Savoring Sipalay

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I rejoice every moment of peace in marine world!

Spontaneity… It sounds exciting to me especially if it is about travel and my last dive trip in April was one. Although my mind was set to revisit Pandan in Antique province to conquer the ever elusive Maningning Island, we succumbed to Sipalay City as alternative destination. Our DM was not available and the weather was unstable.  It was another long trip as it was necessary not to waste my ticket to Iloilo City from Cagayan de Oro. Took the early ferry to Bacolod, endure the long bus ride to the southern most town of Negros Occidental, until finally we had the tricycle ride to Punta Ballo at our refuge in Artistic Diving Beach Resort. The long day was filled with good tidings though, the morning rainbow while in Iloilo pier and the afternoon rainbow at the white beach were enough to cheer us up and took it as a promise of wonderful trip just like in the past.

Punta Ballo

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Somewhere over the rainbow!

Taking refuge in a dive resort while diving is always advantageous, there is no rushing to commute going to the site and there’s no need to carry heavy wet gears back to camp.  Artistic Diving Beach Resort sat along the west coast with an idyllic white beach, so the sunset always beckon at the end of the day. It has at least 14 dive sites including wrecks, and is just nearby Campomanes Bay. After eight months we were back, there was much to explore and we barely covered this unassuming city in our last visit.

Dive and Swim

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Punta Ballo is full of dive sites

After attending the Sunday mass at the city center and taking light breakfast, we gathered up our gears and met up with DM Dick at the shop.  And again, it was an exclusive dive for us! We aimed for MS Jojo for our first descent, it was a short twenty minutes boat ride to the bay. This boat was a small cargo ship for copra and other produce that sank in early 1980’s, they said exploring the wreck is somewhat tricky. It can be murky down there even during sunny weather, and so we were hoping that we could get at least a glimpse of the wreck. We back rolled and hold on to the buoy line together descending slowly until at 20 meters we saw obscurely a huge mass. We were very fortunate that visibility cooperated us and we tried not to disturb the water hovering carefully trying to cover as much as we can. Perhaps I was so distracted, I only saw a lionfish but never the spadefish that normally dwells on wrecks.  We lighted our torches but there wasn’t much to see, penetration was not allowed inside the wreck, the entire hull was still intact. We were biding our time until my NDL went down to 1! I signaled for ascent feeling sorry that it was too short and was just indeed a sneak peek underwater.  Later on, I learned from my computer of my bad profile, I still had 90 bars of air with my deepest at 32 meters after a bottom time of 36 minutes.

After an hour for our surface interval, we geared up again for our next descent at Miami Beach which was a lot nearer from the diveshop, it was another boat dive. We descend the slope while maintaining our left shoulder towards the reef. We caught sight of an artificial reef of concrete slabs filed on top of the other.  Indeed, it became a shelter and refuge of variety of reef fishes, we saw like two or three mounds of slabs all filled with fish.  There were glass shrimp, violet hairy shrimp lurking in soft corals and juvenile lion

P1060903fish. There was a field of corals decorated with wiggling fishes, floating around wandering the waters. I sighted a COTS taking refuge under the corals. Just when we are about the ascend, we noticed a large lobster with its wiggling antlers.  I still have 100 bars air with bottom time of 56 minutes with 26.9 meters as deepest.

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Artificial reef became a rich shelter of marine life in Miami Beach

Trek, Swim and Sunset

We ended our dives early enough to explore more of the city which were in our last trip. One good thing about Sipalay is remaining idyllic and still devoid of distracting structures that seemingly hide the natural beauty of places.

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Overlooking the horizon from Perth Paradise

We hired the trike we had in the morning when we went to church, for our afternoon get-away.  Somehow, the locals always knew what to see, where to go next and what not’s.  Our first stop was at Perth Paradise Resort, we went around the floating catwalk wondering those hills on the waters like fjords. We climbed the steps up the topmost level at the pool admiring the stunning view.  The afternoon was scorching so we didn’t linger on but instead left hurriedly and sped off to Tinagong Dagat which was indeed hidden. It was all trek from the gates, crossing the rickety hanging bridge and climbing up the hill to the viewing deck.  The view was stunning again, the green mountains over the blue waters – it was all glorious!

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Watching Tinagong Dinagat from the hilltop view deck

There’s one remote beach that tickled my curiosity since I first came in Sipalay but unfortunately left hanging for next visit.  I was imagining the reddish horizon over the waters as the sun sets.  Unbeknownst to us, going to Sugar Beach was not an easy one. The dirt road was potholed so the ride was a bumpy one as we sped off to catch the colorful sunset and finally hopped to a short boat ride crossing the river to reach the area.

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The colorful beauty from Sugar Beach, how magnificent!

And indeed, everything was crude – place was utterly untouched by modernization. We were able to explore a bit as we waited for the sunset, and swam enjoying the warm afternoon waters. Purely idyllic, almost devoid of people and there was no rushing as we watched the horizons turning from golden, to fiery reddish, orange until it mellowed to pinkish.  Such wonderful display of nature.  It was already dark as we rushed back to the city center and finally, to the dive resort.

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You can never miss the sunsets of Punta Ballo while in Artistic Dive Resort!

If given a chance to be back south of Negros Occidental, it would be Sipalay, the rural and picturesque attractions coupled with diverse marine life is a perfect combination.  It could only take a rich underwater world for me to love a city or a “punta” for that matter!

Carousing in Moalboal!

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Millions of sardines, the immensity is a phenomenon!

It was a quick decision to revisit one of my favorite destination in Cebu province, initially we were aiming for an offbeat town in Southern Leyte but unfortunately, the lone local dive shop was fully booked for that weekend. We made quick arrangements on our favorite hostel and dive shop in Moalboal but then again, all were fully booked. We ignored the hindrances though, coming to this favorite town southwest of Cebu was a joy. My last visit was yet in June 2014!

The last minute changes made me scrambling from a quiet lunch with friends, it was already past 2pm and everything else went as a whirlwind – tickets, packing, gears assemble, so on.  By 8pm, I was already on board the boat sailing for the night to Cebu.

Travelers always trust things will work out well as you arrived the destination, and it sure did. As long as you are open-minded and make most of what is available at hand. One last bahay-kubo was the lodge  for the night and our friend DM at Cebu Dive Center offered us one dive in their house reef for the coveted sardines run, it was good that one dive guide was available for that afternoon. The arrangement worked well and it gave us time to see other sites.  🙂

White Beach (Bas Daku)

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Got away from the crowd to get unobstructed view of the sunset!

For the many times I went to Moalboal, I never got the chance to visit the area and Torsten (of Moalboal Backpackers Lodge) described it as a wonderful spot to relax and watch sunset. It was low-tide when we got there, the shores was wide and long enough for the walk but unfortunately it was too crowded. So, we had the walk, sat at the beach, watch people, watch the sunset and in the end, had a dip and quick swim in its warm waters!  🙂

Aguinid Falls

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Therapeutic morning dip at the falls basin!

The town of Samboan is 60 kilometers away from the lodge and almost two hours bus ride, so we woke up early for the trip south. Indeed, the early bird catches the best view! There was no crowd, no noise just the sound of the gushing waters! Yes, the short walk and climbing the four levels was a sure test of agility and strength. I love the early trek and swim at its basin with the majestic falls behind us. It was a wet morning adventure!  🙂

Sardines Run

 

 

DM Cameron (of Cebu Dive Center) was just good-hearted to arrange with another diver for our afternoon dives, one dive was truly not enough for me but it was better than none considering the long trip. The afternoon waters was turbulent as it was moving for the high tides, it was hard to keep steady as we wade for our entry.  At 15 meters though, we had a grand show of million sardines. It clouded above us, as we swam coyly in the warm waters – so beautiful and surreal! It was amazing, a nature’s wonder that can not be explained.  For a time the swarm was in the deep in Pescador Island, but now it’s in the shallows right next the shores. Maybe, the fishes knew that they can survive well away from the predators. Yes, the spot is a protected area and fishing them is illegal! I knew I will get back in Moalboal for the sardines again and again.

The brief get-away was a carouse but never in a noisy and lively way as in a party, but it’s about enjoying nature’s gifts in it’s most simple, relaxed, spontaneous and unaffected way. The wonderful dive was just I needed during the Moalboal visit. After we bade goodbye to our host, we left for the city thankful that our traspo connections went fluidly.

It was late when we arrived downtown Cebu, rushing but still had enough time for a relaxing dinner at La Maison Rose.  C’est la vie!  🙂

NB. All photos courtesy of my favorite dive buddy.

 

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!