Philippines, The End

Nudibranchs making love

Nudibranchs making love


Mamie and I spent one day diving in Panglao, which is an island connected by two bridges to the larger island of Bohol.  It was a fabulous and serene adventure.  We were joined and led through the dives by her good friend, Henning, who has lived in Philippines on and off for about five years now.  We dove with the company Valm, a shop that two of Mamie’s other friends Ned and John operate.

Mamie and Henning

Both dives were wall, drift dives, called Black Forest and Divers Heaven.  For those of you who don’t know what that means, we descended down a wall of corals that are vertical from the surface.  If you followed them all the way down you would be very deep underwater.  A drift dive means that there is a current along this wall but instead of fighting it, you actually use the current to drift along like a leaf floating on a breeze as it takes you by extraordinary sites.  

There were so many corals and fish to see that at times the lazy drift just wasn’t slow enough to really gaze at all the miraculous intricacies of each species.  So many colors and textures danced by us, filled with all sorts of fish life inside.  

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

The real gems were giant sea turtles just taking naps within the reef nearby, sometimes so camouflaged by the surrounding environment that you almost mistake them for rocks.  Their giant shells and heads were so amazing to see up close and personal.  I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing a turtle lazily swim by me, just as curious with me as I am with them.  

Turtle Panglao

Turtle Panglao

After two glorious dives we were back aboard the boat and headed to shore.  I was excitedly packing my equipment, knowing that this trip was just the beginning of my future Philippines dive adventures.  That night and the next day were spent amongst friends whom I had just met but felt like I had known forever.  We shared a night at Bamboo surrounded by longtime locals Trevor and Reefie listening to some classic rock songs and enjoying San Miguel beer.  It was funny and beautiful and I was happy to be a part of it.

Liquors from around the world

Liquors from around the world

The next day we spent time sampling different liquors….because how in the world can you not have Glayva, from Scotland, in the Philippines.  I about fell off my barstool when I saw the bottle of Glayva on the shelf at this bar/restaurant/resort called Ken’s place in the middle of Philippines, which was a liquor introduced to me by friends in Scotland.  What a large, yet tiny world we live in.  Anyways, I had to have some really foreign liquors and local beers on my last day in the Philippines.  Mamie and I even enjoyed a last meal of Italian food at her favorite restaurant Giuseppe’s before we capped the evening with some games of pool.

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The next day I set out early to gather all of my equipment, dry it, and do my daily workout before I boarded my last tricycle taxi of the trip to Taglabaran where I caught a flight to Manila.  I went to every terminal before I found the United counter.  Manila airport is not easy to navigate, especially since I’m used to Bangkok which is very well organized.  Once I found my airline and checked in for my flight I headed to the lounge to enjoy some food and drink before my first flight to Guam.

All of my flights back to the United States were smooth and although I had an extra stop, four total, I was comfortable and managed to get some sleep.  I had a whole half day in Jackson of which I used to vote in the primary election and get all of my errands ran before a good night of sleep and flight the next day, you heard that right 18 hour turnaround.

In all, my trip to the Philippines was amazing.  The infrastructure for tourism has a ways to go but the dive community and dive shops were prepared and helpful with all the details.  I would definitely plan for more time to get to each location, dive, and have time to relax.  With such a long flight to and from the Philippines, you really need about three weeks.  Unless you plan to stay and explore just one place.  The map is deceiving when it comes to planning several locations.  We took buses between all the different places to avoid flying and possible decompression sickness.  But what looked close on the map, or what looked like it should take just a few hours, really took a long time by bus.  So just keep in mind for your next Philippines vacation that depending on the time you have to explore, less is more.  We really enjoyed each spot and could have spent at least a week at each one.

June 2017 Diving Catalina Island, CA

Visiting California was the last stop on my whirlwind spring adventures.  After being in Jackson for two days and driving to Big Sky for a few days I was on a flight out of Bozeman, MT. 

Flying into Palm Springs airport and spending the next few days catching up with my friend was amazing.  The best day of my trip to California was diving near the northeast coast of Catalina Island.  

We left Palm Springs at about 3:00 AM and arrived at the pier in San Pedro around 6:30 AM.  Once on The Magician, we readied our equipment and signed all the legal forms, standard boat procedures.  The boat ride to Catalina Island was about two hours, one of which I tried unsuccessfully to nap.  The other hour was spent meeting new people and eating a delicious feast for breakfast. 

As we moored up to the first dive site everyone was putting on his or her gear.  I myself was wearing a Sharkskin Climate Control Top and Sharkskin Paddling Pants underneath a 7mm Henderson wetsuit.  I had to adjust my weight belt for all the extra neoprene.  In addition to the added exposure suit, I was trying out a new Zeagle Zena BCD.  Upon entry, I realized just how much colder the water was, 17C or 63F, from my usual tropical water diving, 28C or 82F. 

The step off of the boat caused my body to go into a natural reaction of hyperventilation.  I quickly opened my wetsuit to let in more chilly water to allow the neoprene to do its job and warm the waters inside the suit.  As I waited for everyone to enter the water I tried unsuccessfully to slow my breath.  As the group was descending I was not only fighting hyperventilation but a cold headache too.  Ouch!!  This new environment and new equipment quickly became a hindrance.  I had to slow my decent from the groups, concentrate on slowing my breathing and focus on the other divers instead of the icy molecules of my brain.  It was 13C or 55F at the bottom of our descent.  I know most scuba instructors will probably never admit difficult situations but I have to say that it happens to all levels of divers.  Engaging a normal breathing pattern calmed me and helped my body relax in the frigid water, which in turn acclimated a short while later and my frozen headache subsided.  I didn’t think California diving would be a challenge to me.  I know now to spend a few extra minutes at the surface to acclimate before I descend.  I also recognize for myself, the need of a hood when diving anything below 20C or 68F.   

Now, once I was breathing naturally and my popsicle head thawed, this beautiful kelp world opened up to me.  According to local divers on the boat, this is the first year in a long time the kelp has been abundant here.  The cause of the copious amounts of kelp is that the water temperatures had stayed cooler which allowed for them to thrive.  Kelp in all its glory is like this fantasy maze that you have to slowly and carefully pick your way through.  My fin strap snagged a few times but it was easy to stop and untangle especially with a helpful dive buddy.  I was happy to see such a picturesque ecosystem and I was able to appreciate a few new sea creatures to add to my list.  

There was a bat ray that was so cute because his face looks like he is smiling at you.  He wasn't very interested in us though and swam off after just a minute or two.  There were tons of Garibaldi, these are part of the damselfish family and are bright orange in color.  On our ride back to the California coast we spotted and spent a few moments with an Elephant Seal, they can reach up to 3 or 4,000 kilograms, that’s up to 8,800 pounds!  His nose was like a short version of an elephant's.  I later read his short trunk is used for very loud roaring noises, and the chambers inside act similar to a rebreather, to collect moisture from exhalations.  Both of these functions are important during the mating season.  It was so cool to see something so different.  I loved California diving and next time I will be better prepared.

The days following diving were spent mostly around a pool and celebrating yet another birthday!  I left my friend and our pool days quite sadly.  I returned to Bozeman then Big Sky for just a night and said farewell to everyone on my way back to Jackson Wyoming to start the summer season.

 

Girabaldi Damselfish
Kelp, Girabaldi, Diver
Kelp Forest