Divine diving & snorkelling with whale sharks

Trip Start Aug 18, 2011
Trip End Oct 08, 2012

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Flag of Philippines  , Central Visayas,
Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tuesday 17th January 2012 - Siquijor > Dumaguette > Cebu island

 Returning to the backpackers in Dumaguette, I later found, horrified, that I'd got Angel’s guide book in my bag, so parcelled it up and left it at the reception desk for her to pick up.  Then it was a quick shower, breakfast and check-out, taking a trishaw up the road to a little town up the road called Sibulan, where a small ferry plied the waters to Lilo-An – another tiny port on the southernmost tip of Cebu island. Lilo-An was just the nicest place, with stunning, crystal-clear aquamarine waters, a tiny few little thatched beach tables and a totally unspoilt area.  The few resorts were  discreet and hidden and life was very quiet and peaceful here.  A bus to Cebu was already waiting at the pier, so I took the bus to Oslob town, realising as we were travelling that I’d gone too far.  I thought the town would be near the place I wanted (I was told it was in Oslob), but I actually wanted Tanhuan, 8kms further south.

After going to the municipal town hall to enquire and being put right by a few ladies there, I bought some banana bread, took a jeepney and headed back to where I really wanted.  I found Marilyn’s Place: what had been a private house until a month ago, but was now being altered to cater for the ever-increasing numbers of tourists who were coming and asking if they had any accommodation!  They were so sweet and obliging and I got a nice place to sleep, altho’ they insisted it was all cleaned again.  I headed off with a lovely Spanish couple to enquire about visiting a nearby island and then took a bus back to Lilo-An to ask about potential diving, as there wasn’t any where I was staying.

Since I was now feeling back to my old self again, I was just hoping that I might be able to just get in one day’s diving before I left the Philippines.  After all, the islands were simply divine and I found it hard to believe I might have to leave without the opportunity!  I checked out a couple of places in Lilo-An, but found Kingdom Resort to offer the best deal.  I was actually going to be going to Balicasag (one of the Philippines premier diving spots) for the day, starting at 7am and I would be going with a group of Koreans!  Much more than that, they were all marine photographers, one being particularly famous, and I’d sat marvelling at his lovely book (one of many!).  He’d told me I must give him my address, so he could send me a copy to my home address!!  The diving staff were lovely and it just felt as if I was back in Korea!!

I returned to Tanhuan, really excited about the next couple of days.  It was so stunningly beautiful here and the weather was incredibly divine, so I’d decided to stay here 2 nights and forego my night in Cebu city.  I was told there was nothing there, and since there was absolutely everything here, I was staying here until 5 hours before my flight back to Manila!!  I was arranging a trip with a boatman, when a girl who’d been in the Manila guesthouse tapped me on my shoulder.   It ended up with two Israelis (herself and her friend), an English guy and his new Filipina bride of two weeks and me having a great meal of rice, fresh fish and pancet and beer, sitting by this gorgeous coast!!  The whole evening went really well and we stayed up rather later than we needed to, but my time here was so brief now, that I was taking advantage of every minute I had!!

Wednesday 18th January 2012 – Cebu > Balicasag island diving > Cebu

I arrived at Lilo-An at 6.40am the following morning, sitting down to rice cake soup with meat (gorgeous!) and many accompaniments, washed down with coffee.  Then, it was a quick dash to get my diving kit and on to the Bangka that was taking us the two hours to Balicasag.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous as we set off on our trip.  It seemed crazy, when the conditions were so good to dive here, that I was actually going back such a long way to southern   Bohol!  The reason I’m going back is because Balicasag Island is one of the premier diving spots in the Philippines!  Declared a marine sanctuary, the island is ringed by a pristine reef that really drops down to incredibly deep cliffs, as far as 50m below the water!!  Located next to Panglao Island, the waters here are sublime and ideal for marine photographers who want to take really good photographs.

After two hours of just enjoying the sea, the local fishermen with their bangkas, but others with a quite unusual array of wooden oars/posts etc that stick upwards out of the boat, all the way around (I meant to ask a local exactly what they were!).  The guys on our Bangka moved around to appreciate the different spots on the boat and also to avoid the sun.  We stopped to make our first dive, with the three Korean photographers having already got all their cameras ready before sailing.  I’m not sure they’d need any diving weights, as the camera gear must’ve weighed a tonne!  They were all quickly in the water, before I’d started to descend.  With a dodgy mask that kept letting in water, I was a few minutes changing it with my dive master, before plunging into the depths!

What I saw was simply breathtaking!  A huge wall of incredible coral, gorgeous fish and just so, so much going on!!  The visibility wasn’t fantastic for some reason, but we were certainly fine for what we were looking at on the wall!  And it just kept on going and going!  I’ve never seen anything like it before, in terms of its type of structure and the sheer gargantuan size of it!!!  And I wouldn’t know where to start to describe what I saw, other than turtles and every kind of fish you could imagine!!  The stunning corals were of every type and hue and the activity going on in each crevice and cave was unbelievable!  It was here, off Balicasag Island, that I was to find out just how short 45-50 minutes underwater could be!!!

We returned to our boat and had boiled eggs with sweet potatoes and iced tea (which I really liked!), while we discussed everything we’d seen in the depths!  Namwon had been at the head of our party of divers and had often spied riveting sea life and the others had also got some really good shots.  They were that impressed by the site that we made our second dive in the same area.  Again, the place was amazing!  And I was given free rein to just dive around and watch whatever I wanted, altho’ if anything unusual was found, my dive master would point it out to me.  Another 50 minutes underwater  that felt like 15 minutes!

Back on board, there was more snacks of meat, kimchi, crackers and cheese, with more iced tea.  This time we had a longer rest and moved the boat around to the far side of the island.  One of the guys decided to have a rest in a netting area, made up between the bamboo poles on the outside of the actual boat!!  We had loads of laughs about one of the dive masters, who had a penchant for all things Harley Davidson and how he’d landed in hospital with broken ribs due to having been drinking a little too much for riding his bike!!  The Koreans all wore Speedos under their wetsuits, altho’ only the dive master revealed his:   with Korean comic strip cartoons, complete with Barbie doll images!!

The third dive was in a different site, but still held all the charm of the others.  Loads of fish, brilliant coral beds and plenty of activity to watch (due to the nature of the waterscape – being so intricate, with lots for the fish to swim thro’, around, under etc etc.    I’d been told that I wasn’t looking around enough and didn’t know what they meant!  It seems some of them had been trying to take photos of me (perish the thought – I hate having my photo taken!).  So this time I had to turn around a couple of times and look at the camera!!  Such beautiful scenery under the water and so many quite, quite lovely fish.  I spent my last nitrogen stop swimming around a 'Finding Nemo’ film set underwater – really, really beautiful!!  I couldn’t believe this dive was over so, so quickly!

Heading back onboard, I couldn’t believe it when two huge boiled chickens appeared, a big plate of pork and another fish, plus vegetables, rice and various kimchi, with sauces and brandy!!!  I wasn’t used to all this food and had to stop much earlier than the rest, who ate like horses!!  We all sat around on the floor, with the food in the middle, while we discussed the last dive and our overall views and findings.   And during the whole day, the sky was a perfect blue, the sun shone down brilliantly and the waters were beautiful and warm.  I couldn’t have wished for a better diving day and among these lovely Korean people.  There was a girl dive master too, who was the nicest person ever!

It was time for us to call it a day and so the motors started up and everyone got down for a nap!  I was encouraged to do the same and within no time at all, I was being woke up to find we were about to anchor back at Lilo-An.  Staff on the boat and in the resort came out to sort out all the diving gear, so I felt strange not cleaning and hanging up my gear!  Given a nice plump towel, I was given a very smart resort room, where I quickly returned back down dressed and sorted.  The staff sorted out all my pictures and put them on my camera memory card for me and then the Korean resort owner asked me to join them all for dinner!  Amazing fish, pork, rice, chicken, soups, kimchi, whitebait, stuffed balls, vegetables and so much more – it was like being back in Korea again!!

Armed with photos, a diving long-sleeved top for snorkelling protection (from the lovely Korean female dive master) and the promise of Namwon Chang’s book being sent to the UK for me, I said my profound thanks for the lovely day, before heading off on another dive master’s motorbike up to the main road for the bus back to Tanhuan.  They wanted to feed me when I returned, but I told them I was stuffed and couldn’t eat another thing!!  My friends all returned from an evening in Oslob and we sat with some Swedes (at university doing charity work here) eating ice-cream brought back from Oslob, followed by the Swede’s melon!

Eventually, after some more beers had washed the food down, we all decided we needed to get to bed, as we’d got really early starts the following day!  What a day, tho’!!!!  Loved it, loved it, loved it!!
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