Monday, June 18, 2012

Frogfish and Thresher Shark diving in Malapascua, Philippines, June 18-19, 2012

My  logged dive #1124

Bobbi had to work on Friday (unusual, normally a day off in UAE) but as soon as she was done for the day, that was it for both of us.  I had been on leave since Thursday, so Friday we headed to the airport and flew up to Doha to see our granddaughter Gwen and her parents Glenn and Gulya.  Glenn and I played a bit of guitar and Glenn helped me resurrect an old song I had written long ago, from the depths of my memory, from his recollection from his boyhood.

We were just there overnight and next day, and just before midnight father's day Glenn drove us to the airport and we caught Qatar Airways to Manila, not a bad flight considering that was our bed for the night.  We had a 5 hour layover in Manila before connection to Cebu, where we didn't arrive until midnight, after 20 hours traveling.  Fortunately the airport in Cebu was a breeze, the guy who asked us where we wanted to go outside the airport helpfully steered us to our airport pickup rather than putting us in a cab, and we were asleep in bed at the Cesario Hotel near the airport in Macatan by 1 a.m.  We were out of bed 6 hours later for a hearty breakfast, smiling faces on all the charming staff, and the transfer we had ordered appeared at 8 a.m. sharp.  There are other ways you can do this, cab to the bus station and then bus to the ferry port, but the port was three hours drive in a fast car with a/c and we'd have slept the whole way but for the driver's penchant for soppy ballads played constantly the whole way, another aspect of Philippine charm.

Our arrival at the small port opposite Malapascua had been timed for arrival of the banca from Thresher Shark Divers dropping off empty nitrogen cylinders, and picking up full ones and plastic jerries full of boat petrol, and we were carried out to the island on that boat.  This was one of those Philippine Islands like Boracay which when you pass it in a small banca you think you are seeing things, all this western-oriented development so out of place in the world of the surrounding islands, where graft still siphons off money meant for road works, so the people living there seem rooted in a world that other nations in the region are moving beyond, China being the most striking example, but Thailand, Malaysia not far behind.  This is another charm of the Philippines. No matter how often you return, it's as if you never left.

Meanwhile we were deposited on a sand beach strewn with other bancas, the big canoes with outrigger struts that served to stabilize the boat and also to support planking to make deck space to give you the impression that you are on a much larger boat than you actually are on, but these contraptions are remarkably seaworthy (apart from those that set out in storms on long journeys to neighboring islands, sometimes carrying unwitting tourist). Our bags, two with clothes and one with dive gear, and ourselves, were all plopped onto motorcycles and whisked off on sand tracks to the opposite side of the island where Thresher Shark Divers was located.

We had arrived at TSD thanks to Andrea, the owner, who responded to our emails, unlike any of the other diver centers on the island.  Well, one did send a price list, but by then we were already in dialogue with Andrea, and thanks to her personal attention, were now at her dive shop. We were encouraged to leave our bags outside where we were assured they would be safe (or more to the point, discouraged from bringing them inside).  We were rapidly sorted for accommodation, and within an hour and a half found ourselves on a dive boat heading for a place whose name I don't recall, but the dive was billed as a frogfish one.

It was a small group, just us and a couple of aging Aussies who unfortunately sucked air twice as fast as we did, and also a young lady from Sweden. The water was a pleasant 28 degrees. Vis as we descended we could see was not excellent, but our guide was remarkable in finding every creature imaginable there.  He was constantly tapping his tank, calling us to see almost transparent spider shrimp, the little pipe fish with the fan tails, nudibranchs, scorpion fish living in otherwise featureless rocks.  He was adept at picking out the tiny glass seahorses in the glass fan coral, finding crabs in the white soft corals, pointing out the crabs and shrimp crawling over the anemonae that we thought had protected only clown fish. At one point he crawled into a cave and eventually found a spongy frogfish which he nudged from hiding with his steel tank-tapper, slightly inconveniencing it (or perhaps leaving it exposed to a predator that happened along after we had left).

I was surprised to have such an interesting dive at a site I probably would have passed over in search of larger animals.  We're spending 5 days here and we hope in the next installment to have greater insights into why they call it "Thresher Shark Divers".

My  logged dive #1125, 6 a.m. June 19

So THAT'S why they call it Thresher Shark Divers.  You have get up early for it, but pretty cool.  Like 3 meters cool.

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