Monday, May 17, 2010

From Puerto Princessa, Palawan 90 nautical miles to Tubbataha Marine Reserve, 5 full days of diving there; onwards 200 nautical miles to Apo Island, Dauin off Dumaguete, Balicasag and Caibalao and then "home" to Mactan Island, it was a fantastic 14 days aboard the beautiful Philippine Siren. The ship is gorgeous and well laid out, the crew was a combination of Thai, Indonesian, Filipino, a Dutchman and an American! The ship has only been here in the Philippines for about five months now. It sailed from Bira, Indonesia where it was built with a Thai captain and combination Indonesian and Thai crew. They have been training the Filipino crew and are in the process of turning over all responsibilities for the operations to the local crew. Everyone works well together and gets along great, even given a little bit of language difficulties amongst themselves!

We dove sheer walls, sand slopes, black sand "muck", over fields of gorgeous hard and soft corals and even identified some new fish and critters on this trip. Almost all diving is done from the inflatable "dinkies" with the exception of two dives where we were moored directly over gorgeous hard corals. Diving is generally drift diving with some swift currents and most moderate to mild.

The food on the ship was exquisite....Thai, Indonesian, Filipino; a Japanese dinner as well as the last night barbeque! The head chef, Ivan, is an Indonesian who sailed over with the ship and is leaving with us to head back home after seven months away. He's leaving the kitchen to two very talented Filipino chefs, Jimmie & TaTa, both of whom also contributed daily to create the amazing entrees. I'm sure going to miss my nase gorem at breakfast and my fresh mangoes daily!

Well, the internet connection here is slow, slow, slow & won't let me upload any images again....bye, bye, Philippines!

Friday, May 14, 2010

We're now at Cabilao Island for the last two days of diving. This afternoon the Siren will be hoisting the sails for a bit and we'll also do some sailing inbetween dives! I'm using the iPhone connection so this will be brief! It will not grab images from my phone library but I posted some images to the Facebook page!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It’s been a week since we got onboard the Philippine Siren and we’re now at Apo Island and connected!

We spent five days diving at Tubbataha Marine Park out in the middle of the Sulu Sea. It’s 90 nautical miles southwest of the island of Palawan and in the middle of “nowhere”! There’s a Ranger Station on a sandbar that’s manned 12 months a year, 24 hours a day and they patrol the Marine Park looking for illegal fishing activities. Their tour of duty is two months, no matter the season. The Ranger Station looks like a squat stucco longhouse with very, very thick walls mounted on squat legs, painted a bright white. They have covered porches outside, a small commons area with a television; bunks stacked neatly and a small kitchen with a little garden and laundry drying area outside. They rely on a regular supply boat for food and water, but they do have collection barrels to catch the rain as well.

Tubbataha is divided into the North and South Atolls. There are continuous dive sites along the atolls, sloping reefs into sheer, sheer walls. The walls are covered in fan corals, some soft corals and lots of hard corals. The reefs are teeming with fish of all varieties. Signature dives feature schools of barracuda, schools of horse-eyed jacks, giant trevally cruising the reefs, some saw a manta or two, turtles on every dive and sharks….reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, several “leopard” sharks were also spotted. The water temp ranged from 82-84 degrees so it was pleasantly warm. Large grouper were prolific….

We dove Washing Machine, Sea Fan Alley, Shark Airport, the Malawan Wreck, the Delsan wreck, Hans Reef, Wall Street, Southwest Wall, Sweetlips X-press and many others. Nightly moorings were on the leeward side of the atolls so it was calm and quiet to sleep.

This is a beautiful vessel. It’s an Indonesia Pinisi-style with spacious cabins, plentiful closets and cupboards, beautiful polished wooden floors and cabinets. Every cabin has a computer desk with a computer that’s wired into the main computer in the salon. The salon features a flat panel big screen ideal for viewing slideshows & videos.

Food has been amazing; we have an Indonesian chef and two Philippine chefs so we’re getting a taste of many cultures! Fruits and veggies are plentiful at every meal. Chicken, fish, shrimp, pork, beef, squid are featured on a rotating basis, two main meat/fish courses per dinner plus a vegetarian entrĂ©e. The crew is friendly and wonderfully competent. Almost all diving is done in inflatable tenders but a couple of the dives have been off the dive platform into a site directly beneath us.

We had a 30+ hour sail from Tubbataha to Negroes Island and then offshore to Apo Island to dive here and start our way back towards Cebu…we started our diving again this morning with a great macro dive along the east side of Apo Island at a site called Rock Point East. Here’s a few images from our Tubbataha diving….internet connection is slow, slow, slow so uploading might be problematic!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sunrise at 5:00 a.m. - sunset at 6:30 p.m. with a trip to the Underground River in between! It's a two-hour drive across Palawan to Sabang Beach and the beginning of the World Heritage Site Underground River. The highest point in the caves is 65 meters and it's a totally awesome experience! There are over 64,000 bats that live in the caves, 8 species in all. The colors of the marble are incredibly beautiful and it's quiet except for the paddling of the driver and the chattering of the bats! They limit the timing in between the boats so you truly get to experience feeling like you're all alone deep inside the beautiful was quite the experience!

We also spent some time on Sabang Beach until our permit time, got to enjoy watching the local kids fish and play in the water. Today was the Philippines Labor Day so families were out enjoying the beautiful day.

Tomorrow we board the Siren after lunch and internet contact will be limited so this will be our last post for several days at least.....

Sunday, May 2, 2010

While you are eating dinner, I'm walking the beach at 5:00 a.m. watching the pre-sunrise! What a gorgeous morning....low tide again so after taking a few shots from our balcony while Bob was snoozing away, downstairs I went and picked up a cup of coffee and headed outside to sit and watch Mother Nature at Her finest! And since the tide was so low again, I could walk about 1/4 mile out to where the fishing boats were just barely in water....enjoy!

Look at the 1st photo in the previous post with the two mangrove trees in the water...these were taken about 45 minutes after sunset tonight...facing East with a very, very low tide! Sometimes the most beautiful sunset shots are AFTER sunset...enjoy!

We're doing the Underground River tour to follow later in the day!

Cebu & Palawan, Philippines are two beautiful islands! We enjoyed a short stay on Mactan/Cebu Islands on Saturday and did a Cebu City tour in the early afternoon. First a visit to Lapu lapu where the locals massacred Magellan and a magnificent Mactan warrior shrine there; then onwards to where Magellan's Cross is preserved, a beautiful monument depicting the history and heritage of Cebu itself, a tour of the Casa Gorodo home which has been turned into a beautiful museum and then a visit to the Basilica Del Stores Nino which is the oldest Cathedral in the Philippines. Last stop was the San Pedro Fort and then back to the hotel where we enjoyed a little beach time yesterday and watched a beautiful sunset as well.

This morning we packed our bags and headed off on Cebu Pacific to the Island of Palawan in the southwestern region of the Philippines. We have a day today of relaxation and then we're touring the island including a cruise along an underground river. Tuesday after lunch we're scheduled to board the MY Philippine Siren. Sunset here along the beach today should be magnificent...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

We're off to the Philippines! Follow us on the blog or on the Dive Travel Services Facebook page while we tour Cebu, Palawan and then board the gorgeous Philippine Siren for 13 nights diving Tubbataha National Park, Apo Island, Dumaguete and Siquijor, Panglao & Balicasag Islands, ending back in Cebu!

I'll try and update the blog as often as I have internet's some images of the Siren to entice you! Wish you were joining us.....

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Trip wrap-up:


Well, the diving part of the trip is at an end…we are now back in Male Harbour and dive gear is dry and packing has begun! Yinnie & Andrea had two dives this morning because they are not leaving until later on Sunday but since we have a 2:30 a.m. flight from Male to Dubai, the rest of us finished our diving on Friday. The weather has been beautiful so books are being read up on the beautiful sundeck and we had a chance to visit another island earlier today…this one is MUCH larger than the village we visited last week. There are actually streets of shops carrying the usual Maldivian wood carvings, cloth sulus, many types of jewelry and other craft items. This village didn’t give us the same “local” feel as the one earlier in the trip so we just picked up a few items from the Mango Shoppe (“largest souvenir shop in the Maldives”) and headed back to the ship!

Tonight will be our farewell dinner and group and crew photos taken. This has been a fabulous boat with a wonderful crew. Our many thanks go out to Moosa, our Cruise Director and overall very funny guy & amazing diver. He makes every guest feel like the Manthiri is their home and his crew shares his enthusiasm. Hassan also dove with us; Dhonbe captained the “big” boat, Manthiri, while Razaq captained our dhoni dive boat. Saif (Mr. Nitrox) and Mohamed helped us with our gear and cameras off and back onto the dhoni. Smiling Manju took care of all our dining needs and refilled endless cups of tea, coffee and water. I can’t say enough about our chefs, Amadey & Hemanthe…..the food that came out of that small kitchen was incredibly varied, most plentiful and delicious. Our only complaint was that they cooked SO MUCH food for every meal…it seemed a shame to waste so much but in this climate, food spoils very quickly and they just don’t have enough room for refrigeration for left-overs! Fruits and vegetables were so plentiful, it was amazing! The other Mohamed took care of our cabins…fresh bedding, fresh towels and laundry were his responsibilities. The cabins are very comfortable and have great storage as well.

This is one of the most comfortable boats we’ve ever been on. Because all diving is done from the dhoni, there’s never any compressor noises on the “big” boat. The dhoni pulls away from the big boat to recharge tanks. And since all traveling in the Maldives takes place during daylight hours, all nights are spent inside the atolls in extremely calm waters so no rocking & rolling in the beds either! The salon is spacious with couches and loveseats to curl up on with a book or space to work on photos. The large dining tables make up the other half of the salon and all meals are served family-style. Behind the salon is the very large, well-equipped camera room with lots of shelves for camera bits & pieces and plenty of charging stations. No one feels cramped in there either. The kitchen is tucked in next to the camera room….it’s amazing the food that comes out of that small space!

The upper deck consists of the bridge and a covered deck with comfortable cushioned chairs and a sundeck with padded lounges. Today our sundeck looked like a garage sale up there with all the gear strung along the rails to dry!

We can’t thank this fabulous crew enough for the best dive spots, every attempt to get us on the dive sites precisely and time the currents and patterns this unique diving destination demands. Unfortunately, even though we saw whale sharks and manta as promised, we all would have loved to have even longer and more frequent encounters, but lots of dives were logged and this is the “fishiest” place on the planet, bar none! So long, Manthiri, until next time!

Playing catch-up while we're in Dubai...really poor wireless coverage once we left S. Ari's the 2nd week:
Monday, December 28

Today’s 1st dive was along the whale shark area again but overcast skies and rolling seas made them difficult to spot from the boat. We jumped in and found a nice leopard shark lying on the sand so that was a great start to the dive! More schools of fish, eels in cleaning stations, big grouper cruising the reef and lots of bannerfish….a great early morning dive.

2nd dive was at the manta cleaning station area but again, no mantas! Conditions are just not right for them right now, we guess. We cruised along the reef until we found the giant school of blue-lined yellow snapper and immersed ourselves inside the school….this dive also featured schools of Oriental sweetlips and schools of the Maldivian bannerfish which are quite large for bannerfish.

After a two-hour cruise we arrived at our night time anchorage at West Ari Atoll. This dive was everyone’s favorite of the trip (so far)! It’s called Table Top and is a coral pinnacle with slopes down to the sea floor at varying depths with caverns covered in soft corals all along the way around the pinnacle. The schools of fish were immense and we were able to see a huge school of chevron barracuda that swirled into a ball out in the blue…then as we proceeded up along the reef, Moosa was waving madly at me….needless to say, I swam up to him quickly and he was pointing out a very large Crown jellyfish floating above the reef with beautiful colors and dangling tentacles. I filled my viewfinder & dome port with it and shot away…it was absolutely gorgeous! Then our attention was drawn to the top of the reef….and we learned why the site is called Table Top…the whole reef top is fabulous table colors of varying colors and textures with colorful reef fish floating just above the reef….what a spectacular dive it was!

Tuesday, December 29
We did Table Top again the 1st dive today and loved it just as much. Then we changed to our macro lenses and did it again and it didn’t disappoint. There were also small white tip reef sharks cruising the top of the pinnacle, an eagle ray out in the blue and more Napoleon wrasse, the school of chevron barracuda as well as all the small stuff we were looking for.

After leaving Table Top we headed to another manta aggregation area. 2nd and 3rd dives were there and we saw 6-7 manta underwater on each dive but visibility was hampered by the plankton in the water so it was not rewarding photographically. The highlight of the day was the 50-75 manta swimming in three different groups at the surface all around the boat during our surface interval between the 2nd and 3rd dives! There was quite a surface current so the food was being funneled directly into the manta masses…their wing tips kept breaking the surface and we all enjoyed the show! Andrea grabbed her snorkel gear from the dhoni and hopped in to swim with them…it was a LONG swim because the surface current was pushing her away from them. Several times the crew got into the small skiff and ferried her back to where the manta were feeding. Marsha, we knew that you would have been right out there with Andrea as well!

Wednesday December 30 & Thursday December 31
We spent all our dives these two days looking for manta at cleaning stations as well as manta feeding stations. The currents have been such that our SCUBA bubbles are pushing the plankton away from us and towards the manta so they don’t have to even come near us to feed…we saw lots of sharks, marble rays, Napoleon wrasse, schools of snapper and sweetlips….all the “usual Maldivian subjects” but no manta on the dive sites. Oh well, Mother Nature has her own agenda and it’s not meshing with ours this week! We’ve had great dives with more schools of fish than we’ve seen anywhere else in the world…more sharks on every dive than is usually common to us and other interesting things to watch and enjoy!

The crew put on another fabulous buffet for dinner tonight. We all toasted one another with cocktails at sunset and watched the full moon rise over the resort just a short distance away from the Manthiri. Beautiful sunset photos were captured and we enjoyed hearing the music from the Resort’s bar while we were out on deck. It was a lovely way to end 2009 and we’re all looking forward to more great diving in 2010!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, Everyone! Friday, January 1, 2010
Dives 1 and 2 again today were in the same general area as yesterday’s dives. Moosa and Hasson are trying their darndest to get us some more underwater manta sightings but to no avail. We did, however, see the most beautiful giant anenomes on these sites. Their base is a pumpkin orange color and with the orange Maldivian anemonefish in them, they are quite stunning to behold, especially when the anemones ball up to feed. On the 2nd dive Bob & I were paced by three batfish…one of whom was absolutely in LOVE with Bob’s yellow fins! He followed us along the reef for at least ten minute…circling Bob and trying to get close to his fins! I wonder what type of animal he thought Bob was????

We’re just about ready to embark on our 3rd dive of the day and last dive of the trip….37 dives in all for those who chose to make all of them. I think Bob & Mike are the only two to do every single one of them….after the last dive the crew will wash all our gear and bring it on to the main boat so we can dry it out before packing it tomorrow afternoon. Where in the world have the past two weeks flown to? Lots of good dives, great meals, a beautifully appointed Liveaboard and a magnificent crew…who could ask for anything more?

Tomorrow, another village visit before we head back to Male and then home!