Adoring Apo Island!

After a successful mission at Coral Cay Conservation, I was aching to be back in the waters for my quests. There was no definite plan though, but I need to get immersed again in a more relaxed environment in my own terms in my grand element. And what a better way to start my diving year with my dive buddy in one of the outstanding community managed marine protected area in the country.  It’s been more than three years since our last hop to Apo Island, after a relaxing sojourn from Siquijor, and again it was diving and snorkeling in the sanctuary. I could vividly remember the turtles silently grazing the sea grasses as I watched them while floating in the shallows, it was a lovely sight!

Linkia Laevegata!

We took the long route by bus from Cebu City to the southern tip of the province in Santander town taking the ferry from Liloan Port.  Arriving past 4am at the port, I succumbed to my drooping eyes for few minutes before we took the 4:45am first trip to Sibulan. While cruising, the waves tossed us fiercely and I begun to worry that the waters would be too rough for our dives. Approaching the Sibulan port was hard, and coming up to the port was even harder. Perfect timing was necessary, you need to run up the gangplank before another big wave tossed up the ferry. It was a good way to start the day for some adrenaline rush to be wide awake!

After a tsokolate-suman painit at the tiangge which we loved, we rushed to Harold’s Dive Center and felt relieved that our dives went as scheduled. To my surprise, we were a big pack for Apo Island that day, the Chinese and Koreans dominated the bunch. We were all in two full mini-buses!

Katipanan and Chapel

The waters was rough indeed slowing our cruise to the island yet the sight of wide blue seas lifted my spirit, I was hoping to see again the friendly turtles.  There were diving boats already when we got there and to my surprise, many snorkelers were scattered already in the waters. The waters got crowded and I was sad thinking of the turtles, sea kraits and juvenile fishes in the sanctuary, the pressures of the disturbance in their habitat could cause much damage. I was hoping it wasn’t on a daily basis.

This friendly turtle allowed us to get near, it wasn’t an intrusion!

We were joined with an Australian and Chinese, four divers in one DM was good enough. The larger bunch of Chinese divers were in different groups. After setting up our gears, I was glad our DM reminded us for the buddy check before jumping off, I admitted we overlook this necessary protocol often times.  The water was still choppy though it was sunny, but the cold waters felt good as we jumped in. As we waited for the other two newbie divers, we beg off for descent as the waves were surfing up and could waste my energy. Holding hands with my dive buddy, we immersed and quickly seek the depths from the rough surface. Yes, down there it was calm and safer as I expected.

Before I always mistook this as anemone, but no. It’s a Mushroom coral!

Katipanan as I vaguely remember was teeming with life, wide coral fields decorated with juveniles. Indeed, it is healthy as it was before but I didn’t see much fish life but large swarms of juveniles were visible. Surprisingly, my favorite garden eels came into view but not without Angel pointing it out to me. Their bodies half-way up poking from their holes on white sandy area, perhaps eyeing for food but as soon as we get nearer they went down slowly.  Few stood their grounds and I paused momentarily, I just love watching the eels! We found a turtle resting above the corals, not moving even we got near. The turtles in this island are generally friendly, perhaps they got used already to human visitors!  I was taking my time while floating weightlessly, just as it is, while it was choppy at the surface, beyond it was all serene and relaxing.  It was a surprise there were group of jacks that graced as we swam around for the coral fields, a banded sea snake appeared also wiggling among the corals which we promptly evade. 🙂 We had our safety stop over the corals until we got near under our dive boat. We had 21.5 meters as deepest with 42 minutes bottom time.

A common sight on healthy marine environment, juveniles over a colorful coral field!

We had light meals that served as our surface interval, it was bit windy though and staying on the boat felt cold. The waves getting fierce in the afternoon, the waters more choppy.

The boat moved to the Chapel for our last descent, finding refuge in another dive boat as the waves tossed us. Again, we waited for the two divers after we had the giant stride – the waves kept tossing us and I practically stayed near my buddy for safety.  It took forever waiting for them, but as soon as we got down there was silence and the current was just mild. We were on coral fields again, just flourishing beating each other! Different hard and soft corals abound the area, there were nudis and my favorite moray eel appeared for me too, it was a giant one. The gentle turtles again – well, it won’t be Apo island without the turtles!  We roamed the colorful coral fields just near our dive boat until we had our safety stop. We ascend still with 110 bars after 55 minutes bottom time.

Found some nudis at the Chapel

The two relaxing dives were just perfect, after the works during the expedition it was what I needed. No pressures, just purely at peace with my favorite critters wanting to connect with them in their natural habitat. The marine environment of Apo Island is healthy as of now but I am not sure if this can be maintained. I was bit troubled of the large swarm of snorkelers and even divers, such bulk of disturbance is surely detrimental for the marine life. I fervently hope the community shall be mindful of the risks and inevitable impacts in a better perspective.

Looking up for the sunlight, can you see the turtle?

We silently cruise back to the shores of Dauin, bearing the cold winds and salt water spraying us from the fierce waves. Again, the cruise took forever but felt relieved that the shores was very calm.  Angel and I flashed a wide smile as we talk about Casablanca and Sans Rival as we drove back into the city.

Dumaguete City, pure lovely in every way!

Finally, Apo Island!

Apo Island

Year ago, I went to Dumaguete for a planned dive at Apo Island but was bit perturbed when I was diverted to another sites in Dauin & Bacong – all in Negros Oriental.  I remembered calling up  Angel telling I dove in other sites though equally stunning but missed the famous Apo Island.  I promised myself to be back in Dumaguete for one reason: to dive at Apo Island hopefully soon with Angel!

After being disturbed with work schedules and activities I finally made it to leave CdO last flight on a Thursday night after a long day at work.  It was raining and flying to Cebu at night was something new to me, I usually leave early mornings. Arrived at my lodgings late already, but need to wake up early next morning for my early flight. I was glad I didn’t bump with anybody I knew at the airports!  🙂

Left early for my next flight the next morning, and we touched down Sibulan Airport as scheduled. Fortunately, I was met by our hostel’s transportation and so arrived in perfect shape at our lodgings. I still have enough time to freshen up as I wait for Angel and diveshop pick-up at 8:30am.  Promptly, the front desk called up informing that our dive transportation is waiting, went down informing them that Angel is due in few minutes from his Manila flight.

Finally, we set off for Malatapay station for the cruise to the island.  We passed along Valencia, Dauin, Bacong and finally Zamboanguita – I remembered my dives last year.   It took us about twenty minutes to cruise for our first descent at Coconut Point.   It’s only us who were booked at Scuba Ventures for the island, I learned later that other divers were scheduled at Dauin. It was a sunny morning, so the visibility was good.  The scene was more of pelagics – unicorns, trevally, jacks, groupers, wrasses & parrots. There were sweet lips, fusiliers, damsels, butterfly,

school of jacks

snappers. I think I caught sight of a ghost pipefish and trumpets!  We spotted too a pair of lizardfish, and a field of healthy colorful soft and hard corals – anemones, staghorns, lettuce and sea fans. I wanted to linger and absorb

sea turtle!

the vastness of the glorious display of marine life but we were drifting, I was in oblivion! It’s unspeakable, another evidence of a great work of the Great Creator!  We had a dose of jacks, in schools! We had the opportunity also for a close encounter with a turtle, I watch in awe as it swam gracefully.  We ascend after 53 minutes with 22.7 meters as our deepest.

Our boat anchored near the island station and resort, just right at island’s landmark, those big black granite boulders that looks like on top of each other and there’s one almost to fall off. It was a great scene – white sands, crystal waters, blue sunny skies!  We had our lunch break there, Angel and I shared our meal we bought from a

torquise waters, blue skies, white sands and granite boulders

carenderia in Dumaguete, we catch up with our stories but mostly mine, how I managed to squeeze skeds and how I fret few days back about an out of town meeting!  And when my leave was approved and the meeting was finally held in CdeO, I tried not to spill again any hint of excitement! 😛  We took off then from the boat and got a stroll around near the resort and granite boulders.

Our next descent was at Mamsa Point, again it was a drift dive.  I told our guide Sam, that we must not go beyond 23 meters.  True to its name there was lot of jacks, in schools again!  I wanted to go near but they swam away. We spotted stripe fish, a flounder, juvenile anthias, anemone fish, lizardfish, fusiliers, snappers and more.  There were soft and hard corals too, cabbage, staghorns, and table corals.  But surprisingly, I didn’t see any nudis, sea fans or gorgonians and other macros.  I was hoping to find a frogfish but wasn’t lucky.  We ascend after 54 minutes with 24.5 meters as our deepest, we went beyond our plan as we were chasing a huge school of jacks!  Somewhere in the mid of the dive I felt giddy – sure, it wasn’t narc, I was thinking clearly! 😛 I tried to control and slowed my moves so I could finish the second dive.

I tried to take a nap during the surface interval to relax a bit from my giddiness so I could make it for the last dive, I wanted to complete the plan because it would appear we were paying more for the two dives only.  So when

diving is always a joy...

Angel asked if we will do the third descent I nod solemnly (silently praying I’ll make it!) and declared we should to make most of our time.  Our last descent was at Kan-uran Point, I told our guide we must stay shallower and not long.  We drift around the reefs covered with a variety of colorful corals.  We spotted and followed a banded sea snake slithering around!  🙂  There were occasional damsels, juveniles scattering around, clown fish and anemone fish.  We ascend after 40 minutes at 15.6 meters as our deepest, it was a success I made it to finish our last dive but still I was feeling lightheaded when I got to the boat.  But it was such a marvelous experience to dive in one of most preserved marine and coastal resources in the country.

Apo Island – checked!  After a year of waiting I made it and able to share another great underwater experience with my friend and dive buddy Angel.  We had our first drift dives with no dive master but just a guide, we’re learning every descent we had.  But I guess I need to learn more on the dive computer, somewhere while underwater it kept blinking and I don’t know why!  😛

We cruised back to Malatapay and drove back to downtown Dumaguete with smiles. Finally, I met Ms. Percy when we got to Scuba Ventures. I learned that DUCOMI Pier is not available anymore for diving, it has been closed for repairs. I was aghast and felt sorry for the amazing underwater scenery at the pier, I realized it was a blessing in disguise that I dove last time there instead in Apo Island.  I remembered how I feasted in the rich biodiversity down there, now it has gone – what a misfortune!  After settling our bills, we hastily went up to freshen up and still discussing the day’s dive sightings.  More than that, we also chattered where to dine as our tradition every after dives.

After an hour later, we walked down the boulevard to search for a resto after we got to Sans Rival already closed…..

Trip to Dumaguete…

boat on anchor

Having a 4-day weekend was perfect for an out-of-town trip and since there was an invitation for Dumaguete, I was overwhelmed and planned for a dive trip in Apo Island (one dive site in my wish list!) plus a possible cruise to Siquijor. It was such a perfect escapade!  🙂

I sneak from the Independence Day celebration before it ended to catch up with our boat going to Cebu, leaving at 11am in broad daylight is new to me. Night boat trip for Cebu is the usual thing.  It was drizzling when we got to Pier 4 arriving at past 6pm, we hastily get off as we still need to get tickets for Dumaguete.  But alas, when we got to George & Peter Lines, there was no available trip for the night!  I need to be at Dumaguete before 8am, so our only alternative (after calling a friend) is to take the bus to Santander and cruise from Liloan to Sibulan, Negros Oriental.  It meant only 2 hours of sleep, since we need to get the 1st trip at 3am to catch the 6am fast craft to Sibulan.  Well, this is an adventure, surprises may come and an open mind is necessary to adjust to situations such as this.  Our refuge for the night was at guest house of DA 7 Regional Office, I was just thankful that I have good friends I can count on especially for necessary arrangements.

We started early so we could catch up the schedules, we cant afford to miss the bus consequently the fast craft.  By God’s grace, we arrived perfectly at SPUD compound almost 7am and was welcomed by the sisters.  We joined breakfast with Fr. Roman – a fun loving, articulate and friendly chaplain of SPUD. We learned that the sisters have arranged already for Siquijor cruise that day, it meant I’ll miss the trip since I have to go for my dives.

We hurried off after our breakfast, as the diveshop will picked me up at 8am (I need time to get on to my contacts, whew!) and Ate Inday with the sisters will take off for Siquijor hop.  Sir Snoopy informed me that  Justin will fetch me at SPUD gate 3, I was eagerly waiting while talking to the friendly guards. Finally, they arrived (a white multicab with tanks at the back – as Sir Snoopy described) , so I joined them and tried to talk with Justin about the trip. I was up for surprise no. 3 – he informed me that we’re not diving at Apo Island! 😦 So I keep my cool and go with them – I was bit disappointed since I have been dying for Apo Island.  We arrived ahead at the site, then DM Alvin arrived with other divers. There were two couple divers and I ended up with Justin as my buddy.

I was asking if we’re going on a boat, but DM Alvin said all our dives will be beach entries – well, it would be another lesson to learn!  Dauin Car Wreck – our first site to explore, the weather was good and it was too perfect for underwater escapade.  Dauin is one of the coastal municipalities of Negros Oriental with community  –  managed environmental protection and preservation.  I wasn’t surprised when Alvin told me that wearing gloves is not allowed.  😛  I was thankful that Scuba Ventures has the same professionalism as with other PADI dive shops I encountered with, Alvin and Justin was friendly and helpful.  I need their assistance for doning gears and carrying to the water.

Imagine white sands, turquoise waters and sun brightly shining – then we got deeper and their lies the wreck, the body and axle separated,  but lot of fishes hovering on it, colored corals covering it.  Lion fishes, anemone fish, scorpion fish, sea horse, ghost pipe fish.  We’re hoping to find the frog fish but wasn’t around.  I keep following Alvin, frequently glancing Justin as I go through enjoying the site.  Until DM Alvin signaled for us to surface, after we played with the two seahorses while our companion tried to take video,  during our safety stop.

We get off and took our early lunch in one of the carenderia near the police station, and as usual I choose to eat little and got bas-oy veggies (squash, malunggay, beans).  I joined Justin and Alvin while the two couples in another table.  We left for Bacong, as our appointment for DUCOMI pier is at 12 noon.  Under the blazing heat, we went to beach near the pier.  I was wondering what the pier could offer underneath, I was bit excited.

We swim again on the sandy shallow area until we went into the drop-off, then going to the pier area directing to the concrete posts.  All covered with colored soft corals combined with abundant fish life, then sunlight shining through – what a sight!  It’s a forest-like scene, a forest under the water!  Lion fishes, bat fish, angel fish, puffer fish, anemone fish, clown fish, nudi branches among others.  We circled around, up and down enjoying the marine life. We spent an hour floating, going around enjoying the scenery – in silence – so beautiful!  We swam back to the beach, in disbelief that it was already an hour passed.  We get into our transpo and left the place with the other divers as Justin was going the other way. I got the chance to hop from one resort to another with the divers going home.

I joined DM Alvin to the dive shop hoping to meet Sir Snoopy or Ms. Percy but they were not around. Well, I need to pay my fees and wanted to see Scuba Ventures Dive Shop.  We went to drop off  a couple at Bethel Guest House along the famous boulevard of Dumaguete.  They finally drop me off at SPUD gate no. 3, home at last.  I arrived early as expected and was able to take a rest after shower and washing my gears. It was such a long day!

Around the City

The next morning we attended a Sunday mass at the university chapel, then have a sumptuous breakfast later.  Sister Luz have arranged for our city tour:  Silliman University, Boulevard, down town looking for souvenir shop, take a snack at a shop, National Bookstore to buy card.  Then we rushed back to SPUD for our lunch as instructed  – well, sisters have that kind of lifestyle, everything is structured and you need to abide with it. 😛

Our afternoon outing is also structured, we need to get back at 4:15pm (not 4:00 or 4:30!) because we will attend a dinner party with the nuns.  We thought  that we will go alone to the Our Lady of Gardens but Sister Luz joined us!  Anyway, we went to Sibulan for the Gardens and enjoyed the overlooking view – so breathtaking!  We went back to the city as it started to rain, and went to pier to buy our Supercat tickets for the morrow’s trip back home.  We joined the sisters later at the dinner party and was too full when we got back home. We made one last round at the boulevard by night before we finally settled that night.

Coming Home

After our final packing the following morning, we attended mass at the sisters’ convent, then have our breakfast again with Fr. Roman – again I was enjoying his stories, he’s so fun loving and so articulate.  We hastily left for the pier after bidding bye to everyone,  and get into the Supercat for Tagbilaran.  I promised myself to get back to Dumaguete for one reason:  to dive at Apo Island  with Angel hopefully soon.

After two hours, we had a stop at Tagbilaran and left  for Cebu afte about 30 minutes.  We arrived at the Queen City of the South a little past 12 noon. We went directly to the Travelers’ Lounge, bought tickets back for CdO and had our lunch as we get famished already.  I was hoping to get a chance to visit the Sto. Nino Shrine but Ate Inday was too tired for a downtown tour, so we stayed at the mall and went to Powerbooks instead. I was overjoyed because I finally found French Woman for All Seasons in paperback and at a discount!  🙂 We went back to the Lounge and took some break sipping cappuccino and started to read my book – well, this is life!  🙂

We finally went to Pier 4 for our boat, and settled in our cots.  We took our dinner at the boat’s café and settled for the night as I need energy for the morrow as I have to get back to work.  We will have a project meeting (11am) and I have some presentations to make…  We arrived too early the next morning thankful as I have enough time to prepare for the day’swork.

Another journey ended but then again, it brings smile to my lips.  There were lessons learned and surprises that came along, making it a trip to be remembered.  There’s always that feeling of newness every time I got back from a trip.  I promised myself another Dumaguete trip to dive In Apo Island hopefully soon, and without doubt not missing a Siquijor hop next time! 🙂