Dark Chamber?

Will you dare the dark chamber?

The World War II wrecks in Calamianes is certainly a dive destination that deserves more than one visit, and each time you go you see something different.  To see all the wreck requires more than one dive in itself.  I had the opportunity again six weeks ago to savor the mysteries and secrets in a wreck in Dimalanta Island.

So, will you dare? Definitely the  dark holes and chambers are too irresistible. The urgency of what’s beyond keeps the blood pumping and rushing. Wrecks in the depths are truly engaging. Again, will you dare?

2011 Portfolio: Blue World

My Blue World

I have convinced my self it’s not yet too late to  scribble my last year’s journey in the underwater realm, something I could come anytime in the future to feel and reminisce the joys and wonders as I go through this quest. Much has happened but on a nutshell, here it goes:

  • Had a total of 38 dives making it to 109 accumulated dives and accumulated 86:46 hours  as of year-end
  • Revisited sites  such as Moalboal, Mantangale, Agutayan Island & Coron both special for me and my favorite dive buddy
  • The great Tubbataha Dream finally – I had thirteen dives in this underwater paradise!
  • Discovered great sites aside from the wonders of Sulu seas  such as Apo Reefs, Mactan & Puerto Galera – the experience was magical and captivating. I had a long write-up in these trips
  • Never missed the International Clean-Up Day and joined the diving community with my dive buddy in a coastal town here in Misamis Oriental
  • Took up  lessons using enriched air with my dive buddy and now certified EANx diver
  • My 100th dive in Balicasag Island, right where I catch the spell of the blue world – another milestone!
  • Having back a camera after a lull of fourteen months, though I’m still getting to know her I’m learning more on underwater photography
  • More controlled bouyancy, thus more more efficient air consumption, never had an air lower than 500psi or 50 bars
  • Technically, there was much improvement – I can dive comfortably sans DM but still with dive guide; night dive is now sans angst; and wreck diving  give me that kick that rose my adrenaline – penetrated five wrecks with my dive buddy, not to mention other minor hulks we discovered in PG and Tubba

I will never forget the challenges, struggles but more on the joys, victories and graces attached to all of these tales. My blue world – my passion, my dream, my life…

NB.  Photo by Angel taken while  diving Irako Maru in Coron, Palawan.

Coron: World War II Wrecks Once More

Coron horizons….

“I am always moved by the sight of a hull lying at the bottom of the sea.  To me, it seems that a ship in that situation has entered the ‘great beyond’, into another existence, a world of shadows.”          ~Jacques Yves Coasteau~

Coming back to Calamianes this year has been kind of melodramatic, why when I was all set to go a year ago – plane tickets paid and dive plans in place – it was cancelled to give way for another priority.  My heart sank, but it was a victory being able to give up desires over something for spiritual growth.  To appease myself, I promised to return early part of this year but again deferred and boldly set it in October.  This all-consuming passion to dive once more for the monsters keeps nagging me, my gills and fins were aching for it.  I have wanted to be in Coron once a year with my favorite dive buddy for wreck diving.

Glitches, No More?

Be careful what you wish, you might end up with it.  I gave Angel with incredulous look when he smiled and reminded me I wanted to be with him for the round trip passage to Coron – perhaps. I have prearranged plane tickets all the way to Calamian and back home to save leave from work. Well, we ended up taking the boat after our flight was cancelled and me coming back to Manila with him on the boat again.  Halleluiah – but with a price!  It’s a taboo for me to talk on here about finance issues, but I have to admit it cost me much for the penalties in changing my return flight home.

Waiting, queuing, negotiating, calls, arrangements, changing tickets, rushing to pier, and getting tickets.  It was exhaustive, but we made it though.  We were thankful we had other alternative after our flight was cancelled. It was miracle, we got tourist accommodation in adjoining bunks when the boat was filled with people.  But again, be careful….

Back to Paradise

Arriving midday with the scorching heat, I sighed with deep breath as we descend from the boat with quick steps down to the port. It was two years ago, I waited long for this homecoming.  I was smitten with Coron during my first visit, I went back three months later to explore more of its splendor.  All its wonders in the surface was indeed pristine and alluring – a perfect paradise in the last frontier.  And more enticing to me was its mysterious depths.

Blue world still, even from the wreck…

The shipwrecks in Coron is the second largest concentration of diveable World War II wrecks in the Pacific, sunk in September 24, 1944 just a year after SCUBA was invented by Sir Jacques Cousteau. .  Now almost seven decades underwater, it created vast artificial reefs as haven for varied marine species and wonderful spot for divers.  In the world, there are only two other wreck diving destinations that offer a comparable historic experience: Truk Lagoon in Central Pacific and Scapa Flow, off the Orkney Islands in Scotland. But the Coron wrecks win over these sites – it is less expensive to dive here and the water is warmer.

Coron sunset from Mt. Tapyas

As the remaining afternoon would be too short for island hopping, we dismissed the idea and opted to rediscover downtown Coron.  We walked around for over an hour and had a relaxing stop at BOG Café for coffee break, the cake & pastries were great and exactly what we fancied for our cravings! Thinking of the glorious sunset, Angel and I agreed for an afternoon climb to Mt. Tapyas – just to be fit and get away with the calories from the rich cheesecake.

Mt. Tapyas Cross

Angel was teasing me not to look tired as we passed five other groups as we climbed our way, we did the 700+ steps in 25 minutes!  We waited for sundown as we watched overlooking the town, outlying islands, calm waters and the surrounding hills. Then slowly, everything in the horizon turned reddish and golden as the setting sun ebbed down in the distance over the vast ocean. Such great splendor, it was my best sunset so far!  It was dark already when we descend, the lighted cross created a wonderful glow on the mountain top. We finished off our long day dipping in Maquinit Hotsprings  –  one thing I don’t miss when I’m in Coron.  Nothing could be more perfect than soaking in warm waters while gazing the stars above us –  it felt  so heavenly.  Famished we got back downtown to try Old House Resto, we ended having dinner in candle light as there was no electricity! We both love the food at the Old House. 🙂

Descend, Descend, Descend!

Thinking of additional three wrecks to explore thrilled me, arriving later as scheduled gave as another surprise – Irako Maru is in the list for our dives!  It was a perfect sunny Sunday as we cruised for over an hour northwest for our first descend, together with other six divers – all foreigners just like in my previous dives.  It seemed that divers from all corners of the world came unceasingly for these historic wrecks.

Holes and rusted bars of wreck

We took the giant step for our entry splashing the cold waters, I can’t wait to see Irako described as the longest and deepest wreck in the area.  We hold on to the bouy line as we descend slowly, it was all hazy until we catch glimpse of some solid form.  DM Nonoy briefed us to stay only outside and may penetrate some lighted portion.  He motioned that we go ahead of the others, the silts might be stirred and we would see nothing.  Admittedly, I was distracted of the monster I barely noticed the marine life around.  This large ship can not be explored in just one dive, at 147m long covering the whole stretch was impossible!  It has been literally stripped of anything – it is now mere skeletons. It is now a bare vast metal encrusted with hard corals and brownish rust.  We swam around a bit and reluctantly got back to the bouy line when our DM motioned for it.  As we slowly ascend having the safety stop, a large school of jackfish appeared nearby.  I went to take a closer look but sadly I went back deeper, which made me to do again for the three minutes safety stop.  It was a short dive at 36 minutes with 32.2m as my deepest.

Graceful flatworm floating before us…

We cruised shortly for our next site and had our early lunch as our surface interval.  Olympia Maru aka Morazan Maru is another new site to me, it was another large ship slightly smaller than Irako.  We hold on again for the bouy line as we descend directly on its port side as it was lying on its starboard side. Some kind of a wide surface, we found holes both square and round ones.  Feeling that familiar rush to get inside and explore its dark secrets!  We floated slowly as if flying careful not to stir the silts, felt so wonderful.  I challenged myself as we got into a small square hole for smooth entry and just flow inside like the waters. Following our DM as we penetrated and searched for something lurking in the dark corners, but not forgetting to make sure Angel was just around nearby. We spotted lionfish, scorpion fish, juveniles, a puffer and camouflaging colored clams.

A peacock lionfish!

The big cargo rooms and boiler rooms allows penetration and we practically roam around passing chambers going up and own and back again. Rusted bars, big iron wheel perhaps for the boilers and we saw the hole damaged by bomb strikes which disabled the ship.  The ray of light penetrating inside gave some interesting effect inside the dark rooms. I practically ignored my dive computers flashing signals, I just need to make most of my time down but covering the whole stretch of 122m is again impossible.  We finally headed for the bouy line to stabilize our depths, alas I needed a deco stop and was penalized for 8 minutes – first time so far! But with still more than 100 bars of air I had no worries, I had a total bottom time of 58 minutes with 24.4m as my deepest.

The ship mast encrusted with corals and rust

Our last descent was at East Tangat Wreck situated southwest side of Tangat Island in the  Bay, the wreck lies listing to starboard down a sandy slope.  It is a shallow wreck  in fact it was near the shores, I catch a glimpse of its end while our dive boat moored for our surface interval.  We had rounds and passed by rusted bars and few chambers, its mast is now covered with hard corals and brown rust.  We spotted sponges, hard and soft corals, crinoids and sea grasses clinging on bars. We spotted too at least four specie of colorful nudis – lavender, blue, white with orange antlers, and another bluish

Taking shelter in the wreck

crawling on the corals. There was flatworms, graceful lionfish, clown fish, sea squirts, bat fish and spade fish.  The marine life was wonderful enough for photos but again I got distracted with the wreck. We ascend after 49 minutes with 16.8m as my deepest.  All my residual air were still more than 100 bars in my tank for all three ascents.

Patience and Obedience in One

Last year was a test of obedience in pursuing my dive trips – plainly no Tubbataha and no Coron. Now, I know why. Just two months later after my Coron fiasco, the Tubbataha dream was answered unexpectedly! Surely it pays to wait and obey, and even with some glitches we made it to Calamian.  My trip this year was filled with treasured memories, new discoveries and new learnings.  It might be awhile before I can return but deep in me there is always that desire to exhaust the remaining wrecks in Coron waters.  They say, do not go for a trip like seeing 20 countries in a 30-day tour. Now, I say do not go for safari dive trip in Coron for you will miss to savor the beauty and mystery of these awesome monsters. Exactly why I am not in a rush…

Exactly why Angel and I still have reasons to be back in Calamianes, who knows it might be sooner!

NB.  Underwater photos courtesy of Angel, using his Olympus Tough 8000 with PT 045 as casing.

Revisiting Coron…

against blue sky

Heading for Calamian

My fascination in Coron has never been put to rest, after two trips last year I still wanted to get back for one lofty reason – to dive and exhaust the remaining wrecks in Calamian. The excitement and challenge in exploring the monsters is nagging my subconscious. So catching our schedules and considering the weather, Angel and I planned for a return to Coron. And as usual there was much to attend to at work, but time management and organizing things have become an art to accommodate more important pursuits much less my dive trips. And I did forego other schedules – exit conference, AGAP convention in Bacolod, meeting in CO, World Food Day celeb at the office and our community Sunday assembly. Arriving midnight from work travel and packing up for over an hour, I slept late but have to wake up early the next morning. I have to be at office for important instructions, then rush at the nearest ATM for my cash needs!

Sitting at the pre-departure area, I was thankful all passengers were strangers. I still wanted my out of town trips to be quiet and discreet possible. The Lord have heard our prayers for a good weather, it was a bright sunny morning! There were few air pockets as we approached the metro, as we hover I was imagining body of waters after the flood & typhoon, of course there was none! Well, that’s the magic of the media, those watching the tv innocently thought there’s a big flood in the metro. This time, there wasn’t much smog I saw, it was clearer I think – maybe the typhoons and monsoon rains have washed away the pollution a bit! J Surely, there’s always a purpose even in misfortunes, for the better.

I have much time to spare, our flight was still at 3pm, so I went to the airport café (Terminal 2) and took my brunch leisurely. After my people watching at the terminal I took a cab for Terminal 3 and waited for the counter to open. By chance, I struck up conversation with waiting passengers for Cagayan de Oro – just like me, proud Mindanaoans! J I waited for Angel until he called up, catching up from work. I boarded the bus last, obviously all are looking at me. L I climbed up with Angel on the aircraft – a Bombardier Q300 – a small plane but I guess better than the Dornier. We were seated apart and having one near the EXIT – I learned being one I have responsibilities in case of emergencies, I was given the assignment to read the instruction card – I thought I would just lean on my seat relaxed while watching the magnificent sights below. Getting on a small plane is lot better because you get a better and clearer aerial view of the islands – at 12000ft elevation. It was bit drizzling and there were air pockets again when we approached the Calamianes – now I found the air pockets entertaining, the feeling of the craft going up and down is exciting! J The view is splendid – the scattered islands, the calm sea, green mountains, white beaches – so serene, so laid back. I caught sight of Banana Island, the herd of cattle at the ranch, the new airport building. We touched down smoothly at the airstrip – bit washed by the drizzle. Indeed, the Bombardier is lot better….

Great Escape

We took the aircon PAL Express shuttle van for the town – not jeepney anymore! Going through the roads, I was impressed that the network is almost 75% cemented, last year it was just a dirt road and it was so dusty and following another vehicle seemed like a curse! The view was breathtaking, the country scenery felt like Bukidnon, I was pointing out to Angel the cattles grazing on the meadows with the herons picking by the side – simply beautiful! The van dropped us at Seadive Resort past 4pm – the travel was much shorter compared last time. There’s nothing much improvement in the town proper, things are quite the same. As soon as we got our room, it felt like we wanted to start off our adventure! J But have to make calls first back at work to put things in order. WE went to the diveshop to arrange for the dive trip – the European owner attended to us: sites, equipments, time, filling up “Dr. No” form and requested for DM Nonoy as our dive master. We brought our own gears (except mask) so everything would be intact in the crates. I found myself smiling with Akitsushima, Okikawa & Lusong Gunboat as dive site for the morrow. J I was telling Angel we’re so blessed with good weather!

It felt good to be back in Coron, last year I was left alone for my dive after all DIY friends (Batch 9) left. I bought the fish id at the front desk I was eyeing last time, it was just too expensive but now I found it necessary – after more than a year. As planned we went to Coron Bistro for our dinner, I was telling Angel I felt intrigued to try dining with them – the pizza daw is yummy! We’re both famished already… The staff was just friendly and had our Hawaiian Pizza quick, we didn’t wait long – I commended it’s too quick. Other diners were foreigners indeed, but the food was just great – pizza, garden salad & fruit shakes – Angel and I enjoyed it a lot. The small pizza was large – I burped with the three slices I got! J My headache (for lack of sleep) mysteriously gone even before we had our dinner…

Akitsushima, Okikawa & Lusong Gunboat Plus Maquinit Hot Springs

As usual I was up earlier the next morning for the preliminaries – my contacts, setting up the uw cam and packing. We got ready for the day about 7am, and went out side the resort and had our breakfast at a carenderia – cheaper and quicker we thought. We found out DM Nonoy can’t make it with us so we had DM Jaime instead, we had one joiner – Jan, a Danish national. The cheery weather was just too perfect for our dive! J We were transported by a speed boat to the dive boat and cruised for over an hour until near Manglet island – we assembled our gears on our way…

We had a briefing from DM Jaime before our first descend at Akitsushima, it’s a deep dive and we need to hold on to the bouy line for the descent, and must stay close to the buddy. Again, it was hazy at first and as we go deeper we sighted fishes until we saw it – like a monster lying there! We followed DM Jaime, going inside chambers, crevice, and square-like opening. It was dark but our torches served us well. It was devoid of any equipment, just the structure now. It was one of the few true warships among the wrecks. We went around, went outside and sighted the broken crane, hole left by canon, part when guns had been, etc. We ascend after 35 minutes at 114 feet as deepest! Angel and I smiled to ourselves – it’s our deepest so far. J

On our surface interval, we cruise to next site south of Concepcion Village near the Pearl Farm. We had our lunch too which I found too early, we need to wait for another hour for our next descent. In between I called up Gay whom I had three missed calls, as usual the first question was my location – arrrghh! Why is it that there’s always someone who’s tracing me?

DM Jaime take out 1 kilo weight from me – so now I only have 2 kilos weights – an improvement I guess!

leaf like nudi
We had our briefing again and geared up for Taiei Maru – an auxiliary oil tanker of the Imperial Japanese Navy. It sits almost level and had maximum depth of 85 feet. This time, Rommel was tasked to lead and DM Jaime at the back watching and following us. But there was much to see in Taiei – going through chambers, the deck, and inner part of the ship. Penetrating the wreck is exciting – going down a hole, square-like opening and dark passageway. It felt so free floating, flapping fins must be with care not to touch anything and without disturbing the silts. The fish life is more abundant here and fortunately, we spotted the lone sea turtle but swam away so quickly. Oversized grouper, giant humphead parrotfish, lionfish, puffers, lot of nudis, giant clams, super big nudi swimming, fusiliers, sweet lips and lot more – it was simply beautiful! We ascend after 45 minutes with big smiles…
patterned nudi

We cruised for our last dive – now I always go for three dives, lesser than that is somewhat bitin. Actually the third site is a wish granted – I snorkeled twice on this site and once found divers enjoying photography while I was just on the surface. I was hoping to dive here as relaxation being too shallow – the maximum depth is only 12 meters. We descend again after an hour interval, but instead of going through the wreck we swam to the surrounding marine life. I guess we need to follow the DM – a basic rule for safety. We spotted trash and stumbled upon a fishing line, but don’t have the equipment for cutting, Angel picked up some but wasn’t able to take all – our DM is getting far already. The environmentalist in us is hurting… There was hard corals, basket sponge but didn’t find any sea fan or star feather. After the safety stop, Angel and I chose to stay longer and explored around while Rommel and Jan ascend ahead. It felt so liberating just swimming and floating amongst underwater life – the little mermaid in me is rejoicing!

We cruised back to town feeling so pleased of our escape from the upland J. As we got back at the resort, we arranged for the morrow’s hopping but after we canvassed outside. J It was so tiring and as planned we headed for Maquinit Hot Springs after haggling for the round trip fare. It was so relaxing but had to leave sooner as we were famished already.

To reward ourselves for a full day, we had dinner at the resort with their special menu for the day – mackerel in tartar sauce and crème caramel for dessert – yum! But I guess I was too exhausted because after I laid my back on the bed I drift off to sleep… Zzzzzzzzzzzz….

Hopping Around

We attended mass the next morning at the St. Augustine Church and waited almost 9am for our boat, Rommel happened to be our host for the day – the weather is so perfect! We had our first stop at Twin Lagoon to catch up with low tide, we remembered Sohoton as we got to the area – rock islets covered with vegetations. When I first came here, I was so fascinated with the inner lagoon. The water level was just on the opening so we need to skin dive to go the other side but my snorkel was kaput. We swam up in the inner lagoon but didn’t stay much long.

We went next to Banol Beach – a beautiful white sand beach, we stayed longer here. The immaculate white sands look so peaceful and idyllic and there were no people when we got there. We leisurely took our lunch at the beach hut, Rommel entertained us with his stories. J It felt so luxurious I felt so spoiled! I keep looking up the limestone cliffs as we dipped in the turquoise waters…

skin diving!
Another highlight was our next stop at Skeleton Wreck, I felt that familiar rush to skin dive the wreck. Angel and I geared up for our exploratory skin diving, the visibility was just too good. We splashed unto the water, swimming and diving like kids. We took turns as we need to handle the cam steady enough for the photos. J

We chose Siete Pecados as our last site, we wanted to see again the rich marine life in the sanctuary. But our spot was not good enough, instead of the colorful corals I saw rubbles and dead corals. But large banded angelfish came near our boat with other juveniles. They were so friendly it came near my hand perhaps looking fro food. We played with the angelfish for awhile and swam coyly near the boat, Angel practicing to swim properly. J Finally, we cruised back to the resort to wind up our leisure for the day.

We bought wreck stickers, have our logbooks stamped at the diveshop and updated our logbooks. We had our dinner again at the resort, every end of the day we’re so famished but sorry the food wasn’t yummy enough for our taste – Angel and I agreed on that, we remembered our faves at Margie’s and Bigby’s! After packing up, Angel bid bye and left to catch with his boat back home….

Towards Home Again

Wake up earlier the next morning for final packing up, had my breakfast about 7am. I need to be ready as the van will leave for the airport at 8am. I turned over my key and was thankful that the driver helped me with my gear bag to the van – truly there are angels around me. I checked in and got the chance to buy something for pasalubong at the shop, I even got the chance to have some photos at the airport.

The plane was on time and the trip was smooth except for some turbulence when we got near the metro but I enjoyed airpockets now. We arrived on time, got a yellow taxi for Terminal 2 and rushed to check in for my flight back home. Thankfully I didn’t see anybody I knew at the airport, at least I don’t need to talk much. J Waiting for our boarding I took something for lunch – expensive but I don’t have the time to get down into the café.

Sitting on the plane on my way home, I can’t help praising God for his goodness – again He arranged all things perfectly, always. Smiling how I am enriched with the pleasure of experiencing again nature’s wonders and sharing with my buddy Angel. I’m looking forward for our next trip 🙂 . We touched down smoothly at CdO airport, arrived home perfectly sane and bracing myself for full days at work ahead. The little mermaid in me lurking back in my innermost self….