Madness in Mantangale 🐟

Coming back in this little paradise always felt like coming home, this is my residence for diving and will always be. More than a decade ago, this was where I braved the rigors of basic scuba skills. Donning the gears and with that sweet breath of oxygen underwater for the first time in its waters, was unforgettable. The staff always welcomed me like I am a family. The homey comforts in MADRI was just perfect for our year-end (2019)dive escapade.

That weekend was perfect timing as the dive resort was not crowded, and it was relaxing as there was no need to rush to Mantangale.  Sir Dodong assured that tides would be right for dives by midday, thus our commute was just in right pace. We chanced again Russians for that day, a couple from Moscow who was still arriving to join the day’s dives.

As we waited for take-off, we had pleasantries with Sir Dodong, and had my regulator for some safety check as its mouthpiece too was due for replacement. The cheery weather was perfect with blue skies as we watched Camiguin Island over the horizon. A sight to behold, so mesmerizing! Relaxing at the dive shop with this view is such a wonderful gift of nature.

Lapinig Island

The Russians joined us finally at the shop and we rushed for the boat after we geared up. In less than ten minutes, we anchored for our first descent.  The surf was bit up drawn by the tide, our descent went smoothly unto sandy slope. The spot is haven for Christmas tree worms, they were all over massive corals in various colors. I had fun watching as they flop down instantly but few stood their grounds. There were lot of linkia laevegata scattered around, culcita, choco chip stars, fish juveniles over the corals, damsels, chromis, angels, bannerfish, moorish idol and anthias in varied colors.  We found some trashes though, mostly sachets of coffee and milk, fishing lines and nylon rope which I neatly rolled and tied up to avoid tangles.  There were craters as we roamed around and spotted an alibuag too! I noticed a hairy shrimp over the anemone cohabiting with clownfish. As we roamed, we passed coral field with lots of fishes hanging over, those mysterious crevices too, chances are critters were just lurking in the dark.  This lowly uninhabited islet looks ordinary and desolate but you never knew how diverse it could be deep down!

We ascend after 52 minutes with my deepest at 28.7 meters, with nitrox 30%.

Banaug Shoal

After a relaxing lunch, we prepared for our last descent at the house reef –always my favorite here in Mantangale.  The surf didn’t wane, it was necessary to hold the rope until the bouy.  Yes, descending to the shoal needs a line or you could end up somewhere else! Halfway, the resident midnight snapper started darting around as if to welcome us. It’s a lot bigger now! As soon as we got on top of the shoal, a large swarm of fish came around and I guess the resident creatures have gotten used to human visitors.  The rhythm of colors as they swarmed and wiggled on this shelter was a sight to behold, its perfect diverse environs is a nature’s wonder. Black corals abound, so with soft corals, whips, feather stars and more. We found nudis, giant clams, scorpion fish resting on table coral, lionfish, and moray eel! We went around, this time I went slow so that after a full circle it would be time to ascend before my NDL gets done.  Other divers were gone ahead including Sir Dodong, while our guide went up halfway and waited for us.  I have wanted to spend my last available minute before I start to ascend, so when my NDL was down to 1, signaled Angel for ascent and slowly as I could went up still looking down the mound.  I went 33.3 meters with 49 minutes as bottom time, still with 30% nitrox.

We speed off over the afternoon surf to the shores, with happy smiles as we unload to the shop. Two wonderful dives in one of our favorite sites.  Just enough to warm my diver’s heart.

After for more than a decade of diving pursuits, MADRI will always be my go-to abode. Essentially relaxed, not crowded, environment-friendly and not distant from my base.  Ma’am Nana is just a text away, always ready to accommodate my request even sometimes an exclusive dive for me if there were no other guests.  How blessed to have stumbled this happy place for my diving escapades without traveling far!  Absolutely, there will be more diving trips here in this homely corner of Balingoan, MADRI is always worth coming back!

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.