In my year-end dive, we discovered this reef as we went around in the island sanctuary, perfectly decorated with feather stars, whips, soft & hard corals. Very symbolic and a gentle reminder for our love of the ocean and marine world in general. Just needed keen eyes, I was beaming when we spotted this corner! 🙂
We’re now into the swing of the new year putting in place each one’s agenda, may the force of love our motivation in our journey – our passions, dreams, and aspirations.
Indeed, the ocean is worth the love we could give. As Dr. Sylvia Earle puts it, ” No ocean, no life. No blue, no green. No ocean, no us.” Let’s keep the heart beating, it’s time we return the love!
Still our penchant for seeking less known sites is limitless. As we all knew, the island province of Bohol is a gem, it is undoubtedly replete with many wonders. Last year, we felt so blessed after diving in the town of Anda – it was incredibly rich we regret discovering it just lately. So, we were off again to the province and endured multiple mode of transport to reach the town of Loon, finally cruising to this tiny unassuming island one weekend in September. It was a plane, ferry, bus and tiny boat ride all to Cabilao Island. The island has been in my list years back but the arduous trip that won’t surely fit on a weekend deterred the schedule. Recently, Angel discovered reaching the other side of Bohol via Tubigon, definitely shorter and cheaper than via Tagbilaran! So, as soon as I got back from the July rendezvous, I booked my Cebu tickets for this trip.
All in a Rush
Another hectic weekend awaits us, so things were all in a rush but thanks God all our transport connections went fluidly as planned. We were catching our breath as we do not want to be late, Europeans are time conscious and it is discourteous to keep others waiting. We arrived and welcomed warmly at Polaris Dive Resort just in the nick of time, enough to have a quick but relaxing breakfast and gather ourselves for the day’s dives. DM Jun assured us not to rush, we were informed that three couples (all Deutsch) were booked for the day obviously we were arranged to join them.
The location and amenities of the resort was impressive and exactly what one needs for an escape, add diving and that’s perfect haven for me. J We geared up after the preliminaries and piled all eight divers in the boat for our first descent at the Lighthouse, which was a short 5-minute ride south of resort shores. We dropped unto a sandy slope filled with soft corals down to a wall, we chance upon a colony of garden eels which quickly hid in their burrows when we got near. I’m always fascinated with them, and again I paused and waited they would come out again, they did slowly inch by inch! We stumbled on macros – few nudis, glass shrimp and a crab mimicking on soft coral. Every turn we peek on corals for critters. The highlights for me was the yellow
frogfish perched on a large plank of yellow rubber coral surrounded by crinoids, adapting its yellow surroundings. I waited it would yawn, but it only opened its mouth a bit perhaps catching some air, at least it was not upset with our intrusion in its abode. It was a good subject directly facing us, so the Deutsch divers feasted for photos! We explored more – the perennial clown fish forever teasing over anemones, ghost pipefish like dead leaves (!), stonefish and nudis again. Then over a sandy part, our DM pointed out a couple of black/white organism clinging on rubber coral, poking a bit it went white all over – it turns out to be an egg cowrie! We linger for our safety stop over a sandy slope covered with corals and sea grasses and found last minute a stonefish, hairy crab on bubble coral and a herd of striped eel fish. We separated from the group and ascend by ourselves in the shallows towards the shore, after 90 minutes. I still have 60 bars with 29.7 meters as our deepest. So far, this was my longest bottom time!
Our surface interval was spent for our light but relaxing lunch of penne pesto pasta and korbis soup, we had enough time too for some breather in our cottage. The quiet surroundings under the swaying coconuts and trees with blooming hibiscus would surely lull you to sleep. J I have to drag myself from the rattan duyan for our next dive at 2pm.
The afternoon descent is at The Chapel, which is nearby too parallel the resort shores. It is located near a small chapel which according to DM Jun where fishers drop-by before setting off to fish. Our DM promised a diverse marine life in this lowly site. Indeed, we dropped off on a colourful reef where in few minutes we found the electric clams, they lurk on overhangs or crevices and emit somewhat vibrating lights from their opening. Angel pointed out to me a shy moray with its head barely out from its hole, it didn’t like our intrusion. L Then a harlequin shrimp barely noticeable clinging on soft flowery coral, glass shrimps on anemone, another minute shrimp on flat hardened surface over anemones, few nudis – critters were everywhere! We went on a swim-through with our DM carefully navigating getting a streamlined test, it was perfectly smooth! A lone silver barracuda was teasing us, wondering where its companions are. Damsels, groupers, triggers, sand perch, wrasses, chromis, fusiliers, butterfly fish, angels, anthias and more. There was this adorable blenny peeking from its abode as if giving us a hello, its curiosity was endearing. We were having our wrap-up as we get off for our safety stop, when a large herd of striped barracudas appeared in view. We swam quick before we lost them, it was incredible that at five meters we got a full view of the herd! J I still have 80 bars when we ascend after 73 minutes. It was wonderful, with lot of sightings and diverse environment we were more than an hour underwater for both dives. My heart was filled with gratefulness for all the discoveries.
We pass-off for night dives and choose to unwind at the patio savoring the twilight glow and eventually had a quiet alfresco dinner listening to the waves behind us. The day was just full deserving a good night’s rest.
Leaving the island wasn’t complete without attending an early mass at the Centro, exploring the shoreline towards the Lighthouse and Punta Baluarte Eco-Museum. It offers a lovely view of the sea minus the crowd and modern development, just sheer island charm and unspoiled serene setting.
Hidden, idyllic and purely designed for unwinding, another unmatched destination just waiting to be explored and enjoyed is Cabilao Island. Actually, it’s more than just a destination, it’s an experience!
My itinerary for this trip
Last night flight from Cagayan de Oro to Cebu, 740pm – 50 minutes
First trip ferry to Tubigon, 445am – 2 hours
Van ride to Mocpoc, Loon – 1 hour
Habal ride to Pier – 15 minutes
Boat ride to Talisay, Cabilao pier – 10 minutes
Habal ride to Polaris Dive Resort – 10 minutes
Return trip has same route leaving the island early, to catch the last flight to Cagayan de Oro from Cebu
With the above itinerary, there is a need to stay overnight in metro Cebu
Ferries for Cebu-Tubigon route & vice versa has several trips daily, in Cebu they sail from Pier Uno
Polaris Dive Resort is a self-contained homey environment friendly resort which houses a 5-star PADI dive shop, lies in the western side obviously offering daily sunsets
The tiny triangular island of Cabilao off Loon town is literally surrounded with at least 14 dive sites
The marine world is indeed filled with wonders, and this electric clam is just one of them. Ctenoides Ales (scientific name) is a specie of saltwater clam, a marine bivalve mollusk in the family of Limidae. It is known by the names of electric flame scallop, disco scallop, electric clam and disco clam. The only bivalve known to have light displays, its soft tissues flashes light like a disco ball!
This clam normally situate itself on overhangs or crevices obviously for protection, secondly, the lighting effect is more visible in the dark. Recently, we sighted the critter while diving in Cabilao Island, Bohol. Our last encounter few years back was in Pescador Island, Moalboal. So far, these are the sites where I found this rare flashy clams.
According to research, the explanation of this flashing light comes from reflection of the ambient light – the clam have a highly reflective tissue on the very outer edge of their mantle exposed and then hidden very quickly, so the change back and forth from the white reflective tissue to the red tissue creates the appearance of flashing.
Coming to the southern part of Negros Occidental has been in our agenda but its time-consuming trip via Cebu & Dumaguete kept me stalling the plan, it needed a much longer weekend and at least three days leave considering no-fly intervals after dives. Fortunately, direct flights to Bacolod from Cagayan de Oro (via Cebu Pacific) suddenly opened last summer, such advantage that could mean shorter travel time! Without second thought, I booked my flights over the third weekend of July for that long – awaited dive trip, I could hardly wait. My dive buddy simply can’t resist not to join!
Once I landed in Bacolod, I had so much to discover and fill my cravings – especially that Bascon Café, Pendy’s & Tom Tom’s Cafe was just a stone’s throw from my hostel. My sweet palate succumbed to half-moons and napoleones – only the best at Pendy’s and get much filled with the generous eggs benedict at Bascon’s! J Such a treat! The following morning I heard an early mass at the old San Sebastian Cathedral.
The town of Sipalay is more than 130 kilometers south of Bacolod, the aircon bus that I took crawled from town to town until we arrived after 6 hours, it was uneventful though the trip gave me a glimpse of the rural setting of the province. The only production area I remembered was sugar cane fields but none for the staples. I finally arrived at Punta Ballo after a trike ride, my host who waited & constantly sent me SMS while on the road, perfectly gave me a warm welcome. Artistic Diving Resort sat on a quiet spot in Campomanes Bay that has exclusive beach, most importantly it houses a 5-star PADI dive shop. I waited for that golden sunset but it didn’t show up, the skies were overcast that afternoon.
Angel caught up with me early the next morning giving him enough time for a quick nap to freshen up after the long ride from Bacolod, we were expected at 9am at the dive shop.
Eva’s Point and Toscana
We told DM Rogee that we are hoping to explore the wreck in the bay but it was raining in the past days so the viz wasn’t good enough. So, for our first descent he suggested for Eva’s Point which is located at the edge of Campomanes Bay. We geared up amid the drizzle hoping it won’t rain hard, with one Deutsch diver joining us. The boat sailed shortly northward and dropped anchors twenty minutes later, the waves rocking us bit. We descend to a reef with scattered hard corals, a lobster hiding in a crevice greeted us
with its waving antlers, there were at least three I noticed. There were giant clams among the corals, nudis, wide table corals, crinoids, sea fans and sponges. I lingered over soft corals with glass shrimps perhaps feeding on parasites, then a herd of shrimpfish with their synchronized swimming show. There’s one nudi that caught my attention, a fat white bodice with black lacy pattern all over, it was something new to me. There were snappers, batfish, wrasse, triggerfish, trumpetfish, damsels, pipefish and more. We lingered over a wide coral area for our safety stop, just going around the colorful coral field feeling its vastness. Just as we passed over a sandy slope, our DM signaled for something floating, indeed it was the ghost pipefish appearing like brown dried leaf, it was alone. But a couple appeared also, I guess the area is a playground of the specie. We lingered more and found Christmas tree worms and more clams and just before we surfaced sighted a crown of thorns. It turned out that the visibility was good more than we expected. I still had 100 bars when we ascend after 70 minutes!
Our surface interval was unhurried and relaxing, spent accordingly for our late lunch and rest, and got back at the dive shop at 2pm. We geared up once more aiming for Toscana which is located closer to the resort, another Deutsch diver joined us in the afternoon dive.
It was just a short boat ride but the waters more rough, in our short briefing we join with DM Rogee while the Deutsch couple with the dive guide, we descend immediately after we rolled back unto a slope with vibrant corals. We found a turtle resting on the corals, so friendly it didn’t swim away when we got near and so we had ample time just watching it and taking more photos! There was these two jackfish which curiously followed us perhaps wondering what critters we are. J We found more clams, hydroids and sponges and variety of soft corals. We went through a canal-like channel looking for critters but my attention was caught up making sure of a smooth passage never disturbing the spot. Nudis, sea cucumbers, anemones and sea whips also adorn the reef and it is as diverse with Eva’s Point. We lingered over a wide coral area for our safety stop again absorbed with the colourful domain. I still had 120 bars when we ascend after 54 minutes.
Both of the sites had remarkable coral reefs and diverse marine life, there are at least more than ten sites in Campomanes Bay excluding the two wrecks. Now, there’s very good reason to be back in Punta Ballo for more discoveries. DM Rogee reminded us that the best time to visit for dives in the area is between November to May.
I guess not only for Punta Ballo, but Sipalay as a whole as we barely explored the city. Indeed, coming for good reasons and waiting for the right time is a sound guiding principle in finding a destination. Yet, that golden sunset in Sugar Beach is tickling my curiosity. I must be back in the city, it’s a promise!
We were coyly floating among the reef near some crevice with soft corals, watching unmindful before us when suddenly our DM pointed something attached to the coral. He poke carefully with his pointer and slowly it changes to white, and I was wondering what it was! It was our first encounter with such critter.
When we surface while still on the waters, I reminded the DM about it and told us it’s a cowrie shell. The black is part of the mollusk which slowly hides when disturb showing its white shell. Such a wonder!
The shells of the egg cowries reach 12 cm in length. In the adult the mantle covers the entire shell and is black with raised yellow tubercles and white spots. The juvenile resembles a toxic species of nudibranch. Unusually the mantle is kept out most of the time, even during daylight. The egg cowries are only seen out at night, usually on soft corals. There is evidence that they are territorial and that they return to the same hiding place just before sunrise.
The egg cowrie feed on soft corals, and are often seen feeding on leather corals.
After few weeks from our Mt. Hibok-Hibok climb I was back in Camiguin for a work trip, so the weekend was an opportune time for some break after that nerve-wracking week. We agreed to rediscover and dive once more the islet off Camiguin coast, so Angel caught up with me in Mahinog very early on a Saturday.
Our cruise to Mantigue was challenged, the insurmountable waves tossed our small boat vehemently and I was thinking if we could just let the storm pass, but we are far from the shore already. The sun was brightly shining though, but I started to worry when the engine had trouble and stopped when we were still half way, what if? 😦 It was agonizing, the waves were fierce enough to sink us! Obviously, we made it to the shores of the island.
We maneuvered a bit to the north side to take cover from the raging waves and so our DM decided to have our first descent at the Black Forest. Another challenge was kiting up since our boat was too small to do it, the last and most practical was to do it on waters. It’s been long since I last did it, I hesitated at first but I remembered Mario (my mentor) saying it is the easiest way. So I went down first alone, I missed Mario at that moment because he always make sure someone will hold the gears for me. My buddy was just watching me from the boat. 😦
We went down to a sandy slope decorated with soft corals, it was surprising that the viz was reasonably good considering the waves we encountered, the sea as always is incredibly unpredictable. So, we swam over variety of soft corals, hydroids, whips, crinoids with those fish juveniles wiggling over. The turtles graced us, this time not just one but there were six! Always, watching them gracefully swimming warms my heart. So with Angel, it is always his favorite specie but now he can calmly watch it swimming by without getting too excited, before he always ends up chasing the poor turtle! 🙂 We found also giant clams, coral crabs, sea cucumber, striped eel fish and a moray eel. We had a safety stop in the grassy sandy shallows and after 63 minutes ended in a shore ascent, swimming up to the white beach.
Our surface interval was spent for our late breakfast at Dive Special camp, and later to make most of our time, took a walk around the islet circumference discovering its other side. The sun was brightly shining without any trace of a storm! The waters was calm already, so we finally went in our second dive for the sanctuary which we originally aimed for those giant jacks! We took a short boat ride until the side of the site with those floaters and geared up again in the waters. We descend right in the sanctuary, watching closely taking our time as we swam slowly but this time the viz gone dim and cloudy. The variety of fishes have again surprised me, it was filled to the brim I must say. There was a herd of giant batfish, school of midnight snappers, and most of all – the school of jackfish! They have grown in number and obviously in size, now real giants after four years we last saw them! Again, we had a dose of turtles, five in all including a big one who swam from my back coyly as if wanting me to follow her, I watched it in awe. There were banners, angelfish, chromis, damsels, triggers, fusiliers and those electric blue anthias darting, so colorful. There was a scorpionfish too, banded pipefish and variety of giant clams. As we move around, we encountered again the school of jacks, hovering as if not moving at all. So peaceful and relaxing, how magnificent to just watch them! It was a grand display of nature’s splendor. We had a shore ascent again after having our safety stop in the grassy slope, the afternoon tide fiercely carrying us to the white sandy shore. We had a total dive time of 57 minutes with our deepest at 20.4 meters.
Ending our two dives, we silently cruise back to the dive shop jetty in Mahinog with the waters perfectly calm. Have you been to Camiguin? If you can squeeze few hours, cruise to Mantigue and wander around, you don’t need to dive to relish its unspoiled charm. Its richness is in its simplicity and serenity!
We promised ourselves to be back in Antique, carefully planning the dates during summer to explore Maningning Island, our Austrian DM pledged to arrange a dive trip for us. Apparently, our penchant for off-beat sites got us again finding his offer irresistible! Thinking of unfamiliar destination tickled my curiosity.
DM Niki gave us lot of reminders and important to do’s, one of which is to arrive Pandan as early as 5:00am, the sail to the island have to be at 5:30am. The weather can be unpredictable so the return cruise needs to be early too. It was raining that night but we dragged ourselves from bed at 3:00am to make it to the diveshop driving from Kalibo. We made it though on the dot, it was drizzling when we arrived.
It rained but my worries fade out when we finally left the shores for the island, we sailed on a sunrise! Maningning is a barangay of Culasi but sailing from Libertad would only take two hours compared to five hours from its main town. In my mind, I was fancying the unspoiled underwater, pristine beach and the old lighthouse in the island Angel was aiming to visit! We fetch Mr. Romy of LGU Pandan as our escort who confirmed the cruise to the island, local folks have this innate sense for nature – you know, when to go & not to go. The waters was smooth enough as we cruised but halfway where we can see the island already, the boat turned back and our DM explained it would be risky to proceed and diving wont be possible even if we got there, worst was we could be marooned in Maningning and nobody knows when it would be safe to sail again! 😦
Detour in Libertad
DM Niki suggested having our dives in Libertad instead, there was no choice at the moment and he assured us that like other coastal towns it has equally diverse marine life. Thankfully, the waters was smooth near the coast. So, our first descent was at Pucio Point, we were still on the boat when a large herd of fish had a commotion few meters from us. I took it as a sign of a good dive opportunity.
Our companions were a bunch – DM Niki (Austrian), John (Australian), Mr. Romy (LGU Pandan) – all of them are old-timers in Antique coasts, so we were confident enough of our guides! We back-rolled, incredibly the waters was warm and no current and there was only silence and stillness deep down. It felt so good to back in the depths – after 12 long weeks! We roamed in the sandy slope, decorated with variety of soft and hard corals. All tropical fishes hovering peacefully over the reefs. There were jacks, groupers, triggers, damsels, sergeants, banners, angels and anthias. There was a lone banded sea snake wiggling and as if sniffing the corals and sands – I think it was hungry and looking for food. Funny was, Angel almost bumped with the sea snake! He was startled when the krait came near his face! These reptiles are generally not aggressive and therefore don’t necessarily pose danger to divers. We ended up after Mr. Romy rolled up the abandoned nylon fishing lines until near our anchor about more than five meters.
We sailed a bit for our next descent in Union, which DM Niki described as filled with boulders and overhangs. After an hour of surface interval we geared up for our mid-morning plunge, thankfully the sun shone up. I found crown of sea thorns, with the waters starting to warm up in summer, the specie multiplies faster. It was sitting pretty
on top of a coral crown, later I learned that LGU Pandan have conducted a massive harvesting of the starfish. The LGUs gave compensation to motivate locals in helping to control its multiplication, their imbalance population is a threat to the ecosystem.
The corals are massive in different varieties and tropical reef fishes obviously abound, again those juveniles wiggling peacefully. There were bivalves, sea cucumbers and nudis too. The crevices obviously became shelters and dwellings of the fishes. There were narrow alleys but avoided to get in deeper as it could disturb and possibly break accidentally the corals. There were crinoids, whips and hydroids scattered along.
Our lunch served as our surface interval before our final dives. We enjoyed the food coupled with stories from our host, it was worthwhile to note that the local government of Pandan and Libertad have actively involved in the preservation and protection of marine environment. Most of the barangays lies on the coast and fishing is largely the source of living in these communities.
So after a hearty lunch, good laugh and warm sun, we geared up again for our last descent at Taboc Sanctuary. DM Niki briefed us that there’s a cavern and we need to bring our torch. We immersed in the warm afternoon waters to a slope, down to colorful reefs. There were groupers, jacks, snappers and tropical fishes. We found too giant clams, sea cucumber, nudi and cowrie shell – not just one, but three in all near each other, perhaps they were family! We found also blue ribbon eels, two of them, dancing and willing in their burrow – it is seldom to find them in two’s. I’m still in awe, watching them with their mouth wide open, I wonder if it is speaking in a very silent way! 🙂 We roamed around until we got back in our anchor, spending our safety stop near the uprooted tree submerged in waters. It’s worthy to note that in 2015, a giant grouper (lapu-lapu) was washed ashore near this sanctuary, sadly it was dying after being trapped in the shallow waters, fishermen brought it in the surface and have it butchered and sold to a businessman. So sad…
It was a faux pas but we still enjoyed our unplanned dives in Libertad! I guess, Angel is unrelenting because he promised DM Niki to return next summer aiming again for Maningning. They agreed for the calendar date where the waters would be flat and summer is in full bloom. Obviously the island is unspoiled, promising a rich underwater life. Antique waters is below the radar in diving but undoubtedly have secrets yet to be unraveled, apparently coming back in the province is something to look forward!
Our refuge in Pandan was in Unterpertinger Place, a room & breakfast owned by an Austrian who speaks Deutsch. A comfortable & homey place recommended by our Austrian DM. The place has a garden and orchard, a perfect rural setting. Our food was prepared direct from their home kitchen. 🙂