Pertinacity in Pandan!

P1060411
We promised ourselves to be back in Antique, carefully planning the dates during summer to explore Maningning Island, our Austrian DM pledged  to arrange a dive trip for us. Apparently, our penchant for off-beat sites got us again finding his offer irresistible!  Thinking of unfamiliar destination tickled my curiosity.

Mid-Summer Dream

DM Niki gave us lot of reminders and important to do’s, one of which is to arrive Pandan as early as 5:00am, the sail to the island have to be at 5:30am. The weather can be unpredictable so the return cruise needs to be early too.  It was raining that night but we dragged ourselves from bed at 3:00am to make it to the diveshop driving from Kalibo.  We made it though on the dot, it was drizzling when we arrived.

P1060400
After a heavy rain, the skies were bit downcast and the waters calmed.  We sailed on a sunrise!

It rained but my worries fade out when we finally left the shores for the island, we sailed on a sunrise! Maningning is a barangay of Culasi but sailing from Libertad would only take two hours compared to five hours from its main town.  In my mind, I was fancying the unspoiled underwater, pristine beach and the old lighthouse in the island Angel was aiming to visit!  We fetch Mr. Romy of LGU Pandan as our escort who confirmed the cruise to the island, local folks have this innate sense for nature – you know, when to go & not to go.   The waters was smooth enough as we cruised but halfway where we can see the island already,  the boat turned back and our DM explained it would be risky to proceed and diving wont be possible even if we got there, worst was we could be marooned in Maningning and nobody knows when it would be safe to sail again! 😦

Detour in Libertad

DM Niki suggested having our dives in Libertad instead, there was no choice at the moment and he assured us that like other coastal towns it has equally diverse marine life.  Thankfully, the waters was smooth near the coast.   So, our first descent was at Pucio Point, we were still on the boat when   a large herd of fish had a commotion few meters from us. I took it as a sign of a good dive opportunity.

P1060416
Such diversity!

Our companions were a bunch – DM Niki (Austrian), John (Australian), Mr. Romy (LGU Pandan) – all of them are old-timers in Antique coasts, so we were confident enough of our guides! We back-rolled, incredibly the waters was warm and no current and there was only silence and stillness deep down.  It felt so good to back in the depths – after 12 long weeks! We roamed in the sandy slope, decorated with variety of soft and hard corals. All tropical fishes hovering peacefully over the reefs.  There were jacks, groupers, triggers, damsels, sergeants, banners, angels and anthias.  There was a lone banded sea snake wiggling and as if sniffing the corals and sands – I think it was hungry and looking for food. Funny was, Angel almost bumped with the sea snake!  He was startled when the krait came near his face!   These reptiles are generally not aggressive and therefore don’t necessarily pose danger to divers.  We ended up after Mr. Romy rolled up the abandoned nylon fishing lines until near our anchor about more than five meters.

P1060420
Mr. Romy rolled up an abandoned fishing line!

We sailed a bit for our next descent in Union, which DM Niki described as filled with boulders and overhangs.  After an hour of surface interval we geared up for our mid-morning plunge, thankfully the sun shone up.  I found crown of sea thorns, with the waters starting to warm up in summer, the specie multiplies faster. It was sitting pretty

P1060423
Crown of sea thorns sitting pretty and comfortably on a coral…

on top of a coral crown, later I learned that LGU Pandan have conducted a massive harvesting of the starfish. The LGUs gave compensation to motivate locals in helping to control its multiplication, their imbalance population is a threat to the ecosystem.

The corals are massive in different varieties and tropical reef fishes obviously abound, again those juveniles wiggling peacefully. There were bivalves, sea cucumbers and nudis too.  The crevices obviously became shelters and dwellings of the fishes.  There were narrow alleys but avoided to get in deeper as it could disturb and possibly break accidentally the corals.  There were crinoids, whips and hydroids scattered along.

P1060434
A nudi!

Our lunch served as our surface interval before our final dives.  We enjoyed the food coupled with stories from our host, it was worthwhile to note that the local government of Pandan and Libertad have actively involved in the preservation and protection of marine environment.  Most of the barangays lies on the coast and fishing is largely the source of living in these communities.

P1060452
A giant clam added colors to the reefs!

So after a hearty lunch, good laugh and warm sun, we geared up again for our last descent at Taboc Sanctuary.  DM Niki briefed us that there’s a cavern and we need to bring our torch. We immersed in the warm afternoon waters to a slope, down to colorful reefs.  There were groupers, jacks, snappers and tropical fishes.  We found too giant clams, sea cucumber, nudi and cowrie shell – not just one, but three in all near each other, perhaps they were family!  We found also blue ribbon eels, two of them, dancing and willing in their burrow – it is seldom to find them in two’s. I’m still in awe, watching them with their mouth wide open, I wonder if it is speaking in a very silent way! 🙂 We roamed around until we got back in our anchor, spending our safety stop near the uprooted tree submerged in waters.   It’s worthy to note that in 2015, a giant grouper (lapu-lapu) was washed ashore near this sanctuary, sadly it was dying after being trapped in the shallow waters, fishermen brought it in the surface and have it butchered and sold to a businessman. So sad…

P1060419
I was imagining these are garden eels!

Planning Again

It was a faux pas but we still enjoyed our unplanned dives in Libertad! I guess, Angel is unrelenting because he promised DM Niki to return next summer aiming again for Maningning.  They agreed for the calendar date where the waters would be flat and summer is in full bloom.  Obviously the island is unspoiled, promising a rich underwater life.  Antique waters is below the radar in diving but undoubtedly have secrets yet to be unraveled, apparently coming back in the province is something to look forward!


Disclosures

Our refuge in Pandan was in Unterpertinger Place, a room & breakfast owned by an Austrian who speaks Deutsch. A comfortable & homey place recommended by our Austrian DM.  The place has a garden and orchard, a perfect rural setting. Our food was prepared direct from their home kitchen. 🙂

The Allures of Antique

P1050964

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.

P1050966
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.

P1050962
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!  🙂

P1050958.jpg
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

20160522_085746
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.

20160522_093103
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!

20160522_095309
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!