Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines

Christel had invited me to a dive trip to Moalboal, on the west coast of Cebu in the Philippines. Situated along the Tanon Straight, opposite Negros, the area is known for its superb scuba diving, especially along the Pescador Island. We left HK on night from the 7th to the 8th, and returned late on the 13th. Although suffering from poor health, this was one of the best dive trips so far.

The Sunday before we left, I caught a nasty throat infection that would not go away. On Wednesday, I changed to stronger Antibiotics, drugged myself with tons of Panadol, and forced myself on the airplane. There, I fell asleep, had my nose blocked with snot, which upon landing was pushed in my sinuses, where it caused a secondary infection. I managed the travel alright, but collapsed as soon as we got to Moalboal. The next three days, I was too sick to walk, hardly left the bed, and suffered severe fatigue and body pain. On Sunday, I was still shaky, but better, and immediately decided to go for the late morning dive. I had to descend very slowly, carefully equalizing my ears. During the dive, I stayed at shallow 14 meters, and tried not to exhaust or stress myself. Probably not entirely safe, but this geriatric approach worked fine, and I had a great dive. Upon ascent, the expanding air in my sinuses released a flood of snot and blood from my nose. This was not pretty to look at, but fixed the sinus infection for good.

Diving was great. Around 200 meters of the shore, the coastline forms one giant wall, dropping from two meters down to 30 – 60. (At other points, the Tanon Strait reaches 600 meters). Given the recent storms, the water was reasonably clear, with a visibility of ca 20 meters. We saw nudi-branches, moray eels, lion fish, parrot fish, but no sharks. (The area is known for its Whale-shark sightings.) The wall is full of coral, top to bottom, and there is no reason to go deeper than twelve meters, greatly benefitting my poor health.

We managed another dive on Sunday afternoon and three full dives on Monday, remaining above 15 meters. Our plane to HK left Cebu at 21:30 on Tuesday night. I figured that we could safely participate in the 7:30 am dive on the same morning, for which I ordered Nitrox, and chose a particularly shallow dive profile (around 8 meters). Although these assumptions had been dead-reckoning, the Suunto computers agreed, and gave a “clear to fly” around 21:00, just before our flight. This last dive was very special, a true lifetime experience. Over the 55 minutes in the water we saw twelve (!) turtles. The first made me smile, the second made me giddy, after the fifth I assumed myself at a turtle convention. Arriving back at the base, the water in front of the beach was colored in deep red by a huge school or sardines. I quickly got out my mask, snorkel and fins, and jumped right inside. The clouds of fish quickly parted whenever I stretched my hand out, leaving the impression of a mirage. So much to see in less than one hour. This dive alone was worth the entire trip, and we are planning the next trip to Moalboal already.

The Savedra Dive Center is run by Germans, highly professional and well organized, yet sports incredibly friendly staff. Dives leave at 7:30, 10:30, 15:30 and 19:30 every day, and usually require a three minute ride in the resort’s motorized Bangka, a large outrigger-canoe. Beach-dives are free, boat dives (in a package) below 20 US$, and Nitrox costs 7 US$ a tank. The company exclusively offers large 15 Liter tanks, allowing dives 60 minutes and more. All in all, the people at Savedra are a highly professional, good value for money, and a pleasure to dive with.

We stayed at the Club Cabana, a tiny holiday resort on the beach. Crammed in between the other hotels and lodges, it is situated directly on the waterfront, and only 50 meters from the Savedra dive center. Rooms are basic, but spacious, sporting an A/C, hot water, satellite TV, and an amazing sea view. The lack of beach is easily compensated by the great seafront, plus a small pool. The resort has a restaurant with room service and surprisingly edible food. Additionally, there are many restaurants on the alley in front of the resort, with fresh barbequed seafood at ridiculously low prices.

The only airline connecting HK and Cebu directly is Cebu Pacific Air. The company sports cheap flights, with awful service and obscene delays. But then again, it is significantly more pleasant than having to stop over in Manila.

The Sea&Sea flash with the digital adapter worked fine, but the Olympus 5050 caused some issues, since it does not have an underwater modus for the white balance. I hence decided to shoot RAW, and after some post-processing, managed to create some pretty pictures: