Our Easter Dive Trip to Sabang

Trip Start Jun 22, 2008
Trip End Jul 04, 2013

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Flag of Philippines  , Mindoro,
Sunday, April 4, 2010

It's the Easter holidays in the Philippines starting with Maundy Thursday.  It's the time when everyone gets out of the city for a long vacation or visit with family.  Manila basically shuts down.  Even malls close.  Easter is a serious religious holiday here.  No bunnies delivering baskets of chocolate eggs.  We decided to get out of town ourselves and planned a dive trip to one of our favorite spots - the town of Sabang and a stay at El Galleon.  It was questionable only a few days ago whether Russ would be able to dive because he was still battling an ear infection that first popped up when we were on the trip to the rice terraces.  A few trips to the clinic and some antibiotics and ear drops and he was cleared to dive.  The next hurdle was getting through the traffic on the long holiday weekend.  We thought we left Manila early enough to get our 10am boat out of Batangas but everyone was trying to get out of Manila at the same time.  There was so much traffic on the expressway heading south that they had to open a couple of northbounds lanes to the southbound traffic.  We did make it to the boat on time but barely.  It was a good thing we arranged for the resort boat to pick us up instead of taking the public ferry since the volume of people traveling may have made getting a ferry questionable.  Better to play it safe. 

We arrived at El Galleon and went straight to diving after lunch.  Russ was on a mission to reach his 200th dive during the trip to earn a t-shirt commemorating the event.  He said he only had 11 dives to reach that goal.  That meant a lot of diving.  But since we had unlimited diving in our package deal with Asia Divers, we wanted to get our money's worth anyway.  We did a lot of long dives in a lot of great dive sites.  Many we had been to before but there's so much to see that it never gets old.  When we thought Russ had is goal covered we decided to sign up for the dives at Verde Island so his 200th dive would be at that site.  Verde Island is a longer boat ride where you do 2 dives with a stop on the island in between.  It's a "must do" dive and we kept hearing how great it was so we were eager to go.  When Russ finally logged his dives up to that point he was surprised to find that he had made a miscalculation.  It wasn't 11 dives he needed, it was 12!  Luckily the trip to Verde Island would get back in time for one last dive later that afternoon. 

The Verde Island dives were spectacular.  The dive is on a pinnacle reaching up front the bottom of the Batangas Channel.  Sometimes there is a strong current but today the surface was rough but below was rather calm.  Easy to spend time poking around.  The were tons of schooling fish and lots of interesting critters.  We saw the largest nudibranch we'd ever seen.  Normally these things are a couple of inches or more long but this was big and fat the size of a softball.  And it was a creamy white with dark brown spots.  There were nudibranchs in lots of colors and, even though most are small, we're getting good at spotting them.  We really need an underwater camera.  We saw what we think was a nudibranch although we haven't confirmed it yet.  It was lavendar in a braided pattern.  Another one we'd never seen.  There was also a huge frog fish sitting in the top of a barrel sponge.  Jane saw the divemaster pointing at the sponge and touching it and she thought he wanted her to touch it to.  She totally missed the fact that there was a huge frog fish there just a few inches away.  Duh!  Good thing they don't bite.

On the interval between dives we went on shore at Verde Island.  The owner of El Galleon was divng with us and told us that on shore we could find pieces of white and blue porcelain that washes up on the beach.  The pieces are from a Spanish Galleon that shipwrecked in the 1600s on its way from China with a cargo heading to Mexico.  Centuries later the cargo is still washing up.  We found several pieces.  When we were reboarding the boat a native islander came up to us with a basket full of large pieces and shells for sale.  We never thought to bring money on a dive boat but someone did and they bought it all.  An interesting piece of unexpected history. On the boat trip back to El Galleon we had an unexpected piece of nature as well.  A wave we hit sprayed water and a small squid into our boat and onto Jane's lap. Both Jane and the squid were surprised.  Even though it was time for lunch, the squid was released back into the water unharmed. 

When we got back to El Galleon, Russ completed his 200th dive on a nearby reef.  He later received his shirt and that night rang the bell at The Point bar to buy a round of shots in celebration.  There seem to be a lot more Americans discovering the diving in the Philippines.  We had just missed a group from Louisiana and there was a large group from California just leaving when we got there. We spent time with a group from Michigan who was going to be there for 10 days.  Apparantly the word is getting out.  In general we were told there had been an increase in bookings and Asia Divers is in the process of building a new dive shop.  There's also a new pier going in where the ferry's from Batangas can dock.  Currently they pull in as far as possible and either transport you to shore in a small boat or let you wade through the water.  I guess a pier is more efficient and kinder to people's footwear but it seems like the first step toward taking the "charm" out of the place.  Right now this place seems like what Cozumel or Akumal might have been like before the developers and tourists discovered it.  We'd better enjoy it while we can.
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