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Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines
This was the closest we’ve ever come to being whacked by a major typhoon/hurricane. Typhoon Bopha was originally forecast to go right over our resort at a minimum of category 2. It hit Mindanao, to the East of us, with category 5 winds, causing mudslides and much destruction, with over 1000 lives eventually lost. Then it started taking a more southerly route, so by the time it hit Cebu we only felt the outer bands of wind and rain. Good thing, otherwise we would have been literally blown away. We re-packed suitcases for a quick move and spent the evening of Bopha’s arrival huddled together in the office, eating dinner and watching bad movies, with plans to hunker down in the relative safety of the camera room if necessary. This was our third attempt to find diving in the Philippines that we would head home saying “this was a great trip”, and this was it, in spite of Bopha.
I can’t pass up an anemone fish without taking its picture, and Copton Point had plenty. The terrain flattened out at 66 feet where a small plane wreck rested, with a large turtle hanging out under its fuselage. From there we worked our way toward and up the slope seeing some of the hundreds of six inch swimming pipefish that abound throughout the area. Although the diving is similar all along the wall, each area also has its own special characteristics. During the 10 days, besides hundreds of pipefish and anemonefish, there were sea snakes, many turtles, several ghost pipefish, a variety of frogfish, schooling squid, dozens of nudibranchs, an occasional sea moth and devilfish, pygmy seahorses, and hundreds of blind shrimp gobies. Although I didn’t see any sharks, I did spot one large bumphead parrotfish below me, and whale sharks are occasionally seen in the area. At the end of many dives I spent 15 or 20 minutes in at the top of the wall, often in less than 10 feet of water, spying small crabs and nudibranchs. Along with the wide variety of critters, the hard and soft corals were healthy. At Savedre Marine Sanctuary were dozens of large sea fans, some at least 8 feet tall. We did a couple dives at Pescador Island, famed for its schools of sardines, but they were gone, that area was crowded with dive boats, and we liked the diving on the main island better.
Kasai Village Dive & Spa Resort is a 3-5 hour van ride, depending on traffic, from Cebu City. Bill and I flew 14 hours to Hong Kong from San Francisco on United . After spending a night at the fine Regal Airport Hotel, we flew 2 ½ hours on Cathay Pacific to Cebu City. Kasai Village is off the beaten track and separate from the other resorts in the area, so it’s more private. We were greeted by a large welcome sign, and offered delicious mango drinks. Kasai is fairly new and still under construction, although most of the important stuff is finished. Our ocean front room, one of nine, was spacious, with a king bed, 2 night stands, desk, couch, wardrobe, ceiling fan, air conditioning, and 2 umbrellas. The roomy bathroom had a huge shower. There wasn’t counter space around the sink, but the wire shelving unit made up for that. The shower had instant heat with two settings; it worked great unless there were more than a couple people taking showers—then the gravity water pressure was so low there wasn’t enough flow to start the hot water. A pump is on order to fix the problem. The mattresses were the hardest I’ve ever slept on and my hips were sore by the end of our 10 day trip. The pillows were also extremely firm, which I got used to eventually. The rooms had a large ocean-view patio with a table and two chairs plus clotheslines. The 4 pool view rooms were a bit smaller with small patios facing the pool,which looked cool and inviting, although I never had time to try it.
The staff was wonderful, always smiling and quickly addressing any problems that could be solved. Because there were only 4-6 guests most of the time, meals were served individually; for larger groups they serve buffet style meals. We were on a meal package, so breakfasts included anything from the menu, including eggs, mango and banana pancakes, fruit, and toast, but no cereal. The pancakes and Spanish omelet were particularly tasty. Lunch could include an appetizer, one of several sandwiches, or a smaller version of a dinner. Salad and soup were always served first, and we had some tasty desserts. Dinners also included soup and salad, with a choice of chicken, beef, prawns, squid, or fish, usually grilled, along with rice and/or vegetables, and fruit for dessert. There was definitely no need for in-between meal snacks.
The bar was next to the dining area, and had a sandy floor. The potent local Red Horse beer was popular. Meals were usually served upstairs, although once the windows were boarded up for the approaching typhoon we ate one meal in the office, and another day in the lower level of the dining hall, where the lone television and pool table reside. There’s a beach front area between the ocean front rooms and the water, but no actual beach. The shoreline is very rocky and when the tide is out, the ocean bottom is exposed quite a ways out. This is when the locals wade and snorkel through the area with buckets, looking for anything that is edible. We saw no stingrays, octopus, or lobsters at all during our 10 day trip and divemaster Tata said they are all gone.
Three boat dives a day plus unlimited shore diving is advertised; in reality we had time to do three dives a day total because each dive was so long. The dives were done from a roomy banca, designed from the ground up for diving. It had a large covered area, dry shelves, and back-to-back tank racks in the middle. The bow had the typical long nose on it, which we stepped onto from the steps leading from the dock to the water; it got a bit tricky if it was choppy. We left the dock for the 2 morning dives at 8:30 or 9:00am after a leisurely breakfast; travel time was 30 seconds if we dove the house wall, and up to 20 minutes out to Pescador Island. Most of the diving was wall/steep slope diving, starting deep, then working up to the top of the wall as shallow as 4 feet by the end of the dive. Dives lasted about 70 minutes in 82 degree water, and I did not get chilled in my worn-out 5mm suit. Surface intervals were one hour, when we were served water, hot tea or coffee, fruit, and snack crackers. Most of the dives were slow drift dives with minimal current. The afternoon boat dive went out at 3pm, which felt a bit rushed sometimes, as we didn’t get back from the morning dives until about 1:00, and lunches were not real quick. Three days we skipped the afternoon dive and opted for dusk/night dives instead. They have a small Mandarin fish area, which was a bust the first night, but the second night was absolutely awesome, the Mandarins coming up and staying in the water column longer than I had ever seen. The night diving was some of the best I’ve ever done, with non-stop action—decorator crabs, cuttlefish, thousands of shrimp, congregating pipefish, hermit crabs, etc., never going below 35 feet. One night we started off with a dusk dive on Kasai wall, stopped off to watch the Mandarins at sunset, then finished off with a night dive, for a total of 105 minutes. Rules are no diving alone and no diving at night without a guide. I don’t know if these are their normal dive times, we had a small group, or they just liked us, but we were in dive heaven! We used 32% Nitrox on all dives.
Kasai had the most impressive camera room and dive storage areas I’ve ever seen. The camera room had about 15 separate work areas, each with several electrical outlets and converter. The room had a fan but not air conditioning. The dive storage area was open-air, with lots of rinse tanks, water hoses, benches for sitting, hangars for BCs and wetsuits, a waist-level hanging rod, and a storage shelf above. The floor in both areas was covered in non-skid ventilated rubber matting.
The dive staff was outstanding. Everyone worked hard to provide us with the best possible dive experience. For every dive they loaded up the tanks and other equipment, rolled it down the long dock, laboriously transferred everything down the dock steps onto the boat, then did the reverse after our return. For the morning “Typhoon” dive, we were taken about 15 minutes by car to a protected cove. The staff carried all our gear down a hill into the water, helped us gear up, waited, met us after the dive, gave us snacks, re-loaded our gear, and drove us back to the resort. Someone was always happy to buddy up with a lone shore diver. They actually seemed eager to dive. Tata, our group’s personal guide, went way beyond the call of duty, and I hope he’s still at Kasai Village when we return. And we will return!