On a BySide!

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Grand Central Terminal

I was on my way looking for the Flatiron district in Manhattan, my few remaining hours in the city should be maximized to the fullest.  The reason why I transferred to a hostel in Chelsea area and left my refuge in the past days at Jersey City. It was past 7pm but summer has illuminated well the street, in fact not a common condition back home. It could have been dark already, and most likely I wont venture searching a spot in a strange city. Lugging my backpack, I was determined to find this unusual building, cautious yet relying a bit with google map. 🙂

So, I was lost a bit but not worrying because I know I will surely find it in the end. Unexpectedly, as I was silently treading West 21st Street, the familiar dive flag sign caught me off guard. Yes, I was passing a dive shop by my left side  – I grinned from ear to ear like my face would split in half (sorry, I’m exaggerating)! I wasn’t expecting to bump a dive shop right in Manhattan, it was a total surprise. I silently touched my dive computer which has been my travel buddy for this trip.  My feet just brought me there to brighten up after a hectic day.

I peek a bit through the glass windows with a smile and left with quick steps for my destination. Scuba Network Manhattan was a lovely sight to me as a diver!

The sun was still bright when I got to Flatiron Building, unfortunately it was obstructed by Marshall’s ads installation, so it wasn’t a pretty sight for photos. I ended up at Madison Square Park sitting on one of those park benches, watching passersby, taking my time until it got dark.

It was just a beautiful day!

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My refuge in Manhattan!

Finding Solace in Samal Island!

It was a random decision to book dives in Samal to quick start 2018 dive trips, it was like a homecoming after few years of skipping the island. And it was heartwarming that DM Maeng of ScubAqua (formerly Davao Scuba Dive Center) is still there to cater us.  It felt nostalgic recalling memories in my prior years’ dives with them, unfortunately new dive guides were engaged for that weekend.  That same warmth and kindness that I cherished before comforted me during the trip.

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Colorful corals, juveniles swimming before us – perfectly calming!

The cheery weather greeted us for our cruise to the island from Sta. Ana port, the boat was full-packed with guests – only few were divers though, most were aiming for the beach either to just swim or snorkel.  We were assigned to DM Toto for the day together with a newbie American diver, it was reassuring since we were not crowded and we could have more time to slow down and be mindful as we went through the reefs.

Our first descent was in Coral Gardens, we sank unto a sandy slope filled with corals decorated with wide gorgonians but we stumbled upon few crown of thorns star (COTS), I frowned watching them as the waters shall get warmer during summer, in no time they could multiply and eventually will devour the corals.  I glance over a branching coral that was turning whitish – I was wondering if it was bleaching! A sea cucumber had a minute emperor shrimp on its back probably feeding from parasites, some sea star, worms, clownfish over anemones, and a variety of juveniles spreading above us as we went around. Then a blue ribbon eel appeared from its burrow gloriously stood its ground as I took some snapshots – always fascinating as it darted but never leaving its hole!  Then we lingered over the colorful coral field just feeling the warm waters hopping over the reef hunting for critters, until we had our safety stop as we got under our boat for our ascent.  I still had 100 bars after 58 minutes lingering over the gardens!

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Emperor shrimp on a sea cucumber back!

We cruise a bit to Babu Santa beach for our safety stop, there were few changes since our last visit but thankfully it is till devoid of concrete and permanent structures, it has still its wide beach with few huts for guests, with its blue and clear waters!

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COTS at rest, soon to devour the corals nearby!

We cruise once more heading for Talikud Island for our last descent at Mansud Wall, it was past 4pm already and thankfully the viz was clear and there was no current.  We descend with our left shoulder towards the wall, the reef is filled with soft and hard corals, wide sea fans and obviously bursting with marine life. There were nudis, COTS (!) again, lots of juveniles – anthias, damsels, chromis, wrasse, fusiliers and lot more.  They spread before and above us as, watching them peacefully swimming was a great consolation – there was pure silence.  We had gathered trashes as we went around, and we lingered again over coral field for our safety stop until we ascend after 54 minutes. We cruised back to Sta. Ana wharf feeling refreshed after the dives!  🙂

This little piece of paradise has been renamed to Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS) but for me, it is still Samal Island, in the early days popularized by Pearl Farm but now there are a number of resorts all around this small city. It has remained bucolic and unassuming yet booming and blooming for all of us to revisit, explore and enjoy!

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A family of anemone fish!

Travel Notes

  • In the early days of this intoxication, Samal waters was a favorite and has been our playground. My dive buddy earned his open water certification through Davao Scuba Dive Center.
  • Davao City, my entry point to Samal island is 8-hour drive from Cagayan de Oro
  • ScubAqua is probably the cheapest with PhP 1500.00 rate for 2 dives inclusive of equipment, boat and dive guide. The shop is conveniently located at Sta. Ana wharf.
  • Staying in Davao City rather than in the resorts in IGACOS is more economical, also the city has much to offer to your liking.

Frisky Ribbon Eel!

 

If you frequently dive in the Philippines, chances are you have encountered a ribbon eel, usually in blue color gently peeking and swaying from its burrow.  Normally the specie is found on sandy patches like the garden eel as they create their hole in the sand.

  1. The ribbon eel (Rhinomuraena quaesita) or Bernis eel, is a species of moray eel, the only member of the genus Rhinomuraena and is normally found in Indo-Pacific ocean
  2. Ribbon eels are carnivores, preying on small fish and other marine creatures. They can attract their prey with their flared nostrils and then clamp down on them with their strong jaws and retreat into their burrows.
  3. They are usually seen with only their heads protruding from holes in reefs, amongst coral rubble on coastal reef slopes or in sand and mud of lagoons. It can stay in the same hole for months or even years.
  4. The ribbon eel is the only moray eel that is protandric, which means that they can change from a male to female (protandry) should it become necessary for survival of the species in their area.
  5. All juveniles are born male, generally in jet black with a yellow dorsal fin. The adult males are blue with a yellow dorsal fin.
  6. As the adult male reaches full size (approximately 1 metre), it begins to turn into a female, and turns yellow. It will then mate, lay eggs, and die within about a month. Due to this short lifespan, female ribbon eels are a relatively rare sight.
  7. Females are yellow with a black anal fin with white margins on the fins. So, they are not all different species, they are just differently coloured, according to sex…. which they can change during their lifetimes.
  8. The ribbon eel grows to an overall length of approximately 1 m (3.3 ft), and has a life span of up to twenty years.

Rarely did I encounter ribbon eel in group, mostly alone or in couple which I quickly presume that couples are male and female.  In my encounters, generally all were blue with yellow dorsal fins, the latest of which was in Samal Island. I remember there was once I sighted a black one (juvenile) while diving at Red Sands in Talisayan, Misamis Oriental.

I love blue ribbon eels with their blue and yellow color, so harmless gently swaying over their burrow. Their sequential transformation in terms of color and sex held so much wonder – such an interesting life cycle!  Now, here’s hoping to encounter a swimming eel out from their hole or a female one, I guess I need to be keen for a yellow ribbon eel next time!

 

Charming Camiguin

Indeed, there are 101 ways of enjoying the wonders of Camiguin Island and maybe it would be too archaic to say I am one of many who are captivated by its enduring charms. I will never get tired of coming over and over again, last year I hopped to the island three times each with different agenda to relish once more its grandeur on its surface and beyond.

Mountains and Falls

During one long weekend in summer I went with workmates to fulfill my long-time wish to climb Mt. Hibok-hibok, the trek was unforgiving but I made it traversing to Ardent Hotsprings. It was just marvelous getting up close with this majestic & dangerous mountain which have devastated the island decades ago. My legs went wobbly when I got back in the camp but happy for it was a wish come true!

In June during an official travel, after having a road tour with staff and workmates, I had a quick detour for a weekend dive with my dive buddy. It was rediscovering the island province, surface & beyond.  And yes, after the dives in Mantigue Island we went up the mountains for the trek to Binangawan Falls in Sagay.  We went for the unforgiving trails but the feeling was great when we got there, it was deserted compared to Katibawasan & Tuasan Falls! The trek was engaging, one mistake and you fell into the ravine.  The waters was too cold, just right to cool down after the long and challenging walk and it was all ours!  🙂

Island and Depths

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Mantigue Island, a gem in the Bohol Sea!

I went back to the island for my year-end dive and the weather favoured us, while other regions was on a storm it was like summer in Northern Mindanao.  We aimed for Mantigue Island, we just couldn’t get enough of the school of giant trevally and huge turtles. I never get tired of coming back again and again, the point is – we only spent brief moment underwater which is usually an hour at a time, and the probability that we will see everything in that moment is nonsensical. Exactly, different sightings in every descent. Yet if I’m in Mantigue waters, I waited for the turtles and the large herd of jackfish or trevallies. I wished to be in the midst of these numerous silvery fish with big eyes and swim with them or be engulfed in their swirling motion completely at peace.

Once again we encountered my favourite species – the turtles, giant trevallies, garden eels, stonefish, giant grouper (like a goliath!), sea snake, moray eel, few nudis and unexpectedly – a herd of barracudas! We bumped with the trevallies at least three times as we went around. We stumbled upon a reef decorated with feather stars, soft and hard corals and hydroids formed like a heart – amazing discovery! 🙂 Angel tugged me and pointed it out while floating weightlessly.  My two dives on that Saturday have refreshed me undoubtedly after just recovered from feeling ill.

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An amazing find!  🙂

It was drizzling when we head for the white sandbar in Yumbing early the next morning, a storm darkened the skies followed by rains, but the sun peeped after awhile and suddenly brightened up the horizons.  It’s been long since I last set foot in the sandbar, then a rainbow appeared and it reminded me of a promise from the heavens, a magic to behold sending good cheers!

Camiguin always fascinates me in every way, the island is purely magical – surface and beyond.

NB. The split photo of Mantigue Island is courtesy of my dive buddy.

A Decade of Wonders and Wanders

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“The sea, once it cast its spell, holds one in the net of wonder forever.”
~Jacques Yves Cousteau~

Last year was an important milestone being in my tenth year of this intoxication, apparently, the lure of the marine world has never waned and after such time still the intoxication is very much alive. The allure is clearly stronger than ever.  And again, it always felt beautiful lifting me occasionally out of the realms of everyday into something otherworldly, getting into nature in the raw, somehow gaining a deeper sense of my own humanity in the process.  It is humbling and felt privileged to have explored in part the mysterious yet interesting marine world. This enriching experience had maintained my equilibrium.

Ten years wasn’t very long but the journey is long enough to realize that life isn’t what should be as planned by the Creator without experiencing the underwater realm. The planet is composed more than 70% water, unmistakably it must be understood deeply so that all forms of life shall survive. Getting into the water is the only means we humans will understand how fragile and important is our oceans for our subsistence.

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Just as it is, my dive trips were taken slow but persistently – one dive at a time so they say, learning from every descent and felt so blessed I sustained this madness. Last year, just in time for that anniversary I logged in my 200th dive! Although, exclusive in this country I have no regrets, being in the tropics I can dive whole year round without worrying about cold waters. And all these sites are slices of paradise without doubt, each of them have its own attractions and what a joy! Together with my buddy we searched the far corners around the islands, to our surprise there are lot of unknown sites in diving map that are at par with touristy ones if not more rich and astoundingly unspoiled – Bongao, Cortes, Maasim are just few of towns in Mindanao or Anini-y, Siquijor, Pandan in the Visayas – that have their own sanctuaries and have endeavoured marine protection awareness in their local communities. Or even watching the majestic Mt. Mayon over the horizon as you surface from a dive. And yes, always yearning to be back in this marine world heritage site in Sulu seas – the Tubbataha Reefs!

P1060799Diving, like any other sports requires good health and lean physique necessary enough if not to be agile for the rigors of dive trips. In other words I need to be conscious about choosing wellness which is more than about eating.  I just thought lugging extra pounds in my body is not what it take to be a scuba diver, being heavy is a no-no  for aquatic pursuits and that needs no explanation.  That’s victory for me in a way, I’m still using until now my dive gears I acquired after I got certified – after ten years it’s almost tattered but it’s more than proof that its purpose was maximized. It’s more than just economics, it’s an evidence of healthy lifestyle!  🙂

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Silence is something that has almost ceased to exist in this world, and diving become my escape, that deserted place where I could be silent and momentarily be in a different biosphere. You get down unto the depths and it’s absolutely quiet there apart from my own breathing, there is complete silence. Undoubtedly, the spirituality benefits of diving got me to the core, like that holistic consciousness of my existence, very few activities that could match this dimension. I admit and I mentioned this over and over again that diving has become my de-stressor after these years. I believe the Lord has led me to the restful waters that refreshes my soul.  The blue world has been and always be my inspiration in this journey. And I know I shall dwell in this perfect contentment for years to come!

A Nudibranch to Know

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Nudibranch (Nudibranchia) or simply called nudi in diving community are wonderful creatures, with odd shapes and vibrant colors one can’t miss them as it crawls on soft or hard corals among the reefs. They are lovely to behold and if you are sensitive on micro and subtle critters, these animals are exceptional.

Here are few facts I gathered about this lovely animal:

  • There are over 3000 identified species of nudi, it would take too wide and long to encounter them all
  • They are color blind or generally have poor vision and can only distinguish dark or light lumination
  • Nudis are hermaphroditic, which means capacitated with both male & female reproductive organs. Being solitary in nature, it needs to maximize their mating ability for reproduction
  • It has very short life span, it can only live not more than one year so there is no chance to encounter the same nudi in the next dive
  • They got their colors from their food, it has the ability to absorb and incorporate the tint & shade of their prey into their tissues such as anemones or sponges
  • Generally, it’s not for human consumption – often referred to as “butterfly of the ocean” due to vivid vibrant color and their intense toxicity – generally their loud color is a warning sign!

I love nudis and my dive won’t be complete if I don’t find one, I would conclude that the particular reef lacks the necessary as habitat for the critters and so not healthy. And I would reflect that perhaps I went too fast not to notice if there was one.  With more than 3000 species, one can imagine how vast and mysterious our ocean can be!

Deluge at Duka Bay!

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Ready to go!

In November, we head southeast down Misamis Oriental and revisited Duka Bay to relish once more its impressive depths. The bay has been a favorite back when I was just starting my dive pursuits.  It is just few kilometers from  Cagayan de Oro and I have good friends managing a diveshop in the location, this was my playground during my advance open water (AOW) course. The local government also exerted efforts for marine conservation and preservation – marine sanctuary maintenance, installation of artificial reefs, coral restoration and dive clean-ups.   Their labor was intensive and the support for them was gratifying. The site is practically a good destination for weekend get- away.

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Filled with marine life!

The weather cooperated with us on that Saturday morning when previous days it was pouring hard, mysteriously the viz was good enough for our dives. There were no other divers so it was again an exclusive one for us. Edward, Jolem, Badette and Lemuel of Duka Dive & Aquasports were there for us.

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Paying respect for Our  Lady Star of the Sea

We were aiming for Mother Mary’s statue which is something new in Paradise, it was planted early in CY 2017 and has become an attraction in the bay. It was our first stop, she was there standing in the middle of white sandy slope away from the crowd. So alone, so serene. It reminds me of MUSA in Cancun, Mexico – but with only one statue it is a far cry. Marine critters started to inhabit the statue, actually promoting coral life.  We proceed to that big crater full of tropical fishes, I positioned in the by-side, paused and watch in awe the busy stream of resident fishes swimming, darting, wiggling before me. We passed alibuags sending shivers as it was too cold to ignore.  Duka is famous for these fresh water springs underwater, how uncanny nature is!  There was a parade of giant snappers and a big turtle appeared.  We entered a small cavern full of golden cardinals, swimming madly as we got near! The area is now more full with soft & hard corals, decorated with crinoids, whips and other invertebrates.  Still a paradise, as it was!

Our last dive was at the Aquarium with an inner reef for the wide coral field and outer reef to the deeper part of the site. We descend on a sandy slope unto a large colony of garden eels, so many of them! And again, I linger for a moment to just watch them come up from their burrows inch by inch.  Their shyness is endearing! There were lot of tropical fishes in variety, few nudis and a cluster of giant clams.  We found too stonefish and a juvenile yellow frogfish.  We roamed around the coral fields, biding our time and watchful for critters.  There were alibuags again scattered, and true to its name as it was before, it is indeed an aquarium!

Just marvelous, the bay can never be outdone in its diverse marine life, and coming back after some time with a deluge of sightings was refreshing enough and brought back memories how replete this once my playground in the early days!

NB.  All photos courtesy of my favorite dive buddy – http://www.lakwatsero.com! 🙂