The Allures of Antique

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Every dive is like celebrating the ocean wonders and consequently proclaiming the exquisiteness of God’s creation.

We were back in the province this summer, it was unplanned.  My mind was entertaining the thought of the possible sighting of giant humphead wrasses in Pandan, my buddy got some secret information from a local.  Trusting and believing it was a reliable source, we changed plans and cancelled the Ticao Pass prospect.  My personal objective was purely economics, diving in Masbate was way expensive and requires two to three days leave on my part, weekend is practically out of order.  For me, time and expenses are always of the essence. It was a good decision in the end, there were changes of my Legazpi flights so I got it cancelled at no cost with a full refund!

Pandan Depths

It was a long road to Pandan, having flown to Iloilo we need at least four hours to reach this northern town. Yes, another offbeat dive destination and I was grateful there was available dive operator in the area.  Our dawn bus ride went fluid alright, traversing interior towns passing Banga, Kalibo, Ibajay until we got off at Nabas intersection for Pandan. We arrived at the diveshop before our appointed time and enough spare for the preliminaries. Our Austrian DM explained that it started raining already and we were lucky for a sunny Saturday but the waters could be bit hazy. There were no others booked for the day so it turned out to be an exclusive dive for us.

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Anemone in bloom surrounded by wiggling juveniles and guarded by clownfish family

Our first descent was at Mag-aba Deep Wall, it was deep indeed but the plan was at 32 meters and I guess there was no need to go much deeper, it was rich and colorful even at 25 meters.  It was bit hazy with suspended particles but still vibrant as it is! There were large sea fans in yellows and orange lining the wall, there were crinoids, barrel sponges and nudis. We inspected crevices, search around and float weightlessly. We found triggers, sweet lips, snappers and the colorful wiggling juvenile anthias.  Of course, the anemones with the playful clownfish caught my attention, trying for some photos but it was still hazy and not enough light.  We ascend after 55 minutes, with my air still at 80 bars, my deepest at 31.9 meters.

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This colorful reef has in every inch filled with life!

Out surface interval was spent on the boat as we move to our next site, DM Nikki entertained us with his stories mentioning offbeat sites islands away.  But there was no mention of the giant humpheads, perhaps he has no knowledge or maybe it was just a myth. Suddenly, it went downcast and started to rain with the matching lightning. Our interval went longer as we waited for the sun to shine again, but nil.  DM Nikki hesitated for the next descent with the weather condition, the rain stopped but it was still dark. It’s our take if we want, but in my mind it was a long trip and definitely one dive isn’t enough! Angel was hesitant too but I needed his consent, after a little prodding he agreed but warned not to go far from him. My face was splitting with a big smile. Lah!  🙂

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I was imagining Medusa’s head!

We splashed for our last descent at Patria Aquarium, and it was giving me hint why it was so called as such!  🙂 The good thing is even if it was stormy, the water was warm and calm, there was never any hint of current. We descend to a slope decorated with corals and resident fishes until we got into fish traps, I do still cringe seeing one underwater.  It was sort of abandoned but I saw a long trumpet fish trapped inside, I watched and wondered how long would it take the poor trumpet to get out.  We swam taking our time watching the anthias, snappers, damsels, banded wrasse and the perennial variety of clownfish.  There were blooms of anemones around, there was a shrimp couple lurking in a crevice with its long antlers waving. I summoned Angel to come over for my finds, he was  watching me from afar. There were fish everywhere more than I can count and name all, it was so peaceful. The anemone bloom took my time away, just watching the colorful animal surrounded with wiggling fish other than the clowns. I hovered round and round and I stayed longer in that small colorful reef with active marine life. Indeed it was like an aquarium! Unmindful of time, I was stunned my NDL went down to 1 minute at 13 meters, left with no choice but to swam up slowly.  We ascend after 62 minutes with my air still at 80 bars.  It was good and what a waste if we allow ourselves to be intimidated with the dark skies!

Seeking Serenity

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A piece of serenity….

Aiming for Seco Island as side trip the next day, we rushed to Tibiao after our dives and spent overnight at Fish Spa. Arrangements were made, all we need to do is drag ourselves out of bed for the 4am boat cruise departure. But alas, there was no sign of life when we woke up the next morning , it was dark and quiet. Obviously, it was cancelled and we went back to sleep.

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Trekking the hills was part of Malalison Island experience!

We opted to proceed to Culasi for Malalison Island, another gem in Antique sought by many.  Cruising to the island is easier being organized by local tourism office, but like other tourist destination it becomes over crowded. The white beach is packed by weekenders, old and young alike.  We went beyond the waterfront and trek the hills (with a guide) under the sun, the surroundings become brownish, the greens withered from the summer heat. The hills are not alive yet still fascinating in a way!

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Perfect for swimming or just lounging on the white beach…

Trekking the rolling hills in its midst offered serenity, only a handful went for the trek. It was bit arduous but discovering the other side of the island was rewarding.  There was another white beach, secluded and had a fantastic view. It was not crowded, just perfect for swimming. Perhaps, some other time we can frolic and just relax, even stay longer in the island. We sat silently watching the horizon, watching people until our boat came to fetch us.

No giant humphead wrasse and no Seco Island but it was sure a captivating trip to Antique!

Disclosures

DM Nikki gave us discount in our diving bills because he found us “nice”, maybe he meant we are well-behaved or courteous.  He offered us to come back again next summer  for diving and overnight camping to an off beat island!  🙂

This trip was like driving through going full circle of the province south-north-south, having Iloilo City as my point of entry and exit.

Our Seco Island cruise was cancelled as there were no boatman willing for the trip, it was the town’s fiesta that day!

Endless Summer in Anini-y!

There are places that are meant for a return, exactly a year after a quirky trip to this town in the southern tip of Panay Island, I was back to dive once more its unspoiled depths. This town is not known in the diving map but my two deep dives last year inarguably convinced my innate sense that it was worth for more descents. Although I wasn’t in a rush, my beloved dive buddy’s persuasion ended with my ticket bookings for Iloilo and arranging reservations at The Divehouse – my home in Aninni-y.

Getting there on a morning was perfectly better passing the heritage towns and catching glimpse of the wide blue sea as we rolled off on the coastal road. Far from the night trip I had last year, when the dark night hid the rural scenery. Arriving early in our refuge at Siraan Spring Resort gave us ample time to explore the town which includes snorkeling in the turquoise waters of Nogas Island – for over an hour! Just floating, relaxing and watching the marine life silently with my dive buddy, and the mermaid in me was rejoicing. The gleaming white beach, the warm sun and blue waters was a perfect picture of summer, even if it was already end of August.

In our diving day, our unexpected warm-up pumped-up more energy for us, we walked three kilometers to the next barangay to attend the Sunday mass! The morning breeze, mild sunrise and rural scenery were good enough for the hike.  The adrenaline prod us rushing to the diveshop, we were expected at 8:00am. DM AJ welcomed us warmly, the smell of the kitchen and the sight of the long, heavy, wooden dining table reminded me of home.

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Rich unspoiled marine environment!

DM AJ arranged our first descent at Mamam, a deep dive with those tricky swim throughs – I can only remember my wonderful sightings last year. So we sailed westward with our dive guide Paldon leading, we were joined with two divers from Iloilo. We dropped anchors after a little detour to Nogas Island dropping off a couple guest, after more than thirty minutes trying to find a favorable spot. We descend to a white sandy slope, the viz was somewhat hazy. In a while we found the rocks with those tunnels just enough for a person to swim. It felt playful like doing some hide and seek over the rocks, but I miss the giant jacks which the others crossed path in the tunnel, including Angel. We found angels, moorish idol, cardinals and wrasses, I noticed clown triggerfish swimming along nearby but wiggled away when it noticed me. There were few nudis too and variety of corals. I was hoping to see again the school of silver barracudas and the leaf frogfish but none appeared. I think early mornings are best to find them as they trouped for early preys! We lingered a bit more circling the area until we slowly hover up for ascent after 41 minutes conscious of my NDL, my deepest at 28.6 meters.

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Yellow breams contently swimming among the reesf…

Our surface interval was utilized for checking out from our lodgings and a bit of lounging at the dining area exchanging pleasantries with DM AJ, Owie and RJ while preparing for our next descent with them. DM AJ finally got the chance to guide us tagging with him his Japanese diver guest. We were a bunch, all my companions are guys but after some time I got used to it already, my dive buddy’s company is always comforting. 

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The ubiquitous clown fish always adds color over anemones!

We sailed off Nogas Island aiming for Malou’s Rock for our last descent after a short briefing from DM AJ, the warm afternoon waters ushered us to a sandy slope with big boulders bringing us to a wall. We tread the waters with the wall on our left shoulder, drifting as we passed the thriving marine life. Colorful juveniles hovering on corals, yellow breams parading in herd alternated with sew whips and colorful crinoids. There were trumpet fish, sand perches, triggers and scorpion fish! Invertebrates also abound, the obscured bivalves of different species silently lurked in corners abruptly closing in a faint shadow or movements. There were few nudis and even flatworms that adorned the reef. We signaled for ascent after 50 minutes, my deepest was 26.5 meters. I guess I feel more comfortable having back my dive computer, Suunto D4i is the great all-rounder indeed! We ended our stay at the resort after we agreed for a diving expedition summer next year in the Sulu seas!

Have you gone to Antique province or Panay Island?

Travel Notes:
1. Buses going to Anini-y and other Antique towns are stationed at Molo terminal, first trip is at 6:30am. Catching the 5:00pm trip back to Iloilo is ideal, reaching the city about 7:00pm.
2. The only diveshop in Anitque is The Divehouse, a friendly accredited PADI shop, accommodations can be arranged also in this dive facility.
3. This lowly town offers other interesting spots – Nogas Island, Siraan Hotsprings and a heritage church.
4. Direct flight to Iloilo from Cagayan de Oro is now available daily!