Calamian Group: Diving in History

For some time since I was hooked in the blue world, exploring a wreck has been a major highlight in my dive trips. Just as I love history, wrecks are akin to museums holding important artifacts, stories and information. What is more interesting is it is out there in the depths in silence, barely visited and untouched by human hands.

P1050738
I believe there are places meant for another visit, those kinds that you will never get tired coming over and over again. For me, Coron lured my inner senses more that its pieces of paradise on the surface – but the secrets in its depths! We explored almost all of the wrecks in Coron Bay, yet there are still reasons to be back in Calamianes.  So, last October I took leave from work, booked tickets, packed my gears and head to Busuanga undaunted of the coming typhoon. Leaving office earlier than usual, taking things slow, having booked for the late night flight.  I was alone in the shuttle heading for the airport, which I found comforting as I watch the night scenery on the road to Laguindingan silently. Even at past 10PM, the terminal was still teeming with people.

Welcome to Busuanga

I had a long wait for my flight the next morning, the cheery weather welcomed me as the Dornier taxied on the airstrip amidst the greeneries of the Yulo King ranch.  But I had another long wait though for Angel whose flight was in mid-day.  Unlike our previous trips, we headed for Brgy Decalachao which is about seven kilometers away, the northern part of the town.    Our hosts in The Riverhouse welcomed us warmly, Mr.  H’s reception trick was kind of ceremonial and perfectly gave us warm smiles as we step on watching the grand view form the terrace!  🙂

The remaining hours was for some good rest to compensate for my sleepless night, our large comfortable cottage was just perfect then. Our sumptuous dinner was even more to our liking.  So, it was sleep and eat kind of relaxing for the rest of the day, such indulge. I felt spoiled in some way.  The Riverhouse was a perfect refuge in our get-away.  I might add that the lavish environs engulfed me – mangroves, river view, mountain view over the wide horizon, lush vegetations and peaceful silence.  The stillness of the night peppered with cicadas singing, more beautiful and relaxing than the booming videoke in the downtown area.  🙂

Pure, Idyllic and World Away

P1050763
The next morning was cloudy but not a deterrent for our exploring the quiet and laid-back side of Busuanga.  Wrecks always thrilled me and I was hoping for discoveries again as I always expected.  The port was just down the house garden over the steep pathway, our small boat was already waiting for us when we got there.  We had a river cruise over the vast mangroves, the tranquil scenery was a good start as I remembered my childhood days in the Agusan River back home.  Towards the river end to the open sea was the immaculate dive boat of Dugong Dive Center docked near a coastal community, we transferred, met our DM and finally headed for the bay.  The other side of Luzon was greatly disturbed by a typhoon but our location was perfectly calm, the waters flat and mild breeze blowing.

P1050747
The only wreck in the area lies near an uninhabited Dimalanta Islet at the north coast of Busuanga, Kyokusan Maru which is a 136 meters cargo ship of the Japanese imperial army was like the others, it sunk in September 1944 now lying more than 70 years underwater. Other ships anchored in the area was believed to have remained afloat and managed to escape the raid of US troops.  This wreck was sunk on the north side of Busuanga Island and, because of its distance to the other wrecks the Coron dive operations don’t make this trip very often.  The wreck lists about 10° to starboard and has a compass bearing of 160°.

Our first descent was at port of the wreck, going down to the mast at 16 meters now fully covered with corals, over the deck area and to cargo room. I barely noticed the fish life except for the giant bat fish that tried to get near us.  You can still see the remains of trucks and cars in the cargo holds. The wreck is still almost intact and quite easy to penetrate.  We found the fossilized truck, its chassis, and tires; we inspected also the machine gun platform fossilized and full decorated with corals. We went our deepest at 31.6 meters lingering over the deck area covered with corals.  I have always loved the mystery and the stories behind this piece of history.  Although I still wanted to linger, my 43 minutes was good enough considering the depth, I signaled for surface when my NDL went down to 2 minutes!

P1050762

Our surface interval was spent for our light lunch and hearing the stories of our DM.  It was a relaxing break embracing the stillness of the surroundings.

Our last descent was still at Kyokusan Maru exploring its bow end, as suggested by our DM taking advantage of the flat waters, going to another site could be with choppy conditions. They always recommend at least two dives in this wreck to cover at least major attractions, it depth can never allow longer bottom time.  Going down again to the mast and went inside a hole in the right wall into some dark chambers.  We lingered over the bow area all covered and fossilized with corals, some bivalves quickly snapped close as we passed.  We sighted few nudis, puffers, chromis, damsels, anthias, crinoids and feather stars. We lingered until my NDL was down to 1 minute!  I had forty minutes at 31.6 meters as deepest.  🙂 The two dives had been another discovery and learning opportunity, again it was a mind blowing experience.

P1050768
We had our river cruise again when we got back to our house.

 History Treasures

Diving on a WWII wreck helps us connect to our heritage and gain insight into our past. When our favorite diving environments host a piece of history, it’s our duty as a scuba diver to honor this gift.  It is fortunate that in the country’s depths lies and had share of WW II wrecks, not all sites held such piece of history.  Our affair in Coron has not ended, other wrecks lie farther (like at Black Island) and it is a reason to be back again.

Travel Notes:

Transport to the north is rare and expensive, public utilities from Coron have specific schedule which likely are filled from the town

  1. Decalachao Port is for boats heading to Club Paradise in Dimakya Island and El Rio y Mar in San Jose – two exclusive resorts in the area.
  2. There are two available dive shops in the area – Dugong Dive Center and Club Paradise.

 

 

Dark Chamber?

P1050761
Will you dare the dark chamber?

The World War II wrecks in Calamianes is certainly a dive destination that deserves more than one visit, and each time you go you see something different.  To see all the wreck requires more than one dive in itself.  I had the opportunity again six weeks ago to savor the mysteries and secrets in a wreck in Dimalanta Island.

So, will you dare? Definitely the  dark holes and chambers are too irresistible. The urgency of what’s beyond keeps the blood pumping and rushing. Wrecks in the depths are truly engaging. Again, will you dare?

For Love of Coron

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
There’s no other way but to be in the dark depths…

“Sorry, our flight to Busuanga is cancelled due to sunset limitation!”

That was during our last trip to Coron  17 months ago but we were unfazed, we still went for the trip few hours later aboard the Super Ferry boat.  Undoubtedly, it was a memorable trip and it is always a joy to be back in one of my favorite places up north.  Obviously I love Coron, it is an enchanting town I keep coming back again and again.  I was simply thrilled we were back shortly than original plans.

Taking the last evening flight from CdeO, I waited seven hours for our early morning flight, to be sure from the sunset limitation.  My lack of sleep had taken its toll, I doze off as we got airborne.  The summer heat greeted us as we taxied the air strip to the terminal, we were favored again with the good weather!  With the roads completely paved to the town, the trip was shortened to 45 minutes – the road network is almost completed, definitely a good improvement for the local economy.

Island Pleasures

Seadive Resort has been my favorite refuge but Angel had it arranged at Corn Ecolodge, a new boutique hotel right down town, accessible to any point of interest in the town.  Wanting to make most of our time, we headed to Seadive to arrange for morrow’s dive trip and to get a boat for an afternoon spot hopping.  Kogyu Maru is the last shipwreck in Bacuit Bay we haven’t explored, so we were thrilled it was scheduled for the morrow, with Irako Maru and East Tangat Wreck it was a perfect combination for the next day’s descent unto the depths.  And we are more fortunate we had a cheaper boat fee as three foreigners (based in Kenya) joined us the afternoon hopping, letting us decide the best proverbial sites to visit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Active marine life in Siete Pecados Marine Sanctuary

We choose Kayangan Lake/Cove, Atuwayan Beach, Skeleton Wreck and Siete Pecados – in that order.  I knew visiting these spots brings heartwarming memories when I first set foot in Busuanga five years ago with DIY friends.  This homecoming is my 5th year anniversary in Calamianes group, also my 5th visit to the town.  I guess I never go tired of savoring its nature wonders and pleasures.  I think the same sentiment is true for the three Kenyan tourists with us.

The trek and the overwhelming view in Kayangan Lake and Cove, the quiet white beach and pristine waters  in Atuwayan which was all to ourselves, the rich marine life in Skeleton Wreck as well in Siete Pecados Marine Sanctuary have filled up our afternoon we barely made it to Mt. Tapyas.  Angel and I agreed earlier for the climb to get a glimpse once again of our favorite hill sunset.  We rushed up, the urging of the golden panorama stirred our desire to reach the summit before the sun hid from our sight – chasing our sunset!  We stood there with our big smiles watching the horizon in its golden splendor until it ebbed down in the vast ocean yonder.  We lingered a little longer until it gets dark waiting for the big white cross to light up, creating a warm glow in the mountain top.  We descend slowly, the moon perfectly lighting up our way down the steps.

Exploring the Dark

The dive shop was already filled with people when we got there the next morning, as usual we were joined with foreigners – a Dutch and American.  Boris (the Dutch) went with us with DM Rene, just perfect as we’re not crowded.  We cruised for an hour for Irako Maru, the cheery sunny weather was just perfect for good visibility.  We did the giant step but the water in the area was choppy, I requested for a brief rest as I got hold of the bouy line. We slowly descend, it was all hazy and there was nothing in between until we caught sight of some solid form.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Descending through the bouy line

As a kid, one of my great fear is the dark but now have dramatically outgrown it,  mystery of the darkness consumes my sub-conscious.  Somehow, wrecks always captivate my senses – there is that urge to rush what’s inside.  We went inside penetrating the darks searching every corner with my torch, for what?  Again, I got distracted I barely noticed the marine life and failed to take any photos.  I was too engrossed handling my torch as we go through compartments, rooms and corners. Practically we have explored more of the vast Irako compared last time, at 37.7m we went deeper inside the wreck.  Our DM signaled for the bouyline just in time that my NDL went 2 minutes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The light at the end of the tunnel

We cruise leisurely for our next site still within southeast side of Lusong Island  while having our early lunch, as our surface interval. Kogyo Maru is a new site for us , at 158m long it’s another big ship slightly larger than Irako although slightly shallower.  The water was still choppy and I need to steady myself again with the bouy line until we descend slowly.  Just like the others, its body is encrusted with corals with tropical fishes hovering, many specie of soft corals hanging and tangling the steel bars.  Following DM Rene, we penetrated the narrow passage one after the other, Angel behind me as last in the row.   We did find thousand of bags of cement turned rock hard pillows, further we found too thousand rolls of interlink wires now fossilized.  We continued to explore all possible passage until we come out of a hole and swam a bit over the wreck.  We ascend back at the bouy line after 40 minutes with my air still at 110 bars.

P1040036
Over the shipwreck

We cruise to Tangat Island for our last site of the day, East Tangat Wreck is believed to be either a tugboat or an anti-submarine craft listing to starboard down a sandy slope.  I was grateful that the water was calm already when we got there, a respite from two previous sites being rough on surface.  This small wreck still has narrow passages worthy to be penetrated as conclusion for the day’s descents. Once we lost our DM and as we waited, emerged shortly from a small hole beside the wreck, Angel and I averted our attention to the opposite side and they quickly vanished in the dark.  We found soft colorful corals on its sides, spotted too nudis, sea squirts and huge flatworm. The mast was also encrusted with soft and hard corals. At 40m length, it wasn’t difficult to cover the whole stretch surveying the sides, actually we circled it three times just enjoying the marine life with calm and shallow waters.  We surfaced after 48 minutes with my air still at 140 bars.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Exploring a wreck is always a joy!

It was amusing as I swam back to our boat, when the crew from other boat we passed asked (in Visayan) our DM if I am Korean, laughingly I answered back I am Filipino and speak Visayan.  I can’t blame him, since most if not all clients of dive shops are foreigners.  We cruised back to town with happy faces!  Later we treated ourselves with a sumptuous dinner at our favorite Coron Bistro.

Incessant Passion

Sometimes there is that force inside us that drives one to go frontward , we promised ourselves in October 2011 to visit the islands after five years but we made it after seventeen months, apparently our love for Coron led us for an earlier schedule. Coming to Coron is not cheap, I spent the night at the terminal lacking sleep but it wasn’t a hindrance.  I got blues both in my arms due to the choppy waters but don’t mind it at all.  All for the love of the depths.

Then again, I still have reasons for another visit to Coron – many reasons to explore the eastern side of the islands.  May be after five years we will. May be, who knows…

NB.  Underwater photos courtesy of Angel

Coron Beyond Surface

Coron is one of those places I kept coming back, more than its pristine beaches, crystal waters, stunning views and friendly people,  I love its mystery beyond the surface.  In our fifth homecoming we dove at Irako Maru, Kogyu Maru and the East Tangat Wreck. Penetrating the holes and the darks inside the monsters  always blew me away!

Coron: World War II Wrecks Once More

Coron horizons….

“I am always moved by the sight of a hull lying at the bottom of the sea.  To me, it seems that a ship in that situation has entered the ‘great beyond’, into another existence, a world of shadows.”          ~Jacques Yves Coasteau~

Coming back to Calamianes this year has been kind of melodramatic, why when I was all set to go a year ago – plane tickets paid and dive plans in place – it was cancelled to give way for another priority.  My heart sank, but it was a victory being able to give up desires over something for spiritual growth.  To appease myself, I promised to return early part of this year but again deferred and boldly set it in October.  This all-consuming passion to dive once more for the monsters keeps nagging me, my gills and fins were aching for it.  I have wanted to be in Coron once a year with my favorite dive buddy for wreck diving.

Glitches, No More?

Be careful what you wish, you might end up with it.  I gave Angel with incredulous look when he smiled and reminded me I wanted to be with him for the round trip passage to Coron – perhaps. I have prearranged plane tickets all the way to Calamian and back home to save leave from work. Well, we ended up taking the boat after our flight was cancelled and me coming back to Manila with him on the boat again.  Halleluiah – but with a price!  It’s a taboo for me to talk on here about finance issues, but I have to admit it cost me much for the penalties in changing my return flight home.

Waiting, queuing, negotiating, calls, arrangements, changing tickets, rushing to pier, and getting tickets.  It was exhaustive, but we made it though.  We were thankful we had other alternative after our flight was cancelled. It was miracle, we got tourist accommodation in adjoining bunks when the boat was filled with people.  But again, be careful….

Back to Paradise

Arriving midday with the scorching heat, I sighed with deep breath as we descend from the boat with quick steps down to the port. It was two years ago, I waited long for this homecoming.  I was smitten with Coron during my first visit, I went back three months later to explore more of its splendor.  All its wonders in the surface was indeed pristine and alluring – a perfect paradise in the last frontier.  And more enticing to me was its mysterious depths.

Blue world still, even from the wreck…

The shipwrecks in Coron is the second largest concentration of diveable World War II wrecks in the Pacific, sunk in September 24, 1944 just a year after SCUBA was invented by Sir Jacques Cousteau. .  Now almost seven decades underwater, it created vast artificial reefs as haven for varied marine species and wonderful spot for divers.  In the world, there are only two other wreck diving destinations that offer a comparable historic experience: Truk Lagoon in Central Pacific and Scapa Flow, off the Orkney Islands in Scotland. But the Coron wrecks win over these sites – it is less expensive to dive here and the water is warmer.

Coron sunset from Mt. Tapyas

As the remaining afternoon would be too short for island hopping, we dismissed the idea and opted to rediscover downtown Coron.  We walked around for over an hour and had a relaxing stop at BOG Café for coffee break, the cake & pastries were great and exactly what we fancied for our cravings! Thinking of the glorious sunset, Angel and I agreed for an afternoon climb to Mt. Tapyas – just to be fit and get away with the calories from the rich cheesecake.

Mt. Tapyas Cross

Angel was teasing me not to look tired as we passed five other groups as we climbed our way, we did the 700+ steps in 25 minutes!  We waited for sundown as we watched overlooking the town, outlying islands, calm waters and the surrounding hills. Then slowly, everything in the horizon turned reddish and golden as the setting sun ebbed down in the distance over the vast ocean. Such great splendor, it was my best sunset so far!  It was dark already when we descend, the lighted cross created a wonderful glow on the mountain top. We finished off our long day dipping in Maquinit Hotsprings  –  one thing I don’t miss when I’m in Coron.  Nothing could be more perfect than soaking in warm waters while gazing the stars above us –  it felt  so heavenly.  Famished we got back downtown to try Old House Resto, we ended having dinner in candle light as there was no electricity! We both love the food at the Old House. 🙂

Descend, Descend, Descend!

Thinking of additional three wrecks to explore thrilled me, arriving later as scheduled gave as another surprise – Irako Maru is in the list for our dives!  It was a perfect sunny Sunday as we cruised for over an hour northwest for our first descend, together with other six divers – all foreigners just like in my previous dives.  It seemed that divers from all corners of the world came unceasingly for these historic wrecks.

Holes and rusted bars of wreck

We took the giant step for our entry splashing the cold waters, I can’t wait to see Irako described as the longest and deepest wreck in the area.  We hold on to the bouy line as we descend slowly, it was all hazy until we catch glimpse of some solid form.  DM Nonoy briefed us to stay only outside and may penetrate some lighted portion.  He motioned that we go ahead of the others, the silts might be stirred and we would see nothing.  Admittedly, I was distracted of the monster I barely noticed the marine life around.  This large ship can not be explored in just one dive, at 147m long covering the whole stretch was impossible!  It has been literally stripped of anything – it is now mere skeletons. It is now a bare vast metal encrusted with hard corals and brownish rust.  We swam around a bit and reluctantly got back to the bouy line when our DM motioned for it.  As we slowly ascend having the safety stop, a large school of jackfish appeared nearby.  I went to take a closer look but sadly I went back deeper, which made me to do again for the three minutes safety stop.  It was a short dive at 36 minutes with 32.2m as my deepest.

Graceful flatworm floating before us…

We cruised shortly for our next site and had our early lunch as our surface interval.  Olympia Maru aka Morazan Maru is another new site to me, it was another large ship slightly smaller than Irako.  We hold on again for the bouy line as we descend directly on its port side as it was lying on its starboard side. Some kind of a wide surface, we found holes both square and round ones.  Feeling that familiar rush to get inside and explore its dark secrets!  We floated slowly as if flying careful not to stir the silts, felt so wonderful.  I challenged myself as we got into a small square hole for smooth entry and just flow inside like the waters. Following our DM as we penetrated and searched for something lurking in the dark corners, but not forgetting to make sure Angel was just around nearby. We spotted lionfish, scorpion fish, juveniles, a puffer and camouflaging colored clams.

A peacock lionfish!

The big cargo rooms and boiler rooms allows penetration and we practically roam around passing chambers going up and own and back again. Rusted bars, big iron wheel perhaps for the boilers and we saw the hole damaged by bomb strikes which disabled the ship.  The ray of light penetrating inside gave some interesting effect inside the dark rooms. I practically ignored my dive computers flashing signals, I just need to make most of my time down but covering the whole stretch of 122m is again impossible.  We finally headed for the bouy line to stabilize our depths, alas I needed a deco stop and was penalized for 8 minutes – first time so far! But with still more than 100 bars of air I had no worries, I had a total bottom time of 58 minutes with 24.4m as my deepest.

The ship mast encrusted with corals and rust

Our last descent was at East Tangat Wreck situated southwest side of Tangat Island in the  Bay, the wreck lies listing to starboard down a sandy slope.  It is a shallow wreck  in fact it was near the shores, I catch a glimpse of its end while our dive boat moored for our surface interval.  We had rounds and passed by rusted bars and few chambers, its mast is now covered with hard corals and brown rust.  We spotted sponges, hard and soft corals, crinoids and sea grasses clinging on bars. We spotted too at least four specie of colorful nudis – lavender, blue, white with orange antlers, and another bluish

Taking shelter in the wreck

crawling on the corals. There was flatworms, graceful lionfish, clown fish, sea squirts, bat fish and spade fish.  The marine life was wonderful enough for photos but again I got distracted with the wreck. We ascend after 49 minutes with 16.8m as my deepest.  All my residual air were still more than 100 bars in my tank for all three ascents.

Patience and Obedience in One

Last year was a test of obedience in pursuing my dive trips – plainly no Tubbataha and no Coron. Now, I know why. Just two months later after my Coron fiasco, the Tubbataha dream was answered unexpectedly! Surely it pays to wait and obey, and even with some glitches we made it to Calamian.  My trip this year was filled with treasured memories, new discoveries and new learnings.  It might be awhile before I can return but deep in me there is always that desire to exhaust the remaining wrecks in Coron waters.  They say, do not go for a trip like seeing 20 countries in a 30-day tour. Now, I say do not go for safari dive trip in Coron for you will miss to savor the beauty and mystery of these awesome monsters. Exactly why I am not in a rush…

Exactly why Angel and I still have reasons to be back in Calamianes, who knows it might be sooner!

NB.  Underwater photos courtesy of Angel, using his Olympus Tough 8000 with PT 045 as casing.

Missing the Monsters!

Glorious Kayangan Cove!

Coron is now one of my favorite destination, discovering it in March 2008 without second thought I went back three months later to know more of the secrets of the Calamianes.  I visited it again last year with my favorite dive buddy- yes, you guess it right – to explore more of its secrets in the depths! Angel and I loved every bit of it, he swore it was his best dive experience so far and in fact it was our deepest at 114 feet!.  And I could not deny that exploring Akitsushima and Taeie Maru was exhilarating – going down and penetrating the mysterious wrecks was so challenging and enthralling!

Exploring more of the monsters was so irresistible that we planned for another Coron trip this year, I booked my tickets as early as April! Indeed, we eagerly wait for October while enjoying other dive trips.  For us, Coron waters is something special, with its limestone cliffs, crystal waters and rich marine life we wanted to experience its beauty over and over again.

I thought everything was in place, except for my leave from work but alas by end of August, my community have scheduled on the date when I will be in Coron, a spiritual retreat for us and required everyone  to come!  Remembering my trip, I was bit shaken,  I wanted to delay my response.  In my mind, I tried to justify I had my tickets already and it was scheduled long before.  I remembered I was sullen that day, hoping it will be postponed to other dates.  Actually my heart sank… Going back though, I reflected that the Lord has been so good to me, He had lavished me with wonderful trips and provided me all the resources.

In submission I prayed for grace and decided to cancel my trip and be there for the Lord – He asked just one day from me!  It was a breaking news, but I guess Angel felt relieved  because his friends will be coming with him and he is not comfortable diving together with me!  Anyhow, I would be missing the Coron wrecks this year and have to let go my CGY-MNL-CGY ticket and the amount attached to it, refunds or rebooking is not possible.  Always, there is a reason for everything and I am waiting it to unfold one day.  But again, I can look up and be thankful He emerged victorious over my much valued trip.

I’ll be in Coron again hopefully in March with or without my dive buddy – that’s a promise to myself…

Revisiting Coron…

against blue sky

Heading for Calamian 

My fascination in Coron has never been put to rest, after two trips last year I still wanted to get back for one lofty reason – to dive and exhaust the remaining wrecks in Calamian.  The excitement and challenge in exploring the monsters is nagging my subconscious.  So catching our schedules and considering the weather, Angel and I planned for a return to Coron.  And as usual there was much to attend to at work, but time management and organizing things have become an art to accommodate more important pursuits much less my dive trips.  And I did forego  other schedules – exit conference, AGAP convention in Bacolod, meeting in CO, World Food Day celeb at the office and our community Sunday assembly.  Arriving midnight from work travel and packing up for over an hour, I slept late but have to wake up early the next morning. I have to be at office for important instructions, then rush at the nearest ATM for my cash needs! 

 Sitting at the pre-departure area, I was thankful all passengers were strangers. I still wanted my out of town trips to be quiet and discreet possible.  The Lord have heard our prayers for a good weather, it was a bright sunny morning! There were few air pockets as we approached the metro, as we hover I was imagining body of waters after the flood & typhoon, of course there was none!  Well, that’s the magic of the media, those watching the tv innocently thought there’s a big flood in the metro.  This time, there wasn’t much smog I saw, it was clearer I think – maybe the typhoons and monsoon rains have washed away the pollution a bit! J Surely, there’s always a  purpose even in misfortunes, for the better.

 I have much time to spare, our flight was still at 3pm, so I went to the airport café (Terminal 2) and took my brunch leisurely.  After my people watching at the terminal I took a cab for Terminal 3 and waited for the counter to open.  By chance, I struck up conversation with waiting passengers for Cagayan de Oro – just like me, proud Mindanaoans!  J I waited for Angel until he called up, catching up from work.  I boarded the bus last, obviously all are looking at me.  L  I climbed up with Angel on the aircraft – a Bombardier Q300 – a small plane but I guess better than the Dornier. We were seated apart and having one near the EXIT – I learned being one I have responsibilities in case of emergencies, I was given the assignment to read the instruction card – I thought I would just lean on my seat relaxed while watching the magnificent sights below. Getting on a small plane is lot better because you get a better and clearer aerial view of the islands – at 12000ft elevation.  It was bit drizzling and there were air pockets again when we approached the Calamianes – now I found the air pockets entertaining, the feeling of the craft going up and down is exciting! J The view is splendid – the scattered islands, the calm sea, green mountains, white beaches – so serene, so laid back. I caught sight of Banana Island, the herd of cattle at the ranch, the new airport building.  We touched down smoothly at the airstrip – bit washed by the drizzle. Indeed, the Bombardier is lot better….

 Great Escape

 We took the aircon PAL Express shuttle van for the town – not jeepney anymore! Going through the roads, I was impressed that the network is almost 75% cemented, last year it was just a dirt road and it was so dusty and following another vehicle seemed like a curse!  The view was breathtaking, the country scenery felt like Bukidnon, I was pointing out to Angel the cattles grazing on the meadows with the herons picking by the side – simply beautiful!  The van dropped us at Seadive Resort past 4pm – the travel was much shorter compared last time. There’s nothing much improvement in the town proper, things are quite the same.  As soon as we got our room, it felt like we wanted to start off our adventure!  J  But have to make calls first back at work to put things in order.  WE went to the diveshop to arrange for the dive trip – the European owner attended to us:  sites, equipments, time, filling up “Dr. No” form and requested for DM Nonoy as our dive master. We brought our own gears (except mask) so everything would be intact in the crates. I found myself smiling with Akitsushima, Okikawa & Lusong Gunboat as dive site for the morrow. J I was telling Angel we’re so blessed with good weather!

 It felt good to be back in Coron, last year I was left alone for my dive after all DIY friends (Batch 9) left.  I bought the fish id at the front desk I was eyeing last time, it was just too expensive but now I found it necessary –  after more than a year.  As planned we went to Coron Bistro for our dinner, I was telling Angel I felt intrigued to try dining with them – the pizza daw is yummy!  We’re both famished already… The staff was just friendly and had our Hawaiian Pizza quick, we didn’t wait long – I commended it’s too quick.  Other diners were foreigners indeed, but the food was just great – pizza, garden salad & fruit shakes – Angel and I enjoyed it a lot.  The small pizza was large – I burped with the three slices I got! J My headache (for lack of sleep) mysteriously gone even before we had our dinner…

 Akitsushima, Okikawa & Lusong Gunboat Plus Maquinit Hot Springs

 As usual I was up earlier the next morning for the preliminaries – my contacts, setting up the uw cam and packing. We got ready for the day about 7am, and went out side the resort and had our breakfast at a carenderia – cheaper and quicker we thought. We found out DM Nonoy can’t make it with us so we had DM Jaime instead, we had one joiner – Jan, a Danish national.  The cheery weather was just too perfect for our dive!  J We were transported by a speed boat to the dive  boat and cruised for over an hour until near Manglet island – we assembled our gears on our way… 

 We had a briefing from DM Jaime before our first descend at Akitsushima, it’s a deep dive and we need to hold on to the bouy line for the descent, and must stay close to the buddy.  Again, it was hazy at first and as we go deeper we sighted fishes until we saw it – like a monster lying there! We followed DM Jaime, going inside chambers, crevice, and square-like opening. It was dark but our torches served us well. It was devoid of any equipment, just the structure now.  It was one of the few true warships among the wrecks. We went around, went outside and sighted the broken crane, hole left by canon, part when guns had been, etc.  We ascend after 35 minutes at 114 feet as deepest!  Angel and I smiled to ourselves – it’s our deepest so far. J

 On our surface interval, we cruise to next site south of Concepcion Village near the Pearl Farm. We had our lunch too which I found too early, we need to wait for another hour for our next descent.  In between I called up Gay whom I had three missed calls, as usual the first question was my location – arrrghh!  Why is it that there’s always someone who’s tracing me? 

 DM Jaime take out 1 kilo weight from me – so now I only have 2 kilos weights – an improvement I guess!  leaf like nudiWe had our briefing again and geared up for Taiei Maru – an auxiliary oil tanker of the Imperial Japanese Navy.  It sits almost level and had maximum depth of 85 feet.  This time, Rommel was tasked to lead and DM Jaime at the back watching and following us. But there was much to see in Taiei – going through chambers, the deck, and inner part of the ship.  Penetrating the wreck is exciting – going down a hole, square-like opening and dark passageway.  It felt so free floating, flapping fins must be with care not to touch anything and without disturbing the silts.  The fish life is more abundant here and fortunately, we spotted the lone sea turtle but swam away so quickly. Oversized grouper, giant humphead parrotfish, lionfish, puffers, lot of nudis, giant clams, super big nudi swimming, fusiliers, sweet lips and lot more –  it was simply beautiful!  We ascend after 45 minutes with big smiles…patterned nudi

 We cruised for our last dive – now I always go for three dives, lesser than that is somewhat bitin. Actually the third site is a wish granted – I snorkeled twice on this site and once found divers enjoying photography while I was just on the surface. I was hoping to dive here as relaxation being too shallow – the maximum depth is only 12 meters.  We descend again after an hour interval, but instead of going through the wreck we swam to the surrounding marine life. I guess we need to follow the DM – a basic rule for safety.  We spotted trash and stumbled upon a fishing line, but don’t have the equipment for cutting, Angel picked up some but wasn’t able to take all – our DM is getting far already.  The environmentalist in us is hurting…  There was hard corals, basket sponge but didn’t find any sea fan or star feather.  After the safety stop, Angel and I chose to stay longer and explored around while Rommel and Jan ascend ahead.   It felt so liberating just swimming and floating amongst underwater life – the little mermaid in me is rejoicing!

 We cruised back to town feeling so pleased of our escape from the upland J.  As we got back at the resort, we arranged for the morrow’s hopping but after we canvassed outside. J  It was so tiring and as planned we headed for Maquinit Hot Springs after haggling for the round trip fare.  It was so relaxing but had to leave sooner as we were famished already. 

 To reward ourselves for a full day, we had dinner at the resort with their special menu for the day – mackerel in tartar sauce and crème caramel for dessert – yum!  But I guess I was too exhausted because after I laid my back on the bed I drift off to sleep…  Zzzzzzzzzzzz….

  Hopping Around

 We attended mass the next morning at the St. Augustine Church and waited almost 9am for our boat, Rommel happened to be our host for the day – the weather is so perfect!  We had our first stop at Twin Lagoon to catch up with low tide, we remembered  Sohoton as we got to the area  – rock islets covered with vegetations.  When I first came here, I was so fascinated with the inner lagoon.  The water level was just on the opening so we need to skin dive to go the other side but my snorkel was kaput.  We swam up in the inner lagoon but didn’t stay much long.

 We went next to Banol Beach – a beautiful white sand beach, we stayed longer here.  The immaculate white sands look so peaceful and idyllic and there were no people when we got there.  We leisurely took our lunch at the beach hut, Rommel entertained us with his stories. J  It felt so luxurious I felt so spoiled! I keep looking up the limestone cliffs as we dipped in the turquoise waters…

 skin diving!Another highlight was our next stop at Skeleton Wreck, I felt that familiar rush to skin dive the wreck. Angel and I geared up for our exploratory skin diving, the visibility was just too good. We splashed unto the water, swimming and diving like kids.  We took turns as we need to handle the cam steady enough for the photos. J

 We chose Siete Pecados as our last site, we wanted to see again the rich marine life in the sanctuary. But our spot was not good enough, instead of the colorful corals I saw rubbles and dead corals. But large banded angelfish came near our boat with other juveniles. They were so friendly it came near my hand perhaps looking fro food.  We played with the angelfish for awhile and swam coyly near the boat, Angel practicing to swim properly. J  Finally, we cruised back to the resort to wind up our leisure for the day.

 We bought wreck stickers, have our logbooks stamped at the diveshop and updated our logbooks.  We had our dinner again at the resort, every end of the day we’re so famished but sorry the food wasn’t yummy enough for our taste – Angel and I agreed on that, we remembered our faves at Margie’s and Bigby’s!  After packing up, Angel bid bye and left to catch with his boat back home….

 Towards Home Again

 Wake up earlier the next morning for final packing up, had my breakfast about 7am.  I need to be ready as the van will leave for the airport at 8am.  I turned over my key and was thankful that the driver helped me with my gear bag  to the van – truly there are angels around me.  I checked in and got the chance to buy something for pasalubong at the shop, I even got the chance to have some photos at the airport.

 The plane was on time and the trip was smooth except for some turbulence when we got near the metro but I enjoyed airpockets now.  We arrived on time, got a yellow taxi for Terminal 2 and rushed to check in for my flight back home.  Thankfully I didn’t see anybody I knew at the airport, at least I don’t need to talk much. J  Waiting for our boarding I took something for lunch – expensive but I don’t have the time to get down into the café.

 Sitting on the plane on my way home, I can’t help praising God for his goodness – again He arranged all things perfectly, always.  Smiling how I am enriched with the pleasure of experiencing again nature’s wonders and sharing with my buddy Angel.  I’m looking forward for our next trip 🙂 .  We touched down smoothly at CdO airport, arrived home perfectly sane and bracing myself for full days at work ahead.  The little mermaid in me lurking back in my innermost self….