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Puerto Galera and Donsol (March 2007)

Small Lalaguna Beach – El Galleon Resort:  Our first destination is El Galleon resort at Smal Lalaguna Beach for a week and a half. This is near Puerto Galera. First you drive a bus in 2-3 hours from the airport to Batangas. Afterwards you will be transported to the island of Mindoro with a banka, which takes about an hour. Once you have arrived you are quickly checked in to your room and your holiday can begin. Unpack, look around, register for diving and then relax.

Diving school Asia Divers s well organised. There is a pier where the dive boats are moored. Big advantage: no sand!
The group size is a maximum of 6 divers plus a dive guide per boat, so you have plenty of space. 3 dives are offered per day: at 9 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. When you go, you decide for yourself. You are present half an hour in advance, you prepare your things and you put on your wetsuit. All dive sites can be reached within 10 minutes. A backward roll and and the dive can begin.

Puerto Galera’s attraction is the small stuff. We found everything: nudibranchs, robust ghost pipefishes, frogfishes, seahorses, crabs, and so on. In the sea grass in the bay of Sabang you will find the very special types of fish that you usually only encounter with muck diving: the pegasus seamoth, fingered dragonets, or the seawasp.
The dive sites are colorful due to the vast amounts of feather stars with their bright yellow, brown and reddish colors, not so much by the coral. All larger fish has ended up ion somebodies dinner plate in the past, so you will unfortunately not find big fish.

Almost every dive site harbors a wreck. Some are still recognizable as a boat, some have already fallen apart completely. These heaps of wood and beams are sometimes the home of mega frogfishes. We have never seen them so big. They were 50 cm long. And there were a lot too! Some were so amazingly camouflaged that they were only distinguishable when they moved!

Next stop: Donsol – Woodlands Beach Resort. Once we arrived in Legaspi we were met by representatives from Prosafari. Here too we were quickly directed into a van and after an hour’s drive we were in Donsol. We have never been in such a low budget and dirty resort. Cleaning rooms? Never heard of it! The bathroom was very dirty, but well it was only for a few days.

After arrival we immediately went snorkeling with the whalesharks. In 1 word: Awesome! The best time is actually early in the morning, but although we were on the boat at around 11, we still saw 12 whale sharks in a period of 2.5 hours. The interactions were fairly short. We were with 7 tourists on the boat, the Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) swims with you to the whale sharks and makes sure you don’t touch them or get too close. You have to stay more than 3 meters from the head and 4 meters from the tail. We soon discovered that the shark is startled if you dive down too fast at the head. Usually he went straight into the depths. Once gone, the sharks usually didn’t come up again.

The next day we left for Ticao island to go diving. We have made a number of dives on San Miguel Island. This was supposedly a macro paradise, but frankly Puerto Galera is better. “Manta bowl” is the place to be when you like manta rays, whale sharks, threshersharks and also hammerheads.
After being unlucky with broken down boats, finally we could dive “Manta bowl”. It is a bare underwater mountain, where a lot of dynamite fishing has been done. The “empty bowl” was unfortunately a better name, because there was nothing to see. We spent 6 dives on a reef hook in the current, but no manta choose to appear; let alone the promised whalesharks, and the rest. So mission not accomplished. We did some last dives on San Miguel. At least there is some coral and fish to look at.

Then back to Woodlands. This time we had a slightly larger air-conditioned room. Also not cleaned …..The next day we went looking for the whale sharks, now with 5 people in the boat. We left early, before eight o’clock; the interactions were therefore slightly longer. Again we have seen around 12 whale sharks. The last day there were only three of us left and we had our own boat. We thought “this will be our day”. Immediately with the first shark we were able to swim for about 5 minutes. When this one finally went into hiding, the next one was there immediately. Also with this second shark we could swim for quite a long time. Halfway through the morning the big bang arrived. At least 15 minutes with 1 shark! We had to give up because our friend could no longer keep up with his film camera, otherwise we could have stayed for an hour next to this one. Occasionally he went down a bit, but the shark kept coming up again and again. We could swim next to his head, make a dive and even carefully feel his skin on fin. Awesome!

​March 2007

Threshersharks of Malapascua (September 2005)

Monad Shoal. This is the place to see the famous threshersharks, mantas, and hammerhead sharks. It was peak season for the mantas and the sharks. Unfortunately we had to miss the mantas, we made a few attempts but they did not pass by. We were more lucky with the Threshersharks, who visited Monad every morning! The water was quite murky, so they came pretty close, about 10-15 meters away.
Although we have seen the Theshers on every dive, you must be lucky, not all groups of divers were lucky to find them.

Calanggaman island is another place where you can go with a day trip. The island is surrounded by drop-offs, with beautiful corals. On the walls you will find frogfishes, stone fish, loose swimming remoras. If you are lucky you can also see big fish. The coral wall is very colorful. Unfortunately there is not that much fish.

Gato is a small island and also a marine reserve. The corals at Gato are particularly colorful and lush. The visibility was very poor, the comparison with pea soup was made quickly. Because of the nutrient-rich water there was much to see. Among the coral you will find many and varied sea creatures: nudibranchs, harlequin shrimp, sleeping whitetips, frogfishes, cuttlefishes, and so on. In terms of coral we found Gato one of the most beautiful places in Malapascua. As an additional attraction is the fairly shallow but spacious cave, through which you can swim even without a cave diving experience. In this cave you can also find a sleeping whitetip reef shark if you are lucky.

For the night dives an attraction is of course a visit to the mating of mandarin fish. They are most active at full moon, but the phenomena can be seen also at other times too. You have to make sure that you find a spot around a group of fish at sunset. Every mandarin fish with a territory enthusiastically chases away all its peers, except for the ladies of course, who are allowed to  stay. When it is almost completely dark, the couples rise to about 30 centimeters above the reef to transfer their offspring to the elements. Mandarin fish have beautiful patterns in orange, green and blue, simply beautiful. And as if you haven’t seen enough yet, you can then go to the seahorses: not 1, not 2, not 5, no …. dozens. On average you can count on seeing about 10 seahorses per dive, sometimes they are even in groups of 2 or 3 together.

Besides the fact that diving was fun, it is also very pleasant to stay at Malapascua Exotic dive resort. The staff is very friendly, the food excellent, the diving school and the whole organization runs like a well oiled machine.

September 2005