Ride The Tides

It felt like a flashback from when I first arrived at the island in 2016, a total wreck who lost her job with a failing relationship that wanted nothing but to escape reality. Nothing was going right.

”Home, it is nice to be back!”, I pondered to myself as I gazed out the window. The van cruised through concrete roads bordered by old mango trees, green rice paddies and tall coconut trees. Infrequently, the pristine view would be blocked by huge political or advertisement banners, but I was too excited to let the sporadic growth gall over my love for Siargao. Two months since I left the island with a beaten ego after Jing told me that there were no weak surfers.

 

“Jing’s Place!’’, the van driver declared as he handed over my backpack. Jing owned one of the first fully all local homestays in General Luna. Already in his fifties, he was still rocking surfer abs. A surfing legend to most, he was the surfer dad that I never had.

I marched into the homestay, Jojo welcomed me, “You’re home Paula! Let’s go surfing! Uncle Jing is already at Secret Spot.’’ Itching to surf again, I speedily unpacked my bag onto the bed to change. I clutched my favourite 8-foot long board and strapped it to onto the motorbike board rack. I sensed a bit of self-doubt and worry raced in, ”Was it too soon to surf again after a bad reef cut?”, I questioned myself. ”You have booties on Paula.”, I reassured myself as I revved the motorbike engine.

Forty-five minutes until I reached the not-so-secret Secret Spot because of the countless motorbikes parked along the roadside, I wandered 300 meters from the parking before I finally heard the rustling waves.

With a waxed surfboard and a Zinc cream covered face, I got on the board and paddled out. “Nice to see you again Tin!”, jested Jing as he summoned his student over. I felt great to be in the water again after having been partially immobile for a full month after a minor surfing accident.

The first wave arrived, I attempted to seize it but missed then struggled to get back on the board. As the sun rays radiated stronger, so did my impatience. The only reason I signed up for the gym was to surf better. Yet there I was plopping miserably like an absolute amateur.

It felt like a flashback from when I first arrived at the island in 2016, a total wreck who lost her job with a failing relationship that wanted nothing but to escape reality. Nothing was going right.

With jelly arms, annoyance grew as I waited for waves. I had to deal with my inner demons called patience and trust. I turned to Jing seeking assurance of which he responded with a smile.

Surfing is definitely not for people who loved full control, there are just too many external factors to this sport. The sense of helplessness slowly crept into my nerves being a person who relished in predictability.

‘’Yew!’’, jeered one local surfer as another set of waves showed up over the horizon. Keep legs together, paddle deeper with clasped hands, wait for the push, stand up with knees bent and look far towards the shore, I told myself.

‘’This one Tin! Paddle now, paddle hard!’’, coaxed Jing. I paddled, I felt the push and the flow got to me.

With a sigh of relief, I finally caught a wave, my first long ride after a long time. The next hours, I rode one wave after the other with much enthusiasm until I could not paddle anymore.

“Good session today! Great to have you back again Tin.”, said Jing as he patted my right shoulder as I looked at him with a stoked face. I felt elated that he was proud of me, but I was just happy to be back and ride the tides again.

A supportive surfing family living on a gorgeous island also struggling to find balance over contentment and growth. ”Progress over perfection, be ready to ride the tides.”, Jing would constantly quip. The Siargaonons and the island not only taught me acceptance over my flaws but also of trusting life despite the unwanted changes.

As I turned the engine off and laid the board on the rack, there was a sense of peace and security, the very essence of home.

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Most Eco-Friendly Whaleshark Interaction in the Philippines: Pintuyan, Southern Leyte

Planning to go to Oslob? Visit Pintuyan instead! The most eco-friendly whale shark interaction in the Philippines.

When it comes to whale shark watching in the Philippines, Oslob comes first in the mind of most Filipinos and foreigners but people should stop supporting this exploitation!

It is really not surprising with all the Instagram and Facebook posts about it getting crazy popular if not viral, it has been the known circus. I one article it has been said that during the tourist season, more than 1,500 sightseers descend each day on Oslob, a town of 30,000 on the island of Cebu. If you want to watch real whale sharks and not puppies being fed, your best option in the Philippines is found in a lesser known site called Pintuyan.
Pintuyan is a fifth class municipality in Southern Leyte province is home to the most eco-friendly whale shark interaction in the country.

Why Choose Pintuyan over Oslob?

The difference between Oslob and Pintuyan is quite huge in several aspects.

  1. Less Crowd. Far from them park feeling you get when in Oslob, Pintuyan is a remote place that is not frequently visited by countless of Korean and Chinese tourists. Compared to hundreds in Oslob, in Pintuyan, you will probably have 20 other people the most.
  2. Longer Interaction for Lesser Cost. In Oslob, you only get to be in the water for 45 minutes and pay more while in Pintuyan, it will be for a three-hour long sea-based adventure. Since they do not feed the whale sharks, you will have to wait it out for a bit and have several chances in interacting with them.
  3. Directly Supporting Local Community. In Pintuyan, when you pay the fees, you are paying a small portion to the local government while directly supporting the local fishermen who are advocates of conservation, for a disadvantaged community this is helping them a lot unlike in Oslob where the government is earning millions per month without full transparency where the money is going.
  4. See Raw Nature and Real Local Life. Oslob has already gotten touristy while Pintuyan has remained simple and raw. You can sit back and watch the sunset from their port and enjoy local priced food and drinks in town.
  5. Taking An Ethical Stand Against Animal Exploitation. As travelers, it is easy to not think of our impacts when we support local destinations and activities. Saying No to Oslob is changes the perspective of tourism to a more sustainable approach and it is empowering communities that are opting to be more eco-friendly in their approach.

Getting to Pintuyan:

Traveling to Pintuyan involves several transfers but the scenery is worth it. Southern Leyte being a less frequented place has a lot to offer. I would suggest leaving Cebu at night and arriving early in the morning in either Hilongos or Maasin.

From Cebu:

To reach Pintuyan, you can either go on a fast craft or overnight boat to Hilongos or Maasin (closer) which can take 3-6 hours. Check out Roble Shipping Lines, Gabisan Shipping Lines or Weesam Express. You can then take a van or bus to Sogod where you can take another ride to Pintuyan. From Hilongos to Pintuyan takes about 3 hours and costs around 180PHP. You can also fly to Tacloban and then take a bus to Southern Leyte, however, this will cost a lot more money.

From Bohol:

You can take a local boat called Leopard Shipping Lines from Ubay to Maasin and from there to take a van or bus to go to Sogod Bus Terminal and then catch a van or bus to Pintuyan.

How Much Will The Whale Shark Interaction Cost?

Before you could swim with the sharks, all tourists must undergo briefing before given trip tickets to engage in whale shark interaction. Then you’ll need spotters and tour guides and KASAKA will provide that.

Charges are collected from persons engaging in Whale Shark Watching and Interaction. Interactions can be done from morning until early afternoon.

Whaleshark Interaction Fees:

Conservation Fee: Php250.00 per person

Boat Rental (Good for 3 people): Php700.00 boat tour within the Municipal Water of Pintuyan Proper.

Php800.00 boat tour within the Municipal Water of San Ricardo.

Tour / Naturalist Guide: Php350.00

Shark Spotter: Php300.00

For more questions:
Mr. Virgilio Plazon Flores
KASAKA Collector and also one of the P.O.’s Tour Guides
Mobile Number: 09359296626

Whale Shark Interaction Guidelines:

Make sure to strictly follow the guidelines before and after entering the interaction area.

guidelines

Also important to remember that you SHOULD NOT WEAR SUNSCREEN as these chemicals can affect the whale sharks.

Accommodations in Pintuyan:

You might want to go a day before the whale shark interaction to have enough time to rest before the interaction as it will be an action filled interaction involving a lot of swimming. Whale sharks seem like they swim slow but trust me they can swim fast! Pintuyan has only three options for you should you choose to stay for the night:

Pintuyan Dive Resort :  

They have twin rooms at around P5,000+ You can use my code to get a 10% discount in Booking.com:

D&D’s Lodge:

Located near the parish church of Pintuyan
Address: Barangay Poblacion Ubos, P.S.L.
Care Taker’s Name: Mrs. Emmylou Banol
Contact Number: 09069372486

La Guerta Lodge I and II:

I would suggest staying at Lodge I as it is closer to the local food places, more spacious and Municipal Hall where you pay the conservation fee. A room there costs P 600, it has aircon and an own toilet but no hot shower. You can share one room with two other people though it is quite a tight space and one has to sleep on the floor with a mattress while the two has to share a double bed.

La Guerta Lodge I
(In front of the Municipal Hall)
Address: Barangay Poblacion Ubos, Pintuyan, Southern Leyte

La Guerta Lodge II
(In front of the Pintuyan District Hospital – P.D.H.)
Address: Barangay Poblacion Ubos, P.S.L.

Care Taker’s Name: Mrs. Lynrie B. Guias (for La Guerta Lodges I and II)
Contact Number: 09261426986

6A’s Resort

6As’s Owner: Amy Tandayag – 09173211024

Staying in the Town:

  1. Palawan Pawnshop
  2. Reymart Bakeshop
  3. Mosqueda-Tandayag Building
  4. Basketball Court
  5. Michael Pharmacy
  6. CM Bakery
  7. Ayen Sari-sari Store
  8. Chapel
  9. Lucky Seven Trading
  10. Miq’s Haus
  11. Eatery
  12. Roselyn’s Sari-sari Store and Lotto Outlet
  13. Venus Sari-sari Store – BBQ, Vegetables and Fruit Stand
  14. Rucat’s Sari-sari Store
  15. Alice Store Sari-sari Store
  16. Water Market
  17. Pinoy ATM
  18. Cade’s Sari-Sari Store – Meat and Vegetables
  19. Richard’s Snackhouse
  20. Cebuana Lhuiller Express
  21. Surigao Sari-sari Grocery
  22. Ramos’ Store – Photocopy/clothes/house supplies
  23. Chapel
  24. Lelot Store – Fruits and Vegetables
  25. San Juan “Ubos” Barangay Hall
  26. Ariane Jee Lechon Manok
  27. Lhuiller Pawnshop
  28. La Guerta Lodging House
  29. Rowena’s Store
  30. Basketball Court Gym
  31. Municipal Hall
  32. Bakery
  33. Pintuyan Central School
  34. D&D Lodge
  35. Pintuyan National Highschool
  36. DJ BA Pharmacy
  37. La Guerta Lodge II
  38. Pintuyan District Hospital
  39. Ginell’s JenielJunJames Gen. Merchandise and Eatery
  40. Karaoke Bar

Another tip is to catch the sunset from the port, grab your beer and just chill. When sunset comes, you will be able to see the local fishermen head out to the sea. It is like seeing the boat version of Bagan’s air balloons. It is quite a sight to see. Also, remember that everything closes early in this place so make sure to buy dinner by 7:00PM as all stores pretty much close after. You can also use the dirty kitchen in La Guerta and cook, you can borrow the pans from the caretakers they are very helpful.

Other Activities You Can Do When in Pintuyan:

Hike Son-ok Peak

Located within the Panaon Point of Barangay Son-ok near Pintuyan Ecotourism Park, you will get a bird’s eye view of the bay.

Explore Pintuyan Ecotourism Park which has an area of 22,729 sq. meters, home to the Philippine long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis philippensis.)

Chase Waterfalls

A series of five waterfalls that stretch along 4.5 kilometers of river flows of Barangay Catbawan seven kms. Northeast of the town proper.

The site boast of its unique features thru different shapes of waterfalls.
The 212 hours of river trekking along the stretch is worth an adventure as one will hurdle each falls using roots and hanging “Bagon” leaving behind memories of hard knock efforts while enjoying what nature can offer. S

Snorkel or Dive

Pintuyan has several Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that boast beautiful coral coverage and an abundance of reef fishes: Dan-an, Manglit, Son-ok, and Balong-Balong. But there are also interesting spots just along the coast like right in front of the Brgy. Sta. Cruz Pier or the sandy area in Brgy. Punod for muck diving.
Before you swim or indulge in any water activities, especially in the MPAs, please contact or visit the Tourism Office first to settle conservation fees, suggestions on where you can rent gear (mask, snorkel, fins) if you do not have any, and instructions on if and where inside these areas is allowed for recreation.

Now that you have a better option than Oslob, please spread the word and help promote Pintuyan, a hidden gem in Southern Leyte.

Mermaid on A Motorcycle

Nothing like a quiet drive around Siargao Island to clear the mind and reconnect with nature!

View from Siargao
View from Siargao

This is one of my favourite things to do when in Siargao. The minute I arrive in General Luna, I pick up a semi-automatic motorcycle from a local shop. They already know me well that I just send them a message and they already prepare the board rack and my essentials.

WHAT ABOUT MOTORCYCLES?

As a teenager, my mother never wanted me to learn how to drive a motorcycle because she knew I always did insane stunts from climbing our balcony, sliding down trees with the use of a bamboo pole and even standing on hammocks pretending to surf.

Jessica Alba Dark Angel
Jessica Alba as Dark Angel

LEARNING TO DRIVE

I followed my mother’s advice and stayed away from driving motorcycles but growing up seeing Jessica Alba as Dark Angel looking all cool, the idea never left my mind. During my volunteer trip to Tacloban, I was riding at the back while we visited different spots. One of the unforgettable and probably the most painful in the butt was when we decided to go to Biliran and chase waterfalls. The trip took more than 3 hours being on the motorbike however the scenery and the perfectly paved roads. I have been at the backseat most of the time enjoying the breeze, and checking out the scenery. I love the feeling I get from adrenaline rush that speed gives me. After I ended my volunteer work, I had a relationship with a guy who also loved weekend adventures and it was with him that I decided to stop being fearful and learned to drive.

Luckily I knew already how to balance and ride a bicycle so I started learning basics driving an automatic scooter. It has been three years since I mustered the courage to drive and it was at Camiguin, then I tried again in Siquijor and Southern Leyte. My third time would be in Siargao alone. My first trip to Siargao, I was just riding with people from the hostel but I realised how limited I was. I decided to rent a scooter on my own. I was driving at 30KPH, slowly and surely, I got the hang of it. After that trip, I returned with more confidence and with the supportive locals, I was encouraged to try the Honda XRM. It was not as intimidating as I first imagine it to be but definitely exposure to rough terrain  and the need to see more of the island forced me to toughen up!

MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENTS

I am a worrier and it usually does not help you. I remember my first bad turn, how I drove to the other end of a street just because I was so bad with turning on sharp curves. I would give up driving the scooter and asking my bf then to drive but after we broke up, I had no one to drive for me! It was May 2017 when my first main accident happened. I ended up with several burns in my right leg after a bad turn on our way to Magpupungko Rock Pool. I noticed the junction late and tried to turn quickly but I ended up in the rocky portion and panicked so instead of slowing down, I revved up! The worse part is that I have high pain tolerance so I thought when I fell over it was just a bit warm from the metal absorbing the heat from the sun, it turns out, my leg was against the engine! Fortunately, I was with my good German Couchsurfing friend Yasha who was also a nurse so we drove a couple of meters to find ice and guess what? I still surfed that day!

Burns from the fall
My scar from the burns from the major fall.

The next motorcycle accident that spooked me well was the recent one earlier this year, I was driving on my way to Salvacion a surf spot in Pilar. I decided to go ahead of everyone to save time and just wait for the rest there. Everything was going well until I reached one rocky area and the board rack snapped. The surfboard was starting to go up and my reflex was to hold on to the board, I ended up hitting my head on the ground and having a couple of scratches in the legs. It reminded me of my stupidity of not only putting more concern over the board than my own safety but also of not wearing helmets. It was a good location for the board rack to snap though because there were several locals on a break from the road construction. They helped me pick myself up and tie the board rack back to the motorcycle. Despite this I still decided to drive ahead despite terrible road condition. It was my last day in the trip and I wanted to leave the island stoked. The locals who saw me driving to the spot would look and think how crazy I am to be bleeding and still want to surf.

 

On Being A Mermaid on a Motorcycle

It was in Siargao where I learned the most because of the offbeat trails that have either mud or huge rocks. It was because of my love for the island life that I conquer my fear given to me by my mother after here motorcycle accident. I do understand the dangers that comes with it but it does come also with freedom. The freedom to breakthrough terrible traffic or even just simply the feeling you get while driving through beautiful landscapes. Women riding motorcycles is still uncommon in the country. I had one chat with an Angkas driver and he told me out of all the drivers in Cebu there were only 2 female Angkas drivers. There is still a stigma about women doing dangerous stuff. For decades, riding motorcycles have been considered more of a guy thing. However, we are not at a period where the disparity between men and women as growing thinner.

Despite the accidents and norms involved in riding motorcycles, I bought my electric scooter just last year. Now, I not only drive around the island but also through Cebu City. I learned how to drive in between cars and other hacks for driving in the city just like how Angkas drivers do.

To me being an autodidact is quite rewarding, I went from noob to confident rider and knowing that somehow when I drive a motorcycle men will turn their heads and think:

” She can definitely drive.”

I am indirectly changing norms that motorcycles are just for men and encouraging more women to do the same.

In the end, you can basically learn and change anything in this world with the right motivation and a whole lot of grit.

What have you pushed yourself to learn or change recently?

Diving in Subic : Exploring the Wrecks of USS New York and El Capitan

Looking for a quick and challenging dive spot from Manila? Hop on the bus and head to Subic! Here is what I saw diving in USS New York and El Capitan!

For months, I have put off my plans of diving! I was probably meant to have my 20th dive in the place where I learned diving (courtesy of Boardwalk Dive Center).

Subic Bay is home to a lot of wrecks! When you go wreck diving, you have to make sure that you have a good trim or else silt will ruin the visibility. If someone calls you a seahorse while diving, that means you suck at doing the trim. Day in and day out, people from different countries would visit to test their skills. I have always been lucky enough to go diving with people who had more experience and who were of higher levels: technical dive masters and rescue diver while I am still an advanced adventure diver.Anyways,I probably suck more at selfies underwater than on land (my rate of success on land is 1/20) so I hope you forgive me for my futile attempt at underwater photography.

First dive was at USS New York, one of the most popular wrecks in Subic. If you want to explore the entire wreck, you will need to have excellent technical dive skills. The wreck is not for the fainthearted. It will test you and bring out the claustrophobic in you. Three divers have died exploring inside the USS New York – which indicates significant hazards and the need for advanced technical wreck training. My bottom time was 30 mins. since I was just using air. I wish I could have stayed longer.

Depth: 16 until 32 Meters

Length: 116 Meters

Position: Port Side

Current: Generally Calm

Suitable for: Advanced Open Water/Experienced/Technical Wreck Divers

Perfect for: Intermediate-Technical Wreck Penetration, Historical/Heritage Appreciation.

Diving Information:

Basic Divers – Lower than average visibility (due to proximity to the Olongapo river mouth) and deeper water makes this site more suitable for divers who have gained experience beyond entry-level training. The top of the wreck lies in 17-22m depth, covered in soft and whip corals with many reef fish. Lying slightly deeper (~59 ft (18 m) deep) divers can examine the uppermost barrel of an 8 in (200 mm) primary gun. The 361 ft (110 m) length gives plenty of area to observe. Corals, sponges and fish life that have had over 60 years to convert it into home. Scorpion fish are common around this wreck and divers are reminded that contact with these fish is dangerous. Experienced Wreck Divers – More advanced divers can explore the propeller, conning tower and deck areas. There are some areas of relatively easy penetration, with open-spaces and sufficient height to stay clear of major silt deposits. These include the following. The mess deck (2nd deck down) has an interesting penetration 197 ft (60 m) with port holes above allowing light, but no exit. The boiler room can be explored within recreation diving limits. Due to the nature of the wreck, with low light/viz and the risk of silt disturbance; redundant gas supplies and guideline deployment training are recommended for penetrations.

Advanced/Technical Wreck Divers – Three divers have died exploring inside the USS New York – which indicates significant hazards and the need for advanced technical wreck training. Divers with proper decompression and advanced/technical wreck penetration training can reach the engine room, machinery spaces and lower decks. These are in excellent condition, with huge pipes, machinery and valve wheels. Spaces are extremely confined, with many restrictions and high risk of silt-out. Penetration is generally made on twin tanks, whilst deploying a constant guideline to the exit. Both engine room entrances have notices, warning of the dangers to the untrained.

I am no stranger to the second dive site El Capitan (USS Majaba). It was where I did my first and second dive. Unlike USS New York, I was unlucky because the go pro ran out of battery while we were exploring inside! It was a beauty and I will definitely go back to take good videos and photos. I forced the gopro and somehow it worked and I got to take photos of the school of jacks at the end of the dive! We also got to see a spotted ray and not-so-giant clams.

Depth: 5 until 21 Meters

Long: 90 Meters

Wide: 16 Meters

Position: Starboard side

Current: Generally Calm

Suitable for: All Levels of Divers Perfect for: Novice Wreck Penetration, Fun

Diving Information:

At a depth of slightly over 18 meters the outside of the wreck provides an excellent site for divers. The forward hole is wide-open allowing entry by even novice divers. The top side (starboard side) is at 5 meters, which eliminates the need for an extra safety stop. This area is alive with a variety of fish. From the forward hole, additional areas of the ship may be accessed. One route takes you to the accommodation area and on to rear cargo hold. Wreck History: Normally referred to as the El Capitan the USS Majaba (AG 43) was built as SS Meriden by Albina Engine & Machine Works, Portland, Oreg., in 1919; acquired by the Navy under charter as SS El Capitan from her owner, E. K. Wood Lumber Co., of San Francisco, Calif., 23 April 1942; renamed Majaba and commissioned the same day. She was placed out of service 14 March 1946 at Subic Bay.

How To Get There From Manila:

Take the Victory Liner Bus from Cubao, Quezon City. Take the one via SCTEX, it is a lot faster. When you get off the terminal, you can ask around where to take the jeepney that goes to SM Olongapo or if you have a lot of cash, you can take a cab into Subic Bay for P300. From SM Olongapo, you can just walk through the gates into Subic Bay Freeport.

Where To Stay When In Subic Bay Freeport:

If you are on a budget, you should check-out The Cabin by Subic Park Hotel. It is one of the cheapest accommodation than you can find.

A practical place for practical people. The only Backpackers Hotel inside Subic Bay Freeport Zone. It is located along Schley road, Subic Bay Freeport Zone. Owned and managed by Subic Park Hotel. The Cabin has dormitory type accommodations with (5) five bunk beds, individual cabinet, fan, and fully air-conditioned. We also have twelve (12) Private Rooms with air-condition, LCD Television and Coffee Table available for single or double occupancy. You can also enjoy our homey type reception area where you can feel and enjoy the warmth hospitality of our accommodating staff and its country side atmosphere. For as low as Php 430/night to Php 750/night you can now avail and enjoy the most affordable country style service with free Wi-Fi access everywhere.

You can book here: http://www.thecabinsubic.com/

If you want high-class accommodation, you should try The Lighthouse Marina Resort. It is the best hotel in Subic Bay.

The Lighthouse Marina Resort is a three-floor, 34-room boutique hotel capped by a lighthouse. The hotel is sleek and ultra-modern in its Palafox-designed architecture. Done in almost austere Italianate architectonics with its elegantly simplistic hotel facade, the hotel main building provided a perfect compliment to the 20 meter light tower done in surprising detail very faithful to naval architecture specifications. It’s exclusive location hidden in the midst of the busy Waterfront Road makes it the ultimate haven of retreat. The Lighthouse established back in 2007 to provide transient residence to executives of business locators of the Subic free port zone; and for tourists who frequent the port more for its sailing and eco-tourism than its business.

You can book here: http://www.lighthousesubic.com/ or through agoda.com

After the dives, I realized I need to save up for a better underwater camera, my wing (the one I used for Miss SCUBA was just borrowed), my torch and jet fins for the love of having a more streamlined dive in the future! I also need to practice more on taking better selfies and perfecting my trim! Also need to ask someone else to take photos of me so I have full body ones. It sucks when you are the one with the camera, you barely have decent photos!

It is always a good experience to dive at Subic! It is easy access and you can go to a lot of wreck sites.You should not miss diving there!

Diving in Cebu: Shark Diving in Malapascua Island

As a young animal lover, I have always dreamed of seeing sharks and swimming next to them. I remember staying up late to watch dive expeditions being shown on National Geographic and Discovery Channel. Diving with the thresher sharks was part of my dive bucketlist.

According to some stories, some Spaniards have been sailing through the Visayas in the year of 1520 and ended up stranded on Malapascua on Christmas Day because of the unfortunate incident they called the island Mala Pascua, which literally means “Bad Christmas”. I am not certain how they could’ve thought it was bad luck to be in a beautiful island. Although the older local people still insist that their island’s name is “Logon” (same name as the main village here on Malapascua) and not Malapscua. This island a popular dive destination in the Philippines. The picturesque island is home to a world famous treasure. A special kind of shark, the thresher shark. As a young animal lover, I have always dreamed of seeing sharks and swimming next to them. I remember staying up late to watch dive expeditions being shown on National Geographic and Discovery Channel. Diving with the thresher sharks was part of my dive bucketlist.

To get to Malapascua is not that quick, from Cebu City, you will have to take the bus all the way to Maya which takes about 5 hours. For my trip, I took the bus to Bogo  and stayed there for the night. The following morning we took the bus from Bogo City to Maya Port. I enjoyed the bus ride as it passed through rice fields and mangrove forests. When we reached Maya Port, the locals immediately asked if we were heading to Malapascua. I was told that the usual price is 80 PHP but we arrived a bit late (most boats don’t go to Malapascua in the afternoon unless you charter them because of the current) so we had to just say yes to them.

IMGP0137
Malapascua from a distance.

The weather was on our side that day despite warnings of thunderstorms that weekend. I sat and enjoyed the calming sea breeze for 30 minutes as the boat sailed smoothly over the placid sea. The other passengers looked like babies on a cradle slowly falling asleep.

Malapascua Island
Malapascua somehow reminds me of Boracay in a less touristy way.

Unknown to many, 2 years ago, Malapascua Island was also one of the islands ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan. Expats and locals both pitched in to recover from the destruction and while I was walking around there were little traces.

Bangkas in Malapascua
Clear blue skies and white sand.

We did not make any prior bookings relying on the fact that it was off season in the island. It was not difficult to find accomodations. I saw more than 10 resorts all lining the coast of Malapascua. More than a decade ago, I visited the island as part of my mother’s regular company outing. I could barely remember the details of the island and would’ve gotten lost if not for Lucas. He already went to Malapascua several times for diving.  I am always embarrassed when people ask me where I did my dives ( I probably did more dives in Mabul and Sipadan than in my own country). It was my first dive in Cebu by the way! Anyways, we headed to French Kiss Divers first to try squeezing in a dive for that day (we needed vitamin Sea so much that they anyways their local staff thought I was Thai, not sure if I should be happy or not). They were nice enough to schedule a 3:30 PM dive.

Boat
Serene view.

After taking care of our dive for the day, we headed to Malapascua Exotic Island Dive & Beach Resort. Exotic is one of the established resorts on the island and they offer budget accomodations (for those who want to spend more on dives than their beds). We left our bags and had a quick lunch (they had a wide variety of dishes and the servings were good). Once we filled our stomachs, we walked back to French Kiss to prepare the dive gears and do all the necessary equipment check.

BCDs are ready!
The view just makes you want to jump right in without your gears.

Shark diving is the main activity in the island but you can also do macro-diving. Malapascua offers sandy bottoms, seagrass meadows, mangroves and coral reefs. The island has other top class dive sites apart from Malapascua such as Gato Island, Lapus Lapus and Dakit Dakit. If you are spending more days in the island, you can even hire a boat to take you to Kalanggaman Island in Palompon.

Here is a map I created to show you a few of the different sites:

DEEP SLOPE

Our first dive was at Deep Slope which was a unique underwater sand dune that slowly turns into a small wall which is covered with soft corals.  Pygmy seahorses, yellow and pink ones can be seen inside the different sea fans along that reef.  An interesting dive site for more experienced beginners and advanced divers. For beginners, you need to be aware of the slope and make sure to always check your dive computer to avoid diving beyond your limit. While doing the dive, I got a bit nervous when we suddenly saw a banded sea snake (more than a meter long) swimming along the reef wall (FYI: I hate snakes and centipedes).

Continue reading “Diving in Cebu: Shark Diving in Malapascua Island”

24 Hours in Camiguin

Sunny noon, the bus stopped right in front of Jagna Public Market. We were beaming with smiles from Loboc, thinking that we calculated our time well to make it to the 1:00 P.M. trip. My mind filled with thoughts of white sand and turquoise waters of the volcanic island. We had high hopes that we will see Camiguin before the sun sets. Much to our surprise, they have changed the schedule. On their website it said that the time of departure was 1:00 P.M but they have not updated their websites for months (I generally have trust issues with most bus and ferry websites in the Philippines because they rarely update). When we decided to go to Bohol, it was because we found out that there was an alternative route to go to Camiguin. I researched on places to visit and double checked everything except for the schedule to Camiguin. That time I was only worried if the ferry trip even existed so when they confirmed it did, I assumed it never changed (Insert Don Miguel Ruiz’s Second Agreement , Do Not Assume). First lesson learned was to always confirm with the shipping lines (Shuttle Ferry / phone: 088 387 40 34).

The unfortunate incident led us to do the Sierra Bullones trail, losing a day for Camiguin. Next morning, we woke up by 7 a.m. Like de ja vu we walked to the port area, but this time we finally make it to the ship bound for Camiguin.  The cost to cross from Jagna to Balbagon was  PHP 425 for the ferry and PHP 5 terminal fee.

Balbagon Port
After 4 hours on the boat, we finally docked at Balbagon Port and said hello to the Island Born of Fire.

After getting off the boat, we then headed to hire a motorela ( a customized single motorcycle that could fit 10 people. ) to got to our resort. Of course, we tried to haggle and since they do not have a set price, most of the drivers tried to charge PHP250. We found one who agreed to P180 but in the end he did not have change so it was still PHP 200.

Camiguin Action Geckos
The view of the resort from the beach.

When we reached Camiguin Action Geckos Dive and Adventure Resort, we checked-in (the staff was happy to finally see us). We booked their traveler room with fan and shared CR and bathroom (cold water) for PHP 900 which was  value for money.

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The area was not touristy though there were nearby resort.

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Fine black sand

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If I can only live like this forever!

After going around the resort and settling down, we chatted with the manager and he gave us a map and tips on where to go. It was already lunch time so we decided to save time by grabbing lunch there. Their meals ranged from PHP 100-300 and they have a separate menu for vegetarians!

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Pasta for the hungry me.

Another plus with the resort is they have scooters for rent which cost PHP 500 for a day, so we grabbed our helmets and headed to Paras Beach Resort where we can get a boat for White Island. The local government of Camiguin has set a standard fee for hiring the bangkas or the outrigger boats for roundtrip costs PHP 450.00/good for 6 persons and Environmental Fee for PHP 20.00/ per person.

Our quiet boatman who patiently waited for us in the White Island.
Our quiet boatman who patiently waited for us in the White Island.

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The outrigger boat from Paras takes roughly 10 minutes to reach White Island.

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Lunch time is probably the best time to visit since most Filipinos do not want to get a tan.

 

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For 20 minutes, we had the entire sandbar for ourselves.

underwater selfie
Underwater selfies are difficult.

Little marine life in the shallow parts of the island.

Camiguin in one shot
Camiguin in one shot

We spent an hour basking in the sun, taking photos and swimming in the clear waters (we brought our own swimming masks which saved us P150).  We left the island around 2:00 P.M. just when others started arriving. Our next stop would be in Catarman to view the Sunken Cemetery.

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If you want to snorkel or dive, you have to register in the baranggay hall.

It took us about 30 minutes to reach Catarman, some of the roads were under construction (elections is coming) and we were amateurs in driving scooters. The idea of snorkelling over graves did not really excite us so we just took photos and left.

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You can see the cross from the viewing deck.

Couple of minutes from the Sunken Cemetery, you will see the Way of the Cross and the Old Church Ruins, both of which did not interest us so we did not bother to stop and went straight for the Bura Soda Water Spring.

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Trying to sneak a selfie with the scooter’s side mirror.

The soda spring had a distinct smell and I never found out where it came from. Anyways the entrance to the water park was Php60.00. It was a good refreshing dip to cool down after not having rinsed the salt water from White Island.

Soda Water
Bura Soda Water Park

We started getting cold and decided to go to the next destination, Katibawasan Falls by 4:00P.M. We were very motivated to add couple more stops to the half day tour. To get into Katibawasan Falls, you will need to pay PHP 60 per person. Before heading to the falls, we decided to have a quick snack. You can find several kiosks and souvenir shops right outside the entrace.

Kiping a local delicacy made by frying a mixture of water and ground sweet potato that is then served with latik or thick caramelized coconut cream syrup.
Kiping a local delicacy made by frying a mixture of water and ground sweet potato that is then served with latik or thick caramelized coconut cream syrup.

Non athletic and adventurous people need not worry about walking far to the waterfalls. They have build concrete walkway which makes it convenient (the only problem would be if you have knee issues since it is quite steep).

Katibawasan Falls
As how Lonely Planet describes it : A beautiful clear stream of water dropping more than 70m to a plunge pool where you can swim and picnic.

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Had the brilliant idea of taking this photo!

When we reached the waterfall, there were only 4 people with us. We had a tranquil moment as we enjoyed the chilly waters. If you plan to swim right to where the water drops, you will be disappointed as it is not allowed due to several accidents in the past.

Majestic view of the Katibawasan falls
Majestic view of the Katibawasan falls

The water was too cold for us and we were already shivering so we decided to catch the sunset at PHIVOLCS Observatory. It was sort of a Fast and Furious chase scene as we desperately tried to head to the main town of Mambajao (thank God for good concrete roads).

The view while we were trying to reach the observatory for a better view of the sunset.
As we were making our way to the observatory, the sun was teasing us.

After 30 minutes of driving like crazy (not the unsafe kind), we made it to the observatory.

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We managed to catch a glimpse of the sunset.

 

The full view
The full view

The sun waited for us before leaving for the day.
The sun waited for us before leaving for the day.

Normally, sunsets mark the end of the day, but for us it was not the last stop before calling it a day. We got back on our scooter and headed to Ardent Hot Springs. The entrance costs PHP 30 per person. The springs are still surrounded by trees and foliage and commercial shops. It gets very busy on weekends specially at night. The day we visited was no exception. This was our last stop for the day and we rewarded ourselves with a generous serving of pork sinigang and chopsuey from Ardent’s restaurant.

Ardent Hot Spring
Ardent Hot Spring

After devouring the food we went to take a dip. The water temperature did not meet my expectation. It was not warm like that from a hot shower.It was only lukewarm that night. We tried to find a hot area. We moved back and forth and in the end, we gave up and decided to head back to our room. As we made our way back into the main road, I needed to find mobile credits (disadvantages of prepaid) so we went around the town proper. It seemed like destiny that I would chance upon a Vjandep shop.  They were the most known bakers of pastel (Spanish word for cake) which was bread filled with custard or yema. The sweet tooth in me was celebrating. This bread was reminiscent of the time when I used to love dip sliced white bread into condensed milk.  I bought several boxes for me and as pasalubong for my sister. They had a box of 6 for PHP 70 and a box of 12 for PHP120.

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Pastel should be a sin!

I went back to the resort happy with my box of pastel. We ordered brewed coffee to pair with the pastel and enjoyed our dessert as we sat outside looking out to the shore and listening to the waves crashing. It was a hectic yet fun day and I felt that we were part of Amazing Race (I’m sure we can be good competitors if given the opportunity).

The next day, we woke up around  7:00 A.M refreshed and hyped to do a dive. We grabbed a heavy breakfast and checked our dive gears. It was the last for our day itinerary in Camiguin, a fun dive at White Island.

My favorite part of this breakfast meal was the homemade bread!
My favorite part of this breakfast meal was the homemade bread!

We finished diving around 11:00 P.M., we had enough time to shower, pack and check out. We then waited for a motorela to pass by the main road. We waited for a while before we managed to get one who charged us PHP 250 (we we desperate this time to not miss the boat so we just said yes in a heartbeat).

As we boarded the ferry, we wished we could’ve spent more time in Camiguin. We missed diving in Mantigue Island  and climbing Mt. Hibok-Hibok but as what one driver said to us, “This is why there is such a thing as second time”. 
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We will definitely be back.

Reaching Jagna Port
Reaching Jagna Port

From Jagna Port, you can get a direct van to Tagbilaran City for PHP 100. We arrived on time to make it to Ocean Jet’s last trip for Cebu.

Sunset over Tagbilaran Port
Sunset over Tagbilaran Port

Offbeat Bohol : Loboc – Jagna – Sierra Bullones Trail

Think you have seen all of Bohol? This might change your mind.

My dad is from Bohol, from an early age, I have already seen most of the touristic places in this beautiful island. Everytime we visited we always followed the usual route. Swimming at Alona Beach in Panglao then a day trip to Chocolate Hills in Carmen and stops in Loboc to for the river cruise and at Carmen to see the tarsiers. For a moment I thought I already explored Bohol well enough. When I found out that there was a long weekend, I decided to challenge conventions and carve out a different path.

The original plan was just to stay for one night in Bohol since we wanted to go from Jagna to Camiguin to spend more time there. We left Cebu City around 4:00 P.M. OceanJet offers P600 roundtrip Cebu-Tagbilaran. It was a 3 hour boat ride and sunset  greeted as we docked in Tagbilaran port.

Sunset in Bohol
The sun sets as the fastcraft docks in the Port of Bohol.

When we reached Tagbiliran port, we immediately followed the directions that most of the travel blogs wrote on how to get to Loboc ( located 26km. east of Bohol). People do not usually stay in Loboc, most of the crowd would flock to Panglao. Loboc is just one of the popular stops when doing a tour around Bohol. It is famous for the river cruises and the nearby Tarsier Conservatory. We chose to stay at Loboc because it was nearer to Jagna and to avoid tourists.

Getting a tricycle is not a big problem but finding a reasonable driver to give you a local price is, so we walked for a bit to the main road. We managed to get a cheaper one eventually. We headed to Dao Central Terminal which was right across Island City Mall. One thing a traveller should remember when going around the Philippines or any place for that matter is to always have a plan B. I did not expect that the jeepney bound for Loboc had specific schedules so we ended up going back to the plaza where the other jeepneys were. Luckily, we managed to get inside the last jeepney.

Filipinos in the jeepney.
How many heads can you count? This is what I call “Filipino capacity”.

It was a tight squeeze as they had people sitting in the aisle with wooden stools. If they cared about making the passengers comfortably sitted, one side would fit 10 max but since it is Filipino capacity there were 12 people on each sides and 6 sitting in the middle. We had huge luggage with us and for a while we worried about it. The good thing is the fact that most jeepneys have space on top. It took us 40 minutes to reach Loboc ( probably 20 minutes if there were less stops). When we reached the landmark of the place we booked, it was pitch dark and we had to use our flashlights. We barely noticed Loboc River on our right side as we walked through the dirt road. It was very tranquil and you can hear all sorts of sounds echoing from different critters. Relieved not to have a lot of people walking about asking you to buy stuff or have a massage, something that you would normally experience when staying around Panglao.

Pitch black
Darkness greeted us on our arrival.

We finally reached Fox and the Firefly Cottages but then realised that we booked the wrong night. Luckily there was no one occupying the room so the receptionist just let us stay. We woke up with a beautiful site. The place was serene and surrounded by lush greens.

Fox and Firefly Resort
The Fox and Firefly Resort offers a cozy and unique option for those tired of the beach.

Morning View
Good morning Loboc!

Fox
The local fox looking all pensive.

Shell Chandelier
The details matter.

Dragonfly
My spectator during shower time.

Outdoor Shower
My favorite part in Fox and the Firefly. I wish I had my own outdoor shower.

After having our hot shower and grabbing breakfast, we had 4 hours to kill so we went for a 1 hour paddle tour. I have never tried paddle boarding but I have been on top of a long board and a kayak so I did not worry much about the idea of falling over.

Paddle boards galore
The others went for the full day tour.

The tour guide first taught us the basics of finding the proper length for the paddle and the proper way to stand on the board. It was really not that difficult. You will only have trouble if you cannot balance well.

Loboc River
The magnificent Loboc river.

After the tutorial, we started the tour. The guide just went with us to make sure we were safe. I did expect him to tell a thing or two about the river but he didn’t. He was nice enough to take photos of us paddling across the river.

Sky's reflection
The weather was perfect.

Me Paddling
I always wanted to try paddleboarding.

Effortless along Loboc
An hour of paddling was not much of a challenge.

The paddle tour ended near the Loboc River Resort, we thought we needed to paddle back to the cottages but we got picked up by their multicab. It was a relaxing tour and the hour spent was really worth it. It would have been better if we did the full day since the 1 hour tour was P800 for each person.

Buko
Refreshing buko after the paddle tour.

It was already 10:00 a.m. and I initially planned to leave by then, we had to rush to the main road to catch the jeepney.

Path
The paved road to Fox and Firefly

We waited for at least 30 minutes before we got on a jeepney. There were more jeepneys heading to Loboc than heading out. At one moment, I considered hitching a ride with a bunch of locals but did not take the risk.

Loay bound
Jeepney heading to Loay Market

It did not take long to reach Loay Public Market and in less than 10 minutes we found a bus heading for Jagna.

Loay Public Market
Loay Public Market, where most of the buses heading to Jagna stops.

The only problem with the bus is that it was full. We had to stand near the doors and had to move back each time the conductor would shout, “Naay manaog!”, which in Visayan means someone is getting off. It took longer than expected with all the stops.

Filipino Capacity
Nothing like a full bus to keep you up!

The hot road.
The hot road.

Two hours later, we reached Jagna, only to find out that the ferry to Camiguin left at 8 a.m that the schedule I knew was not updated. So we had no choice but to stay in Jagna for the night. Jagna, a historical port town on the southern coast of Bohol is also known only as a stopover before heading to Camiguin and its delicacy called Calamay (sweet sticky rice packaged inside a coconut shell). The good thing of me being obssessive compulsive was I did my research on the town and had a list of places where we could eat and stay.

Idea Pension house is not like your ordinary bed and breakfast. It is a project of a 25 year-old organisation IDEA, where they provided employment, training and housing to the deaf around Visayas.  When the driver dropped us of we were wondering where the pension house since we only saw a cafe. We walked in and found out that it is within the same building. We booked a room for the night. Their accommodation came with free breakfast and WiFi. It was a good deal and we felt good that we were supporting a good cause.

IDEA Cafe Menu
You also learn some sign languages in their menu.

Pancakes and Bacon
Pancakes and bacon! You can never go wrong (if you are a carnivore that is).

It was still 3p.m., we were looking for things to do around Jagna, they have a nearby waterfall and a spring reservoir. Later, we reached a conclusion and decided to go to Chocolate Hills since it was his first time in Bohol. I did not want him to miss Bohol’s iconic geological wonder. In Tagbilaran City, it would be easy to find motorbikes for rent  but it was the contrary in Jagna, since people barely stay there, there was little market for it. The pension house was just walking distance from the public market so we went there to try to find a way to head to Chocolate Hills.

We had to bargain ( being with a foreign guy did not help). We asked around and most of the habal-habal drivers (extended motorcycle that could fit up to 6 people) wanted to charge us P2,000 which was ridiculous. Going back on the bus to Loboc was also not an option because it would take us another two hours. We ended up with an old guy who finally agreed to take us to and from Chocolate Hills for P1,000.

Roads of Sierra Bullones
Long and winding roads of Sierra Bullones offers a pleasant drive to the hills.

It was a pleasant ride through the hills of Sierra Bullones. Located at the interior part of the province, the municipality of Sierra Bullones was a place of refuge for insurgents during the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino-American War. After the road construction, more people started settling in and started farming. The roads were surprisingly smooth and well paved. Apparently, it was as a national highway but people rarely pass there.

Magnificent view above Bohol
I have never seen this view of Bohol.

As we went through the road, we saw several rice terraces. I have never known this about Bohol so it was cool to know it. After an hour on the motorbike ( my butt hurt), we finally reached Chocolate Hills. It was funny while paying the entrance fee, one woman was saying that we really needed to buy water because it was 250 steps to reach the top of the viewing deck ( maybe a lot of people find it already tiring but since I love walking, it was easy).

Bohol Chocolate Hills
My 2015 version of the cliche photo of Chocolate Hills

Since it was a top tourist stop, you would normally have to wait for your turn to take a photo of the hills. Somehow Chocolate Hills always gives me this alien vibe. The view is just out of this world.

Less Photographed View
Another perspective from the viewing deck. The less photographed side.

Last 2013, the viewing deck was destroyed by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake including the old churches around Bohol. Until now, you can still see remnants of the disaster. You will see the site landmark on the ground. You can still help in the rebuilding here.

Origin of Chocolate Hills
A scientific explanation to how Chocolate Hills were formed.

We grabbed some ice cream and water to cool down, we stayed for an hour on the viewing deck to rest our butts. The driver took us through the Sierra Bullones again as the sun sets. He was very happy to get paid that much (he was even showing us where he lived), he said that it was good that travellers like us decided to stay in the less popular places as it helps the local earn more.When we reached Jagna, we had a light dinner and headed back to the pension house to prepare for the morning trip to Camiguin.

Sunset over Sierra Bullones
Sun was slowly fading as we head back to Jagna

It was a nice cap off as we saw the starts shining over us and the cool breeze slowly calling us to sleep. As part Boholana, I saw my father’s province ( with an area of 4,821 km²) in a different perspective far from the popular beaches and more into the historical and geological ones.

Indeed, you can never be too familiar with one place. There will always be a different facade waiting for you to discover.

Browse over the gallery more photos of the adventure.

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