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 Philippines 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moalboal & Cebu

The first week of our two week Cebu adventure was on board the Azores, diving around the island of Malapascua, with the goal of seeing thresher sharks. The second week we headed south for a Kasai Village Resort return visit.

 Now, every one of the four times we’ve been to the Philippines, we’ve run into either a typhoon or tropical storm, and this was no exception. This time it was the category 1 storm that messed with the Pope’s visit. We weren’t allowed to board the boat, so we spent a night at the Waterfront Airport Hotel, literally across the street from the Cebu City airport. We didn’t mind too much as the rooms were comfortable, there were festival dancers in the lobby, the pool was enjoyable, the food was good (especially our two-hour breakfast buffet), and we had an included cocktail hour.

Jess, one of the boat’s guides, handled the hotel and travel arrangements. We headed through the heavy festival traffic for a three hour journey to the dock in Bogo. The Azores is the old Truk Agressor; it certainly has been improved since then! The downstairs cabins are upgraded but still quite cozy; Bill & I were in the owner’s much roomier suite. The crew was great and the meals excellent; the chef was very good at meeting special diet requests.

Unfortunately, the typhoon messed up the visibility, which plagued us the entire trip. We did see plenty of small things, including Spanish dancers, frog fish, various crabs, dragonets, ghost pipefish, tiny cuttlefish, sea kraits, and mantis shrimps. At Gato Island, starred in my log book, our guide spotted a frog fish with eggs—a first in my diving career. Another neat dive was the Mandarin fish dive; several did their rise for 4 or 5 seconds straight.

The dive deck was roomy. All diving was done from skiffs, with back roll-in entries and ladder exits, after handing up tanks and fins. Five dives were offered each day, but no one was interested in night diving, except after the Mandarin dive.

The thresher sharks were elusive. Three different times we sat at 100 feet, shortly after sunrise, in dark, murky water waiting for them to appear. We could see the cleaner fish waiting for them; there may have been threshers just beyond that we could not see. We did see a couple tails, and once a thresher swam slowly by us all; I was the only one in our group not too mesmerized to get the shot. One diver didn’t notice the rest of us swimming to another location and ended up by himself—he said he had close encounters with two or three thresher sharks. They’re probably like hammerheads—the fewer bubbles, the better.

We had fun on the trip, saw lots of neat small stuff, and didn’t get bored, but the threshers were lacking and the weather uncooperative. When we asked when the best time was to avoid typhoons, the answer was “there are over 200 typhoons a year in the Philippines”, so it’s pretty much potluck.

After disembarking, three hours of travel back to Cebu City, a lunch break, then another three hours on the road, we arrived at Kasai Village on the southwest side of Cebu. We were warmly welcomed by staff members who remembered those of us who were repeats. Bill & I actually ended up in the same room as last time. Everything seemed the same, but the mattress felt more supportive than hard, and the pillows were definitely no longer like rocks! They’re still using gravity feed water and instant-on water heaters, which were working much better this time.

The Kasai dive boats are built for diving, with the tanks set up American style. Between dives, we had fruit, snacks, water, tea, and coffee. Due to the still windy weather, we couldn’t go north very far, and one day there were major white caps at Pescador Island, but it didn’t stop us from having fun. We saw frogfish galore, including one especially garish one with painted toenails. There were also pipefish everywhere, including an unusual winged pipefish. Turtles were spotted on many dives, and nudibranchs littered the reef. The sardines have moved from Pescador Island to Panagsama Beach and were impressive. Also seen were cuttle fish, orangutan crabs, different varieties of lionfish, several ghost pipefish, a strange blue sea urchin, leaf and scorpion fishes, a few banded sea kraits, and assorted other critters. The wall is loaded with ledges and caverns and nooks and crannies, with unending possibilities for discovery. The reef looks healthy and there’s some 6’ and larger barrel sponges. There’s even cave diving nearby, and Kasai Village sponsors many SSI technical dive courses.

The food was even better than last time, and the staff is super-friendly and accommodating. The pool looks inviting, although I’ve never been in it; after three 60-70 minute dives a day, I don’t need to sit in any more water! Massages were popular and inexpensive. A farewell dinner, with some karoke, humorous games, and a little bit of dancing made for an enjoyable evening.

Morning dives were scheduled for our convenience, so there was time for a relaxed breakfast, and the afternoon dive could be postponed a bit if more time for lunch was desired. We did a couple of Mandarin dives 20 feet from the dock, one at the end of a late afternoon dive, the other as a prequel to a night dive. They were cooperative on one dive but not the other. Our guides were all terrific and one day we had five guests and three guides in the water; they seemed to have fun, vying with each other to find things. We spent safety stops learning new ways to make bubble rings.

Kasai Village and the diving are special, and although I swore never again, after suffering 13 hours of jetlag and two days of travel home, I plan on returning.