01.05.2017 - 07.05.2017 33 °C
We flew from Puerto Princesa in Palawan to Cebu city (the 3rd largest city in the country) on Cebu Island. From there we got the bus down to Moalboal on the west coast. Initially we were a little bit worried about the bus not having air conditioning, but with all the windows open a cooling breeze passed through the bus while we were moving. Our reason to come to Panagsama Beach in Moalboal was to learn to dive, but it is a nice little place in its own right. There is a nice mixture of tourists (almost all European) and enterprising local residents, almost all of whom seem to make a living off the tourist trade. We were staying at The Blue Abyss Resort and Dive Shop, which is owned by a German guy. It has a very European feel, with the other customers from Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and France. It was a very tidy and well organised place, while also maintaining a relaxed atmosphere.
We started the Open Water Dive Course on our first full day in Moalboal. We weren’t expecting to get wet so quickly, mistakenly thinking we would be doing some theory first. Instead, within 30 minutes we were getting our diving gear on and wading out into the sea at the house reef! Our instructor was a friendly local from Moalboal named Garry, who was great fun and a very experienced diver. The house reef starts just metres from the dive shop. We did four dives there, spotting clownfish, green turtles, a sea snake, a disco clam, pencil fish, lion fish, puffer fish, squid, a school of mackerel, as well as plenty of starfish and coral of all shapes, sizes and colours. It is amazing how much diversity of life is packed into just a small area of ocean. We got into a nice little routine where we did a dive in the morning, got pancakes for lunch and then did another dive in the afternoon, as well as fitting in a bit of time to read some diving theory. We enjoyed ending each day watching the sunset over the island of Negros which lies to the west. Each dive was slightly deeper and lasted slightly longer, getting up to a maximum depth of 21m. It is actually a very lazy sport, as the aim is to use as little air as possible, meaning you should exert yourself as little as possible! Our second day of dive school was Charlotte’s birthday. Coincidentally it was also the birthday celebration of One Eyed Jack’s Pub, near where we were staying. They had a live band playing and provided a buffet of free food, including lechon. Lechon is a pig on a spit, and Filipinos are very fond of the crispy skin and fat, which was all snapped up very quickly! Despite already having eaten dinner we couldn’t resist trying some ourselves. I enjoyed it more than Charlotte, who was too worried about the nutritional value!
On our last day of dive school we went out on the boat, where we got to enter the water like they do in the movies – by rolling in backwards! On the first boat dive, at White Beach, we saw a sea cucumber and a flathead fish, but the highlight was the afternoon dive when we saw a frogfish, angler fish and the famous Moalboal sardine run. This was just a short distance from the dive shop and the number of sardines would take your breath away – except you have to keep breathing from your gas tank underwater or your lungs might explode! The huge school of sardines lives permanently just off Moalboal and is like an underwater cloud which shimmers, twists and turns in a mesmerising manner.
After completing our theory test on the last day, we are now fully certified open water divers. It was great timing as it coincided with the weekly Blue Abyss barbecue on Thursdays. They are big fans of barbecue in The Philippines, cooking all types of meat and fish over charcoal, which gives a delicious flavour. We enjoyed chatting with Klemens the owner, Garry our instructor, and Andrea and Jan, two diving enthusiasts from Germany. Andrea and Jan have dived all over the world for many years. They are both approaching retirement age and Jan has done over 900 dives in his lifetime; Charlotte and I are convinced he is aiming for 1000 dives before he stops! Jan had brought along some German drinks, a spirit of 58% proof which was best consumed after being set alight, and another drink quite like Jagermeister. It was fun trying the German drinks and comparing our different diving and life experiences.
On our final full day in Moalboal we hired a scooter for 300 pesos (about 5 pounds) for the day, in order to explore some more of Cebu Island. Unfortunately, our intended destination of Kawasan Falls was closed due to heavy rain a couple of nights before. Instead a local guy suggested we try Mainit Hot Springs, further to the south. Unfortunately, once again, these were also closed (this time for building renovations), which meant we were at a loss of what to do. At least we had enjoyed the independence of seeing the island on the scooter. Undeterred by our lack of success, we decided to explore inland on our way back to Moalboal. We turned off the main coastal road and headed up to the hills which run down the middle of the island. Eventually we saw a sign for Cangkalanog Falls, where we parked up our scooter and set off to explore. We ended up walking down a steep slope along a little path, past some very basic houses where pigs and cows were tied up, and hens roamed free with their chicks. Just when we were about to give up, we finally spotted the falls, which cascaded into a small pool and canyon. It wasn’t too busy, and we enjoyed going for a dip in the river to cool off.
After five nights, we finally moved on from Moalboal, getting the bus south to Bato. From there we got a ferry across to Negros Island, where we stayed in Dumaguete for two nights. It is a pleasant coastal city and home to the Silliman University, which is apparently well regarded despite the name! Dumaguete is the nearest city to Apo Island, one of the world’s top scuba diving locations. Unluckily, Charlotte had a sore ear and felt a bit under the weather, so she wasn’t able to dive at Apo Island. We both went out to the small, rocky island on a day trip, organised through Harold’s Diving Centre. Also on the boat was a large group of Chinese tourists and a few Filipinos, who brought along plenty of snacks in true Filipino fashion! Once we arrived at the island I found out that I was the only person who would be diving, as the rest would be snorkelling instead. It meant I was one on one with the dive master, a serious-looking middle aged Filipino called Zalia. Over the course of the two dives I spotted six hawksbill turtles, two sea snakes, two frog fish, a school of yellow snapper and plenty of clownfish, among other things! At one of the sites I could see the disconcerting sight of bubbles coming up through the coral due to geothermal activity. We are aware that we are spending a lot of time along the “Pacific Ring of Fire” on this trip, so hopefully we’ll avoid any seismic or volcanic activity during the rest of our time in The Philippines and Japan, having already managed to avoid any issues in New Zealand. Fingers crossed our good luck so far will last!
Outside Blue Abyss Dive Shop, Moalboal
With our diving buddy/instructor Margarito (Garry) Avenito
A colourful nudibranch (underwater worm)
Some striped mackerel hoping for sardines for lunch!
No it's not a selfie, it's a frogfish!
The Moalboal sardine run
Sunset from the dive shop in Moalboal
One of many turtles hanging about off Apo Island