which bus terminal I’m going too. In roughly 10 minutes the taxi arrived at the south bus terminal. Less than 80 pesos in cab fare. Buses heading south are leaving throughout the day. Within a few minutes of arriving I was on a bus to Moalboal.

You can hire a taxi to take you to Moalboal for around 2000 pesos (about $40 bucks). It’s certainly faster and more comfortable, but a bus ticket is only a 107 pesos (just over $2 dollars)! A bus takes about 3 hours depending on traffic and number of stops it makes. Riding local transport is all part of the experience of traveling and seeing the world I think! The bus left around 9 AM and was in Moalboal a little after noon.

After getting off the bus, I hired a trike for 150 pesos the rest of the way to Panagsama Beach where the vast majority of the dive shops are. After checking in with Eve’s Kiosk I dropped my dive gear next door at Nelson’s Dive Shop before heading to my room.

I rented a fan room for my stay at 700 pesos a night (around $14 dollars). I don’t spend much time in the room anyway so why pay for air conditioning? The temperature at night is normally in the 70’s in March so a fan is plenty. It turned out to be the same room that I stayed in during my last trip to Moalboal in October 2015, so almost like coming home!

I set up my camera in the room, changed into a swim suit, and then headed back to the dive shop. I filled out the usual paperwork. Then got my equipment together and started getting ready to go out for the afternoon dive. Dives at Nelson’s are 900 pesos per dive if you have your own equipment. 1200 pesos per dive with rental equipment. Like everywhere else in the Philippines, tanks, weights, boat, and dive guide are included. Nelson’s website is: http://www.ibara.ne.jp/~bitoon/

I always seem to run into Japanese divers when I visit Nelson’s for some reason. He also gets the usual European crowd and the occasional American. As I dive different destinations around the Philippines, I still often find myself the only American in the group. We are definitely the minority! I’m hoping to change that with my blog and the book series I’m working on by helping introduce the Philippines to more Americans. I want to show that it can be quite cost effective to plan a dive trip to the Philippines.

Once the tanks were set up and ready they were taken to the boat. I pulled on my wetsuit, put on my booties, grabbed my mask, fins, and camera gear headed to the boat. You walk across the street and down a narrow alleyway to a small beach. The entire beach in this area is lined with resorts, but there is a convenient access to the water here. My first dive in Moalboal in 2007 was a night dive and we geared up and walked this same path to do a shore entry.

More often though, the majority of dives here are by boat. During high tide the water can get fairly deep pretty quickly, and I almost had to swim to get to the boat! After everyone was on the boat, we headed north to Tuble Point. I was starting my first dive of this visit to Moalboal at 3:10 PM.

I do enjoy wall dives, and Moalboal is wall diving. Tuble Point is a nice wall with depths down to a 100 feet possible. There are plenty of things to see in the cuts and crevices of the wall. Some of the highlights included nudibranchs, scorpionfish, nice schools of anthia’s and damselfish, anemonefish, a huge pufferfish, grouper, and one of the things Moalboal is known for, sea turtles. A really enjoyable dive! Total dive time was 52 minutes with a maximum depth of 68 feet. The water temperature was 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

Divers checking out the wall along Moalboal’s Tuble Point.

It had been a long day and I opted to rest that evening. One of the nice things about Panagsama Beach is the many restaurants and eateries up and down the road along the beach. Plenty of places on the water with a nice view to have dinner. I made it an early night and went to bed early.

The next morning I was up early and ready for Pescador Island. Pescador Island is one of my favorite dives. It’s a drift dive and current can be quite strong. Normally you are dropped in on one end of the island and then the boat travels to the other and waits for you to drift down. We dropped in at 9:54 AM. It ended up being a 45 minute dive with a maximum depth of 88 feet. Water temperature was again 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s a great wall dive. Big schools of trevally, frogfish, snapper, grouper, anthia’s, lionfish… just a great dive! After the dive we headed back to the beach.

We asked if we could go ahead and do a second dive and were told “no problem”. One of the things that Moalboal is known for is the huge sardine schools. It’s a can’t miss when diving Moalboal. The sardine schools are normally seen around the House Reef, which is in the area where we get on and off the boat. We started our dive at 11:55 AM and had a 57 minute dive. Maximum depth was 60 feet and water temperature was still 79 degrees Fahrenheit, so pretty consistent water temperatures.

The sardine schools did not disappoint! Just huge clouds of fish, with trevally making run’s in and out at times. Very cool to see! I’d mentioned to the guide before the dive I really like photographing frogfish and he found one for me! The “usual suspects” were there as well…. angelfish, pufferfish, damselfish, anthia’s, triggerfish, threadfin hawkfish, a white-eyed moray eel with a cleaner wrasse, nudibranchs, and right at the end of the dive a sea turtle. A really great dive!

Frogfish photgraphed on the House Reef across from Nelson’s Dive Shop in Moalboal.

My plane ticket took me back to Clark on the 26th. I decided to hit Malapascua before returning so the next day I headed to Cebu City (if you’re going by bus from Moalboal to Maya where you catch the ferry to Malapascua Island, you probably want to break that up). A trike took me back to the main highway for 150 pesos (about $3 dollars). There I caught a Ceres Liner (115 pesos) to Cebu City. I called Kiwi Lodge en-route and reserved a room. The bus ride was just over 3 hours to the South Bus Terminal. From there I took a taxi (78 pesos) to Kiwi Lodge.

Next I’ll write about my time at Malapascua in March. Then my weekend at ADEX (Asia Dive Expo) in Singapore, then I’ll be almost to the present. As I publish this I’ve been back to Malapascua and I’m in Dumaguete now… still trying to catch up, but stay tuned!

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