Moalboal Shoaltime!

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Definitely my madness of Moalboal is unrelenting, it seems I never get enough of its underwater show. For the nth time, I declare that the sardines’ phenomenon is grand spectacle and literally an iconic one. The mammoth shoal is my overriding reason for coming again and again to Moalboal, and I will never get tired of watching in awe while underwater. It is the only dive site in Southeast Asia that is home to a school of fish so immense, it provides a rare and iconic backdrop of shimmers, shadows and amazing shapes. I was in for a show as I float at fifteen meters watching above me. So stunning!

We went again for the 4th time to experience once its majestic display last June, and mutually agreed for another return for this same reason.  Moalboal is a must visit site in the Philippines and if you are after this majestic display of humongous school of sardines, don’t wait long for a trip to this southern town in Cebu. Experience this underwater Shoaltime!

Freedom Weekend: Peak, Trails, Falls, Depths!

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The colorful depths of Pescador Island!

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.   ~Frank Lloyd Wright~

Moalboal is one of my favorite dive destinations, despite the disappearance of the phenomenal sardines run in our last visit more than two years ago I have promised myself to be back once more with my dive buddy. The itch was pestering me again since last year especially with the comeback of its marine life phenomena, the anticipation of the return was consuming! The plan involved not just the perks in Moalboal but also the charms of Osmena Peak and the anticipated return to Kawasan Falls after five years. It was another package of adventure – from the heights to the depths! The long weekend in June was all perfect, I just needed a break from work pressures.

Dalaguete for Osmena Peak

Osmeña Peak
Osmeña Peak – directly above the town of Badian. The vast sea is decorated with Badian Island.

We sped off for Moalboal after a quick stopover at the diveshop in downtown Cebu for Angel’s reserved gear. We were just in time as the van was almost leaving as we got to the terminal, summer’s end gave us a cherry warm welcome in the queen city of the south. The trip was long but the sceneries along the way were enough to absorb my attention. I never get tired passing these southern towns – the old churches, old squares and those big old acacias lining the road! It was first things first – drop off gears at our lodge and see our DM for our Sunday dives. Our friends in our favorite backpacker lodge were there to welcome us, and meeting the new Manager of our favorite dive shop was just heart-warming for the comeback.

We passed by towns of Badian, Malabuyoc, Ginatilan, Samboan and changed bus at Bato to proceed to Santander, Oslob, Boljoon, Alcoy and finally Dalaguete – it was dark already. We walked and asked around for our lodge and we were accordingly accommodated. The simple room at Pink House was comfortable enough for an eight-hour overnight, sufficient for a good night’s rest to brace us for the next day’s quest.

The next early morning, in a street corner across the old town hall, we found a helpful Manong who carried us with his motorbike to the foot of the peak in Mantalongon. The communities we passed by were already in motion for their daily bustle. The cool morning breeze and the rural scenery was a great start for the climb. We passed by school children on their way, the vegetable farms & backyard gardens and the bagsakan center, where there were ongoing packaging of produce , hauling and the usual trading that accompany with it. It was all green and refreshing.

It took only about twenty minutes to climb the peak, but our guide misunderstood us and after walking for thirty minutes wondering where the jagged peaks are – we walked back for the summit which was just behind us. There were climbers already when we looked up, the climb was not arduous but enough to pump more oxygen for the heart! Indeed, the view on top was breathtaking – 360 degrees view of green jagged hilltops, the vast ocean decorated with Badian Island yonder and the blue endless skies!

But again, the litters along the trails and on the peak itself were purely disgusting. I picked up a large plastic bag and gathered up all the trash inside. A sad reality – the influx of tourists is always accompanied by unsightly trash. It was an opportunity for a clean-up climb/trek for us.

Badian for Kawasan Falls

Just refreshing! After trekking the trails through the ranges in southern Cebu and traversing the hills in search of Kawasan Falls, the longing for that cool and fresh water was our inspiration to walk past down the winding roads. On the way, we picked up trashes and had a large bagful of litters. After four hours and walking sixteen kilometers, we reached Bukal Springs, the first layer of the falls. After five years we were back reaching in a different entrance and perspective, accompanied with new discoveries.

We walked further the trails and had the needed stop in a hut – it was past 12 noon already and we were famished. Believing it was the resort we visited last time, we were surprised of the changes in the spot – well, it’s been five years!

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Kawasan Falls! Green foliage, gushing waters, aquamarine pool – such wonderful sight. Nothing much has changed since five years ago….

We spend some time on the raft under the falls – soaking ourselves to our heart’s content. It was truly refreshing! Still wondering for the changes of the area, we ended our dip to continue the trails down the highway. But to our surprise, the front layer of the falls was all down there in its splendor! There were more people and guests, and the structures were exactly the same we had five years ago. It’s the same Kawasan we knew – the massive falls, the foliage around the cliffs and the wide pool of aquamarine waters beyond the gushing falls! We lingered for few minutes trying to absorb the marvel of nature’s wonder.

One sheer discovery – Kawasan Falls has three layers, each with different charm and spectacle!

Moalboal for the Phenomenon

The next morning we promptly rushed to Cebu Dive Centre at 8:00am earlier than the appointed time, Cameron – a Briton, the new shop manager deals client seriously but friendly – the professionalism I am expecting from PADI shops. Although we were earlier hinting for Pescador Island for the sardines, he simply dismissed that the run have transferred at the house reef which is easily accessible by shore entry. Cameron, arranged three descents for the day that includes Pescador!

We cruised shortly north east of the island, the site is notoriously rough so it is necessary to be early. I was silently thrilled after the short briefing from Danny, knowing that we will penetrate the cathedral – cavern diving again! Indeed, the water was choppy already when we got there. I was last for the entry and Yoyo’s assistance was just needed, the current surface was already strong. Pescador is simply amazing, noted for its mushroom-like formation it held many surprises and its rough surrounding waters added appeal for divers.

Indeed, we feasted down under and completely fascinated by array of rare sightings in the depths. We entered the cavern in one hole and had a magnificent view of the cathedral’s holes – while inside in a distance, the lights outside illuminated a human skull. Two eyes, nose and mouth – in an abstract scene, only the focus minded will see. It was like coming face to face with a giant monster underwater. It was rare sight not to be missed! We exited in one of the hole resembling its right eye. There was moray eel, electric clams, banded pipefish, ornate ghost pipefish, puffer and yellow frogfish! We lingered for the rare yellow froggy hoping it would yawn, but it didn’t. There were juvenile tropical fishes, anthias hovering over corals and variety of hard and soft corals. We ascend after 53 minutes with my air at 70 bars.

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A yellow frogfish – rare find!

We escaped the raging waters in Pescador and had our second descent at Visaya Reef. Again, we were not disappointed – we silently roam the slope combing the corals. We sighted cleaner shrimp, trumpet fish, some nudis, puffer, scorpion fish, and the rare emperor shrimp and pygmy seahorse! We swam more and found a resting turtle with a remora, I have to tug Angel’s weight belt to get his attention. It is his favorite specie! Well, he approached and ended chasing it again for photos. We ascend after 51 minutes, my air still at 100 bars. We cruised back for the diveshop, our lunch served as our surface interval.

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You’ve got a friend – most marine critters live symbiotically.  Scorpionfish resting on a blue seastar!

Nature has its own works, the transfer of the sardines was one. More than two years ago I was perturbed that it was gone and was silently hoping it would be back in its own right time. Now, this phenomenon graced the shallow waters of Bas Diot just near the shores. I agree with Danny and Yoyo that the sardines are safer in their new abode, the shores are patrolled and nobody could fish them. They could freely swim without fear of predators. Larger fishes would rarely come ashore!

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The turtle with a remora resting on corals

Donning my gears on water, we readied for our last descent to experience once more the phenomenon. Not far, we were at 15 meters and as we looked up, the large herd darkened above us, probably just five meters from the surface. We swam getting a good view and the whole stretch was literally decorated with the fishes grouped together – probably millions! It was such a rare sighting. We literally got the whole stretch covered, immersed in the afternoon waters swimming coyly, feeling the serenity of the waters. I belong with the marine life, as if I was one with them in spirit. There were at least eight sightings of turtles randomly darting in our view adding more splendor to the scene.

Angel was just nearby, it was necessary as I don’t have dive computer and we both agreed not to get lost. Unexpectedly, he held my hand and looked in my eyes. As if saying, “It’s beautiful, do you like it?” I looked back and gripped his hand affirming, wanting to smile but can’t. We both love the sardines run, how can anyone ignore the exquisiteness of creation? How can anyone disregard the treasures in marine life? We swam back to shores after 50 minutes still enthralled of the sardines and turtles.

We capped the day having sumptuous dinner at Marina – a sister resto of La Tegola Cuccina Italiana back home, one of our favorite in town! 

Climb, Trek, Swim Adventure

For sure, there’s more in southern Cebu – dive sites in Badian and Oslob; beaches in Dalaguete and Alcoy; old churches, museum, town halls; and pristine white islands. But again, it was about seizing moments and doing what one love most. I adore the mountains and my incessant passion for the depths is unrelenting. The three-day trip was a perfect climb, trek and swim quest rolled in one – coupled with new learning and discoveries. Yet when we head home, we agreed for another return. It’s pure madness I guess – a kind of madness that keep my sanity because it is with nature that I find my equilibrium!


NB
Underwater photos courtesy of Angel using Lumix TS2 with Ikelite casing

Trip to Southwest of Cebu

diving, what else

Diving, what else?

I first heard of Moalboal about three years ago from my cousin Sheila from Deutschland who’s visiting us for a holiday, I remembered asking her it’s location.  I learned then, that it’s a remote place in southwest Cebu and best known by divers. I was thinking it would be a good destination for fun dives and even for just a get away.  So, Angel and I included this in our dive trip plans as part of Tubbattaha 2010 preparation.  I never got the chance to explore Cebu’s countryside, with all my trips were at the city either attending conferences, meetings, conventions, get away or as stop over to other cities in the Visayas.

Viva, Cebu!

 So one downcast Friday morning I sneak out of home when everyone is still asleep and catch the early flight for Cebu.  I enjoy mysterious trips 😛 , it gives me a feeling of randomness like chasing liberty! And it is always a challenge to discover one new place, I can’t resist the sceneries in the countryside.  The cheery weather greets me as we touched down the Mactan International Airport and I found Angel & Mike waiting for more than an hour already. 😦

We went straight to south bus terminal and got into a Bato – Barili Ceres bus, the summer heat beating and it was too hot and it seemed like forever before it finally left the terminal.  Last  month, I went south of Cebu passing the towns of Minglanilla, Naga, San Fernando but this time upon reaching Carcar, the bus went west to the mountainous side to the towns of Barili, Dumanjug, Ronda, Alcantara and finally Moalboal. I thought there’s no need to tell about my trip to friends back home but my friend Agnes surprisingly called up and after few plesantries she was aking where am I and who am I with! Arrrrgh…. I wanted to end the call immediately.

I remembered Carcar is famous of special ampaw, indeed when we got down town peddlers were selling this delicacy. But I remembered most the old acacia trees lining up the road, the branches reaching and meeting up like an arch – so bucolic and beautiful! It’s just unfortunate we can’t get photos but just watch in awe.  Going south is mountainous but the roads were well maintained so the trip was smooth (unlike back here home when roads are in repair contributing traffic jams).  But I didn’t notice much agricultural production areas except for some limited rice fields we passed.  Reaching Moalboal, we got down near the intersection with the big acacia tree just as what was described in the book – a tree with all sorts of directions.   We got into the tricycle for Panagsama Beach about 4 kilometers away – after haggling the fare. 😛

Going through the narrow street in Panagsama, we finally reached the Moalboal Backpacker Lodge  ,our refuge at panagsaman beachthe owner was there to welcome to us – and true enough he’s a German national as he sounds over the phone when we talked! The lodge was just homey as I think and it was simply what we need. Our room is downstairs and close to the shower, toilet and kitchen – just my preference.  We’re so famished we headed to the nearest restaurant for our lunch after we settled our things, and just as we thought the food were bit pricey… As planned we went to Savedra Dive Center (5 star PADI dive center) which is just about 50 meters from our lodge, to confirm our dive schedule, prepare our gears and possibly met up with our DM.  We tried to haggle Ms. Abeth: possible night dive which Mike haven’t tried yet; lower rate for 3 day dives – gear rents for whole day not per dive; and priority site in Pescador Island. We can’t do the night dive since we need a dive instructor which will cost us more, so we settled for 3 day dives with lower charges!  🙂

Exploring Badian

 Next town is Badian, a secret get away too with a beautiful island, which is home of the opulent Badian Island Resort & Spa, and the famous Kawasan Falls – a falls I heard long, long time ago and wanted to visit. While we still have the afternoon free, we planned to have a side trip to make most of our time.  The tricycle was waiting for us when we got back to the lodge – the summer heat got us so we need the cool waters to refresh us.  It was about 24 kms. to the site, it was a long trip with the tricycle.  There was a church at the entrance of the park, and the trek along the river took us about 25 minutes until the falls and pool.

Just seeing the falls and hearing its gushing waters was so tempting – so cool!  The guides told us it’s an advantage not to go there on weekends, because there would so much crowds, much noise and one can’t fully experience the nature’s beauty and serenity.  True enough – lesser people, less queue for the bamboo raft, less noise thus with great pleasure.  We finally get into our raft after some waiting, I was thrilled getting near and under the falls  – the waters was cold & strong! It was just what we need to cool down from the summer heat (no, not summer anymore!).  And we went inside a crevice just enough for the raft to pass through and we need to lie flat – something rare! Just like kids we soaked ourselves, played with the waters and enjoyed so much the free massage from the falls!

beautiful kawasan falls Badian Island is also a good dive site with the luxurious Badian Island  Resort but don’t have much time to visit the place. We get back to Moalboal bearing the tricycle noise , 😛 until we reached the lodge.  We tried to explore the whole stretch of the street in the night trying to find some place to eat farther away but we ended up near the lodge – enjoying the pork barbecue and veggie salad – at a cheaper price.   😛

Looc, Pescador Island, Kasai Point and some Surprise!

 We wake up early as our first dive is at 7:30am, and we need to be there earlier.  The weather was bit downcast and I consider it better so there won’t be too much heat.  There were other divers too mostly foreigners.  I tried to watch closely the crew assembling the gears at the back shop.  We were assigned to Yosil as our DM who I learned later to be one of the most keen divers especially on micros, and very efficient on buoyancy control.  We cruise for about 15 minutes to our first site at Looc which is across a sandy white beach.  We descend on a drop off wall – good sightings especially the big green turtle perched on a hard coral with two fishes on its back.  I tried to catch the attention of Angel & Mike so as not to miss it! Then after about 30 seconds, it swam away – so schon!

There were gorgonians in different colors as well as star feathers, I tried to look closely for crinoids but none or maybe my eyes failed me.  There were groupers, batfish, butterfly fish, colorful nudi branches among others.  We do some bit of clean up – found plastics in corals.  I sighted about 2 fish cages, one of those things I don’t like to see underwater – an insult to the marine wildlife. Can we just leave them alone? We are only there to enjoy the sites not to harm them!  We had our safety stop in a white sandy area with full of soft & hard corals, colorful sponges and juvenile fishes. Angel and I explored the area – found a pipefish which just stayed near and was fascinated with the flounder.  We hardly noticed it as it was of same color with the sand.  We surfaced after 45 minutes with my air at 40 bars.

After our quick breakfast (cappuccino and local breads) at the lodge we get back to the diveshop for our next descent.  We’re bit excited since we’ll be exploring Pescador Island but I told DM Ms Lindy to get away with the current. J  She said we’ll be going north, then east and swim back where the boat will wait for us. She warned us not to go deeper 20 meters.   We were the last group to descend – each in different spots.  We swam into a drop-off wall covered with colorful corals, sponges and feather stars.  Then the large thick school of tamban (sardines) – millions of them, we watched it in awe, my first time for such sightings.  I guess fishing them all won’t fit in the dive boat. We saw sea turtle again (smaller one), few tuna, a frogfish in camouflage, pipefish, sea cucumber among others.   We found again at least four plastics in the corals which were taken away by the DMs.  We went again to a sandy area for our safety stop exploring around.  Ms Lindy pointed out to us a blenny which seemed to be tamed – it didn’t swam away. We surfaced after 46 minutes just in time when Angel’s air gone zero! He shared Larry’s (another DM with us) octopus for the ascent.

We cruised back to Panagsama for our lunch break, we ended at the far end of the street in a secluded restaurant but overlooking the waters.  We got back to the lodge for some power nap as our last descent would still be at 2:30pm. Torsten was there like a gracious host asking about our dives and telling us stories of his own dive experiences in the area.

Our last stop was Kasai, little farther than Looc about 25 minutes cruise to the site – we were still with Ms Lindy & Larry. Our deepest must be 18 meters only as warned by Ms Lindy – she pointed out I dropped by 2 meters at the 2nd dive. : P  Well, I really needed a dive computer!  I think you’ll never get disappointed in any dive site in Moalboal – there’s so much abundance – teeming with marine life. Groupers, lionfish, pipefish, frogfish and more – not to mention the gorgonians, sponges, soft & hard corals.  But we found again fish cage, a string entangled in corals and some rubbish – Angel & I got plastics.  We had our safety stop again on a sandy area full of colorful corals – just need to be careful not to harm them, indeed buoyancy control is necessary.  We explored around, found pipefish again, a small eel, a crab shell (?), bubble corals, colorful anthias and more.  I tried to check Angel’s air and signaled for ascent after I got the OK sign from Ms. Lindy.  I emptied my BC from air and swam up raising my right hand looking up…

After a coffee break, settling bills, brief talk with Ms Lindy and goodbyes, we went off to the lodge – it was such a full day. It was great advantage to have a nearby accommodation.  I needed some time in the bath to wash off all the salt especially my hair.  Mary Ann informed me that Torsten is inviting us for dinner with no reason.  But when he arrived, he said he’s preparing a small dinner because one of us is the 100th guest of the lodge! Surprises of all surprise – a sumptuous dinner plus to be featured in news on their website!  😛  Angel & Mike were amused when I told them both that we’re having dinner with the Siggelkows – wondering who’s the lucky 100th!  Such a   blessing – wonderful sites, new sightings, bit of underwater clean up, safe dive plus a free sumptuous dinner – the Lord is good.  food, yummy food..And Angel was saying he was pining for grilled back ribs which exactly what we had!  Simple wishes – simply answered with no cost…..

 Leaving Moalboal & Heading Home

It was raining the following morning but has to go downtown for the mass (it was Sunday), and I don’t need to complain about the rain and it’s not a reason to skip the mass.  I had no time to have it in Cebu, more so in Cagayan de Oro as it would be too late when I get home. It started already when we got to the church but just in time for the 1st reading.  Surprisingly the rain stopped already when the mass ended.  We hastily get back to the lodge – had our breakfast, brief talk and goodbyes and some photos with the Siggelkows.  We promised ourselves another dive trip to explore more of Pescador Island and Airport next time, also to frolic in the serene white beaches around Moalboal.

We took again the Ceres bus back to Cebu, going through the same route – I took pleasure in the churches we passed along the hi-way and of course I don’t want to miss the old acacia trees in Carcar road.  It seemed like the trip was shorter going back to Cebu. 😛  We took a cab when we got out of the terminal but Angel & Mike alighted since they were going the other way. I need to go to the travel lounge to fix things – much that I wanted to visit the Sto. Nino Shrine and Redemptorist Church but don’t want to run out of time, I even failed to call my friends – Willyn & Ms. Angel.  After a quick late lunch (I felt no hunger) I left for the airport for an early check in, I don’t want to be rushing again!  The flight was on time and full, sitting on the plane my homework running on my mind – I have a presentation to do the next morning in the Monday mini-program!  It was raining when we arrived CdO but thankful it wasn’t foggy for the landing.

Home at last but can’t help smiling that my get-away was another wonderful one.  I always gain favor from the Lord and I couldn’t thank enough. I had more trips to look forward in the next months and for sure full of surprises and new discoveries…