Heights and Depths!

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Heights and depths are both nature’s display of its wondrous splendor!

Adventures for the intrepid can be as varied as far one can go, many travelers have become so audacious and ambitious as if motivated in conquering one goal after another.

After years of diving and continually aiming for off beaten sites, I realized there are still a lot of places around the country that needs to be explored.  I have learned so much from my travels and in many ways have gained new insights especially destinations that are closest to nature.  The rural scenery is almost and always a plethora of learning and new understanding of our culture, the environment and wide issues of protection and preservation.

There are few places that are close to my heart, destinations that are perhaps distant and advance arrangements are necessary, yet the urge to keep coming back was hard to resist.  Much that I love the depths, I am always fascinated by heights.  So that, a combination of both in a trip, is a real indulgence, actually a luxury. Climbing a peak or searching the depths is a real show of grandeur in all scheme of things!

Coron – Climb Mt. Tapyas and dive in Coron Bay

One of my favorite dive destination is Coron due its collection of World War II wrecks, the underwater museum have tickled my curiosity and I have tons of write-up about the mysterious wrecks. I was always blown away every time we penetrated the old ships, these silent monsters abandoned in the depths. My visits to Coron though, is not complete without climbing Mt. Tapyas to catch glimpse of my beautiful sunset. I guess sunsets are more spectacular to watch from a mountain top.  I would linger just watching, killing my time looking the horizons getting a good view of the changing hues.  Until the golden sun would finally ebbed down and the white cross would light up.

Tawi-Tawi – Climb Bud Bongao and dive in Bongao waters

This southern most cluster of islands in the country is not a touristy one, in fact some if not most would think twice before coming to Tawi-tawi.  Coming here was one of my most memorable trip, the discoveries were too precious to ignore.  We visited here during Ramadan and by 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, the market was oozing with people and there was great array of food!  The locals were friendly and helpful, the town is naturally peaceful.

We climb Bud Bongao the day we arrived, we trek and were welcomed by the macaque monkeys with our banana offerings. Bud is the highest point of the province, the view was just unmistakably breath taking!  The three dives the next day was a great opportunity to explore the rich surrounding waters of the islands.  Well, the currents made it challenging! The heights and depths combination was just marvelous!

Southern Cebu – Trek Osmeña Peak, traverse to Kawasan Falls and dive in Moalboal

Well, this is actually a combination of three! The southern towns in Cebu have its own charms, so that in these three towns you have equally remarkable adventures.  Drive to Mantalungon in Dalaguete, trek to Osmeña Peak and be amazed with those peaks shaped like peanut kisses! Trek down the fourteen kilometers trail and traverse to Badian right in Kawasan Falls, rafting and taking a dip in its aquamarine waters is truly refreshing!  Stay in the next town of Moalboal and dive in its waters replete with diverse marine life. The awesome sardine’s run is too hard to resist, I came here again and again because of it.  Pescador Island is also a renowned site, the sightings here are too good to be true, mind blowing as they say!

Camiguin Island – Trek Mt. Hibokhibok, traverse to Ardent Hot Springs and dive in its waters

There a lot of reasons to be back here again and again, this island is also my favorite. It’s practically dense with nature wonders. Volcanoes, falls, hot and cold springs, islets, rich marine life and more!  Climb Mt. Hibok-Hibok, this active volcano is safe for trekking and it can be done in a day. The view in the peak is undoubtedly breath taking, but it was foggy when we reached the top. We were surrounded with white clouds, the trail was challenging at different levels.  It has a total of fourteen kilometers from Yumbing and traverse to Ardent, right in the hot spring pools!  A dip is undoubtedly a good relaxant after the arduous trek.

The island is perfect for diving – from marine sanctuaries, coastal reefs to sunken cemetery!  There’s a lot of choices and this island province is literally surrounded with dive sites in its coastal waters.  Mantigue Island is a must, so with sunken cemetery, Old Vulcan, white island and many more. All of the sites are practically filled with diverse marine life.

These are just few, I know there are a lot of destinations around the country with this ridge to reef combinations. New learning, precious discoveries and the realization that every place has its own share of wonders and the God of order have made everything in nature in accord with all scheme of things.

Heights and depths are both nature’s display of its wondrous splendor!

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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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?

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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…