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!

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.

 

Finding Solace in Samal Island!

It was a random decision to book dives in Samal to quick start 2018 dive trips, it was like a homecoming after few years of skipping the island. And it was heartwarming that DM Maeng of ScubAqua (formerly Davao Scuba Dive Center) is still there to cater us.  It felt nostalgic recalling memories in my prior years’ dives with them, unfortunately new dive guides were engaged for that weekend.  That same warmth and kindness that I cherished before comforted me during the trip.

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Colorful corals, juveniles swimming before us – perfectly calming!

The cheery weather greeted us for our cruise to the island from Sta. Ana port, the boat was full-packed with guests – only few were divers though, most were aiming for the beach either to just swim or snorkel.  We were assigned to DM Toto for the day together with a newbie American diver, it was reassuring since we were not crowded and we could have more time to slow down and be mindful as we went through the reefs.

Our first descent was in Coral Gardens, we sank unto a sandy slope filled with corals decorated with wide gorgonians but we stumbled upon few crown of thorns star (COTS), I frowned watching them as the waters shall get warmer during summer, in no time they could multiply and eventually will devour the corals.  I glance over a branching coral that was turning whitish – I was wondering if it was bleaching! A sea cucumber had a minute emperor shrimp on its back probably feeding from parasites, some sea star, worms, clownfish over anemones, and a variety of juveniles spreading above us as we went around. Then a blue ribbon eel appeared from its burrow gloriously stood its ground as I took some snapshots – always fascinating as it darted but never leaving its hole!  Then we lingered over the colorful coral field just feeling the warm waters hopping over the reef hunting for critters, until we had our safety stop as we got under our boat for our ascent.  I still had 100 bars after 58 minutes lingering over the gardens!

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Emperor shrimp on a sea cucumber back!

We cruise a bit to Babu Santa beach for our safety stop, there were few changes since our last visit but thankfully it is till devoid of concrete and permanent structures, it has still its wide beach with few huts for guests, with its blue and clear waters!

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COTS at rest, soon to devour the corals nearby!

We cruise once more heading for Talikud Island for our last descent at Mansud Wall, it was past 4pm already and thankfully the viz was clear and there was no current.  We descend with our left shoulder towards the wall, the reef is filled with soft and hard corals, wide sea fans and obviously bursting with marine life. There were nudis, COTS (!) again, lots of juveniles – anthias, damsels, chromis, wrasse, fusiliers and lot more.  They spread before and above us as, watching them peacefully swimming was a great consolation – there was pure silence.  We had gathered trashes as we went around, and we lingered again over coral field for our safety stop until we ascend after 54 minutes. We cruised back to Sta. Ana wharf feeling refreshed after the dives!  🙂

This little piece of paradise has been renamed to Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS) but for me, it is still Samal Island, in the early days popularized by Pearl Farm but now there are a number of resorts all around this small city. It has remained bucolic and unassuming yet booming and blooming for all of us to revisit, explore and enjoy!

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A family of anemone fish!

Travel Notes

  • In the early days of this intoxication, Samal waters was a favorite and has been our playground. My dive buddy earned his open water certification through Davao Scuba Dive Center.
  • Davao City, my entry point to Samal island is 8-hour drive from Cagayan de Oro
  • ScubAqua is probably the cheapest with PhP 1500.00 rate for 2 dives inclusive of equipment, boat and dive guide. The shop is conveniently located at Sta. Ana wharf.
  • Staying in Davao City rather than in the resorts in IGACOS is more economical, also the city has much to offer to your liking.

Deluge at Duka Bay!

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Ready to go!

In November, we head southeast down Misamis Oriental and revisited Duka Bay to relish once more its impressive depths. The bay has been a favorite back when I was just starting my dive pursuits.  It is just few kilometers from  Cagayan de Oro and I have good friends managing a diveshop in the location, this was my playground during my advance open water (AOW) course. The local government also exerted efforts for marine conservation and preservation – marine sanctuary maintenance, installation of artificial reefs, coral restoration and dive clean-ups.   Their labor was intensive and the support for them was gratifying. The site is practically a good destination for weekend get- away.

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Filled with marine life!

The weather cooperated with us on that Saturday morning when previous days it was pouring hard, mysteriously the viz was good enough for our dives. There were no other divers so it was again an exclusive one for us. Edward, Jolem, Badette and Lemuel of Duka Dive & Aquasports were there for us.

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Paying respect for Our  Lady Star of the Sea

We were aiming for Mother Mary’s statue which is something new in Paradise, it was planted early in CY 2017 and has become an attraction in the bay. It was our first stop, she was there standing in the middle of white sandy slope away from the crowd. So alone, so serene. It reminds me of MUSA in Cancun, Mexico – but with only one statue it is a far cry. Marine critters started to inhabit the statue, actually promoting coral life.  We proceed to that big crater full of tropical fishes, I positioned in the by-side, paused and watch in awe the busy stream of resident fishes swimming, darting, wiggling before me. We passed alibuags sending shivers as it was too cold to ignore.  Duka is famous for these fresh water springs underwater, how uncanny nature is!  There was a parade of giant snappers and a big turtle appeared.  We entered a small cavern full of golden cardinals, swimming madly as we got near! The area is now more full with soft & hard corals, decorated with crinoids, whips and other invertebrates.  Still a paradise, as it was!

Our last dive was at the Aquarium with an inner reef for the wide coral field and outer reef to the deeper part of the site. We descend on a sandy slope unto a large colony of garden eels, so many of them! And again, I linger for a moment to just watch them come up from their burrows inch by inch.  Their shyness is endearing! There were lot of tropical fishes in variety, few nudis and a cluster of giant clams.  We found too stonefish and a juvenile yellow frogfish.  We roamed around the coral fields, biding our time and watchful for critters.  There were alibuags again scattered, and true to its name as it was before, it is indeed an aquarium!

Just marvelous, the bay can never be outdone in its diverse marine life, and coming back after some time with a deluge of sightings was refreshing enough and brought back memories how replete this once my playground in the early days!

NB.  All photos courtesy of my favorite dive buddy – http://www.lakwatsero.com! 🙂

Craving for Cabilao Island!

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Isn’t this blenny adorable?

Still our penchant for seeking less known sites is limitless. As we all knew, the island province of Bohol is a gem, it is undoubtedly replete with many wonders.  Last year, we felt so blessed after diving in the town of Anda – it was incredibly rich we regret discovering it just lately.  So, we were off again to the province and endured multiple mode of transport to reach the town of Loon, finally cruising to this tiny unassuming island one weekend in September. It was a plane, ferry, bus and tiny boat ride all to Cabilao Island.  The island has been in my list years back but the arduous trip that won’t surely fit on a weekend deterred the schedule.  Recently, Angel discovered reaching the other side of Bohol via Tubigon, definitely shorter and cheaper than via Tagbilaran! So, as soon as I got back from the July rendezvous, I booked my Cebu tickets for this trip.

All in a Rush

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Polaris Dive Resort is a self-contained, homey & environment friendly haven. Add diving, and that’s all too perfect for me!

Another hectic weekend awaits us, so things were all in a rush but thanks God all our transport connections went fluidly as planned.  We were catching our breath as we do not want to be late, Europeans are time conscious and it is discourteous to keep others waiting.  We arrived and welcomed warmly at Polaris Dive Resort just in the nick of time, enough to have a quick but relaxing breakfast and gather ourselves for the day’s dives. DM Jun assured us not to rush, we were informed that three couples (all Deutsch) were booked for the day obviously we were arranged to join them.

Pulo Hospitality

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Hey, can you find the harlequin shrimp?  🙂

The location and amenities of the resort was impressive and exactly what one needs for an escape, add diving and that’s perfect haven for me. J We geared up after the preliminaries and piled all eight divers in the boat for our first descent at the Lighthouse, which was a short 5-minute ride south of resort shores. We dropped unto a sandy slope filled with soft corals down to a wall, we chance upon a colony of garden eels which quickly hid in their burrows when we got near.  I’m always fascinated with them, and again I paused and waited they would come out again, they did slowly inch by inch!  We stumbled on macros – few nudis, glass shrimp and a crab mimicking on soft coral. Every turn we peek on corals for critters. The highlights for me was the yellow

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Face to face with a yellow frogfish!

frogfish perched on a large plank of yellow rubber coral surrounded by crinoids, adapting its yellow surroundings. I waited it would yawn, but it only opened its mouth a bit perhaps catching some air, at least it was not upset with our intrusion in its abode. It was a good subject directly facing us, so the Deutsch divers feasted for photos! We explored more – the perennial clown fish forever teasing over anemones, ghost pipefish like dead leaves (!), stonefish and nudis again.  Then over a sandy part, our DM pointed out a couple of black/white organism clinging on rubber coral, poking a bit it went white all over – it turns out to be an egg cowrie!  We linger for our safety stop over a sandy slope covered with corals and sea grasses and found last minute a stonefish, hairy crab on bubble coral and a herd of striped eel fish. We separated from the group and ascend by ourselves in the shallows towards the shore, after 90 minutes.  I still have 60 bars with 29.7 meters as our deepest.  So far, this was my longest bottom time!

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Macros are everywhere, a crab was secretly hiding among this colorful soft coral!

Our surface interval was spent for our light but relaxing lunch of penne pesto pasta and korbis soup, we had enough time too for some breather in our cottage. The quiet surroundings under the swaying coconuts and trees with blooming hibiscus would surely lull you to sleep. J  I have to drag myself from the rattan duyan for our next dive at 2pm.

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A scorpion fish!

The afternoon descent is at The Chapel, which is nearby too parallel the resort shores.  It is located near a small chapel which according to DM Jun where fishers drop-by before setting off to fish.  Our DM promised a diverse marine life in this lowly site.  Indeed, we dropped off on a colourful reef where in few minutes we found the electric clams, they lurk on overhangs or crevices and emit somewhat vibrating lights from their opening.  Angel pointed out to me a shy moray with its head barely out from its hole, it didn’t like our intrusion.  L Then a harlequin shrimp barely noticeable clinging on soft flowery coral, glass shrimps on anemone, another minute shrimp on flat hardened surface over anemones, few nudis – critters were everywhere! We went on a swim-through with our DM carefully navigating getting a streamlined test, it was perfectly smooth! A lone silver barracuda was teasing us, wondering where its companions are.  Damsels, groupers, triggers, sand perch, wrasses, chromis, fusiliers, butterfly fish, angels, anthias and more. There was this adorable blenny peeking from its abode as if giving us a hello, its curiosity was endearing. We were having our wrap-up as we get off for our safety stop, when a large herd of striped barracudas appeared in view.  We swam quick before we lost them, it was incredible that at five meters we got a full view of the herd! J I still have 80 bars when we ascend after 73 minutes.  It was wonderful, with lot of sightings and diverse environment we were more than an hour underwater for both dives.  My heart was filled with gratefulness for all the discoveries.

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Parading in the coral fields!

We pass-off for night dives and choose to unwind at the patio savoring the twilight glow and eventually had a quiet alfresco dinner listening to the waves behind us. The day was just full deserving a good night’s rest.

Final Touch

Leaving the island wasn’t complete without attending an early mass at the Centro, exploring the shoreline towards the Lighthouse and Punta Baluarte Eco-Museum. It offers a lovely view of the sea minus the crowd and modern development, just sheer island charm and unspoiled serene setting.

Hidden, idyllic and purely designed for unwinding,  another unmatched destination just waiting to be explored and enjoyed is Cabilao Island. Actually,  it’s more than just a destination, it’s an experience!

Travel Notes:

  1. My itinerary for this trip
  • Last night flight from Cagayan de Oro to Cebu, 740pm – 50 minutes
  • First trip ferry to Tubigon, 445am – 2 hours
  • Van ride to Mocpoc, Loon – 1 hour
  • Habal ride to Pier – 15 minutes
  • Boat ride to Talisay, Cabilao pier – 10 minutes
  • Habal ride to Polaris Dive Resort – 10 minutes
  • Return trip has same route leaving the island early, to catch the last flight to Cagayan de Oro from Cebu
  1. With the above itinerary, there is a need to stay overnight in metro Cebu
  2. Ferries for Cebu-Tubigon route & vice versa has several trips daily, in Cebu they sail from Pier Uno
  3. Polaris Dive Resort is a self-contained homey environment friendly resort which houses a 5-star PADI dive shop, lies in the western side obviously offering daily sunsets
  4. The tiny triangular island of Cabilao off Loon town is literally surrounded with at least 14 dive sites
  5. “Pulo” is a Cebuano term for island

 

Seeking Sipalay

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Colorful life in a different dimension!

Coming to the southern part of Negros Occidental has been in our agenda but its time-consuming trip via Cebu & Dumaguete kept me stalling the plan, it needed a much longer weekend and at least three days leave considering no-fly intervals after dives. Fortunately, direct flights to Bacolod from Cagayan de Oro (via Cebu Pacific) suddenly opened last summer, such advantage that could mean shorter travel time! Without second thought, I booked my flights over the third weekend of July for that long – awaited dive trip, I could hardly wait.  My dive buddy simply can’t resist not to join!

Once I landed in Bacolod, I had so much to discover and fill my cravings – especially that Bascon Café, Pendy’s & Tom Tom’s Cafe was just a stone’s throw from my hostel. My sweet palate succumbed to half-moons and napoleones – only the best at Pendy’s and get much filled with the generous eggs benedict at Bascon’s! J Such a treat!  The following morning I heard an early mass at the old San Sebastian Cathedral.

Artistic Diving

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Branching table corals this wide is common!

The town of Sipalay is more than 130 kilometers south of Bacolod, the aircon bus that I took crawled from town to town until we arrived after 6 hours, it was uneventful though the trip gave me a glimpse of the rural setting of the province.  The only production area I remembered was sugar cane fields but none for the staples.  I finally arrived at Punta Ballo after a trike ride, my host who waited & constantly sent me SMS while on the road, perfectly gave me a warm welcome. Artistic Diving Resort sat on a quiet spot in Campomanes Bay that has exclusive beach, most importantly it houses a 5-star PADI dive shop. I waited for that golden sunset but it didn’t show up, the skies were overcast that afternoon.

Angel caught up with me early the next morning giving him enough time for a quick nap to freshen up after the long ride from Bacolod, we were expected at 9am at the dive shop.

Eva’s Point and Toscana

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Giant clams in hiding!

We told DM Rogee that we are hoping to explore the wreck in the bay but it was raining in the past days so the viz wasn’t good enough. So, for our first descent he suggested for Eva’s Point which is located at the edge of Campomanes Bay. We geared up amid the drizzle hoping it won’t rain hard, with one Deutsch diver joining us.  The boat sailed shortly northward and dropped anchors twenty minutes later, the waves rocking us bit. We descend to a reef with scattered hard corals, a lobster hiding in a crevice greeted us

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Lacy nudi, Have you seen this before?

with its waving antlers, there were at least three I noticed. There were giant clams among the corals, nudis, wide table corals, crinoids, sea fans and sponges.  I lingered over soft corals with glass shrimps perhaps feeding on parasites, then a herd of shrimpfish with their synchronized swimming show.  There’s one nudi that caught my attention, a fat white bodice with black lacy pattern all over, it was something new to me. There were snappers, batfish, wrasse, triggerfish, trumpetfish, damsels, pipefish and more.  We lingered over a wide coral area for our safety stop, just going around the colorful coral field feeling its vastness.  Just as we passed over a sandy slope, our DM signaled for something floating, indeed it was the ghost pipefish appearing like brown dried leaf, it was alone. But a couple appeared also, I guess the area is a playground of the specie.  We lingered more and found Christmas tree worms and more clams and just before we surfaced sighted a crown of thorns.  It turned out that the visibility was good more than we expected.  I still had 100 bars when we ascend after 70 minutes!

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Turtles are simply adorable!

Our surface interval was unhurried and relaxing, spent accordingly for our late lunch and rest, and got back at the dive shop at 2pm.  We geared up once more aiming for Toscana which is located closer to the resort, another Deutsch diver joined us in the afternoon dive.

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Have you seen a ghost underwater?

It was just a short boat ride but the waters more rough, in our short briefing we join with DM Rogee while the Deutsch couple with the dive guide, we descend immediately after we rolled back unto a slope with vibrant corals.  We found a turtle resting on the corals, so friendly it didn’t swim away when we got near and so we had ample time just watching it and taking more photos!  There was these two jackfish which curiously followed us perhaps wondering what critters we are. J We found more clams, hydroids and sponges and variety of soft corals.  We went through a canal-like channel looking for critters but my attention was caught up making sure of a smooth passage never disturbing the spot. Nudis, sea cucumbers, anemones and sea whips also adorn the reef and it is as diverse with Eva’s Point.  We lingered over a wide coral area for our safety stop again absorbed with the colourful domain.  I still had 120 bars when we ascend after 54 minutes.

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An early Christmas greeting! 🙂

Both of the sites had remarkable coral reefs and diverse marine life, there are at least more than ten sites in Campomanes Bay excluding the two wrecks. Now, there’s very good reason to be back in Punta Ballo for more discoveries.  DM Rogee reminded us that the best time to visit for dives in the area is between November to May.

I guess not only for Punta Ballo, but Sipalay as a whole as we barely explored the city.  Indeed, coming for good reasons and waiting for the right time is a sound guiding principle in finding a destination. Yet, that golden sunset in Sugar Beach is tickling my curiosity.  I must be back in the city, it’s a promise!

Diving in Mantigue Island!

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Away, deep down in this blue world…

After few weeks from our Mt. Hibok-Hibok climb I was back in Camiguin for a work trip, so the weekend was an opportune time for some break after that nerve-wracking week.  We agreed to rediscover and dive once more the islet off Camiguin coast, so Angel caught up with me in Mahinog very early on a Saturday.

Our cruise to Mantigue was challenged, the insurmountable waves tossed our small boat vehemently and I was thinking if we could just let the storm pass, but we are far from the shore already. The sun was brightly shining though, but I started to worry when the engine had trouble and stopped when we were still half way, what if? 😦  It was agonizing, the waves were fierce enough to sink us! Obviously, we made it to the shores of the island.

Black Forest

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Can you find the coral crabs?

We maneuvered a bit to the north side to take cover from the raging waves and so our DM decided to have our first descent at the Black Forest.  Another challenge was kiting up since our boat was too small to do it, the last and most practical was to do it on waters. It’s been long since I last did it, I hesitated at first but I remembered Mario (my mentor) saying it is the easiest way. So I went down first alone, I missed Mario at that moment because he always make sure someone will hold the gears for me.  My buddy was just watching me from the boat. 😦

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A star in the depths!

We went down to a sandy slope decorated with soft corals, it was surprising that the viz was reasonably good considering the waves we encountered, the sea as always is incredibly unpredictable.  So, we swam over variety of soft corals, hydroids, whips, crinoids with those fish juveniles wiggling over.  The turtles graced us, this time not just one but there were six!  Always, watching them gracefully swimming warms my heart. So with Angel, it is always his favorite specie but now he can calmly watch it swimming by without getting too excited, before he always ends up chasing the poor turtle! 🙂  We found also giant clams, coral crabs, sea cucumber, striped eel fish and a moray eel. We had a safety stop in the grassy sandy shallows and after 63 minutes ended in a shore ascent, swimming up to the white beach.

Marine Sanctuary

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This moray was too shy!

Our surface interval was spent for our late breakfast at Dive Special camp, and later to make most of our time, took a walk around the islet circumference discovering its other side.  The sun was brightly shining without any trace of a storm!  The waters was calm already, so we finally went in our second dive for the sanctuary which we originally aimed for those giant jacks!  We took a short boat ride until the side of the site with those floaters and geared up again in the waters. We descend right in the sanctuary, watching closely taking our time as we swam slowly but this time the viz gone dim and cloudy.  The variety of fishes have again surprised me, it was filled to the brim I must say.  There was a herd of giant batfish, school of midnight snappers, and most of all – the school of jackfish! They have grown in number and obviously in size, now real giants after four years we last saw them!  Again, we had a dose of turtles, five in all including a big one who swam from my back coyly as if wanting me to follow her, I watched it in awe.  There were banners, angelfish, chromis, damsels, triggers, fusiliers and those electric blue anthias darting, so colorful.  There was a scorpionfish too, banded pipefish and variety of giant clams.  As we move around, we encountered again the school of jacks, hovering as if not moving at all.  So peaceful and relaxing, how magnificent to just watch them!  It was a grand display of nature’s splendor.  We had a shore ascent again after having our safety stop in the grassy slope, the afternoon tide fiercely carrying us to the white sandy shore.  We had a total dive time of 57 minutes with our deepest at 20.4 meters.

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We had a dose of turtles!

Ending our two dives, we silently cruise back to the dive shop jetty in Mahinog with the waters perfectly calm. Have you been to Camiguin? If you can squeeze few hours, cruise to Mantigue and wander around, you don’t need to dive to relish its unspoiled charm. Its richness is in its simplicity and serenity!