14 – 17 April 2010, The Philippines
Leaving Sugar Beach behind, we spent the next eleven hours in transit. In total, we rode on three different buses and one ferry before finally arriving in Moalboal on the island of Cebu. Looking back, it was a good thing we didn’t know it was going to take so long to reach our next destination. If we had known what was in store for us, it would’ve been even harder to summon up the energy to leave behind the tranquility of Sugar Beach.
Although the journey was long and hot, we were entertained by some interesting characters along the way. On one of the buses, we sat next to a man from Chicago who recently moved to the Philippines to become a vegetable farmer. Not long after discussing the standard things that all foreigners do when meeting on the other side of the world, he proceeded to ask if the United States Government was still forcing all of its citizens to receive the “swine flu vaccine”. This comment seemed somewhat random since we hadn’t even told him that I formerly worked in Public Health. I emphatically told him that the government had never forced anyone to receive the vaccine but he was skeptical. He then went on to say that H1N1 was fabricated by the pharmaceutical companies and that, to learn more, all we had to do was google “swine flu hoax”. Not surprisingly, the conversation fizzled out rather quickly and we changed seats as soon as another one opened up.
We finally arrived in Moalboal around 9:00 pm and hired a tricycle driver to take us directly to Panagsama Beach, a scuba diving mecca where nearly every building is a hotel, dive shop or restaurant. Tired from the 11 hour journey and anxious to eat dinner, we quickly found a decent room. The room felt a bit cramped due to its small size, but the $11 price tag more than made up for this drawback. Incidentally, two days later we were forced to re-examine our definition of cramped when a Filipino family of 8 moved into the nearly identical room next door.
Our task for the next morning was straightforward: choose a reputable dive shop and explore some of the underwater world that put Moalboal on the tourist map. Since diving was one of the primary reasons we chose to visit the Philippines, we were both anxious to get in the water. After comparing prices, we signed up for a dive with one of the many shops owned by a European expat. Just a few hours later, we waded out to the dive boat, flippers and mask in tow. In less than 15 minutes, we reached the dive site and proceeded to squeeze into our wetsuits. Jumping into the water, we were immediately greeted by a sea snake that was about 4 feet long! We watched the snake in amazement until it swam away and then followed the dive master, descending along a wall and stopping in a sandy bottom cavern about ten meters down. It had been over a year since our last dive, so we spent the next ten minutes reviewing the basics. Once he was confident in our abilities, we set off to explore the reef. We saw countless small fish, huge sea fans, and the brilliantly colored soft corals for which the Philippines is most known. When we surfaced 40 minutes later, both Jason and I eagerly agreed this was likely the best diving we had ever done.
Excited to take advantage of the top notch diving, we spent four days exploring different dive sites in the area. Not only was the diving exceptional but peak tourist season had recently ended so we almost always had the sites to ourselves. This was a welcome change from many of our previous diving experiences. As always, it is difficult to put into words the underwater life that we saw and, unfortunately, we were unable to take any pictures while diving in Moalboal. The most impressive sight from those four days would have been impossible to capture in a photo anyway. In the waters around Pescador Island we swam with a massive school of sardines. They moved in unison, at times surrounding us, forming a constantly shifting cavern of fish. Numbering in the hundreds of thousands and filling our entire field of view, we were mesmerized as the sunlight flickered off their bodies. A diver could easily lose his sense of direction and drift off into the depths if he stared too long.
Other than diving, our time in Moalboal was spent reading and writing by the hotel pool. Each day as we walked down the dirt road from our hotel to the dive shop, we were approached by tricycle drivers offering to take us to nearby beaches or waterfalls. While we would typically be tempted by their convincing sales pitches, we were perfectly content to spend all of our time at Panagsama Beach. After all, we had begun to realize just how time-consuming traveling in the Philippines is and we had little desire to subject ourselves to more time in a moving vehicle unless absolutely necessary.