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.