In Search of Ancient Camiguin

Camiguin Island Underwater Paradise

Before my page would gather cobwebs, I am writing this account as we had finally explored the depths of main island Camiguin.   We had our original schedule in May but chose over the  transplantation works in the Linamon Project, catching the last Saturday of the month when my dive buddy came over.  Now, I just thought it was an important moment, not only because we finally explored these coveted sites, it was the birthday trip of my favorite dive buddy!

We did the usual routines on our weekend trips  – Friday dinner, packing-up gears, four hours sleep, early bus drive and sleepy ride to the site.  I was grateful our DM suggested for lodgings near the sites to save time and costs, it was comfortable enough and not costly.  We took the jeepney from Benoni port to Mambajao as suggested again by our DM, than taking the costly motorbike ride, then finally took the tricycle to Barangay Agoho.  We were bidding our time just like in our previous travels, just allowing things fell its place as it was still early.

Lava rocks in Old Vulcan

In our first descent, from Brgy. Yumbing, our boat brought us to Old Volcano site – the spot where the fierce eruption of the Vulcan transforming the island what it is now today. Navigating through blue waters against the green mountain ranges for about 30 minutes – it was an exclusive dive for us. The rustic Camiguin always fascinated me – it was pretty sunny and just perfect for the much needed dives, it’s been twelve weeks since our last dive!

Back rolling for our first descent, the cold waters refreshed me from the “summer” heat.  Agreeing to limit our depths to 35 meters, we didn’t waste time going down.  Boulders and lava rocks were visible though covered now with colorful corals and crinoids. We passed by in crevices, as if some kind of large cracks now covered with soft and hard corals plus variety of fish species claiming as their abode. There were sea fans in yellow, green and violet scattered in the area, one was so wide it obscured my way.  Enjoying the rich diversity and making sure my buddy in sight, I inspected closely some crevices, then in complete surprise I saw the manta ray passing quickly away, but without missing its graceful flapping as in flying!  Rare and wonderful.  Angel and our DM was making signs and noticed it so late.

Violet seafan – so wide!

We agreed earlier to make the first two dives and take late lunch so we could spend more time at the Sunken Cemetery, I never had a close encounter of the big Cross and so the idea was just perfect.  We took those small boats for rent to the marker – funny because at first the friendly bangkero was asking if we will swim to the spot! We spent the whole stretch of our surface interval at the marker dismissing hunger – for Angel’s climb on the big cross and for the endless photos. Our boat man served as our photographer, and honestly he took good shots!  🙂

Cross marker now tangled with corals

Our next descent was intriguing, I always enjoy unknown sites because there is much to explore and there is much to tell after the discovery. Sunken Cemetery has been a dream site – so near, yet so far. It was a sandy slope with more or less stable depth, never a drop-off, I guess cemeteries are normally plain. There were variety of corals in different shapes and colors, sponges, worms, crinoids and fishes – anthias, shrimpfish, lions, angels, bannerfish, snappers and more.  Indeed, we found the cross markers now tangled with corals, not only two but three – the last one was when we were about to have our safety stop! All of them almost buried with the corals on them.  I was hoping to find skulls and bones, but it is impossible after two centuries of the eruption. Either the remains were deeply buried in the depths, or blown into pieces or swept away with tides and currents. The spot now has now turned into a marine paradise.  Finally, the discovery after five years – of the ancient part of this island! I have to hold on with Angel to keep me steady during our safety stop perhaps I was already too famished to control my ascent. My favorite buddy always knew my need with just one look!

A stonefish resting between corals

Our late lunch at Terrasi served as our surface interval for our last dive. We quickly sailed for fifteen minutes to Black Forest, a sanctuary off the coast of White Island.  The sand bar still with people, enjoying the mild afternoon sun. My first sighting as we got the depths was a handful of garden eels almost half up but as soon as I got near them, they quickly disappear.  There was moray eel whose mouth and eyes closed, which I found unusual perhaps it was sleepy already. There were crinoids, worms, perennial lionfish, clownfish & anthias. We caught site too of few miniature nudis, cleaner shrimp lurking in the anemones and clams.  There was stonefish too, and the friendly lowly turtle swam coyly before us – well, Angel chased it again for photos!  We surfaced after 54 minutes with my air still at 1200 psi.

An afterglow after our third dive!

Lacking sleep the dives sapped my energy but the three wonderful dives made me smile as I drift off to sleep.  The Island Born of Fire is truly magical and I will always love this paradise. I have more than hundred reasons to come here again and again and again.

Balicasag Island: Milestone Dives

Balicasag Island

I knew I have to be back to Balicasag Island to dive and savor once more its underwater life. This is the place where it all started – my fascination of the great marine life. While on a family vacation six years ago, I snorkeled with my sister at the marine sanctuary.  I was lost in awe with the blue, blue waters and beyond.  I have promised myself to become a diver since then…

Alone in Alona

Arriving very early in Tagbilaran, I have so much time to spare. How ironic when there’s so much to do back at work, here I am wandering in the city square!  After attending mass at the cathedral, I crossed to the plaza watching a large flock of doves on the ground, feeling like I’m in Hyde Park.  Though Panglao town can be reached by 20 -25 minutes by car, I arrived at my lodgings near Alona Beach after an hour through a mini-bus and trycicle rides.

Alona Beach afternoon

The staff of JJ Alona was kind enough to guide me as I went to the bustling district of Alona Beach. Though I was aiming to go direct to Sierra Madre Divers, she insisted I must try Tropical Divers (previously Pro-Safari Divers) which was recommended by DM Geom. I believe it was an excellent dive operator but it was bit pricey. The Danish manager Karl, was also friendly who promised to organize a Balicasag trip with me if I should decide. I tried to ask for D4 strap but not available, though he assured to get one if I stay longer in the island.  Anyhow, we left for Sierra Madre to register, glad that they have two boats for Balicasag the next day.  After asking for the DM assigned to me (DM Bart will be with the chinese OW students in another boat) and departure time, we walked back to JJ Alona but not without passing the bustling beach. I remembered Boracay and Puerto Galera!

There were no other guests, a quite place is all I need with the rest of the afternoon.  It was raining hard…

Balicasag and Kalipayan

Despite the rain, the sun shone brightly the next morning. Though I arrived earlier as expected, the shop staff was already on their toes, and the place was filled with guests.  I was joined with local government staff of Carmen, Bohol who was friendly and generous to me.  They found it surprising that I am alone.  We cruised for about 20 minutes until we moored in one of the bouys floating about 100 metres from the island’s shore.

nudi on corals- both colorful

Our first descent was at Black Forest, I was hoping to encounter again the giant napoleon wrasses like last time.  Since the group were new divers and it took awhile for their preparation, I requested my dive guide to descend ahead.  Now I know, that’s what other divers felt when I was yet a newbie –  it felt like forever to wait .  We descend on sandy ground, with corals and tropical fishes abound.  There was current, so we drifted along until we got into a wall decorated with soft and hard corals.  There were invertebrates – colourful nudis, cleaner shrimp, and anemone crab.  A green turtle graced us but was too shy, it fled away as soon as it noticed us around.  There was variety of tropical fishes hovering on corals, sponges and anemones.  Although the marine life was still active, I noticed there wasn’t much larger species that I encountered. I hope they were just at rest somewhere around and have not totally left Black Forest.  After 50 minutes I ascend with 80 bars of air.

anemone crab

Glinting my eyes with the scorching heat, I was wishing to once again walk on the white sands on the island but the boat moored far for the interval.  At past 12 nooon, we had our next descent at Turtle Point.  I was hoping I would find turtles but for the whole 59 minutes of my bottom time, there was none!  I stayed behind again from other divers together with my dive guide, searching for macros as there was no pelagics around.  There were at least four nudi species I spotted, scorpionfish, lionfish and other tropical fishes.   There was a moray eel gawking at me but my cam failed.  It was filled with soft and hard corals, crinoid, sponges and anemones. Normally, there were only two dives in the island, so we cruised back to Alona Beach after we surfaced past 1pm.  This made me to my 100th dive!

moray eel gawking at me!

Again, making most of my long travel,  my time and expenses, I requested for third dive even just nearby, I was lone – other divers have called it a day taking their late  leisure lunch sat nearby resto. Quarter before four o’clock, we sped our way to Kalipayan for my last descent.  Together with my dive guide, I immersed myself with the cold afternoon waters and went deep down, unto a colourful reef punctuated by invertebrates as I passed by. A moray eel lurking on soft coral, went out gawking at me perhaps wondering what kind of fish I am! Then we moved to a sandy ground decorated with green sea grasses and those big thorny brownish starfish.  There were patches of hard corals as we went along, with tropical fishes hovering around.  We ascend after 39 minutes – it was short but has to end sooner for my flight the next day.  When we got back to the beach, the place was grueling preparing for the night’s bustle.  Dinner tables of the restos were out on the white beach ready for diners.  The area started to become more alive as the sun comes down, tourists started to flocked around the beach.

blue, blue world - my world!

Milestone Dives

Going back  to Bohol again wasn’t my priority, but my dive buddy requested for it so I arranged things for me to come. He didn’t make it though, but there’s no reason for me to cancel mine.  It turned out to have my 100th dive right on the very spot where my passion for life in the depths all started.  I wish there will be another hundred dives to come, if not two, three, four or more.

And perhaps, I will be back again in Balicasag Island – may be not sooner but for sure I will not wait for a hundred dive before I would set foot again to see more of  its depths!

Travel Notes

My route for this trip:

Cagayan de Oro to Tagbilaran  – by boat (Trans Asia Lines), 9 hours
Tagbilaran Pier to Panglao bus terminal – Tricycle
Tagbilaran to Panglao Sawang – Mini bus, 45 minutes
Sawang to Alona Beach – Tricycle, 10-15 minutes

Return trip:

Tagbilaran to Cebu – Ocean Jet, 2 hours
Cebu to Cagayan de Oro – plane, 1 hour & 15 minutes

Diving in Balicasag Island Panglao, Bohol

cruising to balicasag island…

Black Forest & Cathedral
23 January 2009

After some time of waiting and wishing I could get back to Balicasag, I finally made it during my work trip in Bohol.  I was dying to dive and I missed the smell of the sea as well as the diving gears. J On our second day in Bohol Plaza, I tried to reach Genesis Divers to inquire their schedules but unfortunately no one can give exact information unless their master divers could get back to the shores. So, while we had our Dumaloan Beach fun on the next day, I sneak away (with Enri) to Alona Beach to search for a dive shop.

Alona Beach is more lively, after three years ago during my last visit – the area become more populated and there more structures sprouted. There were more bar, resto, resort, diveshops lining the beach.  We hastily search for Genesis Divers, it was almost dusk and I was fortunate to catch up with DM Noel who was preparing for a night dive with some foreigners.  He informed that their next day trip would be some surrounding islets but not Balicasag, he said the visibility for the past days was not good and surely divers wont be pleased with such condition.  He recommends to check at Sierra Madre Divers just beside Oops Bar.  Good enough, next day’s trip will be in Balicasag! I was asking if some divers have signed up with them – just a Chinese couple so far.  I decided to sign up especially that their rate was cheaper, we left hastily after I signed the waiver and providing Norman (owner & manager) necessary information about my diving background. We need to catch up with the group at Dumaloan, I felt like starving already… L

I was just getting excited the next morning, thinking of my underwater encounters at Balicasag.  Hah! Last time when I snorkeled at marine sanctuary I was ecstatic during our fish feeding, as soon as I got into the water with crackers (sorry, it’s not good practice), the surroundings came alive! The fish swarmed me and my sister, it was too wonderful having them too near to us.  After that, I promised myself to be back in the island to explore more of the deep waters – to dive!

After packing my luggage, taking our breakfast, arranging our tickets back, saying bye to friends and some picture taking I left the hotel on a motorbike – the cheapest transpo I could get going to Alona. I dashed off when I reached the area as it was past 9am already, we’re leaving for the island at 9:30 as scheduled.  I was just on time as they were starting to bring the paraphernalia to the speed boat that would bring us to the dive boat.  Oh, how I love the sight and smell of the sea.  Norman was telling me that I would be with Bart – a fun loving DM who will be my buddy one on one.

Our first dive was in Cathedral – a drop off wall rich with marine life… Well, the viz was about 20 feet, not bad – I was sure I could see many sights on that condition. How I miss the underwater life!  I just love floating deep down watching the marine creatures – I was so amazed to see a giant napoleon wrasse! We found a cute nudi branch, searched & find cleaner shrimp and star feather crab, angel fish, bat fish, anemone & clown fish, anthias, variety of hard and soft corals, sponges and more…Bart signaled to ascend after 50 minutes, I still have 80 bars of air when we surfaced. Lee & Shirley (the Chinese couple) almost at same time ascend and went up the boat.   My surface interval was spent talking with DM Bart, eating my bananas, sending SMS to friends about my dive and taking notes for my log book.  I requested the boat crew to let go the anemone fish in the tabo, I can’t imagine the small creatures face death for no good reason.

Bart briefed me that there would be mild current, so we will be somewhat drifting on the second dive.  The boat moved to Black Forest, we descend to wide sea grasses area – all green and swaying with the current, with variety of fishes swimming around – such lovely sight!  I spotted a puffer fish and tried to chase the frightened little thing.  I can see its pleading eyes, I wanted to touch it but Bart summoned to the opposite direction. J Drift diving was new to me, it was a lesson to learn as a diver – just floating and going  with the flow! It was effortless but I just need to stay near Bart.  I saw again a giant napoleon wrasse swimming coyly, a school of big jacks, school of batfish, big groupers, those fish sticking out from the sand (I forgot I need to check fish ID J). We sighted a fish trying to dig the sand probably attacking its prey, played with clown fish stretching my hands to them, there was a table top coral, sponges like I saw in Lapining, and more.  I was hoping to spot a sea turtle but there was none – no luck. Finally, Bart signaled for our ascent, he inflated his signal device as we have drifted away from our boat and we notice some boats above us.  After 53 minutes and my air down to 90 bars, we finally surfaced near another boat. J After awhile, the boat picked us up – the Chinese couple ahead of us.

We sailed back to Alona Beach as I took notes and worked on my phone, it was past 2pm already.  I ordered my late lunch, although I was not famished I need to fill my stomach as I planned to roam down town Tagbilaran.  After settling my bills, bidding bye, and asking for directions to go to sawang for my transpo to the city, I left the area but promising myself to be back again for another dive – the island having many interesting dive sites to offer! I rode the mini bus for Tagbilaran with a smile on my lips thinking of the beautiful rich marine life in Balicasag.  All things has its own appointed time even my small wishes like dive trips… I can always thank the Lord in His unending generosity – surely He can never be outdone and He never forget His promise….