The Linamon Project

The site in Barangay Samburon, Linamon, Lanao del Norte

In few days, we will commence our work in the Linamon coral transplantation, just few more days.  We have waited for so long, but now we will finally do it. The trajectory given by World Bank mandated to complete the works not later than June 30.  And it was a tall order.

Now, I can only imagine the dives that have to be done to finish the remaining area of the one hectare coral nursery.  For sure, it would be work unlimited underwater, for marine life preservation and protection in the area.  The community is involved in this project and have fully participated since it all started, one of the best practices to ensure the sustainability of the marine protected area. Finishing off the one hectare coral nursery is indeed a gargantuan task.

Planted corals on substrates
Planted corals on substrates

It’s been almost twenty months since I last joined them in the evaluation of the first few substrates that were tested.  Soon, I would be working in a different environment under different pressure.  Breathing underwater in gears, carefully planting the materials in “pots” in silence.  It’s pretty outlandish and not everybody has the opportunity to do this kind of work for the marine environment.

In few days I’ll be joining the good men of Linamon for this noble task and I can hardly wait. In few days…

NB. Underwater photo courtesy of Mr. Lemuel Alfeche

Sagada A Drench

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It was indeed pure blessing to be back in Sagada for a weekend sojourn, I got my tickets few weeks before the anniversary of my first visit in this quaint highland town.  The green fresh surroundings, cool mountain air, friendly local, stunning spots were perfect enough to renew my spirits.  Like my first trip, my longing didn’t wane a bit.

Arriving at noon after two long rides from the metro, we went straight to Yoghurt House for late lunch savoring our favorites – vegetarian pasta, green salad with tuna and vegetable rice! It was a great start, filling our hunger was mandatory for our planned events in the next precious hours. As usual, we relied how things fit our whims, lackadaisical as we like it.

Quests at Altitude

Leaving to your imagination that warm glow feeling on our afternoon walk to Lake Danum hoping to catch sunset, or the early morning rush to wait and watch the sunrise at Kiltepan, or watching the scenery as we walk to and from for Sumaguing Cave and Pongas Falls.  It was all pure, breathtaking and beautiful – watching in silence and absorbing all its grandeur.  It simply feeds my soul.

But I must indulge how soak I was while at altitude and not in depths, it was quite an adventure.  Angel suggested for Pongas Falls months back being newly opened for tourists.  Ramos, our guide said the trek is just one hour – not so far, we thought.  We started to descend to a community in Brgy Ankileng, watching the rice fields beyond us, walking through narrow pathways in between houses to the Barangay Center to register.  It was all greens around – rice fields alternated with vegetable patches, the mountain in lush vegetation and the forest beyond.  The trek wasn’t easy, from the rice paddies dikes to the canals in the mountain cliff as our pathway.  You need balance and agility or else you’ll fall to the muddy trench or the bottomless cliff! But the scenery as we went through was awesome, the green terraces were just planted and there were people working in the paddies.  I always admire the ferocity, ingenuity and assiduousness of the mountain people, how they have constructed canals by the mountain cliff to serve as irrigation system for their agriculture areas.  Watching the falls from afar, I was humbled how this water supply becomes a source of life for them.  The people preserved and respected Pongas Falls and only few had the opportunity to view its splendor. Water person as I am, the sounds of the gushing waters revived my spirits from the scorching heat. We climbed boulders and jumped on rocks as we rushed to the foot of the falls. The cool water was just irresistible, sun drenched Angel and I wade in the waters, not minding that we don’t have extra clothing with us!  Kay followed later, and we all soaked up ourselves under the sun.  UP the mountains, swimming on the waters all beaming, with the place all to ourselves.  C’est la vie!

Soaking in Pongas Falls pool!

Not wanting to waste our time in the afternoon, we walked our way to Sumaguing Cave and relish once more its display of wonders.  Again, engulfed in the earth’s depths and darkness we viewed varied formations alternated with ducks, climbs push, pull and jumps. Agility and flexibility was all I needed.  We searched every corner of the cave and we didn’t miss the challenging spots like clinging to vertical rope for support facing the rock wall to cross to the other side for another rock ramp.  There was much water, pool of cold waters- and yes, we swam and soaked up ourselves, we didn’t escape two pools waiting to immerse us on its bosom.  Unlike in the falls, our dip was quick and hurried, the cold murky water  was uncertain to linger on. But still, we were all dripping as we ascend and ended our exploration.

Totally in Drench

Yes, it was total saturation – in fresh air, cold foggy morning and nights, warm summer sun, unspoiled scenery and quirky adventure. Our visit to Ganduyan Museum and witnessing Saturday market was also immersing in their culture and tradition.  More than that, there was flood of great food to our delight – imagine Lemon Pie House, Yoghurt House and the authentic French cuisine at the dinner buffet of  Log Cabin!  Right – Angel, Kay and I was totally drenched with everything in Sagada. Another unforgettable trip…

Travel Notes:

  1. The long walk to Lake Danum is about ten kilometers round trip.
  2. Dinner buffet at Log Cabin is on a Saturday, reservation is necessary – first come, first serve. An authentic french cuisine in a remote highlands, by Chef Aklay. Sitting at the Dap-ay by the bonfire after a sumptous dinner is quite relaxing.
  3. Lemon Pie House is not only about lemon pie, we were fortunate to have Blueberry Pie which is not available whole-year round.
  4. Cave Connection is about three hours while Sumaguing Cave is about two hours depending your pace.
  5. Pongas Falls was just opened in July 2011, trek requires patience and endurance.
  6. Be a responsible ecotourist, it pained me when I see litters which I did when we went to Lake Danum, Pongas Falls, Kiltepan Viewpoint and Caves.

2011 Portfolio: Blue World

My Blue World

I have convinced my self it’s not yet too late to  scribble my last year’s journey in the underwater realm, something I could come anytime in the future to feel and reminisce the joys and wonders as I go through this quest. Much has happened but on a nutshell, here it goes:

  • Had a total of 38 dives making it to 109 accumulated dives and accumulated 86:46 hours  as of year-end
  • Revisited sites  such as Moalboal, Mantangale, Agutayan Island & Coron both special for me and my favorite dive buddy
  • The great Tubbataha Dream finally – I had thirteen dives in this underwater paradise!
  • Discovered great sites aside from the wonders of Sulu seas  such as Apo Reefs, Mactan & Puerto Galera – the experience was magical and captivating. I had a long write-up in these trips
  • Never missed the International Clean-Up Day and joined the diving community with my dive buddy in a coastal town here in Misamis Oriental
  • Took up  lessons using enriched air with my dive buddy and now certified EANx diver
  • My 100th dive in Balicasag Island, right where I catch the spell of the blue world – another milestone!
  • Having back a camera after a lull of fourteen months, though I’m still getting to know her I’m learning more on underwater photography
  • More controlled bouyancy, thus more more efficient air consumption, never had an air lower than 500psi or 50 bars
  • Technically, there was much improvement – I can dive comfortably sans DM but still with dive guide; night dive is now sans angst; and wreck diving  give me that kick that rose my adrenaline – penetrated five wrecks with my dive buddy, not to mention other minor hulks we discovered in PG and Tubba

I will never forget the challenges, struggles but more on the joys, victories and graces attached to all of these tales. My blue world – my passion, my dream, my life…

NB.  Photo by Angel taken while  diving Irako Maru in Coron, Palawan.

Moalboal Weekend: Kickoff for 2012

Family of clown fish on anemone

Squeezing my second weekend this January, I met up with Angel in Cebu – not for the Sinulog Festival but for a dive in one of our favorite site in the south of the province.  Barely ten months ago, we were in Moalboal for the glorious sardines run.  But just a day before our trip, I learned that the sardine and threshers in Pescador Island are nowhere in sight.  It didn’t dampen our spirits though, it’s been four weeks since our last dive and we direly needed to be in the waters again.

Our friends in Moalboal welcomed us warmly, DM Geom of Cebu Dive Center and the Siggelkows of Moalboal Backpacker Lodge were so helpful and provided for our reservation needs. Torsten was in town and it’s good to see them both, the lodge is like home to us.  Arriving the dive center past 11am already, our dives were arranged all in the afternoon.  It was a blessing we catch up the van almost leaving for Moalboal when we got to the terminal.

Hardly a worm!

After a hurried lunch at the Chili Bar, we geared for our first dive.  Our guide Bebet dismissed Pescador, aside from the absence of the sardines, the waters could be choppy as it was afternoon already. The weather was perfect, the sun was not scorching and was somewhat shady.  Our first descent was at Talisay Point limiting our depth to 30 meters, unto a reef wall with overhangs and crevices. It houses variety of soft and hard corals, where macros carefully camouflaged for protection.  Coral crabs, cleaner shrimp on bubble coral, reef crab, clam digger on rubber coral.  We went inside a small cave and peek on holes for electric shell, with the torch light reflections it glowed in the dark.  The wall was decorated with anemones, maze coral, staghorns, and other branching corals.  Variety of anemone fish abound in the area, sighted also balloon corallimorph, sea fans in yellow, green and brown.  A shoal of shrimpfish decorated an overhang with whips and sea ferns.  We stayed longer on a wide coral area going around until we had our safety stop at five meters, still swimming around.  We made the ascent after 57 minutes.

Large gorgonians decorated the reef

Our boat went further west for Kasai for our next descent, and after a surface time of 55 minutes, we got back unto the waters and went down directly unto reef wall with active fish life decorated with a variety of colourful corals.  There were hawkfish, buttefly, angelfish, lionfish and nudis. I needed keen eyes for the macros – a blenny on a sandy area, worms and other invertebrates. A banded pipefish wiggled away from me to the corals.  We stayed most on a wide coral area again hopping around, a large green turtle graced us but swam fast away when other group of divers chased him around.  We found a puffer hiding in between coral branch, anthias hovering on corals were abundant, sea cucumbers, sea stars, worms, anemones, scorpion fish and many more.  We ascend after 50 minutes, the cold afternoon waters left us shivering.

Vibrant soft coral with coral crabs hiding

Although we planned for three dives, we dismissed the idea for a night dive.  Our brief escape in the town with two descents in its waters was a great way to quick start our dive pursuits for the year.  The mild sun on my skin and the sea air in my lungs revived my spirits, ready for waiting tasks back home.  There is always something different in every descent, new sightings and new learnings. It was our third visit but definitely not our last – that’s pure madness, I guess!

By then, I’m still in love with Moalboal sans the sardines run, but here’s hoping that they will be back in their home at Pescador, at the right time in the near future.

It’s Christmas!

Christmas bristleworm among soft corals...

Surely, the underwater realm is teeming with a variety  forms of life.  Invertebrates, bivalves, sea slugs or nudis, bristleworms, mollusks, flatworms and more.  Slowly, I’m learning and getting more keen as I swam searching for anything known or unknown.  There is always something new to discover, unfold or unravel and everything is so transforming. I am not the same person every after my dive.  I am a changed person after I become a diver almost five years ago.

It’s more than respecting about the life in the depths.  Over and over I’m saying this –  it’s about passion, a love like life itself. It’s about meeting friends and understanding about their life. There are even more forms of life beyond what is visible, there are many microscopic organisms forming as part of the ecosystem. How vast it is – surely my experience is just a speck of the large water world!

Taking underwater photos of marine life is astonishing, sometimes taking organisms I hardly knew. Admittedly, the colorful underwater world is so captivating.  The bristleworm above was taken in Mantangale, beautifully shaped in spiral in white & yellow,  hardly as a worm!  I am amused that there’s  Christmas tree even underwater.  🙂

My Jack in School

School of Jacks

Diving for almost five years now, there has been lot of meeting up  with friends underwater – few astonishing, some endearing,  others surprising or mystifying but most of them so wonderful. The thrill of seeing these wondrous creatures has always been overwhelming, putting them in words is not enough, surely won’t give justice to describe how marvelous it’s always been.  Marine world completely blow me away, simply I fell in love with the underwater realm.

One of the species that I found magical and awe-inspiring is jack, a silvery fish belonging to the family of Barracudas, Tunas & Mackerels, Chubs, or Mullets.  Locally known as Talakitok or Trakito, the larger version is better known as Trevally.  As food fish, it’s superb and admittedly it’s one of my favorite. But I’m more interested of Jack out there in the wild, not on my dinner table. I better knew him in the deep, swimming coyly and gazing at me, at an arm’s length in his world.

Unity and harmony....

There are three remarkable spots so far where I had magical encounter with jacks – a large number of them or aptly described as in schoolApo Islandwith its great marine life and healthy ecosystem, was teeming with bigeye jacks in school.

Glassy eyes stare!

For sure, the local community’s effort in preserving and protecting the surrounding waters was not futile.  Lining up and swimming in unison in the blue before me – what a sight!

To survive in one-mindedness...

Right in our very own Mantigue Island in Camiguin, when I first dove at the sanctuary I never expected an encounter with jacks, no one mentioned it to me.  Awed, when silvery jacks appeared before me, again in unison swimming coyly, as if listening to the vibration of my own movements.

Jacks in Tubbataha Reefs

There is some kind of magic that this humble Trakito can bring!     Lastly, in the great Tubbataha Reefs, large school of jacks decorated a sandy slope after I got mesmerized with a whaleshark & reef sharks parade.  They simply appeared like a wall, those huge glassy eyes staring at you.  Even with current, they hung in mid-water with flawless grace.  Their unity in going to one direction, or how easily they shift in opposite direction in accord is mind-boggling, as if someone is in command.  The school moves with quiet order and control.

Such majesty in oneness...

There is a majesty and power in the movement of a unified mass, a kind of beauty and harmony that can only come from moving and thinking as one.  It is still a mystery to me, indeed how vast the marine life to unravel.  My jacks in school is just one of its wonders!

NB.  Photos courtesy of Angel, using Olympus Tough 8000 and PT 045 as casing

Bookshelf Addition: Marine World Guides

Reef fish guides, still need more....

Being an avid reader I love books and I must admit it’s one of my weakness, needless to say my bookshelf is filled with an assortment of paperbacks or hard bounds I took fancy either for references or pleasure reading.  Recently however, I made addition to my collections which I think is inevitable as I got deeper in my love for the marine life.  I need to learn and know more for this grand quest of life beyond the depths.

I have gotten myself reef fish guides which I think not enough yet, considering million of sea fish species.  Now I am thinking about critters guide or even corals and other invertebrates.  Of course, it also includes dive guides – only two as of now and both were gift from my favorite dive buddy.  You can imagine, how voraciously I read the guides thinking about plans for the sites.  As of now, we focused ourselves in Philippine waters, there is still lot of sites to explore and discover.  Later, we can go beyond the borders, at the right time.

After finishing Air Enriched Diver lessons, I got now three diving manuals which are expected to be added when taking other specialty lessons.  There will be more books to have, I was dying for the world diving atlas – a big blue book written by Jack Jackson – so beautiful. I cringed though when I peek at the price!

Now, every time I went to the bookstore I searched first for dive guides or marine reference books, a slight change in choosing something to read and a modest addition for my bookshelf.