Top 5 dive sites near Malapascua, Philippines

Destinations, Philippines

Top 5 dive sites near Malapascua, Philippines

8 Comments 21 May 2012

Malapascua.

It’s the perfect picture of paradise; white sands, swaying palm trees, clear water, warm sun, friendly locals and only a short strip of resorts and restaurants. That’s just the island.

Jump in. It only gets better.

Known mainly by divers, I landed on Malapascua, a tiny island at the top of Cebu in the Philippines, because of a friend’s recommendation. What started as a three-day island-getaway focused on seeing a thresher shark, the island’s mascot, quickly turned into a two-month stay to earn my divemaster.

It’s hard to ever leave this tiny island, but impossible not to extend any trip, no matter how long. Unfortunately, I only had two months to discover Malapascua’s underwater treasures.. Here are the five dive sites that became my favorite after about 60 logged-dives around the island.

Photo of two mandarin fish near Malapascua by Scubababe Ellie

5. Lighthouse Reef

The most popular night dive on the island, for some visitors this actually ends up being the favorite.

Divers descend Lighthouse Reef at sunset. A shallow dive, once at the bottom, divemasters search for tiny, colorful mandarin fish. After they find their group a pair or a few pairs, everyone stays absolutely still and watch as these fish mate.

The mating process involves one of the fish fluttering upwards and its partner clinging joining it and fluttering up as well. The fish are really beautiful and not shy in the least.

After taking in as much fish porn as humanly possible, the “night” portion of this dive begins. Once the torch goes on, the most unusual stuff comes out; blue ring octopus, a variety of sea horses, massive crabs and more. It’s not even that bad a dive during the day, but it’s most spectacular at night.

Photo of the Dona Marilyn by Scubababe Ellie

4. Dona Marilyn

This Filipino passenger ferry sunk on 23 October 1988. It remains underwater, pretty well intact. Over the years, the sunken boat has become home to an array of fish.

It’s a massive boat that can pretty safely be penetrated for certified wreck divers. However, it’s not always the easiest dive to descend. Local divemasters will warn divers whether or not to expect strong currents.

Photo of Calangaman Island by Gubbfet

3. Calangaman Island

When it comes to Calanggaman, it’s more about what’s above water than below for me.

Sure the diving is gorgeous, colorful coral, eels and the rare big fish, but the pure white sands underwater glow on dry land. Usually a two-dive trip, bangka boats dock the remote island for lunch, giving its passengers time to explore.

The most spectacular image on the island is a strip of white sands protruding off it with crash waves on one side and calm, clear ocean water on the other side. Spectacular.

2. Gato Island

This site holds a close second on my list. It may not have thresher sharks, but it has a remarkable layout. Marked by a rocky mountain above water, the dive starts under the island in a pitch black tunnel. There people can see crabs, nudibranches, soft coral and more.

But the best moment of the dive comes at the very end of the tunnel. Like clock work, as soon as the whole group catches up to the light at the end, a reef shark swims by. I’m not exaggerating when I say it happened EVERY TIME I dove there. It’s a really stunning image.

The second half leads divers around the island where they can see cuttle fish, sea snakes and more.

A thresher shark swims at Kemod Shoal, a dive site near Malapascua. Photo by Mark Pacey

1. Kemod Shoal

It holds a special place in my heart for several reasons. This is the dive site that brought me to Exotic Dive Resort, where I did my divemaster training and logged all my dives, in the first place.

Let me start by explaining that most dive operations on the island visit Monad Shoal for thresher sharks. Monad has several cleaning stations where thresher sharks are known to visit and this site is closer to Malapascua than Kemod, which matters when you’re diving at 5 a.m.

When I first arrived in Malapascua I didn’t stay at Exotic. The resort I was staying at wasn’t even sure if they had enough people to go out to Monad Shoal the day after I arrived. So I walked around the island and talked with a few different operators. Through my talks I found out about Kemod Shoal. A few people said it was better than Monad and that sometimes even hammer heads were spotted there. Inevitably I think both sites have their moments, but Monad just has too many people diving it at once.

Anyway, I ended up diving with Exotic, because it was the only dive resort that had enough participants to dive Kemod Shoal the following day.

This site became my absolute favorite because I saw more thresher sharks here than anywhere else. I even saw a hammer head shark here once. There was a pretty amazing octopus I would see at Kemod pretty much every time I visited and the site’s wall isn’t too shabby either.

The bottom line is that people usually dive Malapascua to see thresher sharks. Monad Shoal is the most well-known site for that and it is an amazing dive site, but if the option is there-try Kemod as well.

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Firefly watch in Donsol, Philippines

Destinations, Philippines

Firefly watch in Donsol, Philippines

4 Comments 15 December 2011

Even though my bed was looking pretty good after waking up at 4 a.m. on the day of my arrival in Donsol, Philippines, I decided to go on a firefly watch that night. Departing from Amor Farm Beach Resort at 6 p.m. most nights, a bangka boat picks guests up at the beach and sails for about 20 minutes to Donsol River, which runs through Donsol proper.

Along the river we picked up our guide Bernard who knows absolutely everything a human being could possibly know about fireflies. Things like, they’re not actually flies, but beetles. They produce cool light. They mimic each other’s lights. It’s a chemical reaction that causes them to light up. This chemical reaction is done to attract the opposite sex.

Bernard was adorable and every statement he made was followed by, “Mam, you have question for me?” He is by far one of the best people I met in the Philippines.

But back to the actual tour.

It starts out slow. I saw maybe one firefly, then a few in the bushes here and there. Then all of a sudden, I spotted what looked like three Christmas trees situated ahead on the river.

Hundreds of fireflies covered these Indian Almond trees, pulsating light at the same pace. I was living my five-year-old dreams. (I was a professional firefly catcher from five to eight years old. I always dreamed of catching enough to make a lamp for my room. I’m sure you all know how that usually ended.)

Bernard then suggested we look down at the water. That was also flickering with light. He said the flickering came from all the plankton in the water and vast amounts of plankton are why so many whalesharks seem to visit the ocean surrounding Donsol every year. The tiny organisms also glow at night.

He finally advised us to look up. The stars were spectacular.

“Light is the water, light in the sky and light in the trees, ” Bernard said.

The area is so special for wildlife and luckily it has very little light pollution to corrupt such a beautiful view at night.

Firefly watch is an ideal way to end a day in Donsol and one a lot may not think of until visiting the area. It costs P1,250 and departs daily from Amor Farm Beach Resort. Make sure to bring a coat.

Banner photo courtesy of Best of Bicolandia Travel.

Thanks to Amor Farm Beach Resort for supporting my trip to Donsol. As always, all opinions are my own.

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Arriving in Donsol, Philippines

Destinations, Philippines

Arriving in Donsol, Philippines

2 Comments 07 December 2011

I’m not sure many airports can boast a better backdrop then the one in Legazpi, Philippines. Walking off my 6:30 a.m. flight from Manila to Legazpi, I looked left to see Mt. Mayon standing tall amongst a perfect blue sky with clouds circling its peak. It was such a gorgeous sight I put off retrieving my luggage for a bit to take some photos. No wonder the Bicolans, locals to the area, named it “magayon,” which means beautiful.

Visitors have a clear view of Mt. Mayon when departing their plane at Legazpi Airport in the Philippines. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I finally made it inside the airport to find a small luggage belt and not much else. Since there was only one flight, I was quick with picking up my bag and heading out. On my way out of the airport an officer stopped me, as well as everyone else, to check if my luggage tag matched the tag on my ticket. I later found out this is a security measure a lot of Asian countries take.

Leaving Legazpi Airport I found the same sight as in my airports near resort beach towns – a crowd of drivers screaming out from behind a fence. It can be a bit stressful to take them all on, so this time I made prior arrangements to be picked up by Amor Farm Beach Resort, my accommodation in Donsol, Philippines. Amongst a sea of shouting drivers, it was relieving to see “Bobbi Lee” on a white sign.

Tricycle drivers wave me over at the airport. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The car ride from Legazpi to Donsol is about one and a half hours. Legazpi is very small, but busy. Tiny cement block houses and stores as well as bamboo huts covered in Red Horse and Coca Cola ad posters line the streets. Jeepneys, tricycles, buses and bikes weave back and forth and in and out of oncoming traffic. It’s a fun ride if you’re with a bold driver.

But all that calamity dissipated as my van left the city. Palm trees became more plentiful and small houses spaced out amongst massive rice fields. Not long into the ride I smelled something roasting. It was a good burning smell that I later found out was burnt shrubbery, which locals do to help prevent mosquitoes.

My driver must have noticed me taking tons of photos cause he offered to stop at Daraga Albay Church, so I could take some of this local treasure. The 18th-century baroque church on top a hill looked as if it was slowly falling apart with a few windows smashed and chipped siding, but it’s still active and people were praying inside. The church was supposedly built by a “daraga,” which means single lady in local tongue. The size and details made it look quite dominating against a tropical backdrop.

Dargay Albay Church looks in ruins, but it’s still in use and offers beautiful views of the city. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The streets became busy again as we entered Donsol proper. Welcoming guests to the town’s biggest attraction, a paper mache whaleshark is displayed before entering the Donsol. Donsol proper has a similar setup to Legazpi, but much more low key and bit friendlier. Everyone smiles when you walk or drive by. Couples and families ride or bike together. For a major tourist town, it seems to have maintained its family-oriented, close-knit community.

The scenery quiets down again then sign after sign for various resorts pop up exclaiming, “Turn Here!” or “Left to so and so in 800 meters.” There’s an array of places to choose from and most cannot be found on the internet or in guidebooks. If you’re planning to do a lot of water-oriented activities, make sure to find a place close to the Donsol Tourist Center. During peak season, March-June, it may be a good idea to book ahead.

I had already arranged my accommodation with Amor Farm Beach Resort prior and as the van pulled into to this quiet and roomy resort right on the beach, I had a feeling I picked the right place.

The beach by Amor Beach Farm Resort at night. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Thanks to Amor Farm Beach Resort for supporting my trip to Donsol. As always, all opinions are my own.

Become a fan of Amor Farm Beach Resort.

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The Animals of SE Asia

Cambodia, Destinations, Philippines, Thailand

The Animals of SE Asia

4 Comments 03 November 2011

Ric and I are huge animal lovers. In fact, Ric has been called a dog whisperer on more than one occasion by people all over the world. We never miss an opportunity to pet an animal in SE Asia and there were plenty of them

We made so many friends in Asia, most of which were animals. Here are a few of our furry and some not so furry friends.

Dogs

This crazy fella came charging at me on the beach in Malapascua. He then proceeded to roll in the sand and run circles around me as I walked the beach. Eventually he ran out of energy and let me pet him. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

 

A batch of puppies were born just before we arrived at the house in Pattaya. They were quite timid, but would play with Ric’s mom. She named one “Tiny Turner” pronounced “teeny”.

 

The biggest golden retriever I’ve ever met, we played with him for hours during a pub quiz in Pattaya. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

 

Look at the hair. Obviously we named this lady Farrah Fawcett. She helped Ric through a banking crisis on the phone at Chaweng Beach. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

 

Doppler! Our very first pup. We visited him every day while in Malapascua. He lived at a barbecue hut behind Exotic Resort. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

 

Gobblin Dog. He wouldn’t let Ric leave Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok. Good thing he was cute. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

 

I named this guy Chewy, well, cause he chewed EVERYTHING. He was only just a pup and so sweet. Only wish he would have stayed out the trash. Photo by Richard Hackey

 

Look at the face on him! Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

 

It’s not always pretty running into street dogs. Some of them are looked after, but most are not and need serious attention. I felt so bad for this guy, he was shaking on Koh Phangan during the Full Moon Party. Someone even painted him. Poor guy. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

 

This pair was having a ball at Angkor Wat. Just running around playing through the monument. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

 

We fed this guy at a restaurant in Malapascua and he was our best friend for the rest of the night. I think he’s apart of the Ristorante Angelina crew, a dozens dogs that hangout around the restaurant and howl at the moon. Photo by Richard Hackey.

 

Monkeys

Now this relationship is true love. The little monkey was tied up to someone’s bike at Lonely Beach on Koh Chang. It was night and everyone was drunk and probably scaring him. He jumped onto Ric and wouldn’t let go. Ric loved him to pieces. It was so sad when we had to leave, the little guy wouldn’t let go. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

 

“Monkey,” I screamed from our motorbike in Malapascua, Philippines. There are no monkeys in Malapscua, so he must have been someone’s pet. But he was having a blast, running around a house by the beach. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

 

Pigs

I hate to pick favorites, but this pig was definitely mine. We ran into him while in 4,000 Islands in Laos. Usually pigs don’t like to be touched, but he was pulling as far as his rope could go to get to me. I scratched behind his right ear and he just collapsed. I did it a few times while we stayed there. He had spots on him, so I called him Leopard Pig. Photo by Richard Hackey

 

This guy was massive by the time we left. Probably being raised for food, but I don’t like to think of it. Anyway, he lived just outside the resort I lived on in Malapascua. We all knew him and probably also heard him oinking in the wee-hours of the morning. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

 

 Other

This flying fish flew onto my dive boat off Donsol in the Philippines. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

 

Everyone seems to own a rooster in the Philippines. They either use them for food or fighting. This one was about to fight near Donsol. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

 

Basically thrown at us on Walking Street in Pattaya, I’m still not sure what this animal is. He looks like a sloth of sorts. UPDATE: This animal is a slow loris. Many thanks to Waegook Tom for clearing that up. 

 

This tiny caged squirrel was someone’s pet in Bangkok, Thailand. I don’t think he liked being in there. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

 

 

It’s hard not to run into elephants while touring Thailand. If you want to ride them, make sure you go through a good place, because some of them treat the elephants terribly. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

 

Last but certainly not least is our bulldog Ruddiger. Flown in all the way from England to travel with us, the little guy has braved shaky bus rides, rough seas and drunken backpackers. Good dog. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

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FriPhoto: Floating Bar, Philippines

Destinations, Other, Philippines, Photography

FriPhoto: Floating Bar, Philippines

No Comments 02 September 2011

It seems all I’ve been talking/thinking about lately is island-life. Though technically I am still living it in New Zealand, it’s freezing! Longing for the warm waters around Malapascua in the Philippines and a cool Red Horse  on this floating bar just off the tiny island.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

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Travel Tuesday Photo: Stranded

Destinations, Other, Philippines, Photography

Travel Tuesday Photo: Stranded

No Comments 31 August 2011

So no one was actually stranded in this photo. But when I ran into this shipment sitting on an empty piece of beach in the remote island of Malapascua, Philippines, I imagined it was boxes of rum-the only thing left on a deserted island.

The boxes really only contained water, which I guess would come more in handy if someone was stranded on an island.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

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You ate that! Balut

Destinations, Philippines

You ate that! Balut

7 Comments 29 July 2011

Balut.

Basically, take a fertilized chicken embryo, boil and serve. I first heard about balut in the Philippines. My reaction was pretty much the same as most westerners; a look of horror, followed by one of intrigue.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The high-protein snack can be found in several countries throughout Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, salesmen ride around at night selling the tasty treat from a heated basket strapped on the back of their bikes. I even found a balut man on call in Malapascua, an island in the Philippines off Cebu. It’s common enough that visitors can find it easily.

People buy and sell balut from the back of a bike in Cebu City, Philippines. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

People buy and sell balut from the back of a bike in Cebu City, Philippines. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Balut is sold at different ages. People looking for a safe balut choice should go for an 12-day-old egg that may just have a hard ball to spit out at the end (the texture felt like cartilage). The bold could try a 18-day-old egg that has already developed a bone structure and sometimes even feathers.

Peeling the shell from a more mature egg. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Peeling the shell from a more mature egg. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

People eat balut with a variety of condiments. People usually add salt, pepper, vinegar and chili. Balut doesn’t have to be chicken. Another popular option is duck. Below you can see Adam from Travels of Adam try duck balut in Vietnam.

Regardless of the age and the extras your egg comes with, the taste remains pretty similar.

After peeling off the top of my 16-day-old balut to reveal a harsh looking yolk in liquid, I sprinkled some salt and bit in.

Bobbi trying balut in Cebu City, Philippines. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Bobbi trying balut in Cebu City, Philippines. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

And guess what?

It tasted just like a hard-boiled egg with a slight hint of chicken.

Despite bad looks and any bad images you may come up with when thinking of balut, the truth is that it’s not that strange a concept or a taste. It’s basically a better tasting hard-boiled egg with some crunchy bits.

Just make sure to spit those crunchy bits out!

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Cruising around Malapscua

Destinations, Philippines

Cruising around Malapscua

1 Comment 28 March 2011

It’s not a common activity on Malapascua, yet, but motor-biking around the island is not to be missed. There is one place in the village that rents motorbikes. But almost everyone will rent you their own whether it be the waitress at your resort or lady at the barbecue stand.

Expect to pay P100 for the hour and P60-ish for half a tank of fuel. Don’t fill up the tank as the island is only small. Be prepared for more gorgeous beaches, even friendlier people and maybe even a monkey?

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From Melbourne to Malapascua

Destinations, Dispatches from Down Under, Philippines

From Melbourne to Malapascua

4 Comments 20 March 2011

I started my long, arduous journey to the Philippines at Melbourne Airport at around 11:30 a.m., Wednesday. I arrived there with plenty of time to check-in, so much so that I actually had to wait 20 minutes for the check-In desk to open. This gave me time to contemplate what I was about to do and where I was going.

I met my girlfriend in Australia. She had had to leave due to her visa running out, which meant If I was serious about things and wanted to be with her then I would have to chase her to where ever she was going. I was daunted by the upcoming journey as I had only traveled by myself once before. The travel bug had only really taken hold of me about a year ago. Before that I was content to just holiday with friends and family around Europe a couple of weeks a year.

When the check-in desk opened I was excited to be in the queue for a flight that would take me on a whole new adventure, the excitement soon turned to boredom though as I was made to wait one hour and 15 minutes. When I finally reached the check-in desk the check-in attendant asked me to provide my ticket and passport (normal practice at any international check-in desk).

But that wasn’t it.

She followed with asking for my ongoing ticket out of the Philippines. This came as a shock to me as I’d never heard of it before.

It was fine because I already had my ticket out of the Philippines booked, I just hadn’t printed it off yet as I thought that I wouldn’t need it until I was leaving the country. The attendant was adamant that I needed this ticket printed out for my arrival into the country. I was directed by the attendant to run across the road to the Hilton Hotel to print it off. Obviously, I worried that by the time I’d printed off the ticket I wouldn’t have enough time to get back and check-in. However, I managed to get it printed off and checked in with five minutes to spare. What a great start to a journey I was already nervous about.

With the check-in process taking so long I literally just had to wonder up to my gate and wait 15 minutes for the plane. I noticed on my way through the terminal that there was a currency exchange so decided to change the $50 I had spare into Filipino Pisos, just so I had some money on me for when I landed. The exchange rate there was 37 Pisos to AUS$1. I hadn’t, foolishly, checked any exchange rates and as it was probably my last chance to change money before I got there I changed the $50.

The three hour 50 minute-flight from Melbourne to Darwin went without a hitch. I landed In Darwin and was instructed to head straight to the gate for my flight to Manila. Between myself and the gate there was some security, where I was asked to fill out some immigratIon and customs forms necessary to depart Australia.

Exotic Island Dive Resort has a few hammocks on its beach for guests. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Exotic Island Dive Resort has a few hammocks on its beach for guests. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Again, the flight from Darwin to Manila went without a hitch and I was touching down in a brand new country. I was excited all over again but that excitement was then again dampened by the realisation that I would have to spend the next 8 hours waiting around the airport for my onward flight onto Cebu City.

I decided to try my debit card in a cash machine at the airport as my girlfriend had informed me that she had had trouble withdrawing money when she had landed. I, however, had no problem getting money out. Good thing, because I only had the $50 in Pisos in my wallet. Not the cleverest way to travel I know, but I had left Australia on a whim and, to be completely honest, I was no where near as prepared as I’d have liked to be. The exchange rate on the machine was 43 Pisos to AUS$1! That’s a whole 6 Pisos more than I got from Melbourne airport, I was a bit gutted I had got such a bad rate back in Australia but I quickly got over it as I’d only changed $50.

My next task was to find something to eat and then find a spot where I could perhaps sleep for a few hours. After what seemed like forever I was ready to board my flight to Cebu, the check-in queue moved much quicker this time but when I reached the attendant to weigh my bags she informed me that my bag was too heavy. The allowance for Cebu Pacific flights is 15Kgs, whereas the allowance for my flights from Australia was 20Kgs. My bag weighed 17Kgs so I had to quickly offload a couple of items of clothes and a pair of shoes. I just left them there next to the check-in desk…hopefully someone in the airport will have picked them up and found a use for them.

I headed to my gate and was met with another surprise. I had to pay P200 in airport fees, just to get through to my gate to catch a domestic flight.

By this point I was feeling the affects of traveling and I still had a one-hour flight, a four-hour bus ride and a 45 minute boat trip to go before I reached my destination of Malapascua, an island off the coast of Cebu Island.

I arrived at Cebu Airport and picked up my bags. I headed for a taxi ready to do some bartering as I’d heard that you really have to haggle with the drivers to get the prices down. After agreeing a price of P250, I was in a taxi on my way to the Northern Bus Terminal in Cebu City. The timing was perfect, because when I arrived there the bus for Maya (P95), which is the town where you catch the boat to Malapascua, was leaving. So I jumped out the cab and got straight on the bus. Within five minutes I was off on the penultimate stage of my journey which had so far taken me 24 hours.

The bus ride was insane!

I’m not the best passenger at the best of times, even with the safest of drivers, but this journey really took all I had to keep calm and not shout abuse out to the driver. They just don’t care on the roads here.

I was ridiculously tired by now and all I wanted to do was get an hour or two sleep, this was never going to happen as the bus driver seemed to have a perverse love of his horn. If it wasn’t the horn keeping me awake it was the constant jumping off my seat as we’d hit a bump in the road at outrageous speed.

I arrived at Maya in one piece, thankfully. Luckily, I did not have to deal with the usual welcoming there of scammers trying to charge passengers more than P50 (the standard rate) for the bangka ferry to the island.

The boat ride over to the island was such a complete contrast from the bus journey I’d just endured. I was finally able to chill knowing that I’d soon be arriving and that I could give my girlfriend a massive hug and just chill and have a well earned beer.

Malapascua Island in the Philippines offers clear blue waters and sky, worth the arduous journey. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Malapascua Island in the Philippines offers clear blue waters and sky, worth the arduous journey. Photo by Richard John Hackey

I landed on Malapascua at 2 p.m. and made the short walk up to Exotic Island Dive Resort. where I would be staying. I was greeted at reception by some of my girlfriend’s mates. They told me she had just disappeared to fetch something from her room and that she’d be back any second.

So I decided to hide in the store room and wait. Her friends then told her that they needed something from the store room and asked if she would go and get it for them. Little dId she know I was waiting in the wet suits. She walked into the store room and I jumped out and shouted. She reeled back in shock at first then attacked me with a frenzy of hugs and kisses. I couldn’t believe I’d finally made it out to her!

The trip was long and not without It’s hiccups but I’d made it and all there was left to do was order a beer and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

The first glimpse of my new home for the next few weeks, Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua, Philippines. Photo by Richard John Hackey

The first glimpse of my new home for the next few weeks, Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua, Philippines. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Divemaster training in Malapascua, Philippines

Destinations, Philippines

Divemaster training in Malapascua, Philippines

4 Comments 17 February 2011

“Today you are going to be blind,” Angel Navarro, the dive center manager at Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua, says as he pulls out a black garbage bag and stuffs it into an underwater mask.

He mentioned the night before that he had something planned for divemasters in training (DMT) as well as two newly certified instructors the next day at House Reef. Still waiting to receive my rescue diver primary and secondary training before moving onto divemaster training in a few days, he was nice enough to ask me to come along.

The practice is a surprise, but no one anticipated a blind dive. Angel explains this dive is not only to show what it’s like to guide someone who is visually impaired on a dive, but also inexperience divers with no disabilities. The practice would show just how much attention to give the average diver but also when to back off.

Angel pairs me with Jo Armitage, IDC and divemaster coordinator at Exotic. Given her experience, I felt more comfortable playing the blind diver than the one leading. Luckily I’m first to lose my vision. I stuff half a black garbage bag in my mask and wait for Jo’s instruction.

“Ok Bobbi, we’re going to stand up,” she says and takes my hand. “Now just walk straight.”

She seats me on a stoop at reception.

“Now I’m just going to bring our equipment to the boat,” she says. “Are you alright to sit here for a little?”

It was fine, so I wait there for five or six minutes until Jo retrieves me and guides me to the boat. The boat we’re on is one of Exotic’s smaller boats, but the ride to House Reef is only about five minutes. On the way out, Jo points out where things are and grabs a few things for me, but I put on my wetsuit, booties, weight belt and fins as well as put connect my BCD and regulator to a tank only with minor assistance.

Then comes what I think will be the real challenge, not being able to see in the water.

Jo and I worked out touching motions to signal “Ok,” “deflate,” “down” and other common signals used underwater before the dive. We descend slowly and once at the bottom, Jo touches my knees to signal we’ve reached bottom. It feels good to know where I am before we start swimming.

Jo holds my hand the entire dive and moves it to touch things or puts things in it to feel. I touch a sand dollar, an empty crab shell, but my favorite is a gooey sea cucumber at the end. She squeezes my hand twice to ask, “Ok?” I squeeze back the same to respond, “Ok.”

The 20-minute dive feels quite quick. I’m really surprise at how I keep my buoyancy and how comfortable I feel down there without being able to see anything. We reach the top and now it’s my turn to lead.

The dive I guide goes pretty much the same. I feel less pressure than I thought I would guiding someone underwater for the first time. The only thing to worry about is sea urchins.

That would be quite a surprise for blind Jo!

It’s not part of the general divemaster training, but an extra lesson Angel and Jo use at  Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua to teach students’ good leadership. Impromptu practices like this make me happy I chose to train for my divemaster here.

Divers board one of Exotics banka boats for an afternoon visit to Monad Shoal. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Divers board one of Exotic's banka boats for an afternoon visit to Monad Shoal. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

While earning my divemaster is something I’ve wanted to do since I finished my advanced open water course three years ago, it was not in my original itinerary for the Philippines. After diving three days with Exotic during which I only enquired about the divemaster internship, I decided at the last minute that this was the place to do it for a few reasons.

Obviously Malapascua is a dream island to spend two months and its unique underwater sites attracts a high level of diving, but I chose to train for my divemaster here mainly because of the dive management and crew.

The new management here is really dedicated to giving its students the best education possible. They’re very attentive, friendly and do more than just teach what is in the books, like a blind dive for instance.

I wanted to receive my divemaster, because diving is something I enjoy, but at a professional level, something I can find work with all over the world. Still it wasn’t the easiest decision for me because of my financial situation. I saved up enough during my work-holiday visa in Australia to backpack SE Asia on somewhat of a budget. A pricey certification would undoubtedly cut into that.

After some calculating and I have to admit it, some borrowing, I found it was doable here with only a slight increase to my budget. I say here because while the course will almost always be pricey no matter where you do it in the world (expect to pay at least $US1200 for the DMT), the price of living here can be really cheap.

Exotic offers accommodation for divers at extremely low rates (best to enquire, but think $US142 for five weeks accommodation). People can also maintain a healthy diet here for little money (a loaf of bread is a little over 50 cents US, a meal at Ging Gings is about $US3-4, San Miguel Beer is less than $US1). Other than that, there aren’t many more expenses as most of the time you’ll be diving or studying.

The divemaster course can be completed in two weeks, but to get the most out of a divemaster internship at Exotic, the longer the better. The divemaster internship includes unlimited diving and instructors recommend diving as much as possible here to build confidence. Students can stretch their internship out as long as they want or are able to. It’s recommended to have at least five weeks to make the most of the internship.

I highly recommend divemater internships at Exotic to anyone interested. For those who are interested, consider requirements needed before someone can start their DMT:

  • divers must be advanced open water, rescue diver and emergency first response (EFR) certified (EFR must be completed in the 24 months prior)
  • they must have at least 40 dives before starting the course
  • divers must be at least 18-years-old
  • divers require a medical evaluation by a physician in the last 12 months

I say consider so people don’t feel down that they have a lot more requirements before they can actually take part in the DM course. Most resorts can work out a deal for people who want to start their DMT, but have not completed all the requirements. I hadn’t completed my rescue diver and EFR course before I came to Malapascua, but found a way to fit it in here.

If diving is a well-liked aspect of your travels that you may want to make a career of, ask around when traveling to cheaper countries. Those interested may find it’s doable on their budget.

Click here to view more photos from the blind dive.

Banner photo of Jo leading me on my blind dive by Angel Navarro.

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