I had a very tough first assignment for my new job at Marco Vincent dive resort. I had to spend an entire 9 days with the Scuba Sports club exploring Manila and scuba diving on the beautiful reefs around Puerto Galera. It’s a hard life but I took the challenge with both hands.
Part of the Marco Vincent experience is the VIP transfer service from Manila airport. After a long flight all the way from New York it is very reassuring to see someone with a big smile holding a sign board with your name on. We then had a quick drive to the hotel in our luxury department of tourism accredited bus. Everybody was checked in quickly, it was part one of the Manila city tour in the morning.
After raiding the breakfast buffet we were met by Dennis who would be our guide for the Manila city tour. Dennis did a fantastic job; he is like an encyclopedia of Philippine history. Our first stop was the walled city of Intramuros. The beautifully manicured gardens and ancient Spanish architecture were outstanding. We saw where Filipino national hero Rizal was imprisoned before his execution. We visited the dungeons where the Japanese left 600 people dead after the battle of Manila in the Second World War.
Next was the San Agustin church where we gate crashed someone’s wedding before exploring the oldest church in Manila. After lunch we visited the American war cemetery. With a few US veterans in our group there were some poignant moments as they reflected on the ultimate sacrifice that thousands gave during the Second World War. The day was rounded off with a visit to an exhibition on some ancient gold artifacts at the Ayala center, after quietly conferring on how to escape with the gold we left with empty pockets. With jet lag creeping up on the group we called it a day and had a great nights rest.
We headed north to an interesting project in Bulacan. Gawad Kalinga is an inspiring idea which aims to end poverty in the Philippines. Poor people are given the chance to help with projects such as farming; in exchange for the working they are given housing and a chance to improve their life at the same time. Some of the successful projects included make fruit shaped soft toys which are now stocked in shops all over the Philippines and some homemade soft drinks that are very popular. The people involved in the project are feed with organic food which is sourced on site. Our guests really enjoyed the fantastic lunch. You can just ask Ray about the chili in the Chicken tinola soup. After buying some souvenir’s including chicken adobo chocolate the group headed back to the hotel and enjoyed a few cocktails on their last night in Manila.
We headed south on the SLEX highway onto our last stop before heading to Puerto Galera. The Taal volcano is a wonderful place to visit. We used some small outrigger boats to cross the main lake. You have the option to rent a horse and guide to take you to the peak of the volcano, if you wish to walk it’s also possible. The majority of us saddled up. The horses were not the biggest in the world and I apologized to my horse many times during the trip. On the way up you can see some volcanic vents with steam coming out. Half way up someone takes your picture on the horse and as if by magic it is ready for you in a frame by the time you reach the top. The top of the crater is mind blowing; you can see the lake boiling in some places. After spending a few minutes taking photos and enjoying the view we made our descent back down to ground level. I wonder if my horse made it to work the next day.
We headed to Batangas port and onto our private boat for the one hour crossing to Puerto Galera. The sea was calm; we saw the wonderful coastline of Mindoro getting closer and closer. One final mode of transport to get to the resort was a 5 minute Jeepney ride; you won’t experience the real Philippines if you don’t ride a Jeepney that is a fact
! On arrival at the resort GM Riza and the front desk staff got everyone a welcome drink and room keys in double time. The shoes were off and flip flops on as the relax button was hit. After a couple of hours of rest we had dinner up on the 4th floor. We briefed about the diving and showed a short video of the marine life which can be seen on our sites. One simple instruction from the briefing was put all your dive gear in the basket provided and we will take care of the rest, easy as that.
There is always a great buzz around the breakfast table before the first days diving. We wolfed down bacon, eggs and pancakes before heading down to the dive shop to complete the paperwork, sort out weights and rental gear. With a steady swell on White Beach we jumped back onto the Jeepney and took the 2 minute drive to our private pier. Our guests had a first look at the colossal Big Beth, our chariot for the next week of diving. The crew welcomed the guests aboard; all of the dive gear had magically appeared. We served hot coffee and tea, showed everyone around the vessel and gave a safety briefing. The ropes were off and we headed east towards our first diving location. Marlon, Warren and Cris were the main dive guides; I would be moving between the groups making some video footage along the way. Marco Vincent has a maximum of 5 guests per divemaster so you are well looked after underwater.
I will be honest with you, we didn’t have the best visibility during the week, the weather was great with only a couple of showers during the week. As always with our dive plan we start off with very easy dives so everybody can get settled. The first dive we check everyone’s weights and equipment. The dive at Coral cove was pretty good; we saw some blue spotted sting rays and the Streaked cromodoris seemed to be everywhere. A disco clam was flashing its brilliant blue light to our guests; to finish things off we bumped into a Hawksbill turtle on the safety stop. After the first dive our guests had the first taste of the service you can expect at Marco Vincent dive resort. As soon as the tank is off your back you get a warm face towel and a little shot of ginger tea to relax you. After you have a shower you get a freshly laundered towel. After the second dive we had our first taste of the chefs BBQ skills. He feed us with chicken, fish, shrimp and pork with all the trimmings, after that we had a little siesta. Our last dive of the day turned out to be a cracker with several plump Pygmy Seahorses and we ran into 3 different giant frogfish trying to mate with a female
. The second day began at Sinandigan wall which gave us more than 30 nudibranch, the soft corals in the shallows are pretty amazing. Monkey beach was next after coffee, tea and snacks. There is nice wreck at 70ft which is infested with Dancing shrimps and Cardinal fish. We saw Peacock Mantis shrimps as we explored the slopping reef. After another belly busting lunch we went to Sabang wrecks. We found a stone fish on the first wreck, the amount of butterfly fish and anthias clouded the wrecks. We finished in the sea grass and we absolutely delighted to see 3 large Green turtles and a dragon sea moth. A great dive to end the day was made better with a free beer on the way home. David was busting some moves on the dance floor with Nathan and Cha.
Our first long distance trip of the week was over to Anilao. We had great conditions on the way over with White beach and the Mindoro Mountains making quite a backdrop. Sombrero Island was our first dive and we were greeted by large schools of fusiliers and Mackerel as we entered the water. There were some carpet anemones which had a couple of porcelain crabs. Next up was Twin Rocks; the sunken barge has a couple of Banded pipefish next to a Yellow margin moray eel. We gave our guests a muck diving experience at Secret bay after lunch. We found a flying gurnard with his wings wide open looking like something out of Jurassic park. Other sand dwellers included a Peacock flounder and a thorny seahorse. We made our way back to White beach with a wonderful settling sun. As we dropped off the guests at White beach you could feel the eyes from the beach goers looking enviously at the Big Beth wishing they had been onboard with us.
The next day began at a dive site that not many people can even find, Hibo Reef can be a very challenging dive as it’s a sea mount with nothing else around. The current was fairly strong which brings in the big schools of fish, turtles and other pelagics. Everybody made it back on board enjoying the adrenalin fueled ride. We headed over to Manila Channel. There are many Barrel sponges, some of them big enough for a human to fit inside. We found a couple of Hairy squat lobsters. We saw a fairly rare fish called a Barramundi. As we drifted outside the channel there was a Hawksbill turtle which was resting on a coral head. The chef prepared some amazing grilled calamari and BBQ chicken for lunch. Another great thing about scuba diving from the Big Beth is that there are so many places to grab a little sleep after lunch, this gives a great opportunity to grab some pictures of people snoring away, my victims were David, Charlie and Ken. The last dive of the day was over at Giant Clam. There is a clam garden which has around 20 large clams. The sandy area is home to some amazing critters, we saw a Thin Ghost pipe fish, juvenile cuttlefish, Painted frogfish and a Blue Dragon. We enjoyed a great dinner down on the beach to help celebrate Kenny’s birthday. The whole group was dancing on the sun deck of the Aqua Bar. Some of the guests took full advantage of our karaoke room and belted out a few classics.
It was time to go to Verde Island; this is always a highlight of the trip. Deemed to be ‘the center of the center of the world’s marine biodiversity’ we headed over with excitement in our bones. Today was a full moon which meant that we had current. This is my personal favorite dive site in the Philippines; we saw large schools of Jacks, Chubs and fusiliers. There are many scorpion fish and moray eels hiding in the crevices. My favorite feature is literally the millions of small orange Anthias that play in the current. We were lucky to see a pod of around 15 dolphins playing near the boat during our service interval. We finished up with a dive at Maricaban Island; this is another rare area due to the distance from Puerto Galera. Marco Vincent dive resort will always try to offer the best sites for our guests. You can really tell that not many divers come here; the soft corals are out of this world. We found a Crinoid shrimp, more squat lobsters and a Jaw fish with eggs in its mouth. On the way home the beers flowed and Tom took over the dance floor, as we pulled into dock the guests were just about finished dancing to YMCA.
We visited Boulders, we found a juvenile ornate ghost pipefish hiding next to a crinoid, not far from there was a thorny seahorse. There is a school of mesmerizing Razor fish that hang around a gorgonian sea fan. We tried our luck at Kilima steps for our second dive, there is one area in Puerto Galera that you can see Thresher sharks on occasion’s, no luck for us but we did see a juvenile Pinnate Batfish which is extremely rare. You can also see the Palate Surgeon fish here, also known as ‘Dory’ from Finding Nemo
The wreck of the Alma Jane was first up on another action packed day. There are schools of Bat fish that face into in the current. Near the prop you can see large snapper and Sweetlips. Inside the cargo hold you can see a Banded Sea snake that lives in an air pocket. Giant frog fish are also a common sight on the wreck. Next up was Hole in the wall to Canyons; this area probably has the highest concentration of fish life around PG. There are Giant trevally, Jacks, Low fin drummer fish and Barracuda. The pink and purple soft corals are some of the best around. We ended the dive on the Spanish anchor before drifting into the blue. We headed west after lunch and visited the Ship Yard for more muck action. We saw some Broad club cuttlefish, Banded boxer shrimp and an upside down jellyfish. There is a lot of bulldozer shrimp living in harmony with Gobies on the sand.
So just like that we came to our last days diving. We arranged a group shot on the sand with the banner of the Scuba Sports club. We found a fire urchin which had a Coleman shrimp attached. For our last dive of the trip we visited the Secret Bay area for one last muck dive. We had a great ride for the first half of the dive as the current was moving. We found a romantic pair of Puffer fish on the sand and there were some nice schools of small snapper. A mimic octopus poked his head out just for a moment. We came across a meadow of the wonderful Zenia soft corals that looked like they were waving to us as we made our final ascent of a great trip. The guests had a nice surprise on the boat as the crew had prepared some Mindoro Sling which is a famous cocktail from White Beach. We enjoyed the wonderful scenery as we made our way back to the dock for the last time. The guests were informed that the dive gear will be picked up and cleaned by the dive fairies ready for the departure time tomorrow.
We enjoyed an excellent final night with an outstanding performance from local high school children. They wore the most colorful outfits and performed some local song and dance. We even had a fire dancer put on a show. The grand finale was a showing of the video of the week; I think everybody enjoyed looking back over an excellent 9 days with the Scuba Sports club. We would like to thank Jody very much for bringing the group from New York; we hope you enjoyed the Marco Vincent experience and we hope to see you again in 2017.