Diving in Europe?

My probing eyes tried to absorb all the sites before me as the city tour bus rolled off.  I just arrived Frankfurt the night before, the difference of six hours of time zone from Philippines left me undaunted. I started the day like any Deutsch determined for my “to do” list on hand.  The buffet breakfast in my hostel was more than enough for my energy boost, but I gulped down two glasses of multi-vitamin saft to be sure I had enough resistance against the new weather.  The morning was crisp as I got out from the heavy oak door of my hostel.

Along the Rhine River, Frankfurt am Main
Along the Rhine River, Frankfurt am Main

I was pressing my nose on the glass windows grasping the colorful sights and the impressive buildings, then smiled as we passed along trees by the Rhine River that started to change colors. And I started to click and click for photos.  Then as we go around tracking the tour route, I catch Happy Dive – Frankfurt dive shop at Elizabethenstrasse!  It was a surprise as I wasn’t expecting to spot one as I arrived Germany in just few hours. I can’t help smiling and touch my dive computer on my wrist, my travel buddy even if I’m not diving.  The mermaid in me felt good, I was reminded that I am a diver even in foreign lands, and even if my itinerary didn’t include dives.

Happy Dive – Frankfurt

Two weeks later over the weekend, I asked my cousin about her diving news bits. She got certified two years ahead of me but to my surprise, she barely had 30 dives. Her dives consist only of trip to Egypt, Corsica Island (off in France) and a simulation dive in a deep pool.  She added that the  marine life in her dives paled in comparison in Philippines, there is so much life and color in her descents in Philippine waters.

Diving in Europe is one dream, perhaps it would be impressive where it all had started.  Early diving expeditions started here and SCUBA was discovered by Sir Jacques Yves Cousteau. But diving in Philippines can not be understated, many Europeans came over just to dive and I met divers  in my dives in Coron, El Nido and Tubbataha. Our tropical waters has been attracting Europeans, many of them either established diving business, work in diving communities, stayed for good and have families in our lands.

Diving in Europe? Perhaps one day.  Perhaps, a reason to be back one day….

Happy Dive Frankfurt
Elisabethenstraße 14
60594 Frankfurt-Sachsenhausen

Phone 069 / 40563219
Mobile 0176 / 31384141
E-Mail info@happydive-frankfurt.de
Monday 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Tuesday to Friday 2:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Saturday 9:30 am – 4:00 pm

100 Hours of Pure Bliss

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Just a note for one more milestone in my diving journey, month ago being on my 5th year in diving I earned 100 hours underwater. It was on my 123rd dive, not on a fancy dive resort wallowing in luxurious amenities but on Linamon coast in Iligan Bay.  It was an exploration dive on a sunny Sunday with blue skies, just perfect for an underwater venture.  After some works in the fish sanctuary, the Linamon project work force suggested for a break and went with me.

Although the west end of the fish sanctuary was not a usual site, we were not disappointed. The depths was blessed with biodiversity.  There was variety of corals, sponges, invertebrates, crinoids, hydroids and fish species.  We found nudis, juveniles and even crown of thorns. The visibility was good although there was kind of murky area, we didn’t find trash underwater. I was impressed that residents in the coastal area have managed well their waste disposal.  It just occurred to me that LGU Linamon was an awardee on War on Waste movement few years back.

Looking back, all my 100 hours were pure joy and very enriching – treasures indeed worth reminiscing. I have lost track in my dive log. I dive and dive with spontaneity, record my descents without counting the hours.  It was just coincidence that we ended with a sumptuous lunch at Grande Brasille Resto nearby.  I shared laughter and stories with Che, Sam, JR, Alvin Jay and Jong before going home.  It was still a celebration altogether!

Five Years Diving: From Blue Skies to Blue Seas

I sank gently to the sand. I breathed sweet, effortless air.  The sand sloped down into a clear blue infinity.  The sun struck so brightly I had to squint. My arms hanging at my sides, I kicked the fins languidly and travelled down, gaining speed, watching the beach reeling past.  ~Jacques Yves Cousteau~

Sinking down gently…

I will never forget the feeling.  A sense of excitement, mystery, apprehension, awe and unbelievable reality came upon me as I got into the diving gears for the first time. The sunny blue skies and the blue waters in Balingoan is a witness as she engulfed me in the depths. That was five years ago when I came alone for my open water diver course.  Since then, it has been a journey and I’m still on the road.  Now, I want to pause and step back a while for some reflections as I reached my fifth year enjoying one of my greatest love and exploring the amazing underwater world.

As Professor Trevor Norton said, “Once you have a taste of the ocean, the intoxication lasts a lifetime.”  Indeed, I never felt such sense of equilibrium after I got into diving, it’s something deeper – it brings a sense of privilege seeing a magnificent display of nature in the raw – in an amazingly separate world – underwater.  Diving has changed me in many ways, life wasn’t the same after I became a diver.

In Two’s

Two years later after I got utterly fascinated floating in the deep blue, I took my open water diver course in 2007.  It took me that long to decide as I know I need to dive often, no doubt it is necessary and that would be too expensive, I thought.  But the desire was so great, I took the plunge.  Then another two years (2009) later when I took my advance open water course – alone again! The desire was great to acquire more skills and I found it necessary as I need to gain more confidence as I explore more of the depths.

Same rhythm, same vibrations…

Every Filipino diver’s dream without doubt is to explore Tubbataha – an underwater paradise and a marine world heritage site.  I shared such same dream with my favorite dive buddy carefully planning things, sure we did it! But again, this dream was answered exactly two years later when we committed for the plan.  And with the principle of continuing education and the concept of PADI learning system, I need to level up my certification so as not to limit my diving adventures.  Few months back, I got certified to use enriched air (EANx) two years later after my advance open water course.  Now, aiming for Rescue Diver certification with the objective to acquire the ability and skills for rescue and therefore be useful in such situation, I can only hope I got certified before the two year period would lapse!

Since diving is generally and strictly adopting the buddy system, I need a buddy whom I could be comfortable with and have aligned that same rhythm and vibrations when we go underwater, more so on the surface. I have been traveling and diving with my favorite dive buddy for more than three years now, hoping for more dives together in the days to come.

Such colorful world!

Looking back I am most thankful to two people who have been with me, two important people who inspired and gave me courage to go on and hope for the best in my diving pursuits.  My mentor, who got that enabling flair for his students in acquiring the necessary skills and confidence to make most in every dive. As a newbie, my dives was always with him – then one day, he said I must go and experience diving somewhere else – like a father telling a daughter to spread wings. I did and now exploring and learning many new things just as he said. He’s always there for my concerns and needs even until now, he’s just an SMS away – just few weeks back, he made arrangements instantly when I told him I want to dive in Mantigue Island.  And surely, my favorite dive buddy who is my companion in most of my diving trips including the Tubbataha Dive Cruise. I shared wonderful memories with him in my underwater escapades. I traveled with him often and in some ways spoiled me with all those getaways, I love it though!  I felt blessed and honored to have these two noble men who shared their time with me, cared for me and extended a hand in any way they can.

Reasons or Lessons?

I have both – they said supposedly mature adults must do things with objectivity and that sounds logical.  At first, it was quite personal – I was bitten in that one magical moment in the deep blue.  My sub-conscious kept nagging me to discover and experience such amazing underwater realm, which I could only do by strapping a tank on my back and go deep down.  I had no regrets, I’m enjoying every bit of the journey, and more importantly it gave me a new sense of balance.  On a deeper sense, I realize that this amazing marine world is in great peril as a result of man’s greed and exploitation, the whole mankind needs to save the degrading resources entrusted to us. We are just stewards, we failed and we have sinned against the Creator.  Now I know better, I have obligation to protect, preserve and enhance this last important ecosystem on earth.  It pained me to see all the atrocities of marine life done by humans who are supposedly civilized and educated as they claimed to be.

The marine world needs us!

I have much to say about lessons and my journals was filled with many accounts, indeed I have learned so much in many aspects.  There is always something in every dive trips – new friends to meet underwater, new sites to see, variety of sea creatures and new learning of characteristics and behaviors.  I learn to manage schedules and arrange trips with much flexibility without sacrificing my work obligations.  I meet people in the diving community, all of them as far as I could remember are kind, friendly and helpful – perhaps, divers belong to such breed!  I become more compassionate, undoubtedly more humbled and felt more privileged to be exploring the depths, when not all has the opportunity for such favor.

Going Places

There’s no denying the fact that traveling is part of diving, I would say I was seeing more places in the country for the last four years in quest for dive sites. It’s more than just counting  sites for my dive log but I believe diving gave one that itch in search for something new and unfamiliar or unknown.  My dive buddy and I found it exciting to uncover and unravel new sites, especially those off-beaten ones.  We learn more and bring home with us treasured lessons and cherished memories.

My deep blue world

I have favorite sites which I visited often, to name a few:  Coron in Palawan for the World War II shipwrecks, Moalboal in Southern Cebu for the sardines run and Banaug Shoal in Balingoan for its diverse marine life. And I will forever treasure my first thirteen dives in Tubbataha Reefs – it was a dream come true.  I love Apo Island, Apo Reefs, El Nido, Mantigue Island, Malapascua Island and Puerto Galera. But there are still more depths to dive right in our country, there are more to see than what I have seen.

Abounding Graces

Like a miracle unfolding, graces and blessings abound.  Indeed, finances is necessary for the trips but everything was provided, the Great Accountant was too generous. Surprisingly, arranging schedules become manageable even sometimes tough decision have to be made, prioritization becomes an art.  Undeniably, unforeseen circumstances intervene but I learned to be tough and knew that there’s  always good reasons for all events that happened along the journey.  The Lord has always lavished me with these gifts, and many times I felt spoiled with His generosity and kindness. Five years wasn’t very long but I gained so much treasures from this journey.  Cheers to the next five years!

Perking Up at Puerto Galera

Rich marine life

I yawned staring blankly at the airline crew doing the safety demo before taking off, I was on a 9pm flight for Manila.  It’s  a long Friday or a long week for that matter, and all I wanted was to curl up on my bed with my fluffy pillows.  But I need to go, like a fish out of water my gills were severely dried up – it’s been nine weeks since my last dive!

Sabang Once More

After a bus and ferry boat ride, we arrived a little past 9am at Sabang hoping to catch up for Isla Verde trip, but all boats have left already.  We ended up with the two remaining dives on schedule for the day within  Sabang area.  But just watching the blue waters and sunny skies, gave a spirit lift even with lack of sleep.  Nine months ago, we feasted with the rich marine biodiversity within the nearby sites.

Invertebrates abound the area

A number of divers were book for the day, so DM Guy assigned us  to the new speedboat of the resort with DM Andrew – Angel and I was glad they still remember us, later we learned that it’s rare they have Filipino clients, almost everyday  they had foreigner divers from other parts of the globe! All other divers were indeed  of different nationalities, we were joined with  a Canadian.

Our first descent was in Sabang Point planning for a maximum depth of thirty meters, rolling back for our entry I remembered what we did in Tubbataha complete with the count from our DM.  We descend on sandy slope decorated with variety of hard corals coupled with juvenile reef fishes, floating and watching the sights in silence.  It felt so good to be back in the waters!  There were damsels, sand perch, a lurking moray, blue nudi and a slithering banded sea snake – instantly we back-out a little observing its direction.  A little dragonfish was perched on sand, it was my first time to see this critter with such wing-like pectoral fins, I believed it was disturbed by our presence.  Invertebrates abound in the area – colorful crinoids and hydroids.  More nudi species, variety of anemone fishes, wrasses, anthias, damsels and more. I watched in awe a herd of yellow-tailed fusiliers hanging in mid-water, swimming in unison with same vibration in one direction.  Then over lush corals, appeared another herd of striped eel catfish wiggling its way and further, a long crocodile houndfish inched its way near the hard corals.  We hovered around a coral area for our safety stop until we ascend having a total bottom time of 51 minutes.

Striped eel wiggled before us
Striped eel wiggled before us

DM Andrew briefed us that the next descent will be at Sabang Wrecks, I guess DM Guy was taking note that we love wrecks and so the suggestion. This time we are joined with three other foreigner divers.  A short five minutes on the speed boat to the spot, back rolling again for our entry we went down on a sandy area. Our first encounter was a snake eel, with only its head protruding, its entire body buried on the sand – amazing! Very rare, since they are commonly seen on night dives.  We passed a coral area as we proceed to the first wreck, a small boat almost rotten but a good artificial reef as there many fish species now claimed it as their abode.  Juvenile fishes swarmed the area.  On our way for the second wreck, a giant moray lurking under a coral appeared before us.  A patch of coral with crinoids on the sand housed a pair of  ghost pipefish, mimicking the green feather star!  Rare sighting, but the waters was disturbed when another came near, it went cloudy.  There was a flounder – another rare sight, so elusive with its color like the sand  but with  eyes protruding, its outline appeared like an abstract.  Angel wanting to take more photos, we finned back for the ghost pipefish at the deserted sandy area just in time when the visibility cleared up.  Indeed, one need keen eyes to see more of the wondrous marine critters.

The elusive ghost pipefish

Approaching the second wreck, shiny banded bluish spade fishes appeared in view.  Listing on its starboard side, we advance for the small wreck just observing as we passed by.  The last wreck encrusted with hard corals and rust is another artificial reef, juvenile fishes swarming.  Watching variety of fishes in one area so near me was a real treat. The black frogfish and a huge swarm of sardines in blue backdrop above us coming from nowhere was a grand display of

Rare black frogfish

beauty and wonder of the depths.  We swam back shallower and passed over the first wreck which is more of a debris, unto the sandy area for our safety stop. Yet even with the last few minutes, we still had wonderful encounter with another moray, a troop of big yellow cardinals, peacock mantis shrimp and a group of pipefish. We ascend after 48 minutes bottom time with the afternoon sun still shining brightly.

Huge swarm of sardines!

Reason to be Back

Coming to Puerto Galera was another buffet of marine encounters just like our last visit nine months ago, the two dives renewed my spirit without doubt and it was another marvelous weekend with my favorite dive buddy.  We aimed for Verde Island but Sabang didn’t disappoint us, it gave us  good reason to be back again to savor more of its diverse marine life.  Long trip and lack of sleep didn’t stop us for the dive, it might be insane for some but ironically I need it to maintain my equilibrium.  And I’m sure there will be more surprises in the depths in  future trips to this booming town!

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

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Puerto Galera Galore (cbartazo.wordpress.com)

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