October Fever!

So after being away and organizing a lot of issues when I got back, the depths was my most urgent agenda. Six months were just so long. More than anything else, I need the waters in preparation for the expedition in Southern Leyte.

Through all these years, MADRI (Mantangale Alibuag Dive Resort, Inc.) has been my refuge whenever I need a plunge without getting far, and of course not incurring much expenses. I am always grateful because they’re just a call or text away, even if there were no other guests I got accommodated. So one Saturday morning of October I head for Balingoan to quench my salt water craze, and I was alone. Obviously, it was an exclusive dive for me! 🙂

Just hold on…

The favorite and most wanted site at the shop was none other the house reef at Banaug Shoal, as I said again and again I’ll never get tired of coming here. I was welcomed by Sir Dong which later joined me on the first dive, it felt good to be back once more, just like a refuge. The waters were bit choppy as we sped off, there was current and so I seek safety through the line for the descent. And there was silence, into another world…

This black snapper followed us like a pup!

After lunch which served as my surface interval, we head for Bugtong Bato near Sipaka Point. Although I visited the point few times in the past, I have blurred memory of this big rock emerging off the coast of Sipaka. It can be seen from a distance as you approach the boundary between the next town of Talisayan, from the surface it looks desolate, barren and devoid of life. But underwater, it depicts a different picture, so colorful, very diverse and teeming with life!

Our descent was shallower as we aimed to circle around the tiny rock isle, it was entertaining and spent a good 60 minutes just awed with its abundance.

So diverse and teeming with life!

The two dives just made my day, I was still in high spirits as I packed my gears preparing to leave. One important thought was, MADRI will always be my home as I can always come in its fold anytime and they all welcome me with open arms and for sure, open hearts.  A home for my diving needs decorated with a relaxing view of the blue seas with Camiguin island as backdrop.  So picturesque! 🙂

Speaking of Camiguin!

Two weeks later, catching a bus too early we head off to Balingoan with my dive buddy but went further beyond, cruising to my favorite island. 🙂 The sunny cruise lifted our spirits while watching the surrounding blue waters and Mantigue Island at a distance. 🙂 Our host (Camiguin Soul Divers) warned us to be on time as there were other guests for the day.  Our transpo connections went fluidly and we still got time for coffee with our dive master when we got to the shop located at Looc, Tupsan. The good news from Jenny was, the island was temporarily closed to public and only dive boats can get to Mantigue which meant it’s not crowded and no waters disturbance during our dives!

Giant clam hiding…

It felt good to be back when just ten months ago (December 2017) we had our year-end dive in Mantigue Island and set foot to watch sunrise at White Island. We were back just in time when lanzones (buahan in dialect) were still abundant as the festival just ended. You know, you can only find the sweetest lanzones in Camiguin Island!

Our first descent was at the Marine Sanctuary as we were aiming for the jacks, we went south meeting resident species – the giant batfish swimming coyly, green turtles, snappers, etc. There was giant clam, the crown of thorns lurking under the corals without doubt slowly feeding from polyps.  There was only a vague group of jackfish hovering above but not actively swimming in unison. The perennial anemone fish graced us before we ended our dive.

An anemone fish family!

We descend again on the other end of the Marine Sanctuary on the sandy bottom passing over the coral fields, we had a dose of turtles around the area. There was one who was unmindful of our presence, it was some kind of sleeping hiding its head under the crevice. It was not moving even if we are so near trying to get its attention, so endearing I wanted to pet its back! We continued floating around feeling weightless, grateful being underwater with critter friends – turtles, batfish, jacks, triggerfish, anemone fish, and more. The abundance of the sanctuary was pure blessings.  We cruised back to the dive shop shores ending our day dives but not the fun we had in the island.

Oh, it was sleeping! 🙂

Dear Camiguin, I will come again!

Balingoan: Underwater Paradise

By Angel C. Juarez
A Post written in Health & Home, August 2016 issue

In my continuous chase for offbeat dive sites in the country, I got a chance to explore the underwater treasures in Balingoan, Misamis Oriental. Heading to Barangay Mantangale with my perennial dive buddy Ate Claudia from Cagayan de Oro City one day I was enthralled with the unspoiled beauty under the waters of this laid back municipality.  Indeed, the place is one of the most underrated dive spots in the country.  While most tourists frequent Balingoan only as a jump-off point to Camiguin Island, for some like us, it is already a destination.  It is a small piece of underwater paradise that will definitely keep us coming back again and again.

Finding Balingoan

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Mantangale and Sipaka as seen from Balingoan Port

Balingoan is two hours north of Cagayan de Oro City, unknown to many, the waters around this small town that stretch toward Camiguin bustle with vivid underwater life.  Without a doubt, Balingoan is one of my favorite place in the Philippines for scuba diving for two reasons: its rich marine life and the absence of tourist traffic that  popular dive sites get.  This means Balingoan is generally unspoiled and unexploited!

Sipaka Point

One of Balingoan’s known diving spots is Sipaka Point.  Its sloping white and sandy bed is an ideal site for students and divers of all levels.  It is a perfect site for macro photography as well.  Ten meters down Sipaka Point is beautiful reef adorned with colorful corals and crinoids, and home to small tropical fishes and marine creatures.  Fishes like anthias, wrasses, angelfish, pufferfish, anemonefish, lionfish, groupers, and eels abound in the reef.  So do lobsters, cuttlefish, glass and harlequin shrimps, and different species of nudibranches.

Talisayan Shoal

Not far from Sipaka Point is Talisayan Shoal, a ten minute boat ride from the coast of Mantangale and a known spot for the colorful mandarin fish.  It was already sunset when we descended down into the vast coral area of Talisayan Shoal. Armed with underwater torches, we maneuvered around the area on search for the rare mandarin fish.  We saw the usual tropical reef fishes and other macro species such as shrimps and crabs, but not the rare mandarin fish.  When my torch ran out of battery, we ascend for our safety stop.  Darkness had already enveloped the surroundings as we sailed back to the shores.  When I look into the water, I saw glowing bioluminous organisms as they were washed away by the boat.  Indeed, the sea is a vast mystery and humans will never completely understand the life beneath.

Banaug Shoal

Three years after our first dive affair with Balingoan. We returned to its depths to experience and explore more of its treasures.  It was Banaug Shoal this time.  It wasn’t my first time to dive here but I was excited as it were my first.  We left for Banaug Shoal by speed boat.  This shoal is the house reef of Mantangale Alibuag Dive Resort (MADRI), which for me is one of the best house reefs I have ever dived into.  The diversity of marine life in this dense space is unbelievable and the explosion of underwater colors never ceases to amaze me.  Snappers, butterflyfish, moorish idols, boxfish, trumpet fish, leaf fish, trigger fish and a lot more species graced our dives as well as sea slugs and other macro species.  They all made the small reef, carpeted with soft and hard corals, their home.

Lapinig Island

After our surface interval, we sailed from Mantangale to Lapinig Island, the islet in front of Balingoan Port.  It looks dull and boring on the surface, but what’s underwater is a different story.  It’s an action- packed world down there!  Not minding the mild current, we gradually descend on a sandy slope hoping to see manta rays.  There are reported sightings of manta rays in the site although not regular.  It wasn’t our lucky day though, as no manta ray showed up.  But the usual reef and macro species such as striped fish, trumpet fish, nudis, bristle worms, and others that I don’t know by name, made the dive an awesome one.  Soft and hard corals, sea fans, feather stars and sponges also added color to the scenery.  Sadly, some trashes scattered around the place due to its proximity to the port and residential area.  We ended up fishing out trashes, turning our dive into a clean-up drive!

Looking forward to coming Back

My Balingoan dives are truly memorable and I look forward to more underwater explorations and discoveries in the town.  The sea is a deep stash of treasures and surprises that I won’t get tired of exploring.  I can’t wait for another rendezvous with underwater creatures of Balingoan in the years to come.

Disclosures:
Angel C. Juarez of http://www.lakwatsero.com has been my dive buddy since few years back. I met him nine years ago during a Coron trip, four months later he became a certified diver. We have a lot of common favorite dive destinations and Mantangale is just one of them. Our last dive in the area was just this February 2017.

Mania in Mantangale!

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As we drift off for safety stop, school of jacks appeared obscurely!

We were back again in Mantangale for CY 2015 dives kick-off, after two failed attempts in December and this January. Aiming for Mantigue Island (in Camiguin), the desire was too great to ignore – my gills were dried up after nine long weeks from my last dive.

Early morning dive at Mantigue is preferable as waters can get choppy, my favorite school of jacks also appears on mornings as they look for food. We arrived late at the diveshop, but too grateful that the captain waited for us, it was a shame as other guests were already on the boat.

Mantigue Island

Coming back after three years was with much anticipation, my encounters on this site were productive and I was hoping for its diverse life exploding with colors. We descend in a slope with wide coral area, hard and soft corals in variety decorated with tropical species – shrimp fish, giant moray eel, spade fish, emperor, wrasses, chromis, damsels, angels and those colorful anthias! And when we were about to have our safety stop, the school of jacks appeared like teasing us. It was unexpected! It was amusing, a drummer was manipulating a female jack to separate from the school. 🙂

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Colorful anthias over variety of corals

We went deep for 48 minutes at 30 meters as deepest. Our surface interval include exploring the park with its mini- forest which Angel wanted, our cruise back to Talisayan and our lunch break of fish n chips!

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A drummer and a jack!

Sipaka Point

Some guests call it a day and new tanks were needed for next dives, another boat came and after the transfers of equipment and passengers we prepared for the last descent. Sipaka, in the next town of Talisayan is another site with diverse marine life.

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Colorful christmas tree worms! Each time I see them, I poke playfully and they quickly hide! 🙂

We sighted stonefish, frogfish (!), banded sea snake and giant groupers not to mention the colorful anthias and other tropical fishes hovering over the colorful reef. It was another relaxing viewing of the colorful depths, 54 minutes at 18 meters deepest. Both dives were at 30% EAN!

If you are a diver and you haven’t been to Mantangale, you need to reconsider your dive trip plans. In my last engagement at MADRI, there were more than ten Russians for more than a week stay – either diving, swimming or lazing around in the beach. It was amazing they chose such obscure dive resort right here in Mindanao for their vacation, there must be something in this resort which I called my diving home.

No doubt, I will be back. I will be back home again…

See You in September!

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The dives for this month has been reserved for dive clean-up as I always did with my dive buddy every year.  Banking on my mentor’s advocacy efforts coordinating with LGUs and other civic societies, I was looking forward to join and be part of the clean-up team. But there was no invitation and I didn’t make it.

My dive buddy suggested for Mantangale Alibuag Dive Resort (MADRI), one of my favorites and has been my home for diving. Yes, the comforts of a home awaited us.

Home.  So simple but we all have what we need. Blue skies, blue seas and blue depths teeming with life.

Home.  Serene, uncluttered and beautiful. I was home again last September!

NB. Photo snaps credit to Angel using Lumix Ts2 with Ikelite casing.

Home Again!

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Homecoming to favorite spots in Balingoan waters

I had the opportunity to be back again in MADRI, although I was clueless for the perennial year-end dive. I was overtaken with other concerns and priorities. My dive buddy just pop-up to come over, because he wanted to have his last dive of the year with his favorite dive buddy. It was like an ambush though I have no qualms about being in the depths.  It has always been my therapy for all the unrestlessness, especially with year-end hullabaloos.


The distance of the airport and inconvenient flight skeds to CdeO wasn’t of help for a timely arrival in Mantangale, coming almost 11am the most that we could do was only for two dives instead of the usual three dives.  Luckily, the weather was sunny like summer and I could only expect good viz for our descents.

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Clownfish playing hide & seek on anemones

Speeding our way under the noon sun, our first descent was at the house reef (aka Banaug Shoal), it has been a favorite spot and again it didn’t disappoint us.  My colds slowed my descent through the bouy line and thankful I made it.  The unequalled diversity of marine life is simply engaging, swarm of damsels and chromis abound as we reached the hill.  The snapper couple was also there, following us as if asking for food.  The black corals and a variety of hard and soft corals decorated the shoal.  The tangles of soft corals blocking my way felt like I was in the grasslands finding my way out.  There were nudis, the clownfish that played hide & seek on anemones, anthias, angels, moorish idol, box fish and more.  But I missed the resident moray eel, the stonefish and pygmy seahorse.  The leaf fish surprised us, I wasn’t expecting to meet her again, discreetly it was swaying with the current between the corals.  Our DM was too keen to notice this elusive specie, but we failed searching for macros in the soft corals.  The currents could have swept them off. We ascend after 44 minutes at 32.3 meters as my deepest.

Leaf fish at Banaug Shoal
Leaf fish at Banaug Shoal

Our surface interval was spent back at the resort dive shop, sitting and watching the horizons – blue waters, blue skies and Camiguin island afar!  Finishing up our left over food (fish & chips with rice pop), sitting comfortably with afternoon breeze and the rustling leaves blown by the wind – was purely relaxing. MADRI is always home to me, the familiar surroundings gave me such comfort.  There were no other guests, so it was like an exclusive dive for us!

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Both dives were in nitrox with no extra cost!

Our DM suggested for Lapinig Island for our last descent, speeding our way almost 3pm to this lowly uninhabited island, the waters went choppy already. There was mild current as we descend on the sandy slope. We went around searching for macros but we found more trash, so it was some kind of clean-up which we always do as our commitment.  There were sea fans, nudis, clownfish, anthias over corals, butterflies and more tropical fishes.  The spot is a ground of bristle worms, there were plenty of them embedded on the corals.  We stayed over an hour going around feeling the warm afternoon waters, my deepest at 28.9 meters.  Both dives were in enriched air with no extra cost!


It was over two months from my last dive during the International Clean-Up Day, the two descents undoubtedly freshen up my dried-up gills!  It was such bliss to be back in Mantangale, surely there will be next time to be home again.

Coming into Silence

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Rich marine life at the shoal

Fun isn’t important, purpose is, and actions that have some real meaning…

Silence… My own breathing… Bubbles.  Holding on to a rope, descending, slowly.  Nothing in sight, just waters and the sound of my breathing.  There was only stillness as I went unto depths.  Just few minutes back, there was turmoil on the surface and I was out of breath as I swam for the line. I was gasping, my mind racing just wanting to cancel my dive.  But my dive guide was firm and with controlled voice plainly told me to hold the line.

Banaug Shoal is 22 meters depth, in between was all waters with no sign of life – there was only pure silence.  Slowly descending to this underwater hill is like stepping into the unknown hoping to land on a paradise.  Indeed it is, a self-contained spot with so much life.  The damsels swarmed us, the couple red snapper followed not wanting to be left behind.  There was a display of resident species – angels, seargents, anthias, lionfish and more.  The reef is colourful as it was, we found a leaf fish which is something new to me, I thought for awhile it was a scorpiofish! There were nudis too –

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Leaf fish at the shoal – new to me!

black/white combi was new.  The resident scorpionfish still sitting on the coral top – just waiting for a prey.  But I missed the big moray eel, he didn’t show up from his hole.  I was wondering if he was just watching us from under the rocks.  Lingered for more basking in the presence of the shoal’s residents but when my NDL got at four minutes, I signalled to the dive guide for the ascent after 51 minutes with air still at 80 bars.  Speeding back to the resort, I was left alone by the staff after we agreed for the 1 pm second descent.  The good thing was there was no other guests for the day, the place was all to myself totally.

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The resident scorpionfish on coral top

Silence…  Sitting by the waterfront reading my book, the withered talisay leaves collected my feet as the noon winds blew under the trees.

The waters became fiercer so the next descent as explained by the guide is at Lapinig Island instead of Talisayan Shoal, to take refuge from the raging waves of the open sea.  Speeding off, I was hoping the current would be manageable.  Again, this lowly island never disappointed me, we descend on a sandy slope  and slowly swam taking my time observing the rich colourful secrets of its depths.  We got to a coral area hosting Christmas tree worms creating a miniature holiday scene.  Many of them quickly hid in their holes as I drew near but few of them was generous enough, stood their ground as I took photos.  There were colourful nudis, cleaner shrimp on anemones, clownfishes, anthias and more.  The highlight of which was an encounter with a cuttlefish.  Most often, they would just quickly disappear from sight, but this one

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The grouper wanting to be fed!

choose to stay nearby in a way observing us too.  I was inching my way nearer but he was backing off inch by inch too maintaining its distance! Such magnificent animal.  For awhile we float face to face, its fins wiggling around him as it swam backwards.  I gathered a handful of trash  as we went around, as every descent is a clean-up one. I needed keen eyes for this.  The current has gotten stronger as we went shallower, I have to hold on to the coral rocks to maintain my depth during my safety stop – I was swept away up.  We surface after 61 minutes with my air at 80 bars, the waves surging on and the waters fiercer.  The cold sea air sweeping us and the salt water spraying us,  as we sped off for the shores, watching the horizons in silence.  It felt good.

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Christmas tree worm in white and yellow

Coming home to MADRI and spending time in its nearby depths in silence is one best way to revive my sagging spirits and to brace me for the daunting year-end tasks.  Just pure and natural silence.

NB.  Both dives were in EAN 30%.

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Night Diving, Anyone?

These night time dives into the coral world teach us a great deal by showing us a new aspect of what we see during the day.  For marine life exhibits, in those magic hours of darkness, the fullness of its wealth.   ~Jacques Yves Costeau~

Corals spawning during dusk

As a novice, I thought diving at night was too dangerous and uncanny, and doing it will require much courage in its truest sense.  My turn for such experience was two years later after I got certified for the OWD course.  Although it was an optional dive for the AOWD, I chose to undergo it with the recommendation of my mentor.  I trusted his judgment that I can do it, confident that he will be with me for the dive.  I made it without him though, he entrusted me to equally able divers who have become my friends too.  It was a completely different experience, I promised myself to do it again!

The darkness can be a limitation but there is nothing to be scared about it, in fact night diving is more relaxing than diving during the day.  It is because, extra care and proper preparation is necessary – familiar site, comfortable gear, favorite dive buddy, shallow areas and definitely no diving in difficult conditions.  Diving at night is slow and steady, thus this pace makes it very relaxing for many divers.

Sleepy green eyes….

My few night dives has been pleasant, my dive buddy and I see to it that we are pretty conditioned for the extra activity during the night after our day dives.  My three night dives after my lessons with my mentor, were all with my favorite dive buddy.

  • Agutayan Island, Misamis Oriental   22 June 2009

Just a month after my AOWD lessons, planning for three dives I requested my mentor for a night dive, though informing him that my dive buddy is not certified for such.  He had no qualms about it, I remembered my dive buddy was worried for me more than for himself.  It was wonderful, variety of night critters showed up and I was amazed of the night organisms that glow in the dark.

  • St. Peter’s House Reef, Padre Burgos, Southern Leyte     20 March 2010

My dive buddy and I decided to have a night dive when we went to Padre Burgos, Southern Leyte.  It was a different experience as we were in a different site totally new to us. But I did stupid mistakes before we could descend, it was a shore entry.   Like losing my mask twice while struggling with my tank, my buddy have to search it for me.  We were in the waters when I had difficulty controlling my buoyancy, we went back to the shore for more weights.  But once down, we were treated with the variety of marine life in the area, we stayed 58 minutes in the waters – that’s almost an hour!

Crab lurking in its chamber

  • Talisayan Shoal, Misamis Oriental     23 July 2011

This night dive was a filler after we missed the morning dive schedule of the resort, it was just our second dive for the day so we still have enough energy and we look forward to it.  The site was totally new to us but I think we were confident enough for it, and I guess too excited to discover new sightings.  My dive buddy and I were left alone as we explore on our own in the darkness, we were down for over an hour!  The night critters abound in the area and the bioluminescence struck me once more….

  • Apo Island – Southwest, Mindoro     25 February 2011

My dive buddy said it was not a night dive technically, but we descend at 5:48pm and had our torches on until we ascend at 6:34pm.  Our aim was to maximize our time while at Apo Reefs, thus do three dives despite the limited time.  The refilling of tanks took much time thus the additional time requirements.  Watching the pinkish horizons as we descend was so calming and the display of pelagic, plus the friendly turtle was a real treat in our last dive.

The feather star looks different at night!

Indeed, diving at night is completely a different experience – wonderful experience I must say.  When dark falls, diverse species come out – those that can not be seen during the day dominate the reef like crabs, shrimps or lobster and even octopi, barracuda and shark.  The coral reef at night is a strange place.  And there’s one moment I wanted to witness again – the spawning of corals as it release thousands of bundles of eggs and sperm – it look so alive. An undeniable truth that corals are animals and not rocks as mostly perceived it to be. I think I need to have one night dive before the year ends!

NB.  Photos courtesy of Angel using Olympus Tough 8000 with PT 045 casing.