When Gary Savins arrived at Changi Airport and handed in his wife’s passport to the check in counter staff, the man smiled and politely asked, “Excuse me sir, what name is this person booked under?” Well, it helped set the weekend’s tone for mayhem, muck diving and mischief. Several Facebook jokes later, Karen had luckily managed to leave work early and kindly reunite the correct passport with the correct owner.
This time, my finance Phil and I were accompanying Gary Savins, Jo, Lydia and Marla to the coastal town of Puerto Galera in the Philippines for a GS Diving Trip.
When we arrived our rooms were still being cleaned and were not quite ready, so what else was there to do but go diving?
Dropping into 20 metres of warm, crystal clear water and being surrounded by a colorful festival of fish life, soon made us forget about the 3 hour airplane ride, 2 hour coach trip and 1 hour boat journey. Instead bright yellow butterflyfish, turquoise wrasse, electric blue parrotfish, tomato red anemonefish and scarlet coral groupers were just some of the wonderfully vibrant and sparkling fish life surrounding us.
The second dive was called Clam Garden and the sandy seabed had a lot of fascinating surprises in store for all of us. Marla was delighted to see her first seahorse, happily ambling along the sand. While Jo found one of her favourite underwater creatures – the boxfish but in different colours: yellow, brown, blue spotted and even black. Some of the macro fishlife, including gobies in various holes was captivating to watch too as well as the resident striped catfish and an oriental purple flying gurnard.
Yet we were all delighted beyond words to see our first sighting of the flamboyant cuttlefish. Although only a few centimetres long, it could rapidly change colours from purple to black to silver in a few seconds.
Further along, I could make out a large boulder shape which suddenly seemed to move. Approaching the shape cautiously, it turned out to be the largest green turtle I had ever seen – totally content and munching away greedily at sea grass, letting us all follow him for quite some time.
With my wet suit was on back to front, I was the centre of attention on the quick boat ride to our first dive site, the MV Alma Jane – a 60 ton, steel hulled scuttled cargo freighter, built in Japan in 1966 and laying upright in 30 meters in Sabang Bay. Newly qualified Nitrox divers Lydia and Jo appreciated the benefits from their course, so they had longer bottom time and explored some of the cargo holds which had batfish, striped pipefish and vivid nembrotha nudibranches.
This was a superb wreck dive – full of yellowtail fusillers, lurking lionfish and a shy peacock mantis shrimp. Even Lydia, who prefers reef diving, agreed that it had been a fantastic and memorable dive.
Our next dive was shallower but just as interesting – a pretty reef dive with a huge potato cod and dazzling soft corals – swaying gently with the current.
In between dives, we returned back to Mindoro Seashore for food, refreshments or just to relax. The marine environment has benefitted considerably in recent years due to the increase in tourism and thereby reducing fishing in the area. We found all the locals very welcoming and friendly, including two Bassett Hounds called Sally and Winston. In the evening, we enjoyed meals at Hemingway’s Bistro along Sabang Beach with cheerful and animated music in the distance.
A smooth 45 minute boat journey to Verde Island, a Marine Reserve with over 300 types of coral, gave both Marla and me an opportunity at driving the boat.
Descending negatively at the dive site from the boat, we were all immediately tossed into a strong current, along a fascinating and industrious wall. Nudibranches were laying eggs, cowfish were taking cover and eels were keeping unwelcome guests at a distance. Not to mention a diver who was struggling with a tangling reef hook. Luckily the current subsided further along the wall, so we could all slow down and admire the beautiful scenery; an underwater garden full of striking corals in all imaginable shapes, colours and sizes, mixed with abundant fish life.
For our last dive, we were dropped a few minutes away from Sabang Beach shore, drifting quickly along with the current, across the sandy bay. For the second time, we dived towards a site called ‘the 3 wrecks’ which had been deliberately sunk as training for new divers. Among the wreckage were 2 huge frogfish – 1 pale green and 1 black. What ugly yet truly fascinating creatures these docile fish were; calmly watching all the enthusiastic divers surrounding them who were happily snapping multiple photos of them.
Meanwhile, Gary was having fun photo bombing some upside-down beginner divers. Further along, our relaxing underwater journey took us past pale box fish, a snake eel burrowing in the sand and numerous chocolate chip starfish.
We began to pose for a moving underwater group photo and Harry our dive guide swam backward to take a shot. I watched helplessly as a huge rock loomed up behind him. Suddenly a black object got entangled in Harry’s alternate air source as the current pushed him towards and over the rock. A few seconds later we realized it wasn’t a black jelly like sponge but a large octopus – who was unimpressed at being disturbed from his afternoon stroll. You can imagine the jokes afterwards on the dive boat about an “octopus getting caught in an octopus!” Luckily, no harm fell on either octopus but it may be a while before one of them ventures out again for another afternoon stroll.
After nine beautiful dives, our last night was designated “free and easy” and we explored the local restaurants and pubs, listening to some great local bands. A truly lighthearted way to end an enjoyable holiday.
The journey back to Singapore was relatively uneventful, apart from when we flew through a thunderstorm. All too soon we were back at Changi Airport and it was time to say goodbye . . . well till the next trip!
Cheers, Georgina UnderwaterPhoto
Video by Gary Savins. Photos by Georgina. Additional photos by Georgina can be viewed on our Facebook page – click here to view