Thursday, 18 October 2007

Puerto Galera

Date: 18 Oct 07 - 20 Oct 07 [3D/2N]
Location: Sabang, Puerto Galera, Philippine
No. of dives: 6

Accessibility to dive sites: 8.5
Marine Animal Density: 8.2
Dive site terrain Quality: 8.5
Marine Animal Diversity: 8.5
Visibility: 7.5
Overall Score: 8.2

Entry: Boat
Difficulty: OW
Dive Sites: Fringing reefs/Wrecks

Camera: Canon Powershot A80
Underwater casing: Canon Waterproof Case WP-DC900 for Powershot A80 by Canon
Strobe: NIL
Oraganizer: Dan
Members: Sam, KL Tan and CS Law
My reason to go there: Have been hearing about this place for sometime, so I wanted to dive and see what’s so special about P.G. 

Puerto Galera has become the top diving destination in the Philippines. Excellent diving is found less than 5 minutes from the Sabang area. The diving generally focuses around the areas either side of Escarceo Point which is famous for its current rips. Strong currents are a feature of the diving in Puerto Galera and it is good advice to employ the services of an experienced local guide or dive centre. There are upwards of thirty dive sites all within a 5-10 minute banca ride from Sabang Beach. Marine life is highly diverse. 180+ species of nudibranchs are found in the area and most species of fish can be seen A variety of wrecks have been sunk over the years in addition to the one genuine wreck of an engine of a WWII Japanese patrol boat.

So I was in the Sabang Barangay(is the native Filipino term for a village or district) for 3 nights, and I did 6 dives. Viz wasn't good that time, with the addition overcast sky made it worst. However if you are in heaven, no matter how bad it is, it will still be good. Diving is good there, with lots of little critters to see, wrecks, cheap and best of all dives sites are only a 5-10 minutes boat ride all the time.

As I was on a backpack trip around Luzon, I couldn’t possibly have brought my own equipments, so I had to rent….. to my surprise I managed to find a dive operator that offered me 6 dives at 120.00USD, inclusive of full equipment rental. That’s like diving at Redang, good price huh!


Friday, 12 October 2007

The Philippines

Date: 12 Oct 07 - 22 Oct 07 [11D/10N]
Location: Clark - Baguio - Sagada - Bontoc - Banaue - Hapao - Batad - Manila - Sabang, Philippines
Camera: Canon EOS 350D
Lens: Sigma 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 DC
Filter: Hoya CPL
Post editing: PS CS3
Organizer: Dan
Members: Sam, CS Law and KL Tan
My reason to go there: Seen some really nice pictures of Banaue, Sagada, etc. I wanna dive Puerto Galera. And I have not backpacked for a long time….


11 days around the country proves one thing wrong about the misconception Malaysians have on the security in the Philippines, it is not as dangerous as said. Filipinos are very friendly, helpful and have great sense of humor.

My journey brought me deep into the heart of Luzon, where ancient 2000 years old rice terraces are still green amongst the highlands of Cordillera, and all the way to Mindoro Island where I have experienced some exciting scuba diving.

In all, my journey was very smooth; I was able to get all the public transports on time(well almost all, lol), cheap. And also lots of cheap and clean accommodations; ok it was low season anyway. Just that the food were not as cheap as I’ve expected. I brought RM1270 for 11 days, RM425 goes to diving, and I think at least RM400-500 went to food. Other than food I save a lot on other things like; I didn’t hire any guide for all my treks and visits, accommodation cost sharing with another 3 travel mates, etc

As expected …. Philippine is nice, the rice terraces are very nice, weather was very good, and we had blue sky on almost everyday. But it was a pity that the weather at Puerto Galera was not so good, however we still dive even when the sky was overcast or with a bit of rain; who cares about rain anyway.

So I was able to get all my transportations smooth almost all the way. It was just that on the 2nd day at Baguio I was not able find the correct bus to Sagada, we went round & round for a long time to get to the correct bus station, we were pointed to the east, then to the west and south and then back to the east by the locals. Mainly because in the Philippines, there is no such thing as a single concentrated location where all buses “congregate”, like something equivalent of Puduraya in KL. In the Philippines every bus company runs their own little bus station, and they are everywhere. Even locals get confused about which company goes where from where and at what time. Technically it was pretty messy! ….. After that incident I got really “smart”(haha smart!), I would not rely on the locals anymore, I would find out about the buses/jeepney/stations/time/company all siap siap by myself, well from the handy lonely planet book and some internet printouts I have. So it was ok from there on. 

The journey to Sagada was nice; along the Halsema highway. It was an 7-8 hours journey. Imagine traveling at 2200M ASL, as part of the highway was actually running along the ridge of some of the tallest mountain ranges in the region. If 2200M ASL doesn’t mean anything to you, then know this… The little pointed peak of Gunung Tahan is 2187M ASL ….. ahhh ding dong ring a bell now? Now you know. It is called a highway, but when I got there it was definitely not even an equivalent of a kampong road in Malaysian. Looking back at the eroded part of the highway, it is not unusual in the mountains but it could be paralyzing to farmers and retailers bringing business in and through these mountain roads. I heard of a huge project is currently underway to complete the Halsema Highway but it's no guarantee against mountain movements causing landslides, etc. Many parts, or I would say almost 70% of the highway remains unpaved. 

Near to Sagada the highway became really small and bad, but it was ok for me. I have enjoyed every single moment of the ride as the view along the way was simply breathtaking, together with the freshness of high altitude air I could go on for 14 hours or more. There were many landsides along the way; all of them have been cleared to make way for the occasional passing vehicles. Unfortunately our bus still got stuck at a place near to Sagada for a short while, all guys were asked to get out of the bus while the bus driver trashed forward and backward countless times to get over a big hump remnant of a recent landslide, ahh no worries… we got thru that one after 15 minutes.. no prob..

Sagada is very peaceful, it is a little town that goes to sleep at 9:00pm. 18 Celsius by night time surrounded by mountains 1450m ASL. Sounds like the perfect little place for your weekend huh? It is, trust me. Locals told me that by December night temperature may plummet as low as 5 Celsius, that’s very cold….. 
One regret I had was we never had the chance to eat at the Log Cabin, it is said to serve some of the best tomato and zucchini pesto - smoked pork loin a.k.a. etag, a local delicacy - spinach soup - herring "kinilaw" in 3 dressings: cream, blueberry vinegar, and another kind of vinegar - roasted baby - broccoli with cheese - boiled broccoli - sourdough bread - chocolate fruit and nut cake, bla bla bla in Sagada, but then I had a great time at St Jopseph's, Masferre Inn and another Japanese named restaurant, they were all very good. 
The hanging coffins in Echo Valley were interesting, to get to Echo Valley where the coffins are we have to pass by an old Catholic church, it could be 100 or 200 years old, I’m not sure, then pass thru a Catholic cemetery(yup we had some group pictures taken there), and then go down the hill where we could see lots of stone pinnacles (yup stone pinnacles. So who needs to go to Mulu to see those pinnacles anyway) and we were there, the hanging coffins are on the other side of the valley, suspended probably 10 meters from the ground we could see them from a distant…. 

The next day we trekked to the famous Bomod-Ok a.k.a Big-Falls … indeed it is a big and nice waterfall. I could probably last 30 seconds in the water at most, coz the water was freezing! The trek from Sagada to Bomod-Ok was interesting as we traverse very interesting villages like Bagaan and Fidelisan, and took pictures of the rice terraces along the way. It all started in the morning and ended around 5:00pm at St Jopseph's cafĂ©(in Sagada) where I reward myself a nice bottle of icy coke, that was almost like the best thing that happened that day.
We didn’t do any caves in Sagada although highly recommended by my friends who have been there before, the local tourist office and other backpackers, mainly because 3 out of 4 of us were not interested in stalactite and stalagmites lit by colored beams of lights, going to the caves requires a guide and we will get wet/dirty … all of us have a DSLR with us, we don’t wanna get wet in a bat cave.. .and taking pictures in the caves requires a tripod, we don’t have any except Sam.

Bontoc is also very interesting …we spent a morning and lunch there .. walking around the town, into the market and into the villages. Bontoc is a much smaller town than Baguio, however still a very busy town with countless amount of tricycles bustling around and lots of pedestrians too. People here looks different from the typical Pilipino, they are more like hmmm the aboriginal people of Taiwan/Hawaii/Tibet. I think they are called the Ifugao people ..

Banaue is amazing … it has some the best views, we stayed at the Sanafe lodge, the only lodge with a dining area on a big + open balcony over looking the entire valley of Banaue, we stayed there 3 days / 2 nights and it was really good. Temperature at night = 19-20 Celsius was superb. And we had some really nice Pilipino dishes at both People’s lodge and Sanafe lodge.

Going to Batad was a bit hard coz there was a big landside blocking the way to Batad, so our jeepney could only can drop us 5 km from the Batad junction, where from Batad junction we have to hike over a mountain and down to the valley to reach the village of Batad. So all in all we’ve walked 5km 2 times and hike over a mountain 2 times that day, that’s probably over 20km distant covered.

Batad has very nice rice terraces, but because of the time taken to walk in the out, we do not have enough time to visit the falls there, pity 

Next day we went to Hapao …and Tam-an. Hapao have even more amazing rice terraces.

That night we changed our 5:30pm Manila bound bus ticket to another newer company called Florida also to Manila at 8:30pm. We got to Cubao, Manila the next morning around 5 am. From Cubao we looked for the correct station to Batangas, took a bit of time searching as everyone I asked points me a different company and direction … but in the end we managed to get one leaving at 7:15am.

Going to Batangas took like 2-3 hours I think. 
Batangas pier is busy, many tourists heading to Mindoro will be there looking for the next boat. There are many boat operators, so finding one for my intended destination wasn’t hard at all. 

Sabang beach was our next stop …. According to the information we got there are many isolated beaches around Puerto Galera, so we have to choose one to go to, so it was Sabang. Coz Sabang is the king of all the diving beaches, we wanna DIVE!

At Sabang … it took a bit of time to for me to find a nice, cheap and good room and also a good/cheap dive operator …. So I ask my friends to relax at the restaurant while I go hunt for rooms and dive packages. It took me almost 45 mins and I came back with a nice big air-con room with fridge and satellite-TV up at the hillside for 4 person costing PHP1500 per night… for 3 nights, that was like RM30/person/night. I think it is worth to have a nicer room especially near beaches where it could be very warm at night + infested by mosquitoes.

Few days of diving …. Sky always moody, overcast… but then diving was good, and over cast sky doesn’t stop us, even if it rains we will still dive …
.. .they have very nice dive sites by the way, lots of nudibranches, some interesting wrecks and crazy lots of feather stars…

And after the 3 diving days …. We head for Manila. I know there was a bomb at Makati killing 2 Koreans, 1 Taiwanese and 8 Pilipinos two days before that, so at that moment I thought I will try to avoid Makati. On the way to Ermita, I changed my mind and ask the van driver to drop us at Malate as the van will pass Malate first. So we went to "Friendly’s guesthouse", and asked for dorm beds…. Cost PHP300 / person .. .so we took it, just drop our bags and we went out lepak oledi…
First walked around Malate, then don’t know lah somehow we took a taxi to Makati. We thought we saw the bomb site as part of the mall was actually closed and the smell of burned stuffs was very strong…. Then only later to find out that there was in fact another fire at the Mall the day before, which was a 2nd case of trouble at Makati area. So well we thought Makati is not the place to stay for long and we headed for the MRT right after makan at the food court. Delicious food there by the way, and much CHEAPER than those in Sabang or up in the highlands.
After lunch? Or was it tea we went to Chinatown. There was a parade, some religion thing(Catholic). So we look look see see bit bit … makan, etc .. .then took the MRT back to Malate and visited Robinsons Mall from 6:30pm – 9:00pm …. And then back to the guesthouse. The community hall of the guesthouse was filled with people from everywhere, Korea, US, Taiwan, France, etc. I had a long day so after a shower, I zzzzzzzzzz rite away. It would be nice to stay there for a while to be able to talk to other backpackers I felt…

Next day we took a taxi to the bus station and took a bus to Clark airport directly…… we finish off our remaining pesos on donuts. They have lots of donuts outlets everywhere in the Philippines, it is like goreng pisang stalls in Malaysia …