On tour in the Philippines

So 12 adventurers headed off to far flung Philippines in search of seahorses and sunshine; we found the former but not the latter! On a very cold morning of 22nd Jan, we made our way down the M40 and headed for Gatwick. Some only made it with 30 minutes to spare but we were all very grateful to have made it without injury.

Hilary and Miles, Dan and Ellen, Jon A, Hoppo, Sally, Simon and Diane, myself (Abi) and Johnny boarded the first of 2 flights on a 6-leg trip to Negros Orientales. All went well if very long and we found ourselves at the hotel for the first night—what do we do? We need beer! So off out into the streets of Cebu city for some very lukewarm chicken and noodles (only cost us £20 for all 11 of us though!) and some 7.9% Red Horse beers!

The following day, we boarded the coach (and awaited Jon A) and began our very bumpy and squeaky 5 hour journey to the south of Cebu where we’d meet the ferry across to Negros Orientales. Cebu is a city of 2 halves like many in Asia – a sleek silver skyline of modern office buildings and malls adjacent to poor shanty towns on the banks of the river. We found much the same in Dauin, our final destination, and the strangeness of everything being in English! Our hotel was traditional Philippino architecture with rooms on one side in a 2 story thatched building and opposite across lawn and coconut trees, an open bar/dining area with the diving equipment facing the beach. It also features a lovely pool with views out to the sea!

We were greeted by Corrie and Jonathan and lashings of ice tea and fresh mango—so, so delicious! After some introductions, housekeeping and dive chat, we unpacked and stashed our dive gear in boxes to go on the dive boat—gorgeous traditional Bancas (on boarding the following day, we climbed the gangplank assisted by an unlikely handrail—2 sailors holding a trunk of bamboo!).

We were so fortunate with the choice of hotel—the rooms were bright and clean with lovely lounge chairs to sit and chill in-between dives. It was a shame we didn’t make much use of the pool as we didn’t have the best of weather, if we weren’t woken by the rain, we were woken by a range of cockerels, some regal, some strangled—didn’t really matter to us, we had to get up to get wet anyway! (I did brave it at 6am one morning in the middle of a downpour to the amusement of the kitchen staff—I think they questioned my sanity!) So, of an afternoon, after a nap, we’d sit and watch the rain, avoid mozzie bites and drink cocktails! We were very blessed with the quality of the food though—every night we were spoilt for choice on delicious Philippino, Italian and American dishes. The lovely bar staff kept us stocked with rum and cocktails. We even had a special night with a Philippino beach BBQ (it had a British touch with the rain!) music from our dive guides and a pack of very friendly beach dogs! Two nights we ventured out of resort, a 10 min wander in Dauin—once to see Jonathan sing with his Aussie pal at Finbar where we met proprietor Lucy, a British traveller who never made it back and the Lokal—where Hoppo got the waitress excited ordering “Sex on the Driveway”! Courtesy of the Noakes we had a hilarious evening of Bingo with Dan calling all sorts—eventually making up the rhymes to go with the numbers and Sally winning after repeatedly requesting her final number! It was all too much excitement for Jon A who fell asleep in his chair! One night we also celebrated Sally’s fantastic achievement of 1700 dives—Corrie had the kitchen prepare a beautiful cake as a surprise and we all shared stories of our some long and some short diving careers!

Our diving generally consisted of 2 dives in the morning from the banca with a coffee/mango/Choco Mucho bar break in-between then home for lunch then an optional afternoon dive. We had a fantastic crew and 3 dive guides—Ace, Rommel and Gabby. They were superb at locating so many interesting critters even if some in the group grew bored of the nudis! Most of us managed 3 dives a day as there was so much to see. The local government and dive shops have made such an effort to prioritise the marine environment and all along the Dauin coastline, carefully laid buoys and lines outlined the no boat areas of both natural and artificial reef and protected seagrass. On our days in Dauin, we’d scoot along the shore, never more than 15/20mins from the hotel and find beautiful life filled reefs full of colour and character. In-between were interesting areas of muck diving where we found all sorts of unusual things. We were amazed how healthy the artificial reefs were and remarked so to Jonathan who informed us how well they’d taken in light of them not being very old. Nearly every dive we met both green and hawksbill turtles (one evening Jonathan who it turns out is a turtle nut, gave us an enlightening talk about the local turtles and surprised us with many interesting facts, the main being that turtles can breathe through their bums but also that there are less than 20,000 hawksbills left in the world which meant our meetings with them took on another level of appreciation). We saw the usual reef inhabitants in numbers—octopus, ghost pipefish, many colourations of scorpion fish and schools of juvenile barracuda. On the muck dives, we’d descend to what appeared to be a lifeless muddy bottom but our guides managed to find a number of yellow spiny seahorses (my personal highlight), pipehorses, leaf fish, eel gardens, nudibranchs, knifefish, cowfish, mantis shrimp and cuttlefish. Amongst the seagrass we met more turtles, bristletail filefish, cuttlefish and more spiny and great smooth seahorses.

Two of our diving days were spent in Apo Island—a small island surrounded by protected marine reserve about 45 mins across the channel from Dauin. Although we didn’t set foot on the island, Tesco Express came to us in Philippino style as ladies in small bancas pulled up alongside and boarded with bags and bags of goodies. There was a wide range of diving experiences to be had on Apo – glorious reefs walls descending to 30/40m where we found a very unusual electric clam – we all got close for a nosey before finning backwards at pace when our guides slate stated it had 5000V! Turtles (they almost became humdrum!), morays, huge bluespotted cornetfish, batfish, and more! Beautiful shallow coral gardens thronged with turtles and clownfish filled anemones and unusual starfish including Dan’s favourite that looked like Patrick from Spongebob and Jon A pointed out a large crown of thorns. An exciting drift dive off the northern side of the island on which we saw schools of jack hanging out and sea kraits. And on our final dive, a very unusual dive site where bubbles are released from the sea bed – it was such an unusual sight and the feeling of warm fizzing bubbles under your hands was strangely thrilling! Our journey home that afternoon took a dismal turn when we were blanketed in fog and drizzle and completely lost sight of the coast – but trust in thy faithful captain we had and he soon had us home, we have no idea how, we passed the time singing sea shantys under Sally’s excellent conduction!

We also had the opportunity to do a night dive—and it turned out to be truly remarkable. We couldn’t believe it when our guides managed to find all of the above on a single dive! Seeing seahorses at night and their colouration under torchlight was amazing, we came across a sleeping turtle, Sally spotted a huge sleeping scrawled filefish, we found a teeny tiny cuttlefish wandering along an outcrop with its tentacles and a beautiful squid who almost looked like it was glowing before jetting away. Gabby found the tinniest of frogfish—we really were amazed at their eyesight and skill at finding all these beautiful things for us to admire!

Our first rest day saw us pile into a coach to head up the mountain to the famous Red Rock Falls—only Hoppo, Johnny and I braved the thunderous waters underneath the main waterfall but we all swam in the smaller pool and Simon dislodged a coconut for us all to play piggie in the middle with! On the way there, we stopped to hop out to admire the jets of steam escaping from the ground beside the road and wandered along a very Indiana Jones-esque rope bridge where Diane took her life into her hands when she stepped on a slat that tumbled away beneath her. After the falls, we ventured a bit further down to the hot springs which weren’t as natural as we were all expecting, but rather large stone ponds fed by the springs full of locals enjoying a warm social soaking! We had a slightly ropey lunch then onto a local World War museum which was owned, stocked and run by an older gentleman who had personally undertaken to find and collect as many artifacts as possible – some very reverently displayed alongside Darth Vader’s helmet and a 1980’s Dalek karaoke machine!

Johnny and I also ventured out on our second rest day on a habble-habble (a motorbike with an extended seat which took up to 5/6 members of a family!) up to the coffee plantation at the top of the mountain. At the end of our hike into the rainforest, we were rewarded with beautiful views out over the coast to Apo island and a enlightening tour of their medicinal and edible plants. We concluded our tour with a very, very strong coffee and hot chocolate before heading back down (luckily abit slower!) to the hotel.

For a 10 day adventure at the end of a 34 hours journey, I really think we made the most of our trip – the hotel, its food, lodgings and staff went above and beyond, the scenery and Philippino people are so beautiful and welcoming and the diving, well it was really special. Massive thanks to Hilary for organising such a brilliant trip, we all had such a great time! Congratulations to Sally for getting to 1700 dives and Big thankyous to Miles and Simon for facilitating Johnny and my final 35m depth progression for Sportsdiver. Need to go back to spot a whaleshark, not just a fin next time!

Leave a reply