Nekton Philippines trip November 2015
After spending a year planning the Nekton hot trip to the Red Sea, we were within a couple of weeks of departing when everything was cancelled. Not deterred Barry, Bob, Ron and Jeremy took their Red Sea money and set off for the Philippines.
We chose a resort on the small island of Malapascua situated about a mile off the northern tip of the larger island of Cebu.
Our flight to Hong Kong took 12 hours and we flew over Moscow, central Asia and China. We departed early evening, flying through the night with dawn breaking over the mountains somewhere in the expanse of central Asia. From Hong Kong we took a 2 hour flight to Cebu and by the time we arrived night had fallen again.
Next was an exciting 3 hour bus ride through the bustling Cebu traffic to a small port on the northern tip of the island where we transferred to a boat. After sailing an hour through the dark we finally arrived at our resort on Malapascua, some 21 hours after leaving Heathrow.
Our hotel was by the beach and set amongst palm trees, all you would expect from a tropical paradise. All diving was carried out from their standard trimaran boats, a deep central hull with a bamboo outrider each side. Entry to the sea was a long drop from the bows and we returned via rickety steps lowered through the deck assisted by the deckhands who reached down, grabbed the tops of our twin cylinders and hauled us up.
Our days soon settled into a routine of finishing dives by 4 o’clock, shower and getting to the bar in time for 5 o’clock happy hour, which in the finest tradition lasted at least 2 hours. Our evenings consisted of deciding which particular Asian dish to have for supper and talking to the other guests, all of whom were divers and included Americans, Canadians, Europeans and Hongkongese.
Compared to the Red Sea, the fish were smaller and the water less clear but our guide was fascinated in the smaller sea creatures. He particularly loved seahorses, which come in various sizes. The largest are easy to see but pigmy seahorses are so small you can only see them with a magnifying glass. On one dive he tapped a fern and what looked like a tiny leaflet broke away and suddenly started to wriggle, too small to see anything other than it was alive.
We also saw clown fish, moray eels, scorpion fish, frog fish, puffer fish, sea snakes, cuttle fish, nudibranchs, starfish, sea urchins, shoals of jack fish and herring, and one turtle.
The high point of our trip was watching the thresher sharks. There is a very deep trench close to Malapascua called Mondal Shoal where sharks come to a cleaning station. To see them you need to be early and we were on board sailing for the trench by 5 am. The first time we dived we saw them in the distance but despite us willing them closer and hardly daring to breathe they kept away. The following day we tried again and this time were rewarded with sharks swimming very close to us and one actually over our heads. They are simply awesome, with their huge tails and large expressionless eyes. After they had swam away even our guide was so excited that he punched the air and did ‘high fives’ with each of us. Just the most amazing dive. See our videos on the website.
A couple of days we dived a site called Cato Island. The island is little more than a rock rising perpendicularly out of the sea. Underwater the rocks are covered in varieties of soft and hard coral of every texture, colour and shape, also there are tunnels that lead off under the island. We saw nursing sharks lying under boulders and, in the tunnel, a white tipped reef shark. The reef shark must have got used to us divers as when we arrived it grumpily swam off trying to hide in the furthest recesses of the tunnel and away from the pursuing divers with their cameras and bright torches. On one of our dives the current was so strong we had to do a negative entry. Squeeze all the air out of your stab jacket, make absolutely sure your air is on, all jump together, hit the water and keep going down.
One day we spent diving round Calanggaman Island. On our first dive we watched puffer fish and sea snakes. We then went ashore on the island for lunch landing on a thin spit of sand stretching between an azure sea and sky. Over lunch we watched as a black wall of cloud approached over the water, complete with angry flashes of lightening. Sure enough before we had finished the tropical storm broke over us and we were lashed by rain. Barry decided to swim back to the boat as it would be warmer and he certainly wasn’t going to get any wetter. On our second dive next to the island we were surrounded by shoals of jack fish.
During our return trip we drove through the Cebu countryside in daylight. The hills and valleys are lush green and fringed with palms and banana trees. The traffic in Cebu city is horrendous. One oddity is that all the road signs are in English, even the ‘slow school’ signs seen in every village and diversion signs seen everywhere.
Barry and I decided to break our journey and stay a night in Hong Kong. However thanks to the super efficient airport trains we all had time to visit Hong Kong Island for beer and an evening meal. After Malapascua Island, where the tallest structure is the microwave dish that needs to clear the palm trees, Hong Kong was a culture shock. Looking out of the train window on the journey into town you know you are entering a metropolis.
Our trip to the Philippines was more a holiday with diving than a dive holiday. Our little island was idyllic, fringed with a sandy beach and palm trees, the only means of transport was by boat or walk. The water was about 28 degrees C and while we were there never experienced more than a slight swell. A fun place to dive.
One trick we have brought back, though it will take some practice. Catch the bubbles you breathe out in a cupped hand and push them down in front of you, they will break up into small bubbles and for a moment just hang in the water. Clench your fists, put your knuckles together and the backs of hands to your chest. Now punch the centre of the bubbles and you will create a large ‘smoke ring’ of bubbles – impressive. As demonstrated by Nick below.
(Dive clips of the holiday to be posted soon)