Orange Nudi

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This nudi (risbecia tyroni) is frequently found on pairs in single file, the slug at the back using its head to maintain contact with the one at the front. Tyron’s nudibranch as they are called have an ingenious defense system, just like other nudis they are fond of eating poisonous prey.

Indeed, one needs a keen eye to find them, they are silent and most often lurking on soft corals. We found this in the depths of Puerto Ptincesa, while the viz was far from good we caught sight of it in the yellowish reef almost hiding in the colors. But it was all alone, silently waiting perhaps for its prey.

Have you encountered this nudi?

Diving in Pearl Island

Stitched Panorama
Pearl Island before destruction from Typhoon Yolanda. Photo credits to http://www.fotocommunity.de von Herr Martin Schaublin. Danke viel mals!

An off-beaten site, I haven’t even heard or read about the spot and we only knew we were going there when we were already on the boat for our scheduled dives.

“Where do we go today? Asking in wonder our DM, whom we just met that morning.
“To Pearl Island!” He blurted briefly with no further description about the mysterious island.

It is just one of the islets off Guiuan, Eastern Samar and coming to this town was just a detour when Biliran province was just hit by typhoon. The lone dive shop in the province cancelled our weekend dives accordingly.

The morning skies was down cast and I was crossing my fingers the waters would be considerate enough for the dives. We were fortunate, Angel found a DM on the web who accepted our last minute booking. Guiuan being hit by Yolanda (in November 2013) was still picking up pieces from the havoc and finding lodgings was also hard, but thankfully we found a home stay at Barangay Hollywood. The town is not in the diving map and definitely not yet in our list but it was more than a blessing we had what we need for that weekend getaway last July.

The waters was bit choppy and the cruise took us an hour but the aqua marine hue of the surrounding waters and the prospect of the far-off island slowly getting near was a real treat to perk us up. But seeing the place as we step on its shores was heart-rending – total wreckage was overwhelming. The three white dogs and the caretaker welcomed us warmly, enough to soothe the pain I felt watching the miserable state of the station.

The sky was still downcast and the visibility was not favorable but hoping for surprises in our descents, we geared up leisurely for our first dive – it was a shore entry but somewhat tricky as the viz was hazy. The plan was to circle the islet swimming with the current hoping to cover the whole sanctuary. There were variety of soft and hard corals with juvenile fishes, I needed to be more keen for critters. But what I saw was more wreckage – uprooted talisay tree, broken coco trees, galvanized roofings, rubbles and more. There was more debris than marine life as we went around. Inspecting closely a crevice, I found a lobster, its antlers swaying slowly outside the hole. She stood her ground as I came a bit closer beckoning Angel. It was a rare find and quite a surprise, it was my first sighting of a big lobster! We roamed around over a coral but in a twist of fate, I was separated from Angel and our DM, the obscure viz was not really a help. I surfaced about 15 minutes later than them….

For sure, there was still more to explore down but the DM beg-off for the second dive, it would be rude to demand from him as he was feeling sick.

The devastation of the town was fading physically barely noticeable in one glance but visiting the island could pierce one’s heart, the BFAR building was totally destroyed, rows of concrete beds for the pearl culture was empty and useless, coconuts and talisay trees uprooted. It is almost bare to the ground. The lash of the unforgiving typhoon was evident even underwater. Exactly the small islet was an exact show window of the Yolanda devastation.

Perhaps, there will be another chance to visit Guiuan, by that time the town is booming & blooming and the typhoon destruction will only be a faint memory.

Travel Notes

1. Pearl Island (aka Kantican Island) is an experimental station of Bureau of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources (BFAR) on pearl culture, at the same time a protected marine sanctuary. It caters as venue of seminars, training and workshops of the province. It was established and a gem during Marcos era.
2. There is no commercial diveshop at the moment but can book diving services from a local DM. Bringing own gears would be advantageous.
3. Aircon vans from Tacloban to Guiuan (and vice versa) have daily regular trips every hour, travel time is two hours.
4. There are more than 10 dive sites in Eastern Samar including Homonhon Island.

Disclosure

I savor few moments on the swing under the talisay tree (survivor after the typhoon) just before we left the island. Despite the devastation, there still a little source of simple joy for a sad soul. Angel was worried to death when he surfaced and cant find me.

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

Captivating Depths

My quests in the blue world were not without challenges, some phenomenal but mostly intriguing.  Summing it up I enjoyed every bit of these experiences, always coming home with renewed spirit and increasing admiration and love for the depths.  It meant traveling far, passing a night at the airport, spending fortune, neglecting comforts, entrusting my life to strangers and extending limits of my self-imposed modesty. Sometimes it was surprising I have gone that far. The scale of challenges is increasing. Yes, I have gone that far.

My search around the country is still on-going and few of them stand out for their mystic and charm, like sucking senses and left a diver fazed in wonder. Here are few sites that captured my heart and curiosity, it felt like I can’t get enough from my descent on its depths.

  • Pescador Island, Moalboal
    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This lowly island held surprising secrets, the phenomenal sardine’s run will stir your curiosity how  these           millions of small fish come together and synchronize for a tornado.  It is so tempting to come and be amongst in their assembly and get lost in their midst!
  • The Canyons, Puerto Galera

    Dropping at Escarceo Point, drifting fast with the currents passing field of colorful acropora corals, and race over  several drop-offs to reach the Hole in the Wall. Steadying for the entrance, I was completely surprised as I was sucked in the hole in a split second!  There, the Canyons teeming with marine life.

  • Akitsushima Maru, Coron

    All the World War II wrecks concentrated in Coron Bay gave me that rush for the penetration but Akitsushima is different. She is simply beautiful, one of the few true warships among the wrecks. We penetrated chambers, crevices, holes and square openings.  Mysterious and truly engaging, the dark and its secrets and historic value held so much attraction to me.  Its externals is teeming with fish life, remnants like broken crane, canon ball hole, artillery and funnel.  It is an advance dive due to depth and currents.

  • Monad Shoal, Malapascua

    Watching a flock of quirky thresher sharks swimming before me on early morning was one of my unforgettable underwater experience, I almost cried in amazement! I can sit at the viewing edge and watch them until they are gone. Threshers are deep inhabitants but a herd always gathers every morning at the shoal to be cleaned from parasites and algae on their bodies by wrasses, more of a symbiotic relationship as these wrasses were fed from the sharks.  Monad offer guaranteed sightings everyday on early mornings!

  • Banaug Shoal, Mantangale

    The shoal is about 22 meters depth from the surface but this underwater hill can never be outdone in terms of diversity in marine life.  The swarm of damsels, red snappers, angels, sergeants, wrasses amidst hard corals and tangling soft corals, it is always as colorful as it was. Moray eel, stone fish, leaf fish, lion fish, nudis, sea stars are just few that inhabit the small hill.  It is always tempting to go deeper to explore what’s beyond.  This may not be in the diving map but its richness can be at par with exotic dive destinations.

Have you tried diving from any of these sites? I’m still in search for sites and I know I will never exhaust them in my lifetime.  There is yet a lot of secrets to unravel right here in my home country.

NB.  All photos courtesy of Angel using Tough 8000 with PT 045 casing