Wonders in Moaboal

I am a firm believer as a diver, that the underwater has always surprises in store so that a certain spot can give one different sightings every dive. The underwater realm is a stash of dynamic organisms, today and tomorrow’s encounter is never the same. A decade of diving has taught me so, the wonders of marine life can never be exhausted.

Millions of Sardines!

Indeed, coming back again in any dive sites gave new encounters which can never be compared from the last. Let it be marine creatures, new acquaintance, locals, or even circumstances where one can reflect lot of good things are always in store in every situation. My dives this year were few, yet our destinations were undoubtedly our favorites and probably few of the best in the country.

It was a last minute decision to return in Moalboal last October, as usual I had the last word where to go as there was no previous plan. I needed to go away a little farther and it was a random choice to revisit South Cebu. We were so blessed that our arrangements went smooth – our home Moalboal Backpackers Lodge for accommodation, and Savedra Dive Center for the dives.

Swarm of these juveniles…

Isla de Pescador

Our 5am bus trip from the city allowed us a very early arrival in town, giving us ample time to relax and prepare for the dives.  The town was all in motion as we got in Basdiot, weekends like any destinations are full and bustling with tourists.  The cheery weather lifted my spirits, forward looking for wonderful encounters during the day. We were welcomed warmly at the diveshop, the wall chart indicated that we belonged to Lyndon’s (DM) group on our first dive at Pescador Island!

Aboard the Seastar, we sped through the surf, the lowly island looming before us as we got nearer and in 15 minutes we dropped anchors.  Few boats already moored indicative of other divers ahead of us. Our DM briefed us of the current, so from northeast point we should drift to the northwest but first we need to cross against the current until the wall, navigating with our right shoulder against the wall. I informed Lyndon that I wore a brand new wetsuit and it might affect my bouyancy, he assured that he would bring extra weight in case it is necessary. And it was fierce indeed, I have always avoided swimming against current. It was exhaustive!

Watching from inside the Cathedral

Every inch beyond was filled with so much life – from echinoderms, hard & soft corals to swarming variety of fish – there was so much colours! I kept myself close to the wall as I searched for some critters just floating until we got to the Cathedral! It is a cavern with holes, and getting inside with keen eyes you were like staring a large monster face! We linger a little longer inside just watching the illuminated holes, trying to absorb its grandeur, how magnificent! There was a stonefish, giant clam, bivalves that snap as you got close, and a lot of linkia laevigata. There were turtles and we found a huge one sleeping on a crevice, while we left it alone, unfortunately another group of divers came and poke the poor animal. 😦  The wall has few caverns and lot of crevices that were undoubtedly shelter of various critters. We ended up at the northwest end of the island, actually half-circled Pescador. Thankfully I didn’t have trouble with my new wetsuit.  Maybe if we got to dive here in the future, we will reverse the route to get the full circle, without the current of course! 🙂

Sexy shrimps, can you see them?

We cruised back to mainland and while halfway on the waters, to our surprise a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins appeared and sailed alongside our boat! They lingered for a little while to everybody’s delight, until finally we sped our way to the shores with all our smiles. The warm sun, sea breeze and salt waters spraying on us was pure delight.

Sardines Shoal

Since I first came in Moalboal decade ago, we always aimed for the sardines and this trip was no exception. The house reef was listed for our second dive in the afternoon, and it was an exclusive dive for us! Our surface interval was more than enough for our quick bites and relaxed a bit longer before we got back at the dive shop, just a few meters away from our hostel.

The sardines was all around us!

We geared up excitedly but our DM changed the plan due to the afternoon current, instead of a shore dive we shifted for the boat. So, we sailed shortly to Panagsama Sanctuary and descend there and drifted for the shoal eastward immersing in the warm afternoon waters. We maintained our depth in the shallow reef along the Basdiot shores scouring the bottom for trashes. We gathered some plastic debris, thankful there wasn’t much when the area was filled with many settlers and establishments just few meters from the shoreline. In spite of this, there was much marine life in the area – sexy shrimps lurking on soft corals, ornate pipefish, nudis, lobster and juvenile frogfish! We drifted until we got into swarm of big eye scad, there was lot of them swerving and shifting direction as we moved along. There were other fish specie that came in schools also, and to my mind they knew and learned that being in cluster commanded force and they were less threatened.

I kept looking up until in an instant a dark patch clouded over us, the sardines shoal was upon our very eyes! Like a magic but for me, it’s purely mystical. I know I will never get tired watching again and again such incredible marine sight. 🙂 How majestic are His creation!

Nudibranch!

We kept floating mindful too of other fish in our midst, there were five barracudas that tried to invade the swarm but wasn’t able to penetrate at all. And how marvelous that they could go that shallow, barracudas are generally deep sea dwellers! We still linger floating until we reached the end of the stretch, Lyndon signaled accordingly to turn around and went against the mild afternoon current. Angel and I immersed much longer finning coyly with the massive sardines’ swarm above us, engulfed myself few more moments of wonder until our DM signaled for surface which we both agreed. We ended up at the front of the dive shop entrance channel. Angel helped me with my fins as we walked back to the shop with our gears on. I guess even with the current I still felt energized with such wonderful encounter, it was for me another relaxing experience with the phenomenal sardines. I could only wish they would remain to have Panagsama as refuge, shelter and home forever.

The sardines clouded over us!

We capped our day with a big dinner in Marina, yet many times our encounters for the day came into our chats until we retired for the night.

Moalboal will always be our favorite destination for diving, its wonders endlessly captivated my soul. That brought home how amazing the marine world is and why it’s worth protecting the rich biodiversity we have in the country or this planet, for that matter.

Travel Notes:

  1. Leaving Cebu City at 4:30am by bus, one can reach Moalboal before 8:00am still having enough time for 2 dives during the day
  2. Tricycle to Basdiot costs P150.00 for special trip, otherwise P20.00/pax for ordinary trip
  3. Be sure to book your accommodation and dives before heading to Moaboal to avoid trip hassles
  4. Sardines Shoal can still be encountered through snorkelling
  5. Pescador (which literally means fisherman) got its name being refuge of fishermen during inclement weather.

Freedom Weekend: Peak, Trails, Falls, Depths!

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The colorful depths of Pescador Island!

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.   ~Frank Lloyd Wright~

Moalboal is one of my favorite dive destinations, despite the disappearance of the phenomenal sardines run in our last visit more than two years ago I have promised myself to be back once more with my dive buddy. The itch was pestering me again since last year especially with the comeback of its marine life phenomena, the anticipation of the return was consuming! The plan involved not just the perks in Moalboal but also the charms of Osmena Peak and the anticipated return to Kawasan Falls after five years. It was another package of adventure – from the heights to the depths! The long weekend in June was all perfect, I just needed a break from work pressures.

Dalaguete for Osmena Peak

Osmeña Peak
Osmeña Peak – directly above the town of Badian. The vast sea is decorated with Badian Island.

We sped off for Moalboal after a quick stopover at the diveshop in downtown Cebu for Angel’s reserved gear. We were just in time as the van was almost leaving as we got to the terminal, summer’s end gave us a cherry warm welcome in the queen city of the south. The trip was long but the sceneries along the way were enough to absorb my attention. I never get tired passing these southern towns – the old churches, old squares and those big old acacias lining the road! It was first things first – drop off gears at our lodge and see our DM for our Sunday dives. Our friends in our favorite backpacker lodge were there to welcome us, and meeting the new Manager of our favorite dive shop was just heart-warming for the comeback.

We passed by towns of Badian, Malabuyoc, Ginatilan, Samboan and changed bus at Bato to proceed to Santander, Oslob, Boljoon, Alcoy and finally Dalaguete – it was dark already. We walked and asked around for our lodge and we were accordingly accommodated. The simple room at Pink House was comfortable enough for an eight-hour overnight, sufficient for a good night’s rest to brace us for the next day’s quest.

The next early morning, in a street corner across the old town hall, we found a helpful Manong who carried us with his motorbike to the foot of the peak in Mantalongon. The communities we passed by were already in motion for their daily bustle. The cool morning breeze and the rural scenery was a great start for the climb. We passed by school children on their way, the vegetable farms & backyard gardens and the bagsakan center, where there were ongoing packaging of produce , hauling and the usual trading that accompany with it. It was all green and refreshing.

It took only about twenty minutes to climb the peak, but our guide misunderstood us and after walking for thirty minutes wondering where the jagged peaks are – we walked back for the summit which was just behind us. There were climbers already when we looked up, the climb was not arduous but enough to pump more oxygen for the heart! Indeed, the view on top was breathtaking – 360 degrees view of green jagged hilltops, the vast ocean decorated with Badian Island yonder and the blue endless skies!

But again, the litters along the trails and on the peak itself were purely disgusting. I picked up a large plastic bag and gathered up all the trash inside. A sad reality – the influx of tourists is always accompanied by unsightly trash. It was an opportunity for a clean-up climb/trek for us.

Badian for Kawasan Falls

Just refreshing! After trekking the trails through the ranges in southern Cebu and traversing the hills in search of Kawasan Falls, the longing for that cool and fresh water was our inspiration to walk past down the winding roads. On the way, we picked up trashes and had a large bagful of litters. After four hours and walking sixteen kilometers, we reached Bukal Springs, the first layer of the falls. After five years we were back reaching in a different entrance and perspective, accompanied with new discoveries.

We walked further the trails and had the needed stop in a hut – it was past 12 noon already and we were famished. Believing it was the resort we visited last time, we were surprised of the changes in the spot – well, it’s been five years!

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Kawasan Falls! Green foliage, gushing waters, aquamarine pool – such wonderful sight. Nothing much has changed since five years ago….

We spend some time on the raft under the falls – soaking ourselves to our heart’s content. It was truly refreshing! Still wondering for the changes of the area, we ended our dip to continue the trails down the highway. But to our surprise, the front layer of the falls was all down there in its splendor! There were more people and guests, and the structures were exactly the same we had five years ago. It’s the same Kawasan we knew – the massive falls, the foliage around the cliffs and the wide pool of aquamarine waters beyond the gushing falls! We lingered for few minutes trying to absorb the marvel of nature’s wonder.

One sheer discovery – Kawasan Falls has three layers, each with different charm and spectacle!

Moalboal for the Phenomenon

The next morning we promptly rushed to Cebu Dive Centre at 8:00am earlier than the appointed time, Cameron – a Briton, the new shop manager deals client seriously but friendly – the professionalism I am expecting from PADI shops. Although we were earlier hinting for Pescador Island for the sardines, he simply dismissed that the run have transferred at the house reef which is easily accessible by shore entry. Cameron, arranged three descents for the day that includes Pescador!

We cruised shortly north east of the island, the site is notoriously rough so it is necessary to be early. I was silently thrilled after the short briefing from Danny, knowing that we will penetrate the cathedral – cavern diving again! Indeed, the water was choppy already when we got there. I was last for the entry and Yoyo’s assistance was just needed, the current surface was already strong. Pescador is simply amazing, noted for its mushroom-like formation it held many surprises and its rough surrounding waters added appeal for divers.

Indeed, we feasted down under and completely fascinated by array of rare sightings in the depths. We entered the cavern in one hole and had a magnificent view of the cathedral’s holes – while inside in a distance, the lights outside illuminated a human skull. Two eyes, nose and mouth – in an abstract scene, only the focus minded will see. It was like coming face to face with a giant monster underwater. It was rare sight not to be missed! We exited in one of the hole resembling its right eye. There was moray eel, electric clams, banded pipefish, ornate ghost pipefish, puffer and yellow frogfish! We lingered for the rare yellow froggy hoping it would yawn, but it didn’t. There were juvenile tropical fishes, anthias hovering over corals and variety of hard and soft corals. We ascend after 53 minutes with my air at 70 bars.

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A yellow frogfish – rare find!

We escaped the raging waters in Pescador and had our second descent at Visaya Reef. Again, we were not disappointed – we silently roam the slope combing the corals. We sighted cleaner shrimp, trumpet fish, some nudis, puffer, scorpion fish, and the rare emperor shrimp and pygmy seahorse! We swam more and found a resting turtle with a remora, I have to tug Angel’s weight belt to get his attention. It is his favorite specie! Well, he approached and ended chasing it again for photos. We ascend after 51 minutes, my air still at 100 bars. We cruised back for the diveshop, our lunch served as our surface interval.

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You’ve got a friend – most marine critters live symbiotically.  Scorpionfish resting on a blue seastar!

Nature has its own works, the transfer of the sardines was one. More than two years ago I was perturbed that it was gone and was silently hoping it would be back in its own right time. Now, this phenomenon graced the shallow waters of Bas Diot just near the shores. I agree with Danny and Yoyo that the sardines are safer in their new abode, the shores are patrolled and nobody could fish them. They could freely swim without fear of predators. Larger fishes would rarely come ashore!

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The turtle with a remora resting on corals

Donning my gears on water, we readied for our last descent to experience once more the phenomenon. Not far, we were at 15 meters and as we looked up, the large herd darkened above us, probably just five meters from the surface. We swam getting a good view and the whole stretch was literally decorated with the fishes grouped together – probably millions! It was such a rare sighting. We literally got the whole stretch covered, immersed in the afternoon waters swimming coyly, feeling the serenity of the waters. I belong with the marine life, as if I was one with them in spirit. There were at least eight sightings of turtles randomly darting in our view adding more splendor to the scene.

Angel was just nearby, it was necessary as I don’t have dive computer and we both agreed not to get lost. Unexpectedly, he held my hand and looked in my eyes. As if saying, “It’s beautiful, do you like it?” I looked back and gripped his hand affirming, wanting to smile but can’t. We both love the sardines run, how can anyone ignore the exquisiteness of creation? How can anyone disregard the treasures in marine life? We swam back to shores after 50 minutes still enthralled of the sardines and turtles.

We capped the day having sumptuous dinner at Marina – a sister resto of La Tegola Cuccina Italiana back home, one of our favorite in town! 

Climb, Trek, Swim Adventure

For sure, there’s more in southern Cebu – dive sites in Badian and Oslob; beaches in Dalaguete and Alcoy; old churches, museum, town halls; and pristine white islands. But again, it was about seizing moments and doing what one love most. I adore the mountains and my incessant passion for the depths is unrelenting. The three-day trip was a perfect climb, trek and swim quest rolled in one – coupled with new learning and discoveries. Yet when we head home, we agreed for another return. It’s pure madness I guess – a kind of madness that keep my sanity because it is with nature that I find my equilibrium!


NB
Underwater photos courtesy of Angel using Lumix TS2 with Ikelite casing