18 – 24 April 2010, The Philippines
From Moalboal we planned to travel to Padre Burgos, a destination that quickly caught my attention while planning our Philippines itinerary. I’d read that Padre Burgos had excellent diving but was still off the regular tourist circuit. Having thoroughly enjoyed Sugar Beach and Moalboal, and with high expectations for Padre Burgos and our other upcoming stops, we realized that the 21-day visas we were issued on arrival wouldn’t allow us enough time in the Philippines. Instead of traveling directly to Padre Burgos we detoured north to Cebu City to extend our visas. After spending the night in Cebu City we took a taxi to the immigration office, not quite sure what to expect. We’d read that anyone dressed casually would be refused service and that the process could take all day. Fortunately neither proved true; my backpacker business casual¹ looked ridiculous compared to the shorts and sandals worn by other travelers, and we were finished in about an hour. With our 59-day visas in hand, we darted off to the port to catch a fast ferry to Leyte, another large island in the Visayas.
Twelve hours of travel between the ferry, two buses, a jeepney, and a tricycle brought us about a kilometer outside Padre Burgos and to Sogod Bay SCUBA Resort. We had no advance reservation and debated among a couple of resorts² but in hindsight SBSR was a fortunate decision. The restaurant overlooks beautiful turquoise water, the rooms were immaculate, the food was tasty, and everyone we met there was friendly. The only other guest was a South African named Dante. A couple of expatriates occasionally visited SBSR and also accompanied us on many of the dives. To the great benefit of this post, they were prolific underwater photographers and were willing to share their photos.³
Left: riding in a jeepney. This is actually a really poor example, because the jeepney is clean, utilitarian, and uncrowded. In Manila and many other cities the jeepneys belch black smoke, are decorated like circus wagons, and are nearly always packed full of passengers. Right: SBSR, as viewed from the dive boat. The row boat was for moving between the shore and the dive boat.
We did seven incredible dives while at SBSR. Our first two dives were at Napantao, one of several Marine Protected Areas established with the help of the local branch of Coral Cay Conservation, an international organization focused on rain forest and coral reef conservation. Similar to Moalboal, the waters were filled with beautifully colored fish and corals, although swimming alongside a green sea turtle for several minutes was the highlight of our dives at Napantao. During subsequent dives we saw a spotted blue ray, several scorpionfish including countless lionfish, and a titan triggerfish that attacked Pedro the Divemaster when he ventured too close to her eggs.
Left: blue spotted ray. Right: scorpionfish.
Left: a lionfish, one of many we saw during our dives. Right: titan triggerfish, similar to the one that bit Pedro.
Nudibranches, sometimes referred to as sea slugs, were a recurring topic of conversation among the divers at SBSR. They’ve identified over a hundred unique species in Sogod Bay, with an incredible variety of flamboyant shapes and brilliant colors. We saw several during each of our dives. In addition to the nudibranches, we learned to appreciate other less conspicuous reef creatures that we might have previously overlooked. Pedro’s sharp eyes spotted miniscule translucent shrimp, orangutan crabs, and purple seahorses that were nearly indistinguishable from the surrounding coral. He pointed to a yellow frogfish so well camouflaged that despite staring for several minutes I thought was a piece of coral.
Left: a nudibranch. Right: an appropriately named orangutan crab.
Left: seahorses, well camouflaged in the coral. Right: the frogfish that I couldn’t see.
We dived at Ghost Town, a site just recently discovered. On entering the water the site appeared barren and boring: the sandy bottom is interrupted by only an occasional plant or piece of wood or trash. There is no reef. We followed Pedro and soon came to understand the site’s appeal. We saw ornately decorated pipefish, large seahorses, and melibe nudibranches that feed by extending their oral hoods, similar to how a fisherman casts a net. Pedro coaxed several mimic octopuses out of their hiding places in the sand. Only discovered in 1998, this octopus avoids predators by impersonating other animals, mimicking their likeness and movements. We watched the octopus change its colors to match the sand as it moved across the ocean floor.
Left: ornate ghost pipefish. Right: mimic octopus.
Our best dives yet were in the Philippines, yet Moalboal and Sogod Bay provided only a sample of the underwater environments that the country has to offer. With 7107 islands (7106 at high tide) there are certainly many more great sites, and we hope to come back someday to explore them.