Finding Solace in Samal Island!

It was a random decision to book dives in Samal to quick start 2018 dive trips, it was like a homecoming after few years of skipping the island. And it was heartwarming that DM Maeng of ScubAqua (formerly Davao Scuba Dive Center) is still there to cater us.  It felt nostalgic recalling memories in my prior years’ dives with them, unfortunately new dive guides were engaged for that weekend.  That same warmth and kindness that I cherished before comforted me during the trip.

Colorful corals, juveniles swimming before us – perfectly calming!

The cheery weather greeted us for our cruise to the island from Sta. Ana port, the boat was full-packed with guests – only few were divers though, most were aiming for the beach either to just swim or snorkel.  We were assigned to DM Toto for the day together with a newbie American diver, it was reassuring since we were not crowded and we could have more time to slow down and be mindful as we went through the reefs.

Our first descent was in Coral Gardens, we sank unto a sandy slope filled with corals decorated with wide gorgonians but we stumbled upon few crown of thorns star (COTS), I frowned watching them as the waters shall get warmer during summer, in no time they could multiply and eventually will devour the corals.  I glance over a branching coral that was turning whitish – I was wondering if it was bleaching! A sea cucumber had a minute emperor shrimp on its back probably feeding from parasites, some sea star, worms, clownfish over anemones, and a variety of juveniles spreading above us as we went around. Then a blue ribbon eel appeared from its burrow gloriously stood its ground as I took some snapshots – always fascinating as it darted but never leaving its hole!  Then we lingered over the colorful coral field just feeling the warm waters hopping over the reef hunting for critters, until we had our safety stop as we got under our boat for our ascent.  I still had 100 bars after 58 minutes lingering over the gardens!

Emperor shrimp on a sea cucumber back!

We cruise a bit to Babu Santa beach for our safety stop, there were few changes since our last visit but thankfully it is till devoid of concrete and permanent structures, it has still its wide beach with few huts for guests, with its blue and clear waters!

COTS at rest, soon to devour the corals nearby!

We cruise once more heading for Talikud Island for our last descent at Mansud Wall, it was past 4pm already and thankfully the viz was clear and there was no current.  We descend with our left shoulder towards the wall, the reef is filled with soft and hard corals, wide sea fans and obviously bursting with marine life. There were nudis, COTS (!) again, lots of juveniles – anthias, damsels, chromis, wrasse, fusiliers and lot more.  They spread before and above us as, watching them peacefully swimming was a great consolation – there was pure silence.  We had gathered trashes as we went around, and we lingered again over coral field for our safety stop until we ascend after 54 minutes. We cruised back to Sta. Ana wharf feeling refreshed after the dives!  🙂

This little piece of paradise has been renamed to Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS) but for me, it is still Samal Island, in the early days popularized by Pearl Farm but now there are a number of resorts all around this small city. It has remained bucolic and unassuming yet booming and blooming for all of us to revisit, explore and enjoy!

A family of anemone fish!

Travel Notes

  • In the early days of this intoxication, Samal waters was a favorite and has been our playground. My dive buddy earned his open water certification through Davao Scuba Dive Center.
  • Davao City, my entry point to Samal island is 8-hour drive from Cagayan de Oro
  • ScubAqua is probably the cheapest with PhP 1500.00 rate for 2 dives inclusive of equipment, boat and dive guide. The shop is conveniently located at Sta. Ana wharf.
  • Staying in Davao City rather than in the resorts in IGACOS is more economical, also the city has much to offer to your liking.

Paradise Island Dive

crystal waters at Paradise Island Resort beach

I was missing the waters, my fins were itching wanting to flip once again, so thinking of revisiting Samal waters after more than a year revived my spirits. Angel and I had this dive trip for the month, after missing our Coron trip last month. So one Friday evening after a long day at work, I gathered up my gears and boarded an ordinary bus for Davao.  It was unfortunate that the tourist bus was already full when I got to the station.  It turned out that the ride wasn’t too cold compared to aircon ones, although there were lot of stops along the 6-hour trip, I arrived safe in Davao much earlier than Angel.  It gave me enough time to check in at DMSF, freshen up and got some rest from the long trip.

Angel and I proceed to Davao Scuba Dive thinking arrangements were made already but our contact called up to go ahead to Paradise Island Resort as we need to be back early for another appointment.  We rushed back to  Sasa wharf and cruised for the resort as it started to drizzle.  Our contact Alan was very helpful suggesting to prepare ourselves and gear up as we will do beach entry.  It was good since there were no other divers.  He briefed us shortly about the sites which is just beyond the beach area.  We were warned of the currents, but we informed him that we wanted shallow dive as Angel and I  were both having colds!

There’s one thing I don’t like much with beach entries –  carrying the gears on my back – but I was grateful, an assistant was helpful enough to carry it for me. I scampered the cemented landing as I was much behind from angel and the dive guide and descend the steps. My gears waiting for me floating on the waters, getting into my gears with the cool crystal waters felt so good. Gosh! I belong to the waters, indeed…

Our first ascend was at the coral gardens, where we found  a concrete lying angel on a steel crib.  It was submerged sometime ago as an artificial reef but sadly, we didn’t find any coral, crinoids or fishes. It was lying there more of an intrusion on the sea bed.  Farther, there were lot of branching green corals, soft corals, damsels, clown fish on anemones, puffers.  Angel spotted a moray which I missed.  Some trumpet fish, wrasses,  sergeants and sponges.  There was current indeed, and it was bit ardous catching up.  I signalled for a stop, when the guide finally waited for me with the Ok sign.  I need to slow down…   We ascend after we covered the two slopes in the area, our deepest at  14.8m after 46 minutes with 500 psi of my air.  Angel and I was sad there was much trash underwater, we gathered handfuls when we end the dive.

Angel and I spent an hour for our surface interval at the guest area – short chat with the guide, listening to the serenade, sipping our fruit shakes, people watching and still deciding how much to give for our gift to Io 🙂  We decided to postpone lunch and just went for our last dive immediately so we could leave the place early for the afternoon function. 

For our next descent, we brought our net bag for the trash and went further on the same spot top cover the last slope.  Again, there was the green hard corals scattered, corals of other specie, basket sponges, soft corals.  There were damsels, wrasses, clown fishes, sand perch and more. I spotted a sea cucumber, lot of black sea urchins and found just one crown of thorns!  then we got into a field of colorful coral garden with lot of juvenile fishes. I spend more time there exploring , hopping on the corals and picking up trash we passed by.  There was current again swimming against it, for some time we lost the guide as he went fast.  Angel and I was left alone, and just explored the scenery.  The guide appeared again and signaled for us to go back, drifting with the current was fun.  Until we got to the sandy area,  had our safety stop and finally ascend after  51 minutes with 12.2 meters as deepest, my air down to 800 psi.  Our net bag was filled with trash! 😦

We hastily had bathroom routines, pack up gears, settle our bills, some pleasantries with the shop staff and bid byes.  It started to rain again but it didn’t stop us to board the boat for our cruise back.  The two dives was more than enough to have a good relaxing weekend with Angel. We finally cruised thinking for our next afternoon activity and later for the reception party at Waterfront  Insular. 

 Angel and I was actually thinking about food!  🙂  The dinner at the Waterfront Tent, Margie’s Bakeshop or Blugrey Cafe in downtown Davao! Well, the good food and dining enthusiast in us was itching again…. 😛

Diving in Samal

Babu Santa beach…

Almost two years ago, I had a brief hop to Samal with my sister and cousin. I was not yet a diver then, but I promised myself to be back again to explore more of the beauty and secrets of the island. I took the opportunity to join the DIY trip of Owen, thinking it will be a wonderful trip since I’ll be diving in one of the famous destination in the country.  It is even more forward looking aside from having my sister with me, I’ll be seeing DIY friends – Angel & Owen, and meet other joiners to this trip. And I need to get away…..

Busy Friday

It was another busy day at work and there was lot to attend to – Excom meeting, documents, referrals, communication to prepare and so on. I left at 6:30pm hastily to have dinner early, I have to catch up a community teaching at 7:30pm at the Cathedral. It was almost 10pm when it ended and I have to rush away for home. I still need to finish packing for the trip. I finally left almost 11pm for the Agora bus terminal, I was not sure on aircon bus departures for Davao. I was blessed to get a non-stop bus for the trip, I can be sure to arrive on time. The bus finally left at 12:30am…

Full Saturday

I was trying to calculate the time we got into the Arakan Valley – the critical area we will pass going to Davao – good enough, it will be morning already and not dark anymore, it will be safer. I tried to take a nap but it was too cold – brrrrrrr…. My sweater, pashmina, and socks didn’t quite help. L I whipped out my music player and had praise songs all throughout the trip. I arrived at Ecoland bus terminal at 6:30am (6 hours indeed), but my sister’s bus was still on the way so I waited for her. We left the area after our breakfast and arrived Davao Scuba Dive past 8:00am already. At last!  🙂

Maeng, our dive master was there to welcome us – I was just too excited to hear more from him about our exploration today. Denise pygmies! I haven’t seen one before, that would be amazing! I was introduced to fellow divers for the day – Ernest & son Mark, Keiko (Japanese national), a foreigner couple, and dive guides. After awhile, the group arrived – so kumustahan, kuwentuhan…. 🙂

We are so blessed for the good weather. We left Sta. Ana Wharf at about 9:00am, DM Maeng said I still have time to sleep since it would be more than an hour to our first stop (he knew it was a long night trip from CdO). Well, the same PADI professionalism I was enjoying from dive centers I got into! J I invited my fellow joiners to try intro diving – Gilbert, Angel, Kay, Dan & Donnabel – considering the fee, at P 750.00 it’s the lowest cost I have encountered so far.

We proceed to Babu Santa for our lunch and surface interval – a beach perfect for fun under the sun.  But I don’t need the scorching heat, I just need a break for my next dive and some food for energy…

Sunset at Davao Gulf

Our next stop was at the Coral Gardens for my second dive. I dive with Keiko and DM Arnold – it felt free swimming and watching in awe all those wonderful creatures – giant grouper, sea snake!, “lato”, lion fish, stone fish, variety of hard and soft corals, sponges, sea fan, and more…. We surface after 65 minutes far away from the boat, I never had done this before, my buddies made sure we’re near the boat when we ascend. But I wont see much of the gardens if we wont go far, anyway the boat picked us up with no hasssles – I guess the operator had binocular to keep track of their diver guests! No worry –  no waves, no current – the waters was perfect for swimming.

We had a brief stop at Isla Reta 2 to explore a small cave, but there’s nothing much to see. We waited for the divers who tried their luck to see a dugong or whaleshark, but there’s none.  On our way back, we had tour along the coast of Samal viewing the beach resorts lining up the beach including the famous Pearl Farm and Malipano Island.  We had the opportunity to watch the glorious sunset at Davao Gulf.  It was already dark when we finally got into Sta. Ana Wharf.  After settling our bills, we headed for our lodgings at DMSF.  Of course, we need good dinner to regain back our energy.  We went to Penong’s at People’s Park… My plan to go up Jack’s Ridge was cancelled. We settled for our beds when we got back to DMSF, everybody was tired….

Another Day

Kay and I woke up to attend a morning mass as planned.  After a brief morning chat with Gilbert and Angel, we rush to San Pedro Cathedral. We were just in time when the mass was about to start. We catch a brief walk to find some place for breakfast.  We rush thinking we could still catch up the guys back at the lodgings, but they had left laready when we got back.  We finally pack and catch a taxi for the bus terminal. We’re going home….  There is a reason to be back in Samal, northern part of the island is also an interesting spot to explore. One day…

Another wonderful trip to be thankful for!