Monday, April 11, 2011

22 Feb 2011 - Last day at Moalboal

Sadly it's our final day here in Moalboal. First thing I did when I wake up is to check my dive gear. Awesome! It's mostly dry except for the wetsuit and bootie which is still damp. Despite not having a dive today, we still got up pretty early. I guess I'm not a late sleeper. Woah, looks like the weather is turning a little nasty this morning looking at the sea when I step out from the room. The sea looks pretty choppy even from our resort where I saw a bangka boat bobbling up and down quite a bit when it went pass the shore just off the wall.

Its breakfast as usual and I've opt for yet another untried item. Bad mistake! I've had a vegetarian pita which was quite sizable. The pita bread itself was pretty okay but certainly not the fillings. To be fair, I generally doesn't like raw vegetables thus the raw tomatoes, onions, lettuce with yogurt (the sourish instead of sweeten kind) doesn't go to well with me. Phew, finally I finished it. 

The pita is larger than my face! (Photo courtesy of NE)

Surprisingly, the most active and adventurous among us turns out to be NE. She initially wanted to go over to the waterfall but time was a little too tight for that. But that didn't stop her from taking a motor trishaw ride out to white beach on her own, after an early morning massage. Apparently we found out later that her masseur also happens to be the one selling us my t-shirts. What diversification of skills they have. I wonder if any of the cook or baker also double up as masseur, working on the muscle just like they're tenderizing a piece of meat or kneading some dough? We also found out later that we could arrange for in house massage which VA and SC had in their room, for 300 peso each! If we knew that earlier, we would have done that at the end of each dive day to sooth our tired muscle after the torturous climb up the stairs.

Spa at Marcosas Cottage Resort (Photo courtesy of GT)
I and RL then went over to the spa in Marcosas Cottages Resort for a massage but the earlier slots have been taken so we settle for the following slots. Only on our way out did we realised that one of the slot was actually taken by GT. It must be good as she already had a session the day before. We pop in to Blue Abyss on our way back to the resort but it was quite quiet. I guess most of the folks are already out diving. Aw, I'm missing the dives already! As there's still some time, we went around with some souvenir t-shirt shopping which can be had for around 150-180 peso a piece.

Resting area for gearing up at Blue Abyss Dive Shop

Various rinse tanks at Blue Abyss Dive Shop

It wasn't too long before we return to the spa for our massage. While it didn't bring any relief to my sore knee, it was still quite soothing and relaxed. The only nit-pick will be the aroma oil (I had lemongrass) being too diluted that I can hardly smell it. Surprisingly when we got back to the resort, the rest are all gathered at the restaurant with their luggage already out by the front desk. The original plan was for us to check out at 2pm but apparently they need the rooms earlier for other guests. It's a quick dash to pack whatever remaining items into my huge duffel bag and off it goes to the front desk.

The whole gang then heads over to the other side of the beach for our lunch at Chilis Bar. It's our first time on this side of the beach during the day time and it's so much quieter than in the evening. Again, we shared a pizza, pasta and pancake among myself, GT and RL. Interestingly, the pizza was presented on some kind of weaved basket. The only awful item was the pancake, which was almost an inch thick in the middle. A friend who came to Moalboal 2 weeks earlier advise us against pancakes, which was pretty nice in the two earlier encounters. Perhaps this is the one he tried. While waiting for the food, we saw some divers heading out to dive. Perhaps due to the large number of dive centre, restaurant and resort in close proximity on this stretch of the beach, the divers seems to have to squeeze pass the huts and houses as they get into the water. Not a problem really but just seems to find it kind of weird and unglam. But it seems like they don't have a flight of stairs to fight with over here perhaps?

Heading over to the other side of the beach for lunch (Photo courtesy of GT)

The van is already waiting for us when we got back to the resort after lunch. Very quickly we load up the van and head for the airport. This was a bigger and newer van with much better seat, making it a more comfortable 3 hour ride than our earlier in bound journey. Surprisingly, the queue was moving very slowly at the check-in counter despite a rather empty flight where all of us and many other passengers can have an entire row of 3 seats to themselves. The counter staff was rather stringent in the weight of our check-in baggage. Fortunately my ticket was booked together with GT and RL and we barely made it within our 3 standard baggage plus one sports equipment upgrade limits. VA’s bag was exceeded by just 1-2 kg and she got to reshuffle her items out to her hand carry. That’s how strict they are on excess baggage so do be careful when flying Cebu Pacific.

With that comes the end of the trip. In retrospective, it was a wonderful trip at a reasonable price. In general, I don’t really like wall dives but the main draw of this place is the sardine bait balls which indeed was very nice. Except for Pescardo Island, the remaining dive sites are essentially lined up on a long stretch of wall just off the shore. The night dives here were awesome and were my favourite. Food is also nice and reasonably priced. The sardine balls have started appearing in just the last couple of years and who knows how much longer they’re going to be here. So do catch them before they decide to relocate someday.

21 Feb 2011 - Dive 12 - 13 at Dolphin House and Tongo Point

Dive 12 – Dolphin House

Dive: 94
Duration: 57 mins
Avg Depth: 13.18m
Max Depth: 30.2m

Finally we see a bright and sunny day for the first time in this trip. Strangely I wasn’t particularly in a photo shooting mood so I just cruise along and enjoy the dive. Since there are just 2 dives today instead of the usual 4, I venture down a bit deeper today to see what else came along. Unexpectedly, a school of rigid shrimpfish awaits me about 30m down the wall. I wasn’t quite expecting them as I usually see razorfish around reef with hard bottom at much shallower depth. 

Rigid Shrimpfish (Centriscus scutatus) at Dolphin House (30m)
Towards the end of the dive while hanging around to “suck my air dry”, I try my luck on some macro shooting with 2 stacked INON UCL-165 close up filters. Was hoping to find some pygmy seahorses to try this out in this trip but couldn’t find any. Desperate to try, I guess even the pygmy goby is better than nothing. Phew, it sure wasn’t easy focusing with the stacked filters. 

Neon Pygmygoby (Eviota pellucida) at Dolphin House (6m)

Dive 13 – Tongo point

Dive: 95
Duration: 68 mins
Avg Depth: 9.82m
Max Depth: 20.7m

It was our last dive for this trip and was told there was some Flame Scallop at where we start our dive. Hence once we descend, our DM brings us straight to a ledge on the wall. It was a small area so we got to take our turns. As I’ll usually take the longest for photos, I’m the last in line. Bad move as it was a fine sandy bottom around the ledge. In no time, the place was badly silted up. The DM was pretty considerate to bring me further into the ledge where another flame scallop is at but unfortunately, the whole place was already totally silted even this “exclusive” area wasn’t spared. The Flame Scallop was quite something which I’ve never seen before and the amazing thing about it is that it gives a display of electric blue like light from within its shell. I’m not sure if that is the case but it seems to be “triggered” more by external light source when I point and wave my light at it.

After I’m done, it was only me and VT still around while the rest have already move on towards the south of the wall. Again I was mostly just enjoying the dive without much shooting for this last dive. RL spotted a juvenile sea cucumber which we initially thought were nudibranch. I also saw some green bubble corals in some shaded depression in the wall. Usually I see them in the usual creamy white colour and this is the first green ones that I’ve saw.

Juvenile Blackspotted Sea Cucumber (Bohadschia graeffei) at Tongo Point (15m)

Bubble Coral (Plerogyra sinuosa) at Tongo Point (7m)

There was some commotions when we’ve ascend and got back to the boat. Apparently one Caucasian couple have dropped their camera. Gosh! The guy has just spoken to me the day before and I knew from him that they’ve just gotten the E-PL1 and housing (same as mine) from I think Cebu or somewhere. It seems like they didn’t secure the housing to their BCD and it dropped, along with an INON strobe during this dive. What an expensive lesson that totally spoils their trip. So for everyone else, please remember to properly secure your camera and stuffs when you go diving. 

Underwater highlights from the trip

21 Feb 2011 - Finally time for some land photos

Magandang umaga! The sky is clear with the sun out in full force. It's the first time we have a bright sunny day and yet is our last diving day for this trip. For once I decided to try something else for breakfast instead of the usual omelette while some others are sticking faithfully to their fruit yogurts. For me, it's mixed fruits pancake which I find pretty nice but nothing exceptional.

And it's off to the dive centre as usual. It seems less crowded today, perhaps because we're not heading to Pescardo for the sardines? While the weather looks great for diving, we choose to do the two boat dives today and call it a day. We could have easily squeeze in the 4pm house reef dive and still make it for our flight the next evening with ample time to spare for the 24 hour no fly interval. But I'm not taking chances getting stuck with excess baggage from my wet gear. My check-in baggage alone is already a whopping 25kg on my incoming flight! And that's excluding all the camera, housing and netbook which I'm hand carrying. And besides, I haven't had a chance to do any sunrise/sunset photo shooting thus far in this trip. Thus for once, the DDMD (Die Die Must Dive) spirit takes a backseat and have just 2 relaxed dive. For that matter, I was just mostly enjoying the dive and was hardly even grabbing any shots in the two dives (Like less than 10 shots each dive).

It was lunch at our usual hangout between the two dives. The carbonara pasta I had came in a huge portion but I watered it all down nonetheless. For sure all the finning and tank carrying is not sufficient to burn off all these extra carbs that I've been piling on these couple of days. Strangely enough, some of us commented that my pasta looks like the "hokkien mee" we have back home. But despite its less than ideal appearance, it actually tasted pretty good without any lingering strong aftertaste during my afternoon dive.

As always, time is never enough when I'm out enjoying and we concluded our dives without any major hiccups. And soon it was the most dreadful part of the trip where I have to wash up the gear. Being a basic no frill operation, we do have to set up our own gear and do our own cleaning up of the gear. Not that I mind since it's all my own gear and I would have expect to properly maintain and keep it in good shape. What's nice is that the washing is facilitated by a clean and spacious area in Blue Abyss. There are at least four rinse tanks for different equipment. Two tanks were available for the cameras, one for the booties and another for fins, BCDs and wetsuits. In addition, there are also a number of hoses for us to wash both our gear and ourselves. Since I'm going to be cleaning and soaking my gear in warm water when I get back home, I just do a "quick" rinse. But that still took me quite a while to get through with the cleaning. With the sun out today, we have a good chance of having our gear dried by the time we check out tomorrow. I leave my gear at the dive centre to dry while I get back to the resort for a quick rinse myself.

Drying my gear after the last dive at Moalboal, Philippines
With all the diving and cleaning up behind me, it's time for some land shoots. It's our final evening here and I'm not going to let this last chance slips by. Otherwise I'll be carrying all that extra weight from my land camera and tripod in vain. Being located much further east from Singapore but yet sharing the same time zone (GMT +8), the sun rises and sets at least an hour earlier. Not so good for sunrise but great for sunset since I can pack up and have dinner earlier after doing the sunset photos.

Fortunately for us, it was low tide and thus we can head on down to the "beach" below our resort for the sunset shooting. Why I said "beach" is that there isn't exactly a real stretch of sandy beach around the dive resorts. At best you may a couple of metres of sand inward from the shore during low tide, and that can be totally submerged during high tide. Oh well, at least there's some sand and it's not all rocks and boulder like in Anilao. During the shoot, I saw another group of divers heading down from Blue Abyss for their dusk dives. Oh boy, how I wish I could do that too. Soon, the sun was gone shortly after 6 in the evening and it's finally time to pack up and chill. Since I'm already shooting at the beach below the dive centre, I head up to gather and bring my gear back to the resort. 

Sunset at Moalboal, Philipppines

Sunset at Moalboal, Philipppines
Low tide at Blue Abyss house reef - Moalboal, Philippines

Panoramic view of shore to Blue Abyss house reef - Moalboal, Philippines
Some of the folks is having their dinner at our regular hangout while myself, RL, GT and NE decides to head over to the other side for some yummy dinner on our last night in Moalboal. For once, we've already a destination in mind and headed over to Pizzeria for dinner. We shared two pizza and a pasta among myself, RL and GT, while NE had some fish (tuna?) steak. Among the 2 pizzas, I really really love their Siciliana pizza with cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and other stuffs. That's my favourite pizza among the few we had in this trip. For that matter, I rank it among my all-time favourites! Service at the restaurant was pretty poor though. The waitress(es) doesn't seems too interested in serving us. But the more appalling situation was in one of our orders. As both RT and I were vegetarians, we specifically requested for the pasta to be without the ham in them. It may have slipped their mind when they brought out the pasta with a generous helping of hams. Guess what they did after we told them about the mistake? Instead of preparing another set, they simply went back and picked out all the hams! How we knew was the evidence left by one piece of ham that they've missed. It was truly disappointing in this aspect. But still, I must give credit for that wonderful Siciliana pizza. Yes, I just simply adore it! Haha, I was secretly hoping everyone is full so I can have some extra helpings. *Slurp* Yummy! :p

Pizza at Pizzeria (Photo courtesy of GT)
The rest of the folks are chilling with some drinks when we got back to the resort. Only join them briefly before I head back to the room to do some packing for the trip back the next day.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

20 Feb 2011 - Dive 8 to 11 at Tuble, Pescardo and house reef

Dive 8 – Tuble Reef

Dive: 90
Duration: 49 mins
Avg Depth: 11.92m
Max Depth: 22m

The sky was relatively clear compared to the morning before. Water wasn’t too choppy and the visibility was quite decent. This should have been a beautiful dive along the wall of a healthy reef. But as it turns out, it ended up quite an awful dive for me and hence nothing much to report for this dive. For that matter, except for a short video clip of a moray, my camera turns up empty!

It started quite alright. I begins my descent by just a huge exhalation without even needing to vent air from my BCD (there wasn’t much air in the BCD to start with anyway). And I routinely add some air to maintain neutral buoyancy as I get deeper. So far so good. But strangely as I went back shallower, I seem to be having difficulty releasing the air from my BCD. Though the Dive Rite Transpac with Voyager wing was relatively new (2nd trip using it), I never have issues with it previously. I’ve tried releasing via the inflator hose and both dump valves, wiggling and squeezing in all manners I can but somehow I still seem quite buoyant with trapped air in the BCD. No, I didn’t accidently drop my weights or anything that makes me more buoyant than usual. Fortunately it wasn’t bad enough to get me floating up to the surface but it did irritate me enough. Well, it just feels weird and it wasn’t really enjoyable having to breathe with an emptier lung to stay down at shallower depth (2-3 metres with 50 bar left in the tank). Usually towards the end of our dive, we’ll stay around in the shallows near the boat. But it just wasn’t much fun for me and I decide to call it quits after a while. Hopefully the next dive will be better.

Dive 9 – Pescador Island

Dive: 91
Duration: 82 mins
Avg Depth: 6.52m
Max Depth: 15.5m

Oh yes, we’re heading back to find the sardine bait balls! The sea was still somewhat choppy but was certainly much brighter with the mid-afternoon sun. This time round, we’re heading straight for the sardines without any marathon finning. Before we jumped in, the DM briefed us that the sardines are just slightly further up from the boat. Woah, great news for us! Oh boy, I can’t wait to get into the water.

And the moment we descent to the top of the wall at around 5-7 metres depth, we saw all the sardines right ahead of us! The number of them is just mind boggling and beyond what I can accurately describe. Just settling down somewhere on the reef on top of the wall, we can see them practically everywhere around us. You can literally see a whole wall of them in front, to the sides and/or behind you most of the time. And if you lie down relatively flat and still against the reef, they can literally swamp over you, stretching almost to the top of the water and blocking the sun out. Imagine a "solar eclipse" by the sardines! As we move about on the reef, often we end up not being able to see each other as our vision are blocked by the sardines. Apparently these are the slightly smaller sardines that move in closer and over the wall in shallow waters to seek better protection from the predators. 

School of Goldstripe Sardine (Sardinella gibbosa) at Pescardo Island (8m)

School of Goldstripe Sardine (Sardinella gibbosa) at Pescardo Island (6m)

And in addition the already huge schools of smaller sardines over the wall, there’s also many bigger sardines away from the wall out in the blue. For a while, I did try going down deeper down the wall to try seeing where the ball of sardines end but without much success. Even when I was down at around 15 metres, there was a lot more of them down in the deeper abyss but because my buddy is up over the wall, I didn’t really want to venture down too much on my own. Similarly, I’ve also tried to see if I can venture out and penetrate through the sardine balls into the blue without much success either. There was just too many of them and the visibility was rather bad with lots of particulate in the water (which I suspect many of which were the excrements from the gazillion of sardines around me). Hence even at just perhaps 10m or so out from the wall, I could barely make out the wall when I turn around (and the sardines still stretch out as far as my eyes can see into the blue). I didn't want to get lost out in the blue and thus I quickly turn around and heads back to the wall. Interestingly on the way back up the wall, I saw a big opening in the wall with a number of divers sitting inside it. There’s some kind of a ledge at the front where it may be possible to rest your arms or legs on when sitted inside. Thus from outside, it looks like a bunch of people watching some performances from the theatre box office. Unfortunately I didn’t have my tickets (the hole was already full) and I had to settle back up the wall in the circles seat. :p

School of Goldstripe Sardine (Sardinella gibbosa) at Pescardo Island (6m)

School of Goldstripe Sardine (Sardinella gibbosa) at Pescardo Island (6m)

School of Goldstripe Sardine (Sardinella gibbosa) at Pescardo Island (6m)

So essentially, we spend the whole dive watching in awe at the huge number of sardines in constantly changing formations. There were some tunas hunting them in the blue. And over the reef, there’s also some barracudas hunting them near the water surface. Towards the end of the dive, the current starts picking up. Me and RL was still staying around as we saw some other divers (which I realised later that it was from another boat!) still around until I check the time and realised we’ve over shot the maximum of 70 minutes given by the DM. There’s some problem finding our boat as the view is blocked by all the sardines and we surfaced up at the wrong boat. Phew. And down we go again and fin hard against the current which is starting to make it quite strenuous to fin against. I ended up almost sucking my tank dry with all that extra work but this dive was definitely worth all the effort. This was just such an awesome dive!

Dive 10 – Blue Abyss House Reef

Dive: 92
Duration: 55 mins
Avg Depth: 11.24m
Max Depth: 16.1m

There weren’t much people on this 4pm house reef dive. GT had her grand finale and finished her last dive with the sardines while RL decide to make use of Blue Abyss WIFI to get some work done. Most of the rest probably have enough of the house reef to do another shore dive so it’s just me and VT, each with our DM. How nice is that!

The boss, KG, had earlier spotted 2 leaf scorpion fish in the morning and decides to return with his video camera for some shooting. VT and KG went ahead first for the dive while I waited for our DM, G. When he’s finally ready, we head straight into the water and make a dash towards the northern side of the wall. After some finning, we finally saw them in view. Looks like they’ve found a white warty frogfish and is doing some shooting there. After we arrived, VT and KG then continue further up north while we do our shooting. Unfortunately the froggie wasn’t quite cooperating and was always facing into the coral in the opposite direction. After some time, G signals to move on.

And again some more hard finning, we saw BT and KG ahead again. Awesome! Looks like KG managed to relocate the leaf scorpion fish that he has found earlier that morning! There are two of them, one white and another black. I’ve saw the white and pink variation before but it was my first time seeing one in black variation. This was just great. Just around this huge rock and coral, there’s two leaf scorpion fish on two sides of the rock, and a rather cooperative common lion fish beside the rock. Just about nice for each of us to have our turns to shoot/video the creatures. Great! :)

Leaf Scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (13m)

Leaf Scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (13m)

Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans) at Blue Abyss House Reef (13m)
When I’m done, G and I heads back towards Blue Abyss while VT and KG continues with the shooting. It was a long way back and I was desperately trying to stay up with G. Phew, we’re both using jet fins but he was just so much faster. And suddenly at one point, he stops and fins downward. Oh boy, he’s stopping by at the earlier uncooperative frogfish again. It still wasn’t cooperating so I’ve just quickly grab one or two shots as a bonus as I didn’t actually expect to see the froggie again. After the dive, G told me I can try to look for it again in my night dive and there’s a table coral to the right and some other stuffs to its left. Phew. I didn’t even remember the froggie position in the day so I doubt I can recognize the spot for the night dive. I guess that’s why he’s the DM and I’m the leisure diver. Really need to brush up more on my navigation and recognition of the reef structures should I ever want to try being a DM in the future. :p

Warty Frogfish (Antennarius maculatus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (13m)

Dive 11 – Blue Abyss House Reef (Night dive)

Dive: 93
Duration: 56 mins
Avg Depth: 10.81m
Max Depth: 15.9m

It was our 2nd night dive and this time round, it was just I, RL, VT and NE going for the dive. Without our eagle eyed DM, we spotted slightly lesser critters than the day before but it was still a wonderful dive with plenty to see. Like the night before, we started the dive heading towards the northern side of the wall.

VT spotted a number of moray eels in this dive. Looking back, I realised we didn’t really see much moray around in this trip so far. Besides the morays, we also saw quite a number of various crabs, shrimps, prawns and some other critters which I couldn't identified. At one point I saw some “tentacles” moving from under some crevices and was getting excited, thinking I found an octopus or something. But what emerged was a brittle star. It was my first time seeing one of these interesting creatures. All along, my impression of sea stars is very slow and hardly mobile creatures but with its very long arms, this brittle star is literally “running” along the reef. Unfortunately I wasn’t quite prepared for its sudden movement and it quickly ran off and disappears before I remember to grab a video of it.

Anne's Chromodoris (Chromodoris annae) at Blue Abyss House Reef (14m) during night dive

Hydroid Decorator Crab (Hyastenus sp.) at Blue Abyss House Reef (13m) during night dive

Hermit Crab at Blue Abyss House Reef (10m) during night dive

A gentle current started picking up a little halfway through the dive but it didn’t really bother us too much. On the contrary, the growling stomach is urging us to head back to dry land for our dinner.

20 Feb 2011 - A 2nd chance with gazillion of sardines

Good morning! Again I'm having the Mexican vegetable omelette for breakfast for two days in a row. The omelette was awesome and my favourite among the breakfast items. A few others swear by their mixed fruit yogurt which they had every morning for additional fibre. I guess it was pretty good too. The yogurt was something which I’ve wanted to try for breakfast but never did for the entire trip. Guess I still prefer a good hearty breakfast to kick start my day. 

Mexican vegetable omelette and Mixed fruit yogurt at The Last Filling Station (Photo courtesy of GT)

The sky still looks pretty cloudy and the weather here seems change quite abruptly. On a few occasion, the rain seems to be coming in fast (and hard at times). And often before we knew it, the rain is gone. I remember on one shore dive where it was relatively bright and sunny before we went into the water. The sky still looks pretty clear when we exit the water but when we got back to the dive centre, I noticed that the resting areas were wet and the crew have shifted our dry bags to a sheltered area.

Panoramic view of the shore from the upper deck at Blue Abyss
Timing for the dive plan is pretty much the same each day and we're going back to Pescardo again in the afternoon for another chance with the sardines! The crew have decided to do Pescardo in the afternoon as they find the sea there to be not as rough the past few afternoons. When we return from our first boat dive, we also saw the KG (the boss of Blue Abyss) coming up with another diver from the house reef. Apparently they have spotted a black leaf scorpion fish and he'll be heading back in the afternoon with his huge video camera.

It's almost lunch hour again by the time after we got back from the first boat dive and suddenly, the long interval between the 2 boat dives doesn't seems so long after all. We'll reach the dive centre earlier in the morning to start rigging up the gear and got onto the dive boat around 8.30 in the morning. It's usually around 9am by the time we hit the waters and surfacing about an hour later. Thus it's easily 10 plus in the morning when we got back to the dive centre. It was quite comforting to know that we can leave our dive gear on the boat in between the two boat dives and just bring our used tanks up to the dive centre. By the time we’ve changed and walked back to our resort a short distance away, it’s already close to 11am. Just about nice to place order for our lunch. We did all our lunch at The Last Filling Station and leave the food exploration for the night. I had the Pesto Tomato spaghetti for lunch which I thought was pretty decent with generous amount of pesto. However I realised later it's not such a good idea after all to have pasta with strong taste as I literally tasted pesto throughout my next dive. Fortunately I didn't end up feeding the sardines with my puke. Phew. But the sardine ball dive was truly an awesome experience for me! What a dive for GT to wrap up her diving and chill for the remaining of the trip. During the surface interval after the sardines dive, a street vendor came by the dive centre to sell some fruits and guess what VT bought for us? A Philippine durian! Never quite expect to see and taste durians here in Philippines on my dive trip. I guess I still prefer the usual D24 durians that I'm used to but this isn’t too bad either. Needless to say, all the other Caucasians hide their disgusted look and quickly move out of the way of this fragrant fruit. But of course to those who hate it, it’ll come across as having a strong ammonia pungent smell. 

Pescardo Island from Blue Abyss Dive Shop

Heading into the sardines (Photo courtesy of RL)

Shooting the sardines (Photo courtesy of GT)
Strangely enough, there aren’t much other divers going for the 4pm house reef dive. Maybe they're already contended with the sardine balls! Haha. So essentially within our group, it's just me and VT who are doing this dive. Since the boss himself is heading back to video the black leaf scorpian fish he've spotted earlier, I'm definitely not going to skip this dive! Thereafter, we did one more night dive. Sadly our DM is not joining us, saying the water's too cold for him. While we spot slightly lesser creatures today, it's still a wonderful dive and I just love night dives. :)

Some of the rest have already had dinner or has called it a day by the time we got back to our resort around 8pm+. And it's just the four of us night divers plus GT (who had some horrid watery mushroom soup at our resort restaurant) who again venture over to the noisy stretch for some food hunting. After deciding that we’ll be having some Japanese food, VT brought us to a small Japanese restaurant by the corner. Oh ok. Perhaps it was an overstatement to say it was a restaurant but rather in the night, it look much more like an extension to the kitchen of a local home. Yes, where we sit, I can see the chair and telly (and the bed maybe?) of their room just barely a couple of metres away. Some of us was thinking if it was a mistake stepping inside and was hesitating on what to order. It doesn’t help to see that it looks like a totally local setup (Pinoy style Japanese food?) That uncertainty lasted for a while until a Japanese man who hastily emerged from outside the restaurant. I've heard from VT that he is usually at the Chilli Bar when not at the restaurant. Some of them tried the tuna sashimi which VT particularly adores for its freshness. Some of us shared some ramen, soba and egg rolls. I didn't try the other meat dish so I can't comment but for those that I had tried, only the egg rolls tasted ok. I guess perhaps the chef have migrated over to Philippines for a long time and have adapted to the local taste. The ramen was done using some yellow noodles and the whole bowl looks (and tasted) like our mee soto back home. The soba was even weirder with chilli flakes and strong ginger taste in the sauce, making the dish somewhat spicy. Ok. No more Japanese food for me here at Moalboal. :p

Outside the Japanese restaurant (Photo courtesy of GT)

Monday, March 14, 2011

19 Feb 2011 - Dive 4 to 7 at Pescardo island, Talisay and house reef

Dive 4 – Pescardo Island

Dive: 86
Duration: 51 mins
Avg Depth: 11.76m
Max Depth: 29m

Finally we’re heading to Pescardo Island to seek out the sardines! Blue Abyss is among the nearest resort to the island and the ride out typically takes about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, the sea state doesn’t looks all that great with 1-2 metre waves and numerous white caps on our way to the island.

Soon we reached the island after braving the choppy sea. Another group Caucasians divers in our boat drop in first into the choppy sea and start their dive. Our DM opts instead to have us starts our dives in the northwest side of the island where he brought us to a big hole on the wall called the “Cathedral”. Essentially you can go into the opening at around 15 metres and slowly descend through the column until around 25-30 metres where you can swim out through 2 large “windows”. The feeling of floating weightless inside the chamber looking out the windows was just so serene and peaceful that it quickly puts all the adrenaline rush from the earlier choppy sea away.

After emerging from the cathedral, we head clockwise around the island with the wall on our right. It was another marathon finning like what we did at Sipadan Island. All the time I was looking out to the blues, to the top and bottom, anticipating my first encounter with the sardine bait balls. I’ve yet to see one before and don’t exactly know how it’s going to look like. At times, I saw schools of small fishes swimming by and I thought this is it? These are the sardines? But the group continues moving on without stopping. And after a long anticipation, I saw a whole patch of darkness ahead of me. YES! It is the sardines! I simply could not believe my eyes, seeing the huge swamp of them practically everywhere in all direction both laterally and vertically. Woohooo! I finally saw for myself what others meant by being surrounded by gazillion of sardines! This is definitely a place for wide angles and fisheyes. I was literally just watching in awe at the sardines, not know what or how to shoot.

Unfortunately we’re a long way off from the boat and could only stay a mere couple of minutes before the DM start urging us to head back. Each time I want to start finning back, another ball of sardines rush by, tempting me to stay a little longer which I gladly obliged. Very soon the rest of the group are a long way off with just me and my buddy at the sardines. Very reluctantly, I bid my final farewell and we chase up to the group. Along the way, I finally saw my first comb jelly with the colour of lights being reflected off its combs of cilia. Although most comb jelly looks like jellyfish, they are not one and don’t have any stinging nematocyst. The species I saw is of a ribbon-shaped instead of the more usual bell shaped. Really regretted not being able to get any shots of it (Almost transparent object in dim mid water ain’t actually easy to focus and expose). I guess being a long way off behind the group (and boat) with air running a little low doesn’t help and I quickly left after a brief moment with it.

Saw a giant frogfish near where we’re going to ascent but again I wasn’t really in a “shooting” mood. At one point, I saw VT holding on to NE near the frogfish and I thought initially he’s holding her to give her some stability to shoot the frogfish! It was until subsequently when they starts to slowly drift towards the surface did I realise he’s trying to hold her down. Back at the boat did I realise that NE has dropped her weight belt. Phew.

The dive was somewhat a sneak preview to the sardines and whetting my appetite for more. I certainly hope to be back again to have more time with them. :)

Dive 5 – Talisay

Dive: 87
Duration: 58 mins
Avg Depth: 10.46m
Max Depth: 20.4m

Our 2nd boat dive was to a closer site just further down south along the wall from Blue Abyss. When they say it’s a nearby site, they really do mean it’s nearby because they’re dropping us in and we’re finning back to the resort! I guess it can’t get any closer than that except for the house reef.

Like the previous dives in the area, I’m still looking for cooperative pipefish to pose for me. I only I can talk to them! Speaking of which, some of dive kakis told me I talk underwater? Haha. Did I do that unconsciously as I don’t remember doing that except when “shouting” to attract my buddies’ attention to some interesting creatures. Oh mine, I must be getting old, mumbling to myself perhaps? :s

Network Pipefish (Corythoichthys flavofasciatus) at Talisay (12m)

It was another nice dive, spotting three different species of pipefishes in one dive. Apart from the two species that was so commonly seen all around the reef here, there was also winged pipefish which I saw only once in this trip. They’re less conspicuous and not quite as photogenic as the other pipefish but I’m still very happy to see them around. 

Winged Pipefish (Halicampus macrorhynchus) at Talisay (16m)

Besides the pipefish, there was also a pair nudibranch cuddling up warming together. I guess perhaps they’re mating but I’m not sure. Regardless of what they’re up to, I thought they look very nice together and can’t help taking a couple of snaps before giving them their privacy back. 

Pair of Tryon's Risbecia (Risbecia tryoni) at Talisay (16m)


As usual, me and RL was way behind and the rest of our group were already gone. We fin for quite a while to try catching up but still couldn’t see them except for another two Caucasian divers (one of which appears equally lost to me). Regardless, I thought we’ve been finning for quite some time and probably shouldn’t be too far off from Blue Abyss. Thus I slowly head up over the wall onto the shallower reef and take a peep on the surface. True enough the dive centre was in sight and there’s some other divers walking on the very shallow water back to shore. The tide was extremely low today, making it a very long walk back. Still, I try to fin as close as I possibly can in 0.5m water towards the dive centre, at the same time trying to avoid various clusters of sea urchins. The fact that the urchins are smaller with thicker spikes (not the usual black urchins with long and thin spikes) makes it less intimidating but I’m sure it’s no less painful if I actually lands on one. On the way back, I spot a cluster of nudibranch’s eggs which I’m seeing for the first time. Couldn’t find any nudibranch close by and thus is not able to identify from which species did the eggs came from.

Dive 6 – Blue Abyss House Reef

Dive: 88
Duration: 52 mins
Avg Depth: 6.61m
Max Depth: 10.4m

We start our house reef dive slightly later than scheduled at around 16:30. Checking the dive planning on my very conservative Suunto dive comp, I should have at least about 50mins of no deco time at 12m. But since I’m doing another night dive after this, I decide to stay shallow to avoid too much nitrogen loading.

Apparently I still haven’t had enough of the pipefish and continue seeking them out. Having spent a fair bit of time with the network pipefish in the previous dive, I had a go with the ringed pipefish in this dive. Besides the pipefish, the spotfin lionfish were again in abundance but I didn’t grab any shots of them as they’re mostly not quite so cooperative (in crevices and/or facing the wall)

Time passes quickly by and it’s time to head back up again.

Ringed pipefish (Doryrhamphus dactyliophorus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (6m)

Dive 7 – Blue Abyss House Reef (Night dive)

Dive: 89
Duration: 70 mins
Avg Depth: 7.19m
Max Depth: 12.5m

The sun sets around 18:00 and the sky was completely dark by the time we got into the water and starts our descent at around 18:40. Only I, RL, VT and the DM is doing this night dive and we thus had the whole reef to ourselves. This is by far the most productive dive I’ve had in my diving, with so many critters spotted on the reef. Usually I don’t shoot a lot in a dive but this was quite the exception. There are so many different shrimps, crabs and other stuffs spotted by the DM and ourselves. What I have captured is just a portion of it, many more of which are not shot.

The DM walked out much faster on the reef until the edge of the wall and waits. Even on the surface before our descent, he signals to me from a distance that there’s something below. I quickly fin over and went down first while he waits at the surface for the others. It was a flatworm that he was pointing to. Awesome!

Not far after we descend, he shows us a painted frogfish which I wonder if it was the same individual we saw on the first day. What was nice about the frogfish was that it starts “walking” around a little while I was shooting it on video. First time I saw one on the move. Woah!

Painted frogfish (Antennarious pictus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (11m) during night dive

Next he pointed out a tun, moving along the reef. Then it’s a lizardfish at rest, which allows us to approach it very closely. There were also several different species of hermit crab around the reef. Then I was shown my first spider crab, my first soft coral crab, and my first hydroid decorator crab! Also saw two orangutan crab, another decorator crab, a pair of nudibranch and one small creature which I thought could be a juvenile cuttlefish but I can’t be certain from the poorly taken photo. And then I saw my first prawn (not shrimp). I would have missed it if it was not swimming along in mid water along the reef below me. Quickly I descend down 1-2 metre for some photos. There was also a sleeping sole at rest which gives us the opportunity to get up close to this skittish creature.

Spider Crab (Achaeus spinosus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (9m) during night dive

Orangutan Crab (Oncinopus sp.) at Blue Abyss House Reef (9m) during night dive

Long Arm Prawn (Heteropenaeus longimanus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (9m) during night dive

With so many first sightings in a single dive, this without doubt is one of my best dives ever. Indeed, awesome is an understatement to describe this dive. I just love it! This was my third night dive in the Philippines and I must say I’ve never been disappointed in the night dives here. I was beaming with delight as I exit the water and heads back to shore. Life is great and I’m a happy man! :)