Carousing in Moalboal!

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Millions of sardines, the immensity is a phenomenon!

It was a quick decision to revisit one of my favorite destination in Cebu province, initially we were aiming for an offbeat town in Southern Leyte but unfortunately, the lone local dive shop was fully booked for that weekend. We made quick arrangements on our favorite hostel and dive shop in Moalboal but then again, all were fully booked. We ignored the hindrances though, coming to this favorite town southwest of Cebu was a joy. My last visit was yet in June 2014!

The last minute changes made me scrambling from a quiet lunch with friends, it was already past 2pm and everything else went as a whirlwind – tickets, packing, gears assemble, so on.  By 8pm, I was already on board the boat sailing for the night to Cebu.

Travelers always trust things will work out well as you arrived the destination, and it sure did. As long as you are open-minded and make most of what is available at hand. One last bahay-kubo was the lodge  for the night and our friend DM at Cebu Dive Center offered us one dive in their house reef for the coveted sardines run, it was good that one dive guide was available for that afternoon. The arrangement worked well and it gave us time to see other sites.  🙂

White Beach (Bas Daku)

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Got away from the crowd to get unobstructed view of the sunset!

For the many times I went to Moalboal, I never got the chance to visit the area and Torsten (of Moalboal Backpackers Lodge) described it as a wonderful spot to relax and watch sunset. It was low-tide when we got there, the shores was wide and long enough for the walk but unfortunately it was too crowded. So, we had the walk, sat at the beach, watch people, watch the sunset and in the end, had a dip and quick swim in its warm waters!  🙂

Aguinid Falls

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Therapeutic morning dip at the falls basin!

The town of Samboan is 60 kilometers away from the lodge and almost two hours bus ride, so we woke up early for the trip south. Indeed, the early bird catches the best view! There was no crowd, no noise just the sound of the gushing waters! Yes, the short walk and climbing the four levels was a sure test of agility and strength. I love the early trek and swim at its basin with the majestic falls behind us. It was a wet morning adventure!  🙂

Sardines Run

 

 

DM Cameron (of Cebu Dive Center) was just good-hearted to arrange with another diver for our afternoon dives, one dive was truly not enough for me but it was better than none considering the long trip. The afternoon waters was turbulent as it was moving for the high tides, it was hard to keep steady as we wade for our entry.  At 15 meters though, we had a grand show of million sardines. It clouded above us, as we swam coyly in the warm waters – so beautiful and surreal! It was amazing, a nature’s wonder that can not be explained.  For a time the swarm was in the deep in Pescador Island, but now it’s in the shallows right next the shores. Maybe, the fishes knew that they can survive well away from the predators. Yes, the spot is a protected area and fishing them is illegal! I knew I will get back in Moalboal for the sardines again and again.

The brief get-away was a carouse but never in a noisy and lively way as in a party, but it’s about enjoying nature’s gifts in it’s most simple, relaxed, spontaneous and unaffected way. The wonderful dive was just I needed during the Moalboal visit. After we bade goodbye to our host, we left for the city thankful that our traspo connections went fluidly.

It was late when we arrived downtown Cebu, rushing but still had enough time for a relaxing dinner at La Maison Rose.  C’est la vie!  🙂

NB. All photos courtesy of my favorite dive buddy.

 

Oslob: More than Whale Sharks!

The friendly domesticated whalesharks in the waters of Tan-awan in Oslob town have drawn so much curiosity from tourists, foreign and locals alike. In short, all people heading to this town in Southern Cebu are in search for the gentle giants. This once sleepy town is now bustling with travelers and obviously economic activity flourish, thanks to the biggest fish!

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Fishes and  crinoids take refuge in wide gorgonians!

This coastal town however, has a more than to offer in terms of marine life and that’s where we set out in July for a dive trip. We arrived aboard a bus from Cebu City filled with tourists, all of them aiming for the whalesharks. My blue diver heart cried  in protest for this unethical and disrespectful interaction with marine life. They are supposed to be in the wild swimming in the depths.  It was so pathetic…

 Island Treasure

If you have traveled down south of Cebu, you will never miss Sumilon Island along its coastal road in the southeastern tip of Oslob. It is a 24-hectare (59-acre) coral island off the coast of Bancogon. It is the first marine protected area in the Philippines; created as a marine sanctuary in 1974 under the guidance of the Silliman University Marine Reserve of Dumaguete City in the nearby province of Negros Oriental.

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Just watching electric blue anthias was calming enough!

We arrived early at Brumini Resort, earlier as expected by our DM and we still had enough time for coffee to perk us up after our sleepy bus ride. It was another exclusive dive for me and Angel, no other divers for the day since everyone was out for the whale sharks!  We set for the island a little past 8:00am, unfortunately the picturesque sandbar I was hoping to see was nowhere, it was high tide then.  Not far were trigger boats heading for the whale sharks point, not one or two but many!

Our first descent was in Landscape Coral, some sandy slope hosting a variety of tropical fishes such as anthias, groupers, goatfish, herd of bannerfish, butterfly fish, triggers and more. Surprisingly, a black tip shark appeared vaguely from my point! A herd of mackerel neatly piled themselves and paraded before us, such a sight! And there was cuttlefish and as I slowly came near hoping for photos, it swam backwards curiously watching me. 🙂  The golden and blue anthias wiggling over corals were so engaging, watching them silently was perfectly calming.  Then, as we float weightlessly, something unusual came floating towards me, I almost wanted to reach out to touch. It was a transparent specie appearing in shape of fish, floating and just drifting though the waters, it was a strange encounter!  We drifted until we got to a wide coral field, the current becoming intense when we got in a corner to the depths. We finned endlessly as we slowly ascend watching the coral field, holding hands to be sure not to be separated as we swam back for the boat nearby.

We asked our DM to have our surface interval down the waters over the sandbar, if it was low tide we could be walking on its white sandy surface or just lounge on its white beach. There were lot of people on the waters as well as in some kind of waiting shed in the rock cliff, for the guests I guess. We tried to gather the trash floating before us brought in by the rising tide, if only all the people out there could take one trash at a time, it will be free of all the eyesore in a flash.  If only…

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There could be many forms of life taking this wide gorgonian as their abode!

Our next descent was in the marine sanctuary, which was again perfectly rich with diverse marine life.  There was trumpetfish, silver jack, triggers – well, I was eyeing with the titan trigger making sure I won’t attract his attention! 🙂 The golden and lilac anthias were there again contently wiggling over the green corals. There were bivalves also, barrel sponges, cucumbers and colored anemones.  The giant sea fans in yellow and blue also decorated the area.  The banded sea snake slithered along perhaps looking for prey.  We passed crevices and overhangs curiously looking for macros. I found four nudis in just one location, perhaps they were a family.   I sighted boxfish, puffer fish, goatfish, banner fish, moorish idol, angels and damsels.  I sighted also a herd of sweetlips swimming coyly, so absorbing just watching them.  We got to a wide coral area for our safety stop curiously hopping around.  After 48 minutes, I still had 120 bars of air when we ascend.

Reflections

Getting into the depths is far better than feeding and swimming with the whale sharks on the water surface.  The depths of the island or Oslob for that matter, has much more to offer.  Apparently, Oslob is more than the whale sharks, its depths held much more interesting marine life!  As we rode our transpo going further south, I was reflecting how long can they sustain the poor butandings entertaining numerous people everyday. This practice has greatly disturbed the ecosystem.  I wish the people of Oslob reflected on this…

Will you interact with Oslob whale sharks this way?

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

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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!


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Underwater photos courtesy of Angel using Lumix TS2 with Ikelite casing