A Decade of Wonders and Wanders


“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.


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 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!

Diving, 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!  🙂


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!

Passion for the Depths!

angel 2
This blooming branching corals can only be seen in the depths!

Just recently I came across an article about scuba addiction citing all the symptoms of being one, bit hilarious but in a sense there some truth in it. For many and that includes me, has been bitten by the bug, and again I would say this could last a lifetime.  In my own terms, it’s not addiction but more of passion, not an obsession but fervent devotion, not merely fancy but true admiration of the life beyond.

The lure of the underwater world sets a diver on a great voyage that goes to the bottom of the sea. A journey beyond the terrestrial dimension that set him apart from the rest after such glorious experience in a universe populated by  weird or wonderful cast of thousands.

So in many ways, our passion would manifest in our behavior, habits that could become a lifestyle. Generally, there is nothing verbal but in many subtle ways the assertion is essentially clear of being a true blood diver.

  • Sporting a bulky watch even for women is not weird, because the dive computer will become one’s treasured time-piece. Now, I found it practical to wear my dive computer on my other trips other than diving, even if I went on my weekend walking. It has practically become my buddy!
  • My so called de-stressor trips revolve around dive plans, seeing one new place is something therapeutic for me but it must have dive sites and obviously dive operator. My official trips sometimes are coupled with a dive plan if such destination has diving opportunities.
  • Yes, my certification cards are in my wallet (all three of them), just to keep them handy. It might get misplaced if I keep it somewhere else!
  • I can have all my essentials in my back pack but I do always get extra kilos exclusively for my gears, always requesting the airline crew for tagging as “fragile”. Extra time is necessary for some questions and signing the waiver.
  • Well, incredible memory is necessary – for all the story telling what was seen underwater. The key is being mindful for those amazing moment, it is needed for taking notes on your log not only for sightings but more importantly for the lessons learned. You can always narrate when you saw your first shark, turtle, ray or whale. Or mention a site, and you can always tell stories what not to miss. 🙂
  • Learning and knowing an extra language in hand signals. You have leveled up actually, the “OK” sign is not about money anymore, or the “thumbs up” is always about going up. You easily get confused when such signals are used on the surface!

If these are not weird and all sound too familiar for you, then you are a diver by heart, the depth of your passion has sunk in your innermost being.  Needless to say, if you don’t have these qualities, you’re not a real diver. Chances are, it was merely a whimsical urge which after a time, when the excitement wane it will become a thing of the past.  A passé but never a passion….

CHOICES for the Great Beyond

An explosion of colors in the depths, slowly deteriorating and maybe lost if we do not do something about its protection and preservation…

The choices we made reflect more of who we are, far more than our brains, skills and abilities…..

Our impact on land is important just as in depths, our choices as human beings has effects either blatantly or subtly. Years back, I was struck realizing that marine world is in great peril, the value of the reefs can never be underestimated. Human induced global warming now poses perhaps the most serious threat of all, the evidence is very visible. Before it leads to extinction, protection and preservation are all necessary with consuming effort by humanity.

Questions to Ask

Do I really need that car journey?
Do I really need all those plastic bags at the supermarket?
Do I need to fly as often as I like?
Do I really need products with all those packaging?
Do I need to change towels everyday?
Do I need all these dust-gatherers in my room?
Do I need to indulge in the bath tub weekly?

Basic and simple questions that need simple but radical decisions and change of lifestyle, indeed conservation starts at Home. By this time, I believe many are getting the message. It’s not something new, and many are seriously involved now  more than just marine enthusiasts. Clover’s book, “The End of the Line”, stated that citizens need to reclaim their stake in the future of the seas.

Decisions, Mature Decisions

Do I need to dive weekly or monthly? Do I need to take advantage of airline seat sales? For almost five months I had no dives, I was like a fish out of water! I knew that my presence underwater has ill effects though subtly, it was difficult but that break provides space for my underwater friends. My presence is not necessary for them to survive, in fact it poses danger to them.

I haven’t flown for almost three months and my travels were limited to work that can’t be delegated. These “low cost” airfares are misnomer, actually there’s a great cost and we are all going to pay for it whether we fly or not. Take this, flying to Maldives emits tons of carbon dioxide, an effective way in helping to sink them. With that reality, I can not visit this marine paradise and explore its wonders if only to make them afloat a little longer. All my plane fare now includes WWF donation to compensate for my carbon- emitting flight.  A diver like me needs to rethink about limiting trips, and reducing ecological footprints.  As the saying goes, a true ecotourist never get on a plane!

Just mid of last week I had dinner with friends, trying this new food chain in town – the seafood is great according to them. Maybe, it was filled with people when we got there.  But I was aghast of the plastics they use – from plastic gloves (eat with fingers), plastic bibs or apron (it’s messy), camote fries was on wax paper, and the worst was – our one (1) pound hot shrimps with garlic/butter sauce was in clear plastic (food grade I hope) tied on its top end, delivered to us like a bag of groceries! I can not imagine the bulk of plastic garbage they dumped everyday in the land fill, most likely tons – it was disgusting! I know I have no good reason to be back in that resto.

Seriously, if we need to make a difference, difficult decisions has to be made. I believe that the greatest wisdom is being able to master the things that enslave us – our passions, desires and wasteful habits that tries to consume us but we can be free and rise above all of these, all for that greater love and passion of the great beyond.

Diveshop Discoveries

The iconic dive flag

My passion for diving and the underwater life had given me that keen sense for the red flag with the diagonal line, it seemed I am drawn to it even in the midst of other travel agenda. I have promised myself to be productive in every trip, learn and discover especially marine issues and activities and possibility for diving trips in the future. I always believe that many places are worthy for diving, this country has 7,107 islands and literally surrounded by waters. Indeed, many interesting spots are not in the diving map but some brave souls just establish dive shops in rural areas even if scuba diving is unpopular in the locality. Recently I unexpectedly found dive operators in the least popular setting, new discoveries that sent flutter in my heart!

Surigao City

Mabua Peeble Beach is just 10 minutes away from Surigao City

We went to this popularly unique pebble beach in Mabua to fulfill my promise to the kids – my nephews and nieces, it was long overdue and have to squeeze schedules for a two-hour travel from Butuan to Mabua and another two hours for the return trip. We drove to the tip of the cove for the beach cottages, and somewhere halfway I caught sight of a cottage painted white with the dive sign, it was a surprise! I thought there was only Punta Bilar Dive Center in the city. It is operated by Dirk/Doris, a friendly couple who just started the shop few months back. Mabua Divers (www.mabuadivers.com) can be reached at 09166439982. The site is a good prospect as it is in the nearby Caraga region and can be reached by land, there’s no need to fly!

Legazpi City

Recently visited the city through a work trip, at the airport while waiting for my luggage I hastily approached the tourist info booth and asked about diving, it was again surprising as the attendant handed me a calling card. I mentally noted Pacific Blue (www.pacificblueasia.com) not sure to find or visit the shop. Later that afternoon, a friend’s friend showed us around and drove us to Embarcadero and further to Legazpi Boulevard. There tucked in between with newly constructed establishments is a lowly but with large ground space is the shop. I asked our host for a short stop to inquire which he politely obliged. A Japanese which looked like a Filipino to me, attended to my inquiries – a casual conversation about the divesites and its marine life. There were damages from dynamite fishing and currently they are working on coral transplantation to revive the coral reefs in the surrounding Albay Gulf. It was interesting to note their effort to restore the marine environment, in coordination with BFAR.

As expected diving in Misibis Bay is in dollars!

The luxurious Misibis Bay offers diving but I cringed as I inquired for the rates, the bay is still reviving from dynamite fishing damages.  A sanctuary is maintained by the resort, giant clams transported from Bolinao, Pangasinan were planted and adapting well, tropical fishes which includes over-sized groupers are decorating the nearby resort waters.

Butuan City

Right in this city where I grew up, I wasn’t expecting that diving will come right at home. In my own opinion, hardly would anybody set up a dive shop in Butuan, it was unbelievable. The notable body of water in the city is the Agusan River, with its murky waters it is not feasible for diving. The decent beaches worthy for the usual weekend outings are in Nasipit and Carmen, which is more than 25 kilometers away. Most likely, diveshops will open in the coastal towns with obvious reasons. JJ Dive Center started operations just few months back this summer, with the vision that Butuanons will embrace Scuba Diving as a sport, hobby and passion.

Punta Diwata Reef is offshore of Punta Diwata Cave (Photo credits of wikipedia.org)

I found their announcement online through a diver Mexican contact and noticed that their dive spots include those located in Surigao City and Carmen, Agusan del Norte. These localities have notable marine environment and have existing partnership with government agencies for marine preservation and protection. I’m looking forward to discover and explore the mysterious depths in Caraga, and again there’s no need to fly!

A Good Dive Buddy

Exploration dive with task force, Linamon waters
Buddy system is basic for safety in diving

I’ m sharing this article from http://www.bookyourdive.com to remind me again to be always a good dive buddy, I have always love diving and I become particular how to behave properly underwater.

A dive buddy is someone with whom you share your diving experience in order to prevent emergencies and solve problems when they occur. The buddy system is used by divers to make sure that someone is always there, helping to maintain the safety of the other buddy throughout the entire dive.

What It Means To Be a Good Dive Buddy.

Whenever you go diving, it is important to have a dive buddy that you can trust from the time you are on the boat to the time you dive into the water and then return to the boat or shore at the end of your dive. You definitely want to have a buddy with you, to share the fun with you and be there in the event of an emergency. In the same way, you need to learn how to be a good buddy to someone else, because you want to be able to help someone in need and make sure that you can help him/her enjoy his/her dive. Here are some tips on how to be a good dive buddy.

A good dive buddy is always ready to help
A good dive buddy is always ready to help

Being a Good Dive Buddy

A good dive buddy takes safety seriously. He or she is someone who is knowledgeable about scuba safety, knows how to use diving safety devices, and is willing to perform the Pre-Dive Safety Check before each and every dive. By showing that he or she is concerned about safety, a dive buddy will put his or her buddy at ease and will create a level of confidence that can lead to an even higher level of enjoyment throughout the dive.

Another quality of a good dive buddy is someone who communicates well both on land as well as in the water. Try to establish signals that you both can use before you head down into the water, so that while diving, you will be able to understand each other’s gestures more easily and not be left confused by each other’s hand signals. A good buddy is someone who communicates how close or how far he or she is willing to be from his or her buddy, and this will also be important to know during the dive.

Dive buddies stick to each other
Dive buddies stick to each other

Before a dive, a good buddy will establish what he or she prefers while he or she is diving. For example, the dive buddy should state whether he or she likes to drift along from a distance or get closer to a site. A good buddy will be one who shares the same feelings about how to experience a dive.

A dive buddy will also be around the same skill level as his or her diving partner. In this way, one will not be held back or forced to go too quickly by the other. Having a similar skill set will allow both divers to experience the dive from similar perspectives, and it can lessen the odds of conflicts regarding how fast or how far to swim during the dive.

Coming into Silence

Rich marine life at the shoal

Fun isn’t important, purpose is, and actions that have some real meaning…

Silence… My own breathing… Bubbles.  Holding on to a rope, descending, slowly.  Nothing in sight, just waters and the sound of my breathing.  There was only stillness as I went unto depths.  Just few minutes back, there was turmoil on the surface and I was out of breath as I swam for the line. I was gasping, my mind racing just wanting to cancel my dive.  But my dive guide was firm and with controlled voice plainly told me to hold the line.

Banaug Shoal is 22 meters depth, in between was all waters with no sign of life – there was only pure silence.  Slowly descending to this underwater hill is like stepping into the unknown hoping to land on a paradise.  Indeed it is, a self-contained spot with so much life.  The damsels swarmed us, the couple red snapper followed not wanting to be left behind.  There was a display of resident species – angels, seargents, anthias, lionfish and more.  The reef is colourful as it was, we found a leaf fish which is something new to me, I thought for awhile it was a scorpiofish! There were nudis too –

Leaf fish at the shoal – new to me!

black/white combi was new.  The resident scorpionfish still sitting on the coral top – just waiting for a prey.  But I missed the big moray eel, he didn’t show up from his hole.  I was wondering if he was just watching us from under the rocks.  Lingered for more basking in the presence of the shoal’s residents but when my NDL got at four minutes, I signalled to the dive guide for the ascent after 51 minutes with air still at 80 bars.  Speeding back to the resort, I was left alone by the staff after we agreed for the 1 pm second descent.  The good thing was there was no other guests for the day, the place was all to myself totally.

The resident scorpionfish on coral top

Silence…  Sitting by the waterfront reading my book, the withered talisay leaves collected my feet as the noon winds blew under the trees.

The waters became fiercer so the next descent as explained by the guide is at Lapinig Island instead of Talisayan Shoal, to take refuge from the raging waves of the open sea.  Speeding off, I was hoping the current would be manageable.  Again, this lowly island never disappointed me, we descend on a sandy slope  and slowly swam taking my time observing the rich colourful secrets of its depths.  We got to a coral area hosting Christmas tree worms creating a miniature holiday scene.  Many of them quickly hid in their holes as I drew near but few of them was generous enough, stood their ground as I took photos.  There were colourful nudis, cleaner shrimp on anemones, clownfishes, anthias and more.  The highlight of which was an encounter with a cuttlefish.  Most often, they would just quickly disappear from sight, but this one

The grouper wanting to be fed!

choose to stay nearby in a way observing us too.  I was inching my way nearer but he was backing off inch by inch too maintaining its distance! Such magnificent animal.  For awhile we float face to face, its fins wiggling around him as it swam backwards.  I gathered a handful of trash  as we went around, as every descent is a clean-up one. I needed keen eyes for this.  The current has gotten stronger as we went shallower, I have to hold on to the coral rocks to maintain my depth during my safety stop – I was swept away up.  We surface after 61 minutes with my air at 80 bars, the waves surging on and the waters fiercer.  The cold sea air sweeping us and the salt water spraying us,  as we sped off for the shores, watching the horizons in silence.  It felt good.

Christmas tree worm in white and yellow

Coming home to MADRI and spending time in its nearby depths in silence is one best way to revive my sagging spirits and to brace me for the daunting year-end tasks.  Just pure and natural silence.

NB.  Both dives were in EAN 30%.

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