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

port2
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!

P1050037
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. 🙂

P1050011
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!

P1050040
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.

P1050047
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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

P1040495
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.

P1040492
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!

P1040499
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

P1030694
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 –

P1030732
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.

P1030727
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

P1030707
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.

P1030743
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%.

Related Articles

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.

Talisayan: More than the Usual

colorful depths of Red Sands!

There wasn’t much enthusiasm towards this year’s after birthday weekend trip, originally the dates were reserved already for the much awaited Tawi-Tawi dives.  Much awaited because last year’s plan was cancelled, so it was rescheduled for July 2011 and was thrilled when we got our tickets on sale last November!  Well, it was called off again just with the Batanes sojourn. It brought home in the end for Mantangale dives but Angel’s mixed-up schedules daunted my MADRI homecoming…

Saturday Ramblings

We made it though, but arriving late at the resort, all the dive boats sailed off already to Mantigue Island and Medina.  After more than two hours of waiting and taking our complimentary lunch at the resto, Angel and I went down to the diveshop to prepare and gear up. I guess we’re just dying to be in the waters for our dried up gills!  🙂 Just in time when Sir Dong came back from Duka Bay, we had some catch-up talk until we sailed off for our first descent at Sipaka Point.

Can you find the cleaner shrimp?

Although Sipaka is just nearby from the resort, it belonged to the next coastal town of Talisayan. The spot wasn’t new but I was sure there is something more I will find since I last explored its depths. Back-rolling for our first water entry at the Red Sand, we separated from the boat with group of OW students having their exercise at the spot. We descend on a sandy slope with Danny as our dive guide – we are now confident to go down with no DM.  🙂  We sighted variety specie of soft and hard corals, sponges, colorful crinoids, cucumbers, anemones and even crown of sea thorns. We sighted also a banded sea snake slithering from us as we took turns for photos!  We moved around and searched for more critters – spotted colorful nudis, elusive cleaner shrimp and juvenile fishes. I was amused with the jerky many spotted sweetlips – we keep on following as it kept darting when we took photos. 😛  We found uniquely shaped corals – like mushrooms, like suntan flora, like thorny fruit and more. There was no encounter with pelagics but the colorful tropical fishes decorating the corals was all there in splendor creating a colorful underwater and active fish life. We ascend after 62 minutes still having 1000psi of air.

colorful nudi!

We were grateful the shop arranged for our second descent together with John (Australian), who wanted to search for mandarin fish.  Leisure talk with Sir Dong – right, for next dive trips! J Good food, idyllic environs with good weather while watching Camiguin Island in the horizons, was a perfect surface interval for me.  Though it was late, there was no rush as we waited sundown for our night dive.

We boarded the boat in twilight and cruised for about 15 minutes to Talisayan Shoal getting thrilled what to find, it was our first time at the shoal.  I always find night dives as challenging and exciting! The plan:  DM Cena will look for mandarin fish while the dive guide stay with John, we will follow them as we do our own exploration.  It was almost dark when we descend at 5:52pm on a sandy area.

like mushrooms sprouting!

The dark underwater seemed another world to me, armed with our torches we started our search – search for the unknown!  We spotted critters – crabs, shrimps, juvenile lion fish, clams, and more.  Angel pointed out a juvenile puffer fish with those green pleading eyes!  We went around getting familiar with the darkness, only to find out we were separated from the others.  It didn’t bother us as we continue to roam around.  Indeed, at night different species showed up.  We stayed close to the seabed as we continue our search, I felt something crawling on my bodice – a crinoid stuck with me! 😛  In a while, we noticed a flickering light beyond us, following it we caught up with our companions. We ascend after 68 minutes with my air still at 1000psi, at 7pm it was all dark surrounding us.  The cold night air gave me shivers as we sped off to the resort.

Gills Refreshed

Perhaps  a dive in far-off waters is just ordinary for some but the sights in our two descents were not usual ones – we had more of colorful macros and colorful active marine life. I couldn’t help again to be more passionate with marine life as I view my photos,  you know – that fire within.  How vast and mysterious underwater world is, and how fortunate I am given the privilege to experience this grandeur.

Even with battery of cancelled trips, my after birthday weekend dives with my favorite dive buddy was more than enough for my dried-up gills and itching fins.  Life can be more beautiful deep down!

NB.  I use Lumix TS2 with Ikelite casing.