Savoring Sipalay

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I rejoice every moment of peace in marine world!

Spontaneity… It sounds exciting to me especially if it is about travel and my last dive trip in April was one. Although my mind was set to revisit Pandan in Antique province to conquer the ever elusive Maningning Island, we succumbed to Sipalay City as alternative destination. Our DM was not available and the weather was unstable.  It was another long trip as it was necessary not to waste my ticket to Iloilo City from Cagayan de Oro. Took the early ferry to Bacolod, endure the long bus ride to the southern most town of Negros Occidental, until finally we had the tricycle ride to Punta Ballo at our refuge in Artistic Diving Beach Resort. The long day was filled with good tidings though, the morning rainbow while in Iloilo pier and the afternoon rainbow at the white beach were enough to cheer us up and took it as a promise of wonderful trip just like in the past.

Punta Ballo

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Somewhere over the rainbow!

Taking refuge in a dive resort while diving is always advantageous, there is no rushing to commute going to the site and there’s no need to carry heavy wet gears back to camp.  Artistic Diving Beach Resort sat along the west coast with an idyllic white beach, so the sunset always beckon at the end of the day. It has at least 14 dive sites including wrecks, and is just nearby Campomanes Bay. After eight months we were back, there was much to explore and we barely covered this unassuming city in our last visit.

Dive and Swim

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Punta Ballo is full of dive sites

After attending the Sunday mass at the city center and taking light breakfast, we gathered up our gears and met up with DM Dick at the shop.  And again, it was an exclusive dive for us! We aimed for MS Jojo for our first descent, it was a short twenty minutes boat ride to the bay. This boat was a small cargo ship for copra and other produce that sank in early 1980’s, they said exploring the wreck is somewhat tricky. It can be murky down there even during sunny weather, and so we were hoping that we could get at least a glimpse of the wreck. We back rolled and hold on to the buoy line together descending slowly until at 20 meters we saw obscurely a huge mass. We were very fortunate that visibility cooperated us and we tried not to disturb the water hovering carefully trying to cover as much as we can. Perhaps I was so distracted, I only saw a lionfish but never the spadefish that normally dwells on wrecks.  We lighted our torches but there wasn’t much to see, penetration was not allowed inside the wreck, the entire hull was still intact. We were biding our time until my NDL went down to 1! I signaled for ascent feeling sorry that it was too short and was just indeed a sneak peek underwater.  Later on, I learned from my computer of my bad profile, I still had 90 bars of air with my deepest at 32 meters after a bottom time of 36 minutes.

After an hour for our surface interval, we geared up again for our next descent at Miami Beach which was a lot nearer from the diveshop, it was another boat dive. We descend the slope while maintaining our left shoulder towards the reef. We caught sight of an artificial reef of concrete slabs filed on top of the other.  Indeed, it became a shelter and refuge of variety of reef fishes, we saw like two or three mounds of slabs all filled with fish.  There were glass shrimp, violet hairy shrimp lurking in soft corals and juvenile lion

P1060903fish. There was a field of corals decorated with wiggling fishes, floating around wandering the waters. I sighted a COTS taking refuge under the corals. Just when we are about the ascend, we noticed a large lobster with its wiggling antlers.  I still have 100 bars air with bottom time of 56 minutes with 26.9 meters as deepest.

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Artificial reef became a rich shelter of marine life in Miami Beach

Trek, Swim and Sunset

We ended our dives early enough to explore more of the city which were in our last trip. One good thing about Sipalay is remaining idyllic and still devoid of distracting structures that seemingly hide the natural beauty of places.

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Overlooking the horizon from Perth Paradise

We hired the trike we had in the morning when we went to church, for our afternoon get-away.  Somehow, the locals always knew what to see, where to go next and what not’s.  Our first stop was at Perth Paradise Resort, we went around the floating catwalk wondering those hills on the waters like fjords. We climbed the steps up the topmost level at the pool admiring the stunning view.  The afternoon was scorching so we didn’t linger on but instead left hurriedly and sped off to Tinagong Dagat which was indeed hidden. It was all trek from the gates, crossing the rickety hanging bridge and climbing up the hill to the viewing deck.  The view was stunning again, the green mountains over the blue waters – it was all glorious!

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Watching Tinagong Dinagat from the hilltop view deck

There’s one remote beach that tickled my curiosity since I first came in Sipalay but unfortunately left hanging for next visit.  I was imagining the reddish horizon over the waters as the sun sets.  Unbeknownst to us, going to Sugar Beach was not an easy one. The dirt road was potholed so the ride was a bumpy one as we sped off to catch the colorful sunset and finally hopped to a short boat ride crossing the river to reach the area.

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The colorful beauty from Sugar Beach, how magnificent!

And indeed, everything was crude – place was utterly untouched by modernization. We were able to explore a bit as we waited for the sunset, and swam enjoying the warm afternoon waters. Purely idyllic, almost devoid of people and there was no rushing as we watched the horizons turning from golden, to fiery reddish, orange until it mellowed to pinkish.  Such wonderful display of nature.  It was already dark as we rushed back to the city center and finally, to the dive resort.

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You can never miss the sunsets of Punta Ballo while in Artistic Dive Resort!

If given a chance to be back south of Negros Occidental, it would be Sipalay, the rural and picturesque attractions coupled with diverse marine life is a perfect combination.  It could only take a rich underwater world for me to love a city or a “punta” for that matter!

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!

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