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.

IMG_2133.JPG

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.

Philippines, The Middle

Thresher Cove Resort

Thresher Cove Resort

The morning of the 20th Mamie and I awoke to commence our dive trip in Malapascua.  At reception we found out our trip to Gatos island was cancelled that day due to weather.  We decided to dive the house reef they were going to instead and enjoyed seeing lots of different types of shrimps, a big mantis shrimp, five different seahorses, pipefish, horned filefish, flounder, lion fish, and a sea moth!!! I saw so many new things on this first dive I was already in love with what the Philippines had to offer. 

Scuba Mamie

Scuba Mamie

That afternoon we arrived back at the resort around two in the afternoon where we chilled and ate at the resorts restaurant.  Later, we went to explore the town/island.  I found that with the small and winding roads it was very easy to get lost.  However, the island is small enough that after a few wrong turns the pathways started to look a little familiar.  This island was different for me.  The interior is carved out by very small narrow mostly dirt roads, there were only motorbikes, no cars or trucks.  Everything wove around each other with no real rhyme or reason.  One moment you would be walking along a tall wall that bordered a resort and the next minute you would be looking into someones private yard or home.  Once we were on what I considered the main beach there were more resorts, restaurants and dive schools lining the beach all offering something a little different.  This was where we saw the most foreigner influence.  The menus offered Italian, Thai food or Western fare and there were almost always a few Filipino items as well.  After a fabulous pasta dinner including interesting and great cocktails we wove our way back to the resort to rest for our early morning dive.

Beautiful cocktails on the beach

Beautiful cocktails on the beach

The next morning we awoke at 4AM to go to Thresher Shoal where you can almost be guaranteed to see thresher sharks.  The dive consists of a long wall where the sharks come to “cleaning” stations in the morning.   We followed our dive guide Victor eagerly and although we weren’t able to sit along these roped areas and watch as the sharks went by we were greeted delightedly by one curious thresher coming right next to our group, and then another later on that we thought was soaring into a cleaning station but alas he kept swimming.  Even though our sitings were short-lived we were ecstatic and I managed to get a pretty good GoPro video of the first one cruising by.  

Thresher Shark!!!

Thresher Shark!!!

After our thresher dive we arrived back at the island where Mamie and I had a nice post dive breakfast.  We parted ways that day because the Gatos Island trip was back on and Mamie having seen the island diving previously, decided to rest for the afternoon.  Gatos Island was a glorious dive site filled with so many arrays of healthy corals and fish that I was constantly distracted.  I saw squids for the first time, I know this seems unfathomable but it’s true!  I saw my favorites, cuttlefish and varieties of nudibranchs.  I was most excited to see the largest banded sea snake I have ever seen.  Malapascua diving was setting a high bar for the rest of the trip.  

Banded Sea Snake, not the biggest one I’ve seen, but still big!

Banded Sea Snake, not the biggest one I’ve seen, but still big!

The next morning we were off early early to get the first “ferry” and then a bus from the port to Cebu City north bus terminal then a taxi to the south bus terminal, a bus/car ferry to Dumaguete, then a bus to the middle of no where, and a tricycle taxi to finish the journey to Liquid in Dauin.

Philippines, The Beginning, Part two

Malapascua Island

Malapascua Island

  As I waited in Cebu City for Mamie to show up I only did a little bit of exploring and a lot of reorganizing life.  This trip and the one to follow were fast and furious so this was my time to catch up on the computer among other things.

 

I managed to find a fantastic coffee shop, only steps from my apartment building, where I did some reading and writing.  This was at Coffee Bean $cent, I ordered a croissant and mint mocha.  I am a sucker for mint mochas, and theirs was exceptional. I haven’t been delighting in as many fancy coffees as of late.  Basically becoming obsessed with bulletproof coffee.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is coffee with butter and coconut oil.  It sounds awful, and I thought as much at first, but once blended in the blender it is all frothy and super delicious.  It also has all the healthy fats our body desires straight away in the morning and I think helps with my appetite all day.  I bring this up because having fancy coffees now with sugar and milk products really don’t make me feel well.  So this mint mocha had to be good to put up with the inevitable stomach ache later.

 

Once Mamie arrived in the city we had a cool little night out down the street at Cubana.  We shared a pizza and some beers and it was fun to know that the beer of choice in Philippines is San Miguel, which is one of my favorites.  The entertainment was not lacking and we had to sing along with the beautiful Filipino woman who was belting out some Alicia Keys songs.  Sadly, by about ten o clock we were knackered and headed to bed for our long journey north in the morning.

Sunset Malapascua

 Heading to Malapascua in the morning from Cebu City on a bus required us to be up and ready to go early. Thankfully, Mamie was still jet lagged and woke up ready to go.  We took a taxi to the North Bus Terminal and found a bus leaving for the Ferry Port, which is where we needed to be to catch the ferry to the island.  We loaded a big bus with some great seats covered in plastic….you can make your own assumptions here.  It was slow going.  The buses, from what I’ve experienced, rarely go direct.  You have many locals and travelers alike on the same bus routes and it made many many stops.  We made it to the ferry port in roughly five hours, with one or two pit stops for bathrooms and snacks.  The ferry ride was another hour ride and a whole frustrating mess of bartering and trying not to be swindled.  We made it to the new ferry port for the last ferry at 4:30 pm, this is where the Ceres bus dropped us off.  This cute older woman in a stand took 100 pesos for each person and gave us a ticket. After about five minutes with three of us waiting this guy said ‘we “needed” to pay 500 pesos each for the boat to go’.  I looked at him and asked ‘why?’  He said, ‘because there are only three of you’.  I said, ‘so, this is the last ferry doesn’t it go regardless’?  He said ‘well we could go now if we each paid 500 pesos’, the third traveler included a young Filipino girl.  So I asked the girl, ‘do we have to pay 500 pesos’?  She looked confused and looked at the guy like what’s going on.  They talked in Filipino and she started digging for money and looked at me again and I said ‘I’m not paying that’.  She put her money away and the guy said ‘we will wait longer’. A few more people show up. Then he asked for 100 pesos more from each of us.  He even looked at this older woman and said we all have to pay it.  Everyone coughed up 100 pesos more and we were off.  Now this isn’t a typical ferry, or at least the ferries I am used to in Thailand, which are huge and have rows of seats and TVs with crappy movies or music on them.  This ferry is a traditional Bangka, which is boat in Filipino and includes the main boat with the out rigging on the sides.  I was told this type of frame keeps the boat close to the surface to avoid hitting the bottom and reefs.  Anyway, it is small and we leave with about ten passengers.  As we approach Malapascua, after about twelve hours of travel, I am exhausted and relieved we made it.

On the ferry to Malapascua

On the ferry to Malapascua

 Once on the island it became apparent the only vehicles are motorbikes.  Which isn’t a new concept to me, however, my luggage was a rolling mass of scuba gear in a large Stahlsac suitcase.  So we bartered a 50 peso per person bike to our accommodation at Thresher Dive Cove.  I loaded the bike with my luggage between the driver and myself and realized half my ass was hanging off of the back.  Needless to say of all the bike rides I’ve been on as a passenger that was the scariest!! After about ten minutes of hugging my luggage and squeezing my butt cheeks on this bike we made it to the back of the resort.  It has a dirt parking lot and a bunch of shabby old shacks in front of a steep staircase.  We hauled ourselves up the staircase to the security guard booth and told them who we were and immediately were directed to reception.  It was now night on the island and it seemed very quiet but the ladies at the desk greeted us with warmth and asked us about our diving plans for the next day.  

Mango Daquiri at the restaurant at Thresher Cove Dive Resort

Mango Daquiri at the restaurant at Thresher Cove Dive Resort

 Mamie and I filled out paperwork, signed up for diving in the morning, and headed off to unload our luggage and finally have a meal for the day in the resort restaurant.  Prices were reasonable and the food was good. Exhausted, we retreated to our accommodation which was right on the beach and big enough for a somewhat oversize twin bed and our luggage. The bathroom was in a building just fifteen paces from our cabana. I was one of the first to enter this bathroom and to my surprise when I flipped on the light a giant spider scurried from the top of the door to behind the toilet. I screamed, loud! I tried to look for him and make noise to “flush” him out, haha, but alas I never saw him again. So I reluctantly and swiftly went to the bathroom and left in a hurry. I ran to the cabana and asked Mamie if she had heard me scream. Fortunately, she had not, my temporary freak out did not wake up the resort. After the adrenaline rush passed Mamie and I crashed on our tiny bed to rest for the next morning’s adventures.

Spider!!!!

Spider!!!!

 

 

Exciting Trips to Come

Red Sea coral reef fish

Red Sea coral reef fish

 I know I have not been blogging recently, but I have been putting a lot of energy into future dive trips. So many exciting things coming up and here is a brief blog post on where we are going and what we are doing.  Most of these trips are exploratory, if you’re interested in coming along please contact me.

 

The first place I am heading is to the Philippines this October.  It is just around the corner and I am so eager to gain a better understanding of the country and experience the incredible diving. 

Philippines

Philippines

 

Next up is Egypt.  This is a girl’s trip only, and is available to those of you beautiful babes who want to explore this country and underwater habitat.  The plan so far, is to do about a weeklong live aboard in the Red Sea followed by a week or more sightseeing on land.  The live aboard has not been booked but the hope is to have that done by January.  And the land tour may consist of us meandering around to all the pyramids and happening spots.  We may decide to do an organized tour but it would probably only take up a couple of days. This is to take place in May 2019.

Red Sea beach

Red Sea beach

 

Fall 2019 is proving to be full of new places.  Very loose planning has a possible visit to the Maldives before or after we do a week long live aboard in Chuuk or Truk Lagoon, Micronesia.  This live aboard trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Chuuk is known for being the largest graveyard of wrecks in the world.  For more information on Chuuk Lagoon click the button below.  

 

I hope a little spontaneity will prompt some unplanned stops but as far as the next year goes this is what is in the works.  If you are interested please let me know as soon as possible.  Some of these trips have already been booked and deposits paid. Space is limited.

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