jmnigro

jmnigro

My Dive Map

Reviews (5)

Cebu and Bohol

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There are a lot of ways to come up with a dive itinerary for a dream destination. The “no plan” kind of a plan is not exactly the typical consideration, especially when you will step off of a plane 7,000 miles from home with a load of dive gear and camera equipment. It is possible though if you want to dive in the Visayas of the Philippines, and not only will you take part in the fantastic diving, but you will also have a chance to experience more of the local culture unedited by another Westerner.

I did not have a name for it before I arrived in Cebu City, Cebu, but by the time I left, I knew that my itinerary in development was locally referred to as the dive ‘n’ drive. The term refers to diving and driving in the Philippines where you can arrive by plane on one main island, but drive to several dive destinations on different islands with the help of ferry transport. It sounds perhaps familiar to divers who have been to Bonaire, for example, but where it differs in the Philippines is that it is both feasible and reasonable to transfer yourself, your gear, and even a car by ferry to a completely new island. Since ferries run daily, it is possible to move to your next destination any day of the week.

The dive ‘n’ drive is perhaps a different version of the liveaboard experience, but one that you are entirely in control of. You can leave one place for another, or not leave at all. You have the chance to mingle outside of a boat and eat the kind of food that you want each day. Most importantly, you have a chance to participate more directly in the local culture. The beauty of the dive and drive is that it is a work in progress and all the while you can adjust the plan based on the diving, the weather, and whomever you are with.

On your travel days, you can be diving either before you leave one destination or upon arrival to the second. When I left Dauin, Negros for Panglao Island, Bohol, I had the entire morning to dive in Dauin because the ferry was leaving at 15:30.

I had 21 days. Malapascua Island was on the mend after the typhoon, but I was steered away from there, as resorts were only marginally operational in January of 2014. Based on the weather and options available to me at the moment in the Visayas, a three-stop dive adventure was proposed which was also a three island adventure (actually more): Moalboal, Cebu; Dauin, Negros; and Panglao Island, Bohol.

The highlight of Moalboal in January 2014 was a sardine ball, which remarkably was only about 30 meters from shore rather than out in the deep blue. Macro life was prolific on every island. You can sometimes be jaded and say, “oh, I have seen this one before,” except for example, on Apo Island near Negros, where the nudibranchs were no longer macro subjects. It was as if the marine reserve was off limits even to predators of nudibranchs.

The diving routine was similar in Moalboal and Panglao Island in that it was a short boat ride to a dive site, backward roll into a hard coral garden, swim a bit to the drop off, and descend along a wall. In all three places, there were other smaller islands to visit: Pescador Island, Moalboal; Apo Island, Dauin; and Balicasag, Bohol.

On my first dive day in Dauin, I found myself in an 8-person capacity banca crossing over to Apo Island. It was the one adventure that I have to say that if I had known what the situation was before I arrived that morning for the dive, I never would have agreed to it. Once I was at the boat, I thought that it would be all right because Filipinos crossed to other islands probably for centuries in these boats, and ours had an engine.

Dauin was different than Moalboal and Panglao Island because the immediate area is a muck diving paradise. At Car Wreck, there were brooding cardinal fish. It is an amazing behavior to witness because their mouths are stuffed full with their eggs, as if they have eaten too much banana and might throw up. Occasionally they will “burp” and a couple eggs will drop out. And during those magic last minutes of daylight, we peered at mating pairs of mandarin fish shedding clouds of their gametes on the house reef in Moalboal.

The Dauin dives were really a macro photographers dream. All sorts of critters were living on ropes and the other odd bits of metal deposited at different sites as artificial reef. At first glance, you would have thought it was an underwater desert, but there were incredible creatures to find. The dives at Dauin were similar, sloping brown sandy with tiny coral bommies. Each day we went to three new sites along the coast and then spent an exhaustive hour moving from one micro-habitat to the next, exposing unique creatures. What I did not expect was to find a field of anemones. Dauin South was a magical site for me because I was surrounded by anemones, and they were covered with small cleaner shrimp.

One twist to the dive ‘n’ drive was that a dive site for whale sharks, Oslob, on the southern end of Cebu, was actually easier to reach by the dive boat from Dauin, which is on Negros. Another diver had warned me ahead of time, that while I would certainly see a whale shark, it would not be with the same kind of excitement as with a spontaneous sighting. I took the opportunity anyway, and in the end, I am not sure I would recommend it. It felt a bit like a circus, and it might not actually be good for the whale sharks. I have to admit, however, that to see this dark shadow slowly turn into a giant fish looming directly over me, was awesome.

Ultimately though, I found the other islands to be a distraction at Dauin; Dauin itself deserved at least another three to four days just to focus on the muck dives.

My time seemed as if it was up pretty quickly. On top of it, the dives were so relaxing in all of the places, that I was taking some of my best underwater photos.

Visited on 01/2014 - Submitted on 10/16/2014
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Komodo

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I thought when I was a kid I wanted to go to Komodo to see the dragons. I never dreamed then that it would be scuba diving that would bring me there. Komodo lies in Indonesia within the Coral Triangle, where the richest biodiversity in marine life resides. As a dive destination, Komodo is known for its swift currents and cool thermoclines. Based on these characteristics, I was somewhat reluctant to dive Komodo. Furthermore, reading about diver mishaps in Komodo, which is easy to do because of the Internet, did not settle the issue. A culmination of a diver’s worst nightmare in Komodo was actually a true story: divers had been both swept away and had to fight off Komodo dragons after finding refuge on an island. What I discovered, is that divers in Komodo who are most vulnerable to these incidents are the ones from liveaboards without dedicated boat tenders. It is worth it to pay the price to be on a liveaboard that really knows the area in order to have the best experience.

Komodo, like most of Indonesia, is a string of islands created by volcanic eruptions. It is particularly fascinating to me as a diver, as there is a combination of geological, geographical as well as biological phenomena to experience. Smoke plumes surround the peak of Sangeang, but that it is active, is more easily viewed on the sea floor at dive sites like Tiny Bubbles.

Although macro life is prolific here, pelagic life is also abundant. I have been on trips where a mixture of oceanic and reef manta rays have swooped around us on successive dives at Manta Alley and seen sharks and dolphins. Manta Alley is a tough spot to reach in summer but it is a beautiful amphitheater formed of volcanic rock where you can sit on the bottom to watch the mantas overhead. The volcanic amphitheater provides a spectacular backdrop for viewing the manta rays, and at times, I have forgotten that I was there to watch the mantas and not the many sessile creatures that live in these walls as permanent spectators to the graceful pelagic animals.

Horseshoe Bay is the dive destination within the heart of South Komodo. It harbors a spectacular series of dives within a small area, and at the same time offers the first opportunity to view the infamous Komodo dragon in one of its natural habitats (from the anchored boat), the beach on Rinca Island. Here, crab eating macaques skip around on the rocky section of the beach collecting the shellfish when the tide is out, while the dragons slink out in public only when the sun is at its peak and the sand at its warmest. Fortunately, they do not like to swim so much.

The dives in this area often had a bit of current at the surface, so negative entries were necessary. However, once under the surface, the current was not detectable. Cannibal Rock is a fabulous volcanic peak that you circle but never in a single dive, as it is crowded with soft corals, anemones, mating nudibranchs, frogfish, and shrimp. The Yellow Wall o’ Texas is one of the most extraordinary wall dives on the trip, in that the soft corals are swollen open all day long due to currents even in the bright sunlight. It is a hypnotic ride along a wall of soft corals and anemones rhythmically responding to the current.

The Three Sisters is a dive site of three underwater pinnacles that become progressively higher and are separated by several meters. The current is flowing into one side of the pinnacles so that there is a big burn at the entry just downstream of the current and in between where the current runs through. The Sisters are full of life everywhere you look. There is small stuff and interesting behaviors between different types of fish to look out for.

Beauty is flaunting itself everywhere in Komodo, but it lies deep within the muck dives if you are open to the challenge of finding it. To me, there is something compelling about these dives even though they at first may appear to be desolate. The dive guides always find something. Wainilu is a muck dive situated around a beautiful island, but underwater I felt as if I was immersed in a black and white photo, as there is low visibility and little sunlight. But then finally, a radiant spot of color will appear somewhere and then it is a race to see all that there is on your remaining air.

You get that feeling that a dinosaur will appear at any moment, but especially on the night dives. Evolution seems to have a complete lack of any rational purpose when you evaluate the diversity of the creatures on these night dives. I especially liked the night dive at Torpedo Point in Horseshow Bay, as our guide made torpedo rays appear out of the sand, revealed hidden shrimp in basket sea stars, and coerced delicate crabs out of their soft coral hideouts.

There were “sand-based” breaks from my boat. A very serious beach volleyball match took place between the crew, guests, and locals from an island and we took an easy hike to Pink Beach on another island to watch the sunset . All serve to emphasize the remarkable diversity of the landscape of Komodo.

I am always anxious about leaving Komodo and not ever returning!

Best months for diving

I have been to Komodo in May, July, and September. All months are spectacular but May was still green, and we were able to dive Manta Alley which was impossible to reach in July.

You must take an experienced liveaboard for the best adventure, and I would go for a 10- to 12-day itinerary. Anything else is too short.

Visited on 07/2013 - Submitted on 08/31/2014
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KBR Lembeh Dive Resort

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Kungkungan Bay Resort (KBR) just outside of Bitung, Indonesia, which is a city famous for processing tuna, was the third stop for me in Indonesia on a so-called swimabout in 2013 and 2014. So my travel route was a transfer from Gangga Island Resort by boat/car, and the switch took place at the Manado airport. It is a 1.5 hour scenic drive after that to Lembeh Strait. Silk Air flies into Manado several days a week so in fact you can book an itinerary all the way through on Singapore Airlines which makes Lembeh/North Sulawesi a highly attractive dive destination in addition to all of the other reasons related to marine life.

The dive day started at 8:15, and we would dive again at 11:15, and 14:45. But if you want, you can have all the shore dives that you would like. If you are awake for that. Each dive is preceded by a dive briefing that is accompanied by an illustration on a white board. The guides describe the general geography of a site, sandy slope, wall, rubble, and indicate what kind of critters we might find. When the dive guide got to the part where he told us how long it would take to arrive at the dive site, we laughed every time because usually it was only five to seven minutes and sometimes less.

Lembeh Strait is famous muck diving so you spend a lot of time on the bottom, which might include digging through some local refuse, and yet Lembeh is on most divers’ wish list because all sorts of fabulous, unusual and even colorful creatures, with sometimes whirling parts (that may be their eyes), live there. Many probably have yet to be discovered. Why they do live in such a habitat is a mystery to me-it is a busy and sometimes noisy area-but for some reason they seem to love to inhabit the rubble or the garbage that floats into the sea and reproduce in it. The trash in Lembeh Strait however is relatively moderate compared to Ambon (2010).

As a well-read diver, you can arrive at KBR with a long list of creatures that you want to see. There is a wish list board at KBR and some critters are 100% guaranteed, like pygmy seahorses, whereas others are not, such as a hairy frogfish or harlequin shrimp. I do not like to make lists of critters because I feel sure then that I will not see them. But KBR is really like a make-a-wish place for divers. The guides will say there is no guarantee-they are always saying this-but they pretty much can find whatever you have read about.

Sea creatures tend to be territorial and in the case of KBR, so do the dive guides. My dive guide for part of the week was Ade who has been working for the resort for nearly 18 years, his colleague, Liberty, almost 19! Together they have logged over 25,000 dives. I am not sure who expects to see whom underwater. The critters may themselves have special names for these two. It was always fun to dive with them because they still like to do it, and they do it with a sense of humor.

Secretly however, I did have a list…one creature that I had never seen was the blue-ringed octopus. After many years of diving muck sites, on my first dive in Lembeh, the 8:15 dive at Pulau Abadi, a blue-ringed octopus went gliding across the bottom in front of us. It became routine to see them. I had a second wish…to see a Lembeh sea dragon. One day at Nudi Retreat 3, Ade made his underwater call, and when it was my turn to look, a Lembeh sea dragon was bouncing around in the water in front of me, like a tiny rubber band attached to something at one end. I do not know how often the guides find the sea dragons, but I am glad I was with Ade on one of the days that he did.

Early December seemed to be a shoulder season of sorts for the resort (perhaps I should keep this observation a secret!), and the management bumped me up to a deluxe bungalow on the beach. Extremely luxurious accommodations, especially for a single traveler.

The area, though, has a high density of resorts so sometimes we had to go to another dive site because there already were boats from other resorts. Once, however, the guides scheduled a dive to Angel’s Window 15 minutes ahead of time to beat the other boats, but there are also plenty of incredible dive sites so you are never disappointed. There is always a plan A, B, C, D etc. which are in essence always an “A” plan. The only dive that did not work was the mandarin fish dive. Plenty of some of the largest mandarin fish I have ever seen, but no mating pairs. The lights of the two divers I was with probably interfered with the mating ritual. I still had my own dive guide for most days, and one day I was completely alone on the dive boat for three dives. For only two days did I have to share Ade with one other guest.

The only disappointment (besides having to leave) was that there was no nitrox the week I was there. Some of the dives are deep (25 m), to see the Coleman shrimp or Denise or Bargibanti pygmy seahorses, so we were a bit rushed to look and take a photo.

Accommodations & Food

KBR was the first resort built in Lembeh. I was in a deluxe beach bungalow which was incredibly luxurious and spacious. Lembeh Strait is a busy area so the boat traffic is constant during the day, but there is no industry in Kungkungan Bay and you have a view of the sunset. The food is a mixture of Western and Indonesian dishes. It is not fancy but it is well prepared. Their version of fried banana with melted cheese is to die for.

Diving

It is muck/reef diving and the macro life is rich. The guides have been there forever and seem to have infinite powers to find something you have never seen before at any dive site, even in the bleakest looking ones. The schedule is strict-three times a day-starting at 8:15, unless you do shore diving which is unlimited. Dives are generally 25 m and above, and 60 minutes passes in a microsecond.

Visited on 12/2013 - Submitted on 08/28/2014
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Scuba Seraya Resort Bali

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SCUBA SERAYA DIVE RESORT REVIEW

GETTING THERE

I find flying domestic in Indonesia to be exhausting. In May 2013 when I booked a boat trip to Komodo, I wanted an extension, one without extra planes, and asked for a destination on Bali. Scuba Seraya on the northeast coast of Bali was recommended, but the suggestion came with two warnings. The first was that the drive to the resort from Denpasar was long and maybe just as time consuming as a flight to somewhere else in Indonesia. The drive is along a two-lane highway that twists and turns through tropical foliage and Balinese rice terraces. Fairly beautiful views over a three-hour drive. The second precaution was that Scuba Seraya was an incredibly quiet place. It is. I am not sure what other people are looking for when they go diving, but warm water with unusual creatures is enough “busy” for me. Add to that, beautiful clean black sand beaches, a view of the main volcano on Bali (Mount Agung), views of the sunrise and sunset, and that is Scuba Seraya.

When I was there in May 2013, it was a shoulder season so very few guests were at the resort. One dive guide was assigned to two guests for the duration of their stay. Ours was Alit who had been with the resort for 10 years. The area, which includes Tulamben, is popular amongst scuba divers because of the Liberty Wreck located just a few meters from the shore. Scuba Seraya is a 5-minute zodiac ride from Tulamben. The torpedoed ship was originally towed to this spot for repairs in 1942, but a volcanic eruption 50 years ago moved it into the sea. It now lies at its deepest point in about 30 meters of water. The advantage of staying at Scuba Seraya is that you have the opportunity to be among the first to view the wreck in the morning. Later in the day, divers arrive from the main areas of Bali and descend upon the site by late morning. 50 years has only added beauty to this wreck rather than taken it away. It is encrusted with colorful soft corals, sponges, anemones, and crinoids, and many larger animals frequently cruise this site. We saw a green turtle, a big Maori Napolean wrasse, and bumphead parrotfish, which travel in a school that you can see if you are coerced into the 6 to 6:30 AM dive.

The wreck is the main dive attraction to this area, but the rest of the diving is not the B-movie. There were all sorts of creatures to hunt for that were new to me, and there was time to look because there was no one else but my dive buddy and me. On Drop-off Wall, we went straight down to look at a pygmy seahorse. For me, it was unexpected because we were hardly far from the shore.

Some of the dive sites in the area are given names that add a level of spirituality to the dive if you do not already feel it. Alamanda, “one with nature”, and Melasti, “purification”, were two such dives that illustrated the remarkable diversity of nature underwater and perhaps the ritual of diving them helps you to throw your problems into the sea. You can not help but be removed from the world above when you get to view a pair of robust ghost pipefish, a pair of spiny tiger shrimp, and some abnormally large nudibranchs that I have yet to name.

Since I have a special fondness for anemones, I have to mention the anemone garden that was at the dive site Coral Gardens. I had heard about one that exists in a more remote location in the Alor Archipelago of Indonesia, but there was an expansive one here that you could easily swim to from shore!

HOUSE REEF

Scuba Seraya has a house reef, which was generally scheduled as a shore dive in the afternoon. Right out in front of us, we found three ornate ghost pipefish and some resident harlequin shrimp radiating light and color against darkness at depth and the lava derived sand.

To be able to expand my critter database at Scuba Seraya, was an impressive follow-up to a 12 day, 39-dive liveaboard trip in Komodo National Park. Alit had enthusiastically approached me for the night dives. His eagerness made me think that he wanted to use me more as his own dive buddy rather than the other way around. A whole different set of nudibranchs as well as their shell retaining cousins had emerged from the sand in the transition from sunlight to darkness. One of his most spectacular finds was an unbelievably tiny frogfish that I could only tell was a frogfish by the way it moved. My awe at his find was clearly expressed underwater, and Alit’s discovery was an example of knowing his reef environments really well.

We only had time enough to dive the area near the resort. The region is much more expansive, extending down the coast, south to Amed. The young Indonesians guiding the dives at the resort proudly claimed that Tulamben/Seraya is the best diving on Bali because the locals practice conservative fishing methods whereas other notable areas on the island do less so. It is a photographer’s dream destination as it is not crowded, so you have time with your subject, nor is it littered topside or on the sea floor. On the other hand, the fine black sand is a nightmare for housings!

The most amazing part about diving Scuba Seraya is that you are never very far from shore.

ACCOMODATIONS & FOOD

The rooms are simple, clean, and have an outdoor shower and toilet. The grounds are lovely with black sand beaches and a view of the main volcano on Bali. Both Indonesian and Western food choices. I only tried the Indonesian which was simple but well prepared. Fruit is always available.

DIVING:

The diving is muck/reef which is hard to believe as it is so close to shore. Amazing macro critters. Some bigger animals are near the wreck such as turtles, Napoleon wrasse, and bumphead parrotfish.

Visited on 05/2013 - Submitted on 08/28/2014
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