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In my previous post, I talked about how I forgot about the time when I snorkelled at Apo Island. How true it was; we almost forgot our lunch, good thing our hungry tummies never fail to remind us to eat.

Lunchtime

Hungry Pack

Hungry Pack

Grilled Fish and Rice

Grilled Fish and Rice

For our late lunch, we bought a freshly caught big fish from a local vendor and asked them to grill it for us. They also cooked us rice and bought us softdrinks and “sawsawan” (Filipino liquid seasoning), all for a very affordable price of course. We had a hearty lunch under the scorching heat of the summer sun. I highly recommend you buy freshly-caught fish from locals and let them grill it for you.  It’s a refreshing experience, especially if you’re used to having fast food in the city. After that sumptuous feast, we were all geared up for our second dip.

Clown Fish City

Clown Fish City, Apo Island Photo from Tommy Schultz

Everyone knows about the fish with bright orange and white stripes.  Thanks to the movie “Finding Nemo”, we already knew that clown fish exist and that they live in sea anemones. And when we talk about sea anemones, the island has a lot of them. I read before that Apo Island is said to be “Clown Fish City”, and indeed, it is! It was then that I knew, mature fish tend to change into a darker orange hue as they age. Clown fish go on swimming and playing happily in and out of the anemones, just like what I saw in the Disney movie. They went on with their daily lives not minding the five humans swimming overhead.

Marine Sanctuary

Marine Sanctuary

The tide was beginning to get low so our guide had to stop our snorkelling escapade after an hour of snorkelling. We returned all the gears we borrowed and headed to the port where our pumpboat was religiously waiting for us.

Sea Turtles

Going to see the Turtles

Going to see the Turtles

But before reaching the boat, our guide led us to a place where we could see big “pawikans” (sea turtles) up close. The place where we snorkelled was not as attractive as the Marine Sanctuary but we were amazed to see big (as in, really big) sea turtles swimming lazily and eating sea grass every now and then.  Locals said that big sea turtles are a common site, one can always see their round heads bob up and down the water, that is if, you know where to look. We swam near the “pawikan” that our guide was pointing at yet we didn’t get to go really close because sea turtles are really shy. They tend to swim away when they see someone going near them. So after half an hour or so, we decide that it was about time to travel back to the city.

Going Home

Going Home

Going Home

The trip back was a nasty one.  It was twice as rough as our morning trip and the waves were really not friendly because of the grumpy weather. The sky was really gloomy and raindrops were pouring every now and then. There was a time when our boat man had to kill the boat’s engine so that we could dance to the rhythm of the sea and avoid being capsized. The captain mentioned that the waves we encountered were just mild compared to the waves during the stormy season. I just closed my eyes and said a prayer for a safe trip and before I knew it we were already nearing the port.

I highly recommend Apo Island to all the people who wanted to experience marine life at its best. I’m not a diving/snorkelling expert but I have to say that the island’s marine life is absolutely breathtaking; absolutely worth your while, despite the rough sea trip.

Please drop by again next week for another snorkelling adventure with me, Wynna. :)

Activity Holiday cast

White water rafting, swimming with dolphins, zip lining, SCUBA diving, firefly watching and neighborhood photo-walkabouts over 6 days – it was the dream activity holidays are made of! We dubbed it as the Mindanao adventure with the activities spread across 3 provinces.

The gateway to our adventures is the city of Cagayan de Oro or CDO as the locals call it. We took a 2-hour flight from Manila to CDO where we meet up with our advance party. Sadly we were not able to go with them for the white water rafting and swimming with the dolphins and had to be content with their stories and photos. Work seem to always get in the way of fun!

White Water Rafting in CDO

Introduced in the Philippines as a hobby by a group of outdoor enthusiasts back in 1995, it took 10 years for the activity to catch on as an attraction for both local and foreign tourists. White water rafting is an activity that uses a raft, usually made of inflated rubber tubes, to navigate a river or any body of water.

Excitement flows as the raft negotiates its way through varying degrees of rough water and passengers try to hang on and prevent the raft from capsizing or worse hitting the rocks. Best enjoyed with a group, however anyone can go alone provided you bring your friendly spirit to meet new people and build relationships.

Swimming with Dolphins

Another one we missed because this happened on the second day of the adventure trip. The dolphin infraction is in Misamis Occidental Aquamarine Park or MOAP. It’s about a 30 minute ride from Ozamis City to Sinacaban.

The interaction happens in Dolphin Island, not a real island but a facility built in the sea accessible inside MOAP. It’s a real interaction where you can snorkel and swim with the dolphins. Stories of people being scared at first but then soon replaced by extreme joy as these creatures are so friendly they facilitate the interaction. They literally welcome you to their environment and make you feel at ease.

I was really disappointed to miss this one and still curse commitments to clients to this day!

Ziplining in Bukidnon

Zip Line – Check!

This was where we caught up with the adventure. We arrived early in CDO airport from Manila and our team picked us up from the airport at about 6:30am. We had a quick breakfast along the way and set off to Bukidnon to experience the longest zip line in Asia found in Dahilayan Adventure Park.

The trip from the airport is about 2 hours and half of the time is spent going through the Del Monte pineapple plantation, where hectares of pineapples are grown for cannery purposes. Past the plantation is a community and loads of fruit bearing trees, owing to the fertile soil of this region, then after a short while you will see Dahilayan Adventure Park. They have 2 zip lines and and another attraction called Zorb where you go inside a giant transparent ball that goes down one of the cliffs.

We only had one purpose and that is to ride the longest zip line in Asia, superman style! The ride was exhilarating, especially the anticipation as they strapped us with the protective gear. The zip line is 840 meters long suspended at about 100 meters from the ground and travels from 60-100 kilometers per hour.

It was fantastic and I felt like Peter Pan as I watched my shadow flying on top of trees. The ride took only about 2 minutes but it was one of the bet 2 minutes well spent! I wanted to go again but we had other things planned and getting quite hungry, especially since we were told that there is a restaurant inside the pineapple plantation that sells pineapple fed steaks.

SCUBA Diving

In action in Mantigue Bay, Camiguin

We are avid SCUBA divers and the Philippines is one of the perfect places to go to explore a rich marine life. We went to 2 areas to dive – Mantigue Island in Camiguin and Duka Bay in Medina.

  • Camiguin has at least 20 top dive sites but the most spectacular ones are:
  • Mantigue Island – nice drop off reefs often compared to Maldives.
  • Sunken Cemetery – not a real cemetery; great siting for turtles and soft corals.
  • Tangup Bay – perfect for beginners with soft and hard corals and some interesting rock formations.
  • White Island – beautiful black coral forest, strong current and requires advanced diving skills.

Camiguin was the first time I used nitrox and it was an interesting experience as the air felt lighter to breathe and seemed to give a happier after dive effect compared to compressed air. Some minor set-up required for dive computers needed as calculations of bottom time and surface intervals change.

Turtle

Duka Bay has 3 spectacular dive sites:

  • Paradise Garden – I love the colorful damsels in this site and the corals are so colorful. The crater features canyons and overhangs – truly a paradise under the sea!
  • Aquarium – first time I saw thermocline where cold freshwater springs out of the sea floor mixing with warmer salt water.
  • Japanese Garden – a shallow dive but not to be missed for the colorful and abundant collection of fish and corals!

It’s good to have your own dive equipment but even without your complete set there are rentals from resorts at very reasonable prices.

Firefly Watching

In one of the nights we rented local canoes that took us inland among the mangroves to watch fireflies dance.. Each canoe had a boat man that rowed for us and a navigator that ferried us along the shallow waters of the mangrove forest while we drank beer and sang a few tunes. Fireflies are not something you see everyday especially in the city and seeing them in their natural habitat brings back a lot of childhood memories. The canoe ride along the calm waters with just our flashlights to light the way is very romantic.

Neighborhood Photo Walkabouts

Medina is loaded with history and culture so we packed our cameras one day and did a neighborhood photo walkabouts. Visiting heritage houses taking photos of the local flora and fauna and interesting sites around. This is one way to get to know the locals and the surroundings just make sure you leave the abrasive and patronizing attitude at home and pack a lot of positive energies.

It was certainly one of the greatest activity holidays we’ve ever been a part of. What’s even better is being hosted by our dive instructor who originally came from Medina. Its always good to have someone who can show you around and really get the most out of the experience.

We’re planning to go back September 2012 but this time the eastern side of Mindanao and we’ll make sure not to miss the dolphin interaction.

The wall of rock in front of me seems to be moving.  How can this be? I swim closer and realize that I am not hallucinating from nitrogen narcosis. The movement is real, but it is not the rock.  It is a million tiny, navy blue fish which live on its surface.

I feel myself begin to float upward.  Slowly, I let the air out of my lungs.  Then when I am sure that they’re empty, I let out some more.  The ascending stops and I sink back down.  The amplified sound of my breath provides rhythm to my movements. I revel in the sensation of weightlessness. My plan to take advantage of Thailand’s fabulous diving opportunities is off to a good start.

I was a child when I first fell in love with the ocean.  It was 1977, our family’s second trip to Hawaii. We had made our first trip the year before because my father had won a sales contest.  We made the next trip because the first one was so great. Between times, my parents, brother and I all took classes to learn snorkeling and skin-diving.

Photo by Fah Rojvithee.

I remember seeing the colorful pictures in the book “Fishes of Hawaii” and thinking, “Yeah, but I’m not really going to see things like that.”  Eight years old and I already had a sense of cynicism, already knew that the reality would not live up to the advertisement.

Then I put my face in the water and discovered how wonderful it is to be wrong!

Wanting to see more of that marine wonderland was the motivation for learning to dive.  The ocean is truly another world (not to mention 70% of this one!).  It is a landscape shaped more by animals than plants.  They come in a myriad of colors- gold, turquoise, emerald and pink-  so bright that they would make neon jealous.

To my surprise, I’ve found the process of learning to dive to be rewarding in itself.  I like the skills it makes me cultivate. Diving is like yoga- it requires bringing awareness to body and breath. You have to resist the urge to flap your hands around. You use the amount of air you are holding in your lungs like the buttons on an elevator to go up or down, but it takes a few moments for the changes to take effect so you have to be patient.  Diving is willfully slowing down.

My advanced diving course was held at a place called Black Tip Resort on the island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand.  I had chosen this place because it was a bit isolated and promised a tranquil environment far from the sex and drugs for which tourism in Thailand is also famous.  The resort was named for black tipped sharks which I saw none of in spite of going on six dives.  Now I had come to the town of Krabi on the other side of the Malay peninsula to check things out in the Andaman sea.  I chose Krabi rather than better-known town of Phuket because I thought it might be cheaper. Diving is, after all, a splurge.  Hotels and meals in Krabi were affordable and I especially enjoyed the night market with its cheap eats.

I went diving on December 26th. Thailand being a primarily Buddhist country, the day before had been uneventful, but today’s date was notable- exactly three years after the devastating tsunami had destroyed so many lives here. Today things were quiet.

“I want to see a shark,” I told the dive master, as if I could just order up what I wanted the ocean to deliver.  “I’ll see what I can do,” he said agreeably, then went on to explain that the place we were going to sometimes had leopard sharks and that if we were to see one, we should sit down on the bottom because they will leave if they see people swimming above them.

A giant step off the back of the boat and I was descending through the warm, clear water.  Immediately, as if wanting nothing more than to grant my wish, a leopard shark appeared in front of me.  Leopard sharks are four to five feet long, harmless to humans and beautiful with spotted skin that earns them their name. I tucked my fins behind me so as to not stir up any dust and sank down, kneeling on the sandy bottom.  The ever-so-accommodating shark came and sat in the sand right in front of me. I’m surprised my regulator didn’t fall out of my mouth from the grin on my face. It was thrilling.

My shark.

It wasn’t so different from that first time I went snorkeling as a eight-year-old.  Once again I was surprised and delighted.  Once again the ocean delivered more than I dared to expect.