Heart & Brain Underwater

2008 Apr – Bohol, Philippines

One fine day in early Jan, Michael wrote an email “How abt meeting us in Philippines in Apr?” That started our trip planning. How can we not meet them there? We are less than a 4 hours flight away & Philippines is a great place to dive – I thoroughly enjoyed the previous short trip to Malapascua & keen to dive in Philippines again! Michael & Janet had visited Bohol 2 years ago & they had great fun. So we decided Bohol it was! Open-mouthed

Once again, Cebu Pacific was the choice airline, I found it “quite” economical (S$301 inc taxes) & quite comfortable. The flights out of S’pore were at around midnite, great for saving leave & flights from Cebu are in the evening, very convenient.

We reached Cebu airport at 4+am, 6th Apr. The Immigration was fast & efficient. Cab from airport to Cebu port was 200P, thanks to Terence’s Cebu office colleague’s bargaining power! He woke up super early to meet us at the airport! Very nice guy! (On our return trip, cab fare was 250P. And remember to pay the porters/ cab “pimps”. The cab fares were really quite reasonable, Terence said that the rates on meter was already 200+P.)

We wanted to take the SuperCat Ferry as it was the cheapest, they were having a promo, 475P return. However, when we reached the ticketing counter at the SuperCat pier, we were told that they cancelled the morning trip! Crying Well, we didn’t want to wait until noon for the next SuperCat ferry, the waiting area & actually the whole port area wasn’t much of a tourist attraction, it wasn’t comfortable at all! Anyway, we took the Wee Sam Express, its pier was just next door, had to pay 575P for the first-class seat as the economy & others were already full! The advantage was its schedule was earlier. Once reached Tagbilaran, we booked the ferry for the return trip to Cebu on Ocean Jet – I just had to try another ferry company! Wink Well, I could say that both Weesam & Oceanjet were abt the same standard. We got to watch “Shall We Dance?” on Oceanjet, instead of the retro KTVs on Weesam…

Terence got help from his colleague to help look for Bohol transport – to/fro Tagbilaran port & Alona Beach (400P per way) & our Bohol day trip (1800P). We went to the usual touristy places – Blood Compact Monument, Baclayon Church, Billar, Chocolate Hills, Loboc River Cruise (plus lunch). Day trip photos uploaded by Terence at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2954&id=1067292793

It took around 30mins to get to Alona Beach, Panglao, from Tagbilaran. It was quite a scenic drive, especially over the bridge connecting the main Bohol island to Panglao island. Reached Lost Horizon resort at 12+nn. Our 2nd floor modern deluxe room (~65usd/nite) had a 32inch LCD Sony tv! It was then I realized why the room was expensive. After settling down, we went downstairs to say Hi to Liza at Philippines Fun Divers & arranged our afternoon dive. Then we walked up the hill/slope in search of lunch.

Our 1st lunch at Alona Beach was at Pinas Snack Place, a very local place. Had a simple lunch of white rice with dishes of steamed fish, fried egg, minced pork & sour & fresh tasting veg & pork soup. Then we bought some bread from the next door bakery (Jefelenaj Bakeshop). Over the next few days, we bought different types of breads & cakes from the Bakeshop & our favourite item there was the cupcake!

Our favourite joint on Alona Beach was Hayahay Pizza – we visited them 4 out of the 7 nites that we were there! (Think it was afflicted to Peter’s.) Their thin crust pizzas were wonderful! I loved their local creations: Alona Pizza, Balicasag Pizza ~250P for large, Michael & Janet’s usual order was Margarita Pizza with toppings – extra mushrooms for Janet & anchovies for Michael. Other than pizza, we tried sizzler – hot plate, Michael treated us to tuna sashimi – it was quite fresh, we also tried some of the local dishes. I don’t think anyone will get hungry at Alona Beach, restaurants/ bars littered the whole stretch of beach but do be prepared to spend at least US$10 per diner for a basic meal. The atmosphere & the commercial feeling reminded me of Phi Phi Island, Phuket or Jimbaran Bay, Bali… Michael & Janet bought us dinner on the first night, at a pasta place – Kamalig-Christiano (hope I got the name correct), they served good pasta & the serving was quite huge! It was their favourite from their previous trip, before “discovering” Hayahay Pizza. We also dined at Power Keg once, the food was quite good & the price was more affordable (than Hayahay). On our 2nd last nite, we had local grilled food at 1 of the stores on the slope (near the pasta place), the food was fresh, good & affordable, we had “baby” tunas (80P each, very fresh & tender), chicken thighs (~100P each, nicely marinated) & squid (~200P, fresh). We enjoyed all our dinners because we had wonderful & lovely company, fueled by good food & good beer – the San Miguel! Open-mouthed

Guess it is finally time to talk about diving! Frankly, I found diving at Bohol nice but not impressive, guess it was largely due to the bad visibility we encountered during almost all our dives. I am sure all these sites would be very beautiful, when the viz is good. Hard & soft corals & sponges adorned the walls, overhangs, crevices (at Balicasag, every inch of the wall was covered); small, beautiful reef fish like butterflyfish & anthias etc; anemones & clownfish; & gorgonians added brilliant colours to the reef. Furthermore, although Terence was taking his AOW, the rest of us didn’t get allocated another guide – Albert was the one instructing & occasionally guiding. Therefore, most of the time, Michael was my buddy & part-time spotter; he was good at it & managed to spot many things (750 dives under his belt). But guess professionals with local knowledge are still hard to beat! On 11th Apr, when we went on our day-trip, Toto spotted a little clown frogfish & pygmy seahorse for Michael & Wolfgang! Well, of course, dive time were always treasured, “spare” time was used to practice buoyancy control or fining techniques etc. Wink Terence & I also took the time to do the EANx theory on 9th Apr. I was really tired after diving & couldn’t really concentrate, actually it was a blessing that Terence didn’t dive that day, or both of us would fail the test…

Dive sites we visited:

Crystal Coast – about 10mins by small boat from Alona Beach. 5th Apr “check out” dive, time-in 16:51, max depth 16.6m, Viz 10m. As soon as we descended, a couple of large batfish came up close to check us out! They were pretty daring but they didn’t like to pose for photos! There was a school of them, including a couple of long-fin batfish. Quite happy to see schooling batfish, as my previous encounter was in Maldives. Island with a palm tree

7th Apr, time-in 16:13, max depth 18.6m, Viz 7m. Current picked up at times. I was taking photos of something (might be the school of small barracudas) & out of the corner of my eyes, saw something quite big rushed behind a coral head, Michael gestured excitedly, finally I made out the shape of a huge cuttlefish. Think it was about 50cm! We followed it around for awhile, I think it got quite mad with me “flashing” it (with camera flash!), it started to wave its tentacles & changed colours rapidly. Then we found a cleaning station, on a table-coral! Batfish were attended by a couple of cleaner wrasses. It fun watching the batfish fighting each other to cleaning rights.  There was a big school of batfish at the reef-flat (might be the same school as our previous dive).

Doljo – about 30mins away. 6th Apr, time-in 10:31, max depth 21.4m, Viz 12m. It was quite pretty, lots of soft corals, anemones, sponges, hydroids etc. Highlight was the school of big, fat barracudas! Michael spotted a pretty large & perfectly camouflaged scorpionfish (abt 30cm, yikes), a pretty nudibranch – Phidiana Indica & an orangutan crab! The sea was pretty rough when we surfaced, Terence reported that it was raining heavily went they surfaced & conditions were worse! Btw, this is veteran Scuba-boarder Jim’s favourite Bohol dive site.

Pontoo – about 20mins away. We visited the site after lunch 6th Apr, time-in 13:15, max depth 19.4m, Viz 12m. Just a pretty site. Albert spotted a fat white pretty nudibranch – Ardeadoris Egretta, which was abt 10cm & a very pretty flatworm!

House-reef – just 10mins away. Terence’s 1st night dive, part of his AOW. 6th Apr, time-in 17:47, max depth 12.5m, Viz: ~8m. I always enjoy night dives, there are usually more interesting creatures to see. This night dive lived up to my expectations too. Saw a banded sea snake, it “stayed” with us for awhile. Albert spotted a flathead & a white eel, when Albert tried too hard to “drive” the eel out, it jumped out of the hole it was hiding in & hid into another hole, completely buried! It was a funny sight! Managed to take nice photos of a goby on white whip coral & a hermit crab on hard coral.

Balicasag – abt 40mins away. 7th Apr, a) time-in 10:09, max depth 18.8m, Viz 10m. Finally saw a white crinoid shrimp, with black stripes, it was perfectly camoufladged in a black & white crinoid but Albert knew where to find it. b) time-in 12:51, max depth 18.6m, Viz  10m. The beauty of the sites was obscured by the bad viz and therefore, 2 so-so dives, there were always small, colourful reef fish like butterflyfish & anthias but nothing very especially interesting.

Arco – abt 30mins away. Walls around 25m. Quite pretty & colourful. 8th Apr, time-in 10:02, max depth 19.4m, Viz 10m. Got close to a banded sea-snake, it weaved between the corals on a ledge at our eye level. Felt a little nervous to be so close to it. Then it was relaxing & interesting to watch a lizardfish opening its gills wide, so that the little cleaner wrasse can get in to clean it. 10th Apr, time-in 12:59, max depth 19.3m, Viz 13m. This dive was quite chaotic. There were 2 instructors – Rena & Albert, 2 DMs – Hiroshi & , 5 divers – 2 Michaels, Wolfgang, Terence & me! Imagine the 9 of us diving together! Well, we sort of sorted ourselves out after awhile. Swam up a hole on the roof of the wall, onto the reef top & saw an eel scurrying away.

Balicasag Marine Sanctuary, 9th Apr, a) time-in 10:05, max depth 27.1m, Viz 15m. Improved viz meant that the beauty was revealed, pastel coloured soft-corals adorned the walls. Shortly after descending, Michael spotted a white leaf scorpionfish (abt 15cm long) on a ledge! It swayed to the current, moved its pectoral fins occasionally. Its skin was so thin/light that its internal organs could be seen. Its eyes shone brightly like diamonds, very mesmerizing. It was such a cool fish! Didn’t mind our photo-taking much. b) Time-in 12:51, max depth 26.3m, Viz  10m. Another exciting dive! School of big mouth mackerels fed near us. It was interest to watch them opening their mouths so widely, in a seemingly synchronized manner; they looked like a pack of Pac-mans! Michael spotted an orangutan crab, which was more co-operative in posing for the camera. 😉 I managed to spot a beautiful purplish-red flatworm (Pseudoceros Ferrugineus). Towards the end of the dive, Albert signaled us to ascend to the reef-top to watch a large school of jacks (abt 30cm each)! It was thrilling to observe them at close-range, circling, changing formations. The jacks tried to drive away other fish which tried to “blend in” & there was a darker coloured jack which was chased around by the other jacks. Everyone came out of this dive satisfied. Too bad Terence didn’t join us that day, as he wasn’t feeling well.

Bohol Beach Club (BBC) – abt 20mins away. 9th Apr, Time-in 12:33, Max depth 19.6m, Viz 7m. Lots of rubbles, some areas looked destroyed. When we were along a pretty wall, Michael suddenly stopped to catch something small & white that was falling/sinking. Then he opened his palm & revealed a nudibranch which was uncoiling itself. I took over the nudibranch, as I had gloves on, thought it was better than Michael handling it with bare-hands. Then we tried to put it back onto a coral. It seemed to like my gloves & took quite awhile to move onto the coral. When it moved on my gloves, the feeling was like it was nibbling, guess it was the suction of its mantle…

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