The end of the Asia trip...
02.06.2010 - 21.06.2010
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On the last entry Jay and I were running an internet cafe and a little store in Oslob, Cebu. After five days of having a “profound Philippine experience” the time had come to do something more adventurous. Our friend gave us a lift to the next destination where we would finally get wet to enjoy the marine life. The three-hour truck-bed ride rewarded us with beautiful blue, turquoise and green scenery under the shiny sun…
Moalboal a low-key backpacker/diver enclave located on the Southwest Coast of Cebu Island awaited us. Fortunately, the touristy season had not yet begun so we practically had the place for ourselves. The best to do in this little town is, of course, the diving. But even If you are not a diver, there are excellent snorkeling opportunities –very accessible and free of charge- in addition to the gorgeous sunsets, laid-back atmosphere and friendliness of the Philippine people.
Many divers say that you either love or hate night dives. To my surprise, I loved it! Even if you have dived in a site many times it looks like a totally different place at night. As one floats in darkness the attention focuses on whatever the flashlight is pointing to. This sort of forces the diver to observe things in more detail making the most ordinary creatures appear very special. The nocturnal marine life one would normally see are crabs, shrimps, snakes and seldom fish -asleep. Our guide even caressed the forehead of a huge porcupine puffer fish: “you can only do that during a night dive,” he said smiling.
Pescador Island, near Moalboal, offers the most interesting diving in the area. Upon arrival we were welcomed by a huge school of sardines that jumped as though they were trying to salute us or maybe just to catch a glimpse of the surface world. Underwater, the billions of fish formed dark clouds that evolved into twisters extending endlessly into the deep. As we got closer the little silver fish looked as though they were actors in a strobe light sequence. It was just surreal!
Malapascua is an island located North of Cebu and has a well deserved reputation for hosting a rich and diverse underwater wildlife, and is famous for Thresher Sharks sightings. This kind of shark has the tale as long as its body and it likes to be at 25 meters -or deeper- from the surface. In order to see it divers have to be on-site right before dawn. Our guide was so experienced that he even knew how to get the shark’s attention, just by rubbing one’s fingers. The shark responded to our call swimming around in circles bringing the beast to just a couple of meters from us (YIKES!). At that moment our excitement turned into fear due to the “unusual” proximity of the beautiful, yet wild, fish.
Although the spot where we waited “perched” at the bottom for the sharks to appear didn’t have many fish or coral, later in the afternoon at the very same site a massive Manta Ray was swimming around as if it were a plane (that big) flying over the deep waters of the Visayan Sea. Sadly, we had already started our ascent when the gigantic creature –manta in Spanish is a sort of blanket- showed up, but we still got to see it, while we were envious of other divers -with better timing- who were able to admire it in all its splendor from the sea floor.
We dove a few more times in the surrounding sites, and this was more rewarding than anticipated. Gato Island is a tiny island with a cave underneath. It was so exciting to be inside the cave and see lots of crabs of different sizes, shapes and colors, banded snakes, and a big white-tip sharks going in circles agitated by our proximity. Around the Island a handful of large white-tips rested at the sea bottom while 5 full size Squids guarded a bunch white long (squid) eggs.
Another highlight of the area is the presence of numerous Mandarin fish. The best time to see them is right after Sunset when they mate. Despite the long wait, the ritual was worth every second!! It was amazing and romantic to see the couple -with a marvelous, trippy pattern of green, orange, red, and gold- shyly but harmoniously getting together and swimming upward as if they were holding hands (and doing other stuff) for a about a foot of distance from the coral and then suddenly separating to turn back to the coral.
Whale Sharks are the biggest fish in the world (don't forget, whales aren't fish) and Padre Burgos is "the place" to see them all year round. The town, located in the Southern most part of Leyte (another Visayan island) was a pleasant surprise. It was breezy and laid-back, the locals were genuinely friendly, and the scenery couldn't be better. You could practically step off of the porch of our bungalow and into the shallow and calm waters that offered good snorkeling opportunities. Fortunately –or unfortunately (still undecided)- the giant fish shows up almost everyday in Limasaya to be fed by local fishermen. So as long as we were swimming near the boat with the little man of the conical hat with the feed, it was possible to get close enough to touch; of course it's forbidden to touch. What a beauty! The immense, dotted body was intimidating, but the fact that they only eat plankton allayed the fears of the many excited snorkelers.
In Padre the only visitors are either a few avid divers or ex-pats (ex –patriots), older men who now are residing abroad mainly due to cheap cost of living and great availability of young Philippine "wives." As we sat in the waterfront at the Boulevard Pub, a group of ex-pats entertained us with their stories and opinions on the Philippine “way” (No comment on the ex-pats' controversial statements).
Our last few days in the Philippines were spent traveling back to meet a friend from Houston, Chris, who came to visit with us in Dumaguete, Negros Island. With him we ate good western food in the most expensive restaurants in town and went exploring the nearby Islands. Beautiful scenery as usual, it was exiting to share our experiences with a person whom we knew from home.
The most fun we had was in 45 mins-boat ride away Siquijor Island as we rented a tricycle, with no driver, and rode around without any clear destination. We will never forget the faces of the locals as they saw a gringo driving a taxi. We even gave a couple of free rides to the amused the surprised locals. Negros is another recommended place for underwater adventures. Apo Island, according to travel books, offers great diving opportunities. Yet by the time we went there we had already decided not to dive until Brazil.
The Philippines is the last Asian country we visited before returning to the U.S. The next and last entry of the first 2/3 of our trip will be about Hawai’i… I should be able to post it within a couple of days… until then!