Somewhere near Blue Corner off the waters of Palau, a creature gracefully glided its way towards us. It was my first encounter with rays and it was intoxicating. Stupefied, I watched its flat disk-shape body with its soaring wings fly towards us. It was identified as a Spotted Eagle Ray because it has white spots on its deep blue body. Their long rounded snout, almost like a pig’s snout, distinguishes it from other rays. The one encountered was quite big but it is said that a Spotted Eagle Ray can grow to nearly nine feet (3M) from wingtip to wingtip.
Rays are some the most fascinating creatures to soar through the world’s ocean and they are found worldwide in tropical waters, most commonly in shallow inshore waters, around reefs. To come across them in Palau is quite common, thanks to the island formation and currents. Made up of over 100 islands with low-lying oval islands ringed by barrier reefs, it is world renown for its marine bio-diversity. Outside of the pelagic (such as sharks and rays), the water is teeming with barracuda, jacks and tuna. Over 600 coral species smother the reefs overflowing with small fish. Definitely a must for every diver.
As a new diver in 2007, my trip to Palau was a series of firsts – it was my first time to dive outside of the Philippines, to drift in strong currents, to use a reef hook, to see big fishes like sharks and rays… And these firsts gave me the confidence underwater. But truth be known, that Spotted Eagle Ray made my Palau dive experience impossible to forget.
“Mag-dive ka na, nandito ka na rin, you should dive, you’re already here”. To be in Moalboal and not dive is indeed ridiculous. But because I was the only diver in the group, I didn’t plan to… until the divemaster convinced me, that is.
So we got up early the next day, sore from yesterday’s canyoning, and headed to this tiny island called Pescador. Among the many impressive dive spots in Moalboal, Pescador is described to be their “jewel”. My friends indulged and shared the cost of the banca (outrigger boat) with me. They went snorkeling while I explored the world under… ok, that doesn’t sound right but you know what I mean. 😉
Located in the Tañon Straits, a narrow stretch of sea between the southern end of Cebu and Negros Oriental. Considered “the most unique in the world” as it has the richest marine biodiversity in the coral triangle in the Philippines.
The island is essentially a wall dive made interesting with the overhangs, small caverns and holes in the reef wall. It was an easy dive with just the right currents. I was enjoying the drift, fascinated with all the marine life along the small caverns when divemaster taps me on the shoulder.
He pointed to my left and there, a short distance away, was a giant wall of fish, a silvery cloud of endless sardines against the blue backdrop of the deep, moving in one accord. I was awestruck. Never thought I’d ever get to see such a spectacle in our shores.
The first time I became aware of a sardine run was when a friend, years back, showed me an awesome video filmed in South Africa. Every year between the months of May and July, this famous shoal of sardines travel from their home in Agulhas banks and head north. Predators follow this migration making it the main attraction for divers, rivaling the great migration in the African savannah. This made it to my bucket list.
The tiny island off Moalboal has been host, for a few years now, to millions of sardines running the tropical waters but unlike the migration in South Africa; the sardines in our shores seemed to have made it its home (at least for now). This wonderful phenomenon is seen all year round. Predators seen in these side are mostly Threshers, White Tips and Whale Sharks. Unfortunately, there were no predators in sight in this dive. We were flying out the next day and couldn’t go below 40 ft. Although not as spectacular as the South African video, it was an awesome experience nevertheless.
Observing from the surface, the snorkelers had their share of awesomeness from a different perspective. They had to abort mid-stream though as the water got choppy, making it difficult to continue. “Super bitin, too short” they said.
On our way back to the resort, the choppy waters were too big for our small boat, breaking an outrigger.
We were dropped off somewhere along White Beach. Carrying our gears (except the tanks), walked the rest of the way back to the resort. Awesome day.
Clockwise: Me all set to go, MV Koon, a friend about to do the giant stride.
I could hear someone enthusiastically banging his tank and I instantly knew there was something major up ahead. I examined my surroundings and there it was, gracefully gliding through the great expanse of the sea, coming toward our direction. Yes, this was what we came here for. And suddenly the exhaustion vanished. A sense of calm never fails to envelop me whenever I encounter this gentle giant gliding through, perhaps enjoying the attention too.
Strong currents hit us when we reached Ko Bon Pinnacle from the blue. It pays to be fit because just reaching the Pinnacle is a work-out all its own. This near vertical slope is where manta rays are frequently spotted playing. There are a couple of cleaning stations on the reef and manta sightings are almost guaranteed.
This occurrence will continue until the next day, in different dive sites, mostly in the northern part of Similan. It was awesome and is always a privilege being with them in their domain.
The Similan Islands was declared a national park in 1982 and is rated top ten among the world’s dive destinations. The impressive boulder formation also continues below the surface with diverse landscapes of canyons, boulders, coral gardens, caves and walls. It is also home to an amazing variety of marine life.
The southern coast consists of those smaller islands (described on previous posts) that are numbered from one through nine and is balanced by the larger northern islands of Ko Bon for its beautiful piece of landscape, Ko Tachai with her attractive sandy beach above and plateaus beneath with probably the most colorful coral gardens in the park. Richelieu, the 3rd island of the south was also a highlight of our dive trip.
A relatively small dive site and a bit too crowded with divers all vying to see the huge extent of marine life in the area. Whale Sharks are usually sighted during the months of April and May but for some reason, they elude me once more. And so my pursuit of that elusive butandings continues.
Here’s some underwater snapshots to take pleasure in:
The tide was getting high and the swell stronger. As we were wading to the shore, I got caught in one big swell and almost lost my camera to it. 😮 Whew! Gotta get that underwater casing soon.
Climbing those boulders would have been easy if I had worn my aqua socks, but instead I wore slippers and it keeps slipping off my feet so I went barefoot.
Chris, our divemaster went barefoot — he seemed fine!
Thought it would be a walk in the park but the boulders were rough (at least to my delicate soles :-)) and hot from the sun. I felt like I was walking on hot coals. Seriously. The soles of my feet hurt for 2 days, I think I got a 1st degree burn from it. 😯 It was all worth it though.
The gorgeousness of the entire island made it seemed all right.
A word of caution: it can get a bit unnerving once you reach the top especially if you have a fear of heights like moi! I made sure I stayed out of the edge… unlike my two friends here:
I tell you, it really is best to stay away from the edge! 😛
It looked inviting from our dive boat, the wonderful granite rock formation intrigued us no end. It was a no-brainer, we had to take time off from our dive and head to this bay called island No. 8, also known as Donald Duck Bay, The Boulders and Shoe Bay (Ao Guerk in Thai).
All describing this prominent large boulder that seemingly stands upside down unsteadily balancing on its tip. It could resemble the cartoon character or a boot, depending on which angle you see it from. Our angle resembles neither – so I call it “The Boulders”. Going back to our dive boat though, we caught a glimpse of Donald but the water was splashing so much, I dared not take out my camera or I’d surely lose it this time. 😕
It is said that the rocks were formed around 65 million years ago from hot magma and polished to its actual shape today by the weather and the sea.
The picturesque bay is where the National Park office is located and is a favorite anchorage of the live-aboards. And why not?
Call us crazy but at the height of Bangkok’s uprising, we were on the plane to Phuket, via Singapore of course. We were to embark on a 4 -day dive safari.
Located along the coastline of the Andaman Seas and the Indian Ocean, Koh Similan or the Similan Islands comprises of 9 granite island covered in tropical jungle and is best known for its wonders beneath its clear aquamarine waters.
The Similans is located about 100 kilometers northwest of Phuket International Airport.
It is more than an hour drive to Thap Lamu Port where we boarded the MV Koon, our home for the next 4 days.
Briefing before a dive with divemaster Chris
As it takes about 3.5 hours to get to the Similans, most dive trips are by liveaboard if one wants to fully explore the dive sites. There are hydrofoils, however, being offered from Phuket for a 2-dive day trip.
We left Thap Lamu Port just before sundown and our journey started with a bang (literally).
Thais, being Buddhists, always light a few firecrackers, I suppose, to drive away bad spirits and be blessed with a safe journey.
And blessed we were, with a beautiful sunset which will be a daily happening for the next 3 nights.
Sunrise from 2 different mornings
Not only were sunsets spectacular, the sunrises were dazzling too.
We also had a regular visitor that came to play!
MV Koon is operated by Flying FishDiving Evolution and fits 16 guests. Aside from a couple of foreigners (1 American and the other Spanish), we practically had the boat to ourselves.
The cabins, albeit tiny were comfortable, making good use of space. Toilets and showers, although shared, were clean and not too cramp.
I like it that the dining area was al fresco. We spent most of our hours on board here. My only complaint was the food.
Fruits all day long! 😀
It was pretty good but I would have preferred more authentic Thai cuisine. We (at least those of us who could take hot & spicy) almost always end up sharing the crew’s food. Heehee! 😀
A typical day
Eat. Dive. Sleep. That was pretty much what we did aboard the MV Koon. It was a good life on board the MV Koon. Our home while in the Andaman Seas.
Up next… exploring the beautiful Island # 8 also called Donald Duck Bay. Stay tuned.
Let’s take a break from Alaska and allow me to introduce you to the center of the center of Marine Biodiversity – yes you read right. It’s a place with the greatest concentration of marine species in the Indo-Malay-Philippine Archipelago, Verde Island Passage (also known as VIP). In 2006, the Philippines was declared to be in the center of marine biodiversity in the world and VIP as the “center of the center”.
Having heard this, it had been my desire (and a thrill when it finally happened) to explore the world where sea turtles, giant groupers, whale sharks, marine mammals as well as giant clams abound not to mention coral reef formations that hosts 60% of the world’s tropical fishes.
Situated between Luzon and Mindoro, the 1.14 hectares marine area is home to numerous businesses and has great potential for eco-tourism development.
Must be one of the oldest resort in Galera
Known for its beautiful beach and dive sites and a popular destination among local and foreign dive tourists. Numerous resorts lining the coastline of Batangas Province threatens its underwater treasures from coastal infrastructure development, pollution and destructive fishing.
Fishing, being one of the major activities of coastal communities in the VIP, has been recently held at bay. Soon after its Smithsonian declaration, President Arroyo declared it a marine sanctuary and a national protected area. 🙂
Located not too far from Puerto Galera, we rode a basnig from the Anilao Pier which took us to Sandbar Beach Club in Puerto Galera which became our base and home for the night.
Not exactly a dive resort, we had to gear up in the garden.
The dive boat ready for us on an early morning dive.
Some of the dive sites explored during our 2-day dive:
Verde Island Wall (Agapito Island)
By far the most well known and interesting site in Verde Island. Also called Agapito Island from the rocks sticking out of the sea. The wall descends almost vertically to unfathomable depths. It boasts of a submerged mountain with a pinnacle that drops off to 100m or 330ft. It is home to eels, nudibranchs, surgeon fishes, fusiliers, batfishes, jacks, giant gorgonian fans and garden of corals.
Giant gorgonian fan
An old Vietnamese fishing boat sunk off the front of Sabtang beach sits upright in 18M on a sandy floor.
A mooring line is attached to the bow of the wreck, which makes it easy to descent or do safety stops with.
Batfish and me
A resident school of bat friendly batfish and large surgeon fish make this a popular dive spot. Surrounded by sand, the wreck has attracted many eels, damsels, and trumpets.
A Peacock Flounder
A sea of starfish
A giant jack — we saw a school from the same dive
Arguably Galera’s best dive site, a high voltage drift dive through deep canyons alive with immense school of sweetlips, barracudas, groupers, snappers, trevalies, tunas and jacks.
A relatively quick descent is recommended as one enters the water. A challenge for those not use to strong currents at depth. Rewarding nevertheless.
Colorful and diverse, it brings together unique corals, fishes, occasional white tip sharks and plenty of micro marine life.
Over too soon but it was a great weekend adventure. Happy to be ticking this off my “must see” list.
Explore more worlds in My World. To know more about Verde Island, click here.
Credits: Underwater photos by R. Formoso and A. Vidad.
Sandbar Boquete Beach Club
Boquete Island, Sto Niño,
Pueto Galera, Oriental Mindoro
Contact details: 09156518415
Each day we’d set out to search for hammerheads. They were the reason we spent 5 days in Layang Layang, off the coast of Sabah, Malaysia where hammerheads (schools of them) supposedly swim this part of the ocean from February to May.
They were however seemingly elusive and hard to find. Heard that the last sighting was almost 2 weeks prior to our arrival. Have we caught the tail end of the season? Perhaps. Hammerhead sightings have been dwindling every year, according to our dive masters and they believe that it is because of 2 things, global warming and lack of conservation efforts. The hammerheads like the cold and as the water temperature rises, they go deeper. Another very serious issue is conservation; most of the sharks (hammerheads included) are targeted (read: killed) for their fins to use as ingredient for the popular Shark Fin’s soup, a delicacy that is served in many Chinese restaurants all over the world.
taken at the KK airport – no wonder we can’t find ’em!!
This cruel “finning” is the cause for the declining population. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says 100 million sharks, skates and rays are killed every year. The cruel finning refers to the practice of cutting off fins only and discarding the body. When thrown back into the sea, they either bleed to death or drown as sharks need their fins to swim and they need to go forward to get oxygen.
A brief sighting was already a cause for celebration and a right to brag. We saw a silhouette of ONE. That didn’t count (at first); we were expecting schools in clear water, not a shadow of it. In the end, it mattered that we at least saw ONE! Others were completely deprived of a sighting. 4 days diving in Layang Layang is equal to 12 dives, mostly out in the blue. Quite frustrating, if you ask me.
We waited patiently and were hopeful till the very end that maybe, just maybe our luck would change… it didn’t. A school of Devil Rays highlights this trip with no pix to boast, I’m afraid. So maybe, this too does not count, eh?
But basking in the nightly sunsets as glorious as these,
watching these dolphins, tons of them, swimming along our boat’s bow,
and viewing these migratory birds finding refuge at a bird island sanctuary off the shores of Layang Layang…
these certainly made up for the trip sans the hammerheads. Yes.. it certainly did!
This is a big part of my world, our world. We’ve only got one, so let’s do our share in keeping it alive and healthy. To explore more of our amazing world, hop on to That’s My World.
If you relish the sand and the sea without the noise and the socials of Boracay, Sipalay is for you. Touted as the Jewel of the Sugar Island, Sipalay is actually Negros’ best-kept summer destination.
The people from Western Visayas almost always speak highly of the white sand beaches of this seaside town but when a friend (not from there and a foreigner to boot) raved about it, it was time to go. To satisfy our curiosity, what better time to explore this much talked about but (except for people from Bacolod and perhaps Dumaguete) hardly explored island? It was a long holiday, it was at the height of summer and we were all in need of a break from the urban jungle.
After sweating it out at the foothills of Kanlaon (some even got to the top) and after stuffing ourselves with not only the goodies but also of the cultural schtuff, it was time to chill. The drive to Sipalay took between 3-4 hours, and it builds up to a more scenic drive as the town nears.
I had no expectations really but Nataasan Resort was pretty charming. It was the only one perched up on a cliff without any beach to boast. To get to the beach, one must climb down these stairs
but the view, the view makes going up and down a non issue.
My brother’s family, on the other hand, stayed at Artistic Diving so we can use their dive facilities and where there’s a pool for the kids.
With a lot of dive resorts scattered around the island, we figured that diving must be a big thing here and it was… in a macro kind a way. There were no pelagics but with a good dive master (to spot), there were some never seen before stuff and without a camera, you’ll just have to take my word for it. There was one really huge cuttlefish, some seahorses, and some really strange but fascinating stuff down there. And the corals were just amazing, sadly though we saw huge amounts of Crown Of Thorns (COTS). 😦
Snorkeling, I heard was a bit disappointing for the discriminating. Some enjoyed it though, especially the kids. There are 2 stretches of beach, Sugar (or Langub in their native tougue) Beach, known for its sugary fine beach and Punta Ballo (where we stayed) has at least a kilometer of stretched white sandy (also fine) beach, both supposedly boasts of good snorkeling.
The 3 days that we were there got us to explore some attractions such as Tinagong Dagat, a hidden sea sprinkled with a dozen islets covered with lush vegetation.
They said it was near Sugar Beach but the banca (boat) we took was not big enough (or so we thought and felt) to fight the swells of the ocean. It was one scary ride and coming from some of us who had experienced a lot of scary stuff, it was scary! I guess, it was scarier because we had 2 kids, ages 4 and 8 with us. And so it was the longest short ride we ever had! 😯
Quite disappointing was Campomanes Bay especially after a nice memory of it some 7 years ago when we visited from Danjugan Island. It was noted to be an excellent spot for snorkeling and diving but again from the discriminating bunch, it was middle of the road.
The best of this piece of heaven, in my opinion, are the incredible sunsets (and the sunrise caught one early morning before our dive).
The sunset for me made the whole Sipalay trip worthwhile.
Many including this set of foreigners took pleasure in just enjoying the sunset.
And during this time in Punta Ballo, the beach was brimming with activities… mostly of children playing.
Sunsets and children playing make for beautiful shots.
As I said, if you are looking for a place to party, Sipalay is not for you. It’s a remote seaside town surrounded by spectacular white sand beaches, secluded coves, scattered islets, dive reefs and waters teeming with unique marine life. A perfect place to unwind and recharge.
For a glimpse of other spectacular worlds, click here.
Credits: Digital Couture Chipwglit Alphas, KPertiet Vintage text paper.
It’s summertime… yes it’s time to go diving again… and yes, that’s Nemo!
Nemo in the real (sea) world is called a clownfish. They are a type of fish that lives in saltwater habitats. It is also called an Anemone fish. That bed of soft tentacles that sort of make up their home is called a Sea Anemone. Clownfish live in a symbiotic relationship with certain sea anemones. This means they benefit from living with the sea anemone, and the sea anemone benefits from the presence of the clownfish. In the ocean, the clownfish are protected from predator fish by the stinging tentacles of the anemone, while the anemone receives protection from polyp-eating fish, which the clownfish chases away.
Clownfish have a few ocean predators, but their greatest threat is humans. People who catch clownfish and keep them as pets in aquariums are making a mistake. There are only ten out of more than one thousand types of anemone that are able to host these fish. Many people put the fish in a tank with the wrong anemone. In captivity, the clownfish can live from 3 to 5 years. In the wild, they live 6 to 10 years.
Clown fish live in sheltered reefs or in shallow lagoons, usually in pairs. They live in warmer waters of the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean including the Philippines where this shot was taken, specifically in Anilao, Batangas.
Anilao, just 3-4 hours from Manila is a popular dive spot known worldwide. The waters abound in marine life, corals and amazing diversity of fishes. Because of its proximity, it has become one of my favorite weekend getaway.
I hope you had as great a weekend as I had! Have a splendid week ahead! 🙂
I am blessed. Blessed to be able to explore the world, albeit not as extensive as I want to but I’ve had some fair share of adventure and fun last year. So I’m not complaining. Last year was a good mix of local and international travels, small and big trips. Rounding them up, there were highs and lows, great satisfactions and some disappointments. Here’s a run down of my best and not so best experiences of 2008.
Donsol – in pursuit of the elusive whale sharks (Feb)
We were ready to jump anytime but the whale sharks were scarce. There were way too many boats, way too disorganized and so we caught a glimpse of its… tail. Oh well… this calls for another trip sometime in the future.
One Miserable Climb
Mt. Pulag – rained out! (Feb)
We started the trek with just overcast clouds, then it drizzled and when we reached the campsite, it poured. It let up a bit just so we can go to the loo and cook our dinner. Then it started again. Rained the whole night and the whole day, next day. Needless to say, the summit was foggy and really, really cold! No sunrise, just slippery, flooded trails. Good thing this was not my first time here and I’ve seen a glorious sunrise in 2002. But we still had fun.
My Favorite Asian Destination (thus far)
Luang Prabang, Laos (Mar)
The jewel of Indochina and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surrounded by mountains at the junction of the Mekong and its tributary, the Khan River, Luang Prabang to me is a city where time stood still.
It was a wonderful 5 days of various adventures. One day was spent trekking to the Kwang Si falls, another learning to cook Lao dishes. There were a lot of walking, eating (Lao and French meals), sunset cocktails and we even had a taste of a traditional Khamu massage. It was fantastic.
A Delightful Road Trip
Viaje del Sol (Apr) – a blend of good food and the arts. From Kusina ni Salud (for dinner) to Ugu Bigyan (for lunch and his potteries) to Carlito’s (for coffee, mangoes and his sculptures) in one weekend resulting to another follow-up weekend. This time, we stayed in Casa San Pablo, checked out Kinabuhayan Café, and had a satisfying lunch at Sulyap Gallery Café, a restaurant cum antique gallery. There definitely will be a 3rd trip to this Viaje del Sol sometime in the future. Perhaps we’ll try a meal at Kinabuhayan Café, try that famous buko pie locals are raving about and do an overnight at Sitio de Amor.
Dolphins Galore at Puerto Bay (May)
Didn’t even know that they had a lot in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. There were tons of ’em. What we didn’t see in Donsol, these dolphins made up for. We didn’t even need a spotter as they were all over the place. Never saw so much in my life. Tons and tons of them. Hope to dive there someday.
A Junk Experience
Cruisin’ Halong Bay, Hanoi (Jul)
When in Hanoi, one must experience cruising along Halong Bay in a junk at least once. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the bay features calm water and thousands of limestone karsts and islets in various shapes and size. Something like Palawan.
Even if he wasn’t around, I was excited to be there. Totally am infatuated with this celebrity chef of Travel and Living’s World Asia Café series. And the food did not disappoint. Maybe because I’m so infatuated. Hee Hee! Expensive but superb. Sorry but no photos of the food and the place except from across the street. It was a treat from DBF to cap our Hanoi adventure and we agreed no cameras, besides the place was too dark to get even one decent photo.
Watching the traffic of Hanoi at the Old Quarter (Jul)
We spent hours atop a restaurant sipping beer, relaxing and watching the traffic below with amazement. The chaos of Vietnam traffic just amused us no end. Watch and be amused.
The Best Reunion Ever
A San Francisco get-together with my high school buddies (Aug)… some I haven’t seen in 26 years. It was a trip down memory lane but more importantly, it was literally a food trip as well. Our friend and classmate, JT, now a chef cooked a superb dinner for us! They’re actually planning another one this year… a US trip 2 years in a row is out of my budget if I want to explore other new places as well, so boohoo for me.
A Cove Truly Breathtaking
Anawangin Cove (Sep)
This could pass as my runner-up for the Most Miserable Climb too. I am a clumsy person and more often than not, I fall and hurt myself. So during the trek I was already asking “why do I do this to myself”? when I banged my knee in the course of what I thought was an easy trek. I’ve seen beautiful pixes, read and heard so much about this “not so secret” place and finally am hours away from it. Thrilled and excited as I started the 7.3 km trek to Anawangin Cove, I was 3rd to arrive at the saddle (which had an awesome view of the cove, by the way). Not bad, if I may brag… Many months of lifting, walking on a machine (that goes nowhere), puffing and pushing is finally paying off. THEN… without warning, I slipped and fell about 30 minutes through our descent, all because I was not paying attention to the trail. It was agony from then on. Let’s just say that I trudged downhill, passing rocky streams for another 2+ hours before I reached the camp… From 3rd to last! Thirsty, tired and in pain but dampen my spirits it did not as it was indeed so BREATHTAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL! Picture this, Agojo (imagine pine trees as it looked so much like it) forest on the beach with a meandering fresh water stream that flows out to the sea. And that is why I keep doing this to myself.
An Adrenalin-filled Birthday Weekend
Rafting the Chico (Oct)
Been doing this for almost a decade but never on my birthday. So that’s new. If you’ve never tried this, you should! You will experience one heck of a weekend, a totally worked out upper body, and the thrill of a lifetime. Contact Anton Carag of AEPI for bookings.
An Incredible Underwater Experience
Mantas and Sharks up close in Yap (Nov)
Amazing… is all I can say. An experience of a lifetime. Read more about it here.