Balicasag Island: Milestone Dives

Balicasag Island

I knew I have to be back to Balicasag Island to dive and savor once more its underwater life. This is the place where it all started – my fascination of the great marine life. While on a family vacation six years ago, I snorkeled with my sister at the marine sanctuary.  I was lost in awe with the blue, blue waters and beyond.  I have promised myself to become a diver since then…

Alone in Alona

Arriving very early in Tagbilaran, I have so much time to spare. How ironic when there’s so much to do back at work, here I am wandering in the city square!  After attending mass at the cathedral, I crossed to the plaza watching a large flock of doves on the ground, feeling like I’m in Hyde Park.  Though Panglao town can be reached by 20 -25 minutes by car, I arrived at my lodgings near Alona Beach after an hour through a mini-bus and trycicle rides.

Alona Beach afternoon

The staff of JJ Alona was kind enough to guide me as I went to the bustling district of Alona Beach. Though I was aiming to go direct to Sierra Madre Divers, she insisted I must try Tropical Divers (previously Pro-Safari Divers) which was recommended by DM Geom. I believe it was an excellent dive operator but it was bit pricey. The Danish manager Karl, was also friendly who promised to organize a Balicasag trip with me if I should decide. I tried to ask for D4 strap but not available, though he assured to get one if I stay longer in the island.  Anyhow, we left for Sierra Madre to register, glad that they have two boats for Balicasag the next day.  After asking for the DM assigned to me (DM Bart will be with the chinese OW students in another boat) and departure time, we walked back to JJ Alona but not without passing the bustling beach. I remembered Boracay and Puerto Galera!

There were no other guests, a quite place is all I need with the rest of the afternoon.  It was raining hard…

Balicasag and Kalipayan

Despite the rain, the sun shone brightly the next morning. Though I arrived earlier as expected, the shop staff was already on their toes, and the place was filled with guests.  I was joined with local government staff of Carmen, Bohol who was friendly and generous to me.  They found it surprising that I am alone.  We cruised for about 20 minutes until we moored in one of the bouys floating about 100 metres from the island’s shore.

nudi on corals- both colorful

Our first descent was at Black Forest, I was hoping to encounter again the giant napoleon wrasses like last time.  Since the group were new divers and it took awhile for their preparation, I requested my dive guide to descend ahead.  Now I know, that’s what other divers felt when I was yet a newbie –  it felt like forever to wait .  We descend on sandy ground, with corals and tropical fishes abound.  There was current, so we drifted along until we got into a wall decorated with soft and hard corals.  There were invertebrates – colourful nudis, cleaner shrimp, and anemone crab.  A green turtle graced us but was too shy, it fled away as soon as it noticed us around.  There was variety of tropical fishes hovering on corals, sponges and anemones.  Although the marine life was still active, I noticed there wasn’t much larger species that I encountered. I hope they were just at rest somewhere around and have not totally left Black Forest.  After 50 minutes I ascend with 80 bars of air.

anemone crab

Glinting my eyes with the scorching heat, I was wishing to once again walk on the white sands on the island but the boat moored far for the interval.  At past 12 nooon, we had our next descent at Turtle Point.  I was hoping I would find turtles but for the whole 59 minutes of my bottom time, there was none!  I stayed behind again from other divers together with my dive guide, searching for macros as there was no pelagics around.  There were at least four nudi species I spotted, scorpionfish, lionfish and other tropical fishes.   There was a moray eel gawking at me but my cam failed.  It was filled with soft and hard corals, crinoid, sponges and anemones. Normally, there were only two dives in the island, so we cruised back to Alona Beach after we surfaced past 1pm.  This made me to my 100th dive!

moray eel gawking at me!

Again, making most of my long travel,  my time and expenses, I requested for third dive even just nearby, I was lone – other divers have called it a day taking their late  leisure lunch sat nearby resto. Quarter before four o’clock, we sped our way to Kalipayan for my last descent.  Together with my dive guide, I immersed myself with the cold afternoon waters and went deep down, unto a colourful reef punctuated by invertebrates as I passed by. A moray eel lurking on soft coral, went out gawking at me perhaps wondering what kind of fish I am! Then we moved to a sandy ground decorated with green sea grasses and those big thorny brownish starfish.  There were patches of hard corals as we went along, with tropical fishes hovering around.  We ascend after 39 minutes – it was short but has to end sooner for my flight the next day.  When we got back to the beach, the place was grueling preparing for the night’s bustle.  Dinner tables of the restos were out on the white beach ready for diners.  The area started to become more alive as the sun comes down, tourists started to flocked around the beach.

blue, blue world - my world!

Milestone Dives

Going back  to Bohol again wasn’t my priority, but my dive buddy requested for it so I arranged things for me to come. He didn’t make it though, but there’s no reason for me to cancel mine.  It turned out to have my 100th dive right on the very spot where my passion for life in the depths all started.  I wish there will be another hundred dives to come, if not two, three, four or more.

And perhaps, I will be back again in Balicasag Island – may be not sooner but for sure I will not wait for a hundred dive before I would set foot again to see more of  its depths!

Travel Notes

My route for this trip:

Cagayan de Oro to Tagbilaran  – by boat (Trans Asia Lines), 9 hours
Tagbilaran Pier to Panglao bus terminal – Tricycle
Tagbilaran to Panglao Sawang – Mini bus, 45 minutes
Sawang to Alona Beach – Tricycle, 10-15 minutes

Return trip:

Tagbilaran to Cebu – Ocean Jet, 2 hours
Cebu to Cagayan de Oro – plane, 1 hour & 15 minutes