A recurring passion.
Coming through customs and seeing the Philippines 14 day visa stamped in my passport always makes me smile. Time once again to indulge my passion scuba diving some of the finest reefs in the world.
I travel the world for business and pleasure, but only the Philippines holds me in her spell, drawing me back time and again. I come for the diving, but I’m rewarded with so much more. The little things impress me. A friendly taxi driver happy to chat about his family and giving the correct change; children showing respect to their elders with the traditional blessing of a hand touched to the forehead; or arriving during one of the many colorful fiestas and having a short glass of beer thrust into my hand by a stranger with cheers from the crowd shouting ‘Tagay’ as I join the fun.
The staff in my favourite café are so familiar and relaxed with my presence they perform dance practice when no other customers are dining, I cannot think of another country I’ve visited where this would happen.
But it’s the warmth of feeling from the crew on my regular dive boat which makes my trips special for me. I can name all the captains six children, I know who is dating who, upcoming birthdays, university graduation dates, the sad news of a death in the family, or the joyous news of a new born. For them this is everyday tsis-mis (gossip), but for me it’s a window into a fascinating culture a world away from my own, where people share freely the little they have and ask for nothing in return.
Returning from a dive safari to S.Leyte last December I was invited to join their Christmas party. Each crew member came onto the stage to showcase a talent they have. The cook duly sent on her children to gasps from the audience as they began to perform a fire dance, complete with spitting flames. Bernie the dive guides’ solo guitar rendition of Jingle Bells was much less shocking, though no less warmly received.
I hired a motorbike on one recent trip and visited the tarsier sanctuary on Bohol. As a threatened species the Philippines are working hard to preserve this wonderful and unique animal. On the same day while simply exploring at a leisurely pace I stumbled upon a genuine bee farm serving a tasty flower salad, a café bistro inside an old Spanish monastery, and a cock fighting arena where men go to watch their national sport.
Back under the water I’m spoiled for choice as a photographer. One site, Oslob on Cebu Island, has a resident group of whale sharks with sightings 99% guaranteed. I actually saw one instructor teaching a scuba class as two whale sharks swam overhead and no one looked up – now that’s when I know I’m diving in paradise!
I can vividly recall coming up from a dive at Balicasag Island just as the sun set. The brilliance of the colors reaching down to a flat sea, while a short distance away a large pod of pilot whales had gathered around our boat. Memories like these are special, and yet almost common when I dive in the Visayas.
Tambuli Plane Wreck
Location: Mactan Island, Cebu
There’s something special about seeing a plane under the waves. Lying at 18 meters this artificially sunken wreck is a relaxing dive that always rewards me with good photo opportunities. I believe it’s the only wreck of its type in the Visayas.
During a recent trip my DM proved the old adage that a good dive guide is worth their weight in salt and can make or break a dive. Bernie, from Club Vera, easily brought us to the wreck, spotted a pair of ghost pipefish on the way down and a giant frogfish coming back. The dive was so cool the wreck was almost a bonus.
Natampo Marine Sanctuary
This site has an almost unbelievable number of small reef fish. Damsel, basslet dottybacks and anthasis– more than anywhere else I’ve dived. I’ve spotted the resident Giant Barracuda each time I’ve dived there along with large schools of snapper, trevally, surgeon and sliver batfish.
I committed the divers worst sin there one time. Absorbed in my photography I allowed my air supply to run dangerously low. I spent the three minute safety stop sharing my buddies octopus, but still managed to take a few photo’s as we glided over uncountable fish below.
Between Balicasag & Pamilacan
I was surprised the first time I came here as there is no island. Despite it’s name it’s actually a shoal down at 20 meters best found by locating the patch of open sea populated with little fishing boats.
Some of my strongest dive memories are here. The seabed is alive with black & white banded sea crates. It’s no exaggeration I counted over 40, all in various states of activity. It’s a unique and thrilling experience to look across to your dive buddy and see him entwined in multiple snakes in some kind of underwater dance.
Olango Island, Cebu
This dive never disappoints, and always draws me back due to it’s abundant marine life. The remains of a fishing schooner lie close to the lip of the drop-off down at 16 meters and this is where I find the highest concentration of marine life.
But It’s the many different and rewarding ways to dive this site I love so much. Staying on the shallow slope extends my air supply and gives the best chance of spotting the resident school of Jacks and the many Oriental Sweetlips. Dropping down the wall I’ve spotted dog tooth tuna, wahoo, and even a devil ray one time. There’s a swim-through at 22 meters which is fun, and the many snorkelers this site attracts look comical when viewed from below in their orange life vests and thrashing legs.
But be warned, one time when photographing the tombstone of a missing diver here my guide was bitten by a very angry triggerfish, almost as if he were protecting the grave!
I’ve never found this site in any dive books but a few local operators have the gps coordinates. The cave is below 30 meters so a nitrox blend of 30% is ideal for extending my time here. It’s really a cavern and my favourite part of this dive is rising up to the roof and looking down on the outside light streaming in. This illuminates the confused fish swimming upside down and strange rock formations casting their eerie shadows on the smooth black walls.
Nalusuan Marine Sanctuary
Every time I’ve dived here I’ve always seen at least a dozen Blue Spotted Stingrays. They hang around on the rubble slope remaining hidden until, believing they’ve been see, bolt out from under the sand, swim 10 meters only to settle once more. This is the only place in the Visayas where such a large population can be found.
What’s nice about this site is the way it’s naturally divided into two distinct areas. When the current isn’t running I like to break the site into two separate, very different and interesting dives. The 1st dive is to enjoy swimming with the rays on the slope. The 2nd dive begins where the slope gives way to a wall. A mermaid at 12 meters marks the start and features large, fully mature coral / marble groupers (know locally as Lapu-Lapu in honor of the man believed responsible for the sleighing of the famous Spanish explorer Magellan).