Scuba Diving in Anilao

I went scuba diving in Anilao with the family last weekend. (FYI, you non-Filipinos, Anilao is a coastal region in Batangas province, south of Manila, well-known worldwide for its diving attractions.) Starting from last weekend, I’ll be logging — and blogging! — my dives, largely in preparation for our planned trip to Palau this summer. (I haven’t logged my dives for years, so I don’t know exactly how many descents I’ve made since I was certified in 1990. I’ll start from fifty. Most likely I’ve had a few dozen more dives than that through the years, but it should be a safe and conservative estimate.)

Saturday morning, We set off from Aquaventure Resort on rented bancas (large motor-driven outrigger canoes) with all our gear and tanks ready, accompanied by Fabi, one of the local divemasters. It was less than an hour’s trip across Maricaban Channel to Sombrero Island. The water was calm, the sun hot and bright. Pretty good day for a dive.

3/17/2001, 12 noon
DIVE 51: Sombrero Island
DEPTH (Avg/Max): 45 / 60 ft
DIVE TIME: 40 mins

Sombrero Island, east side. We descended into cool water in moderately poor visibility. I had a new mask, and it was constantly fogging up, despite the copious amounts of saliva I had spit into it before flipping off the boat. As a result, I missed most of the scenery because I was constantly busy flooding and clearing my mask to clear the condensation.

Not that there was much to see. Despite a moderate current, the water was green and cloudy, the corals lackluster. My normally wel-practiced neutral bouyancy was a bit off, and my brother Javi, still something of a beginner, was constantly bumping into me with his fins. He ran out of air early, and had to ascend with the divemaster while we tarried a bit under the boat, looking at corals.

3/17/2001, 2pm
DIVE 52: Sepok Point, Maricaban Island
DEPTH (Avg/Max): 80 / 90 ft
DIVE TIME: 45 mins

After lunch on the beach and a short siesta (Actually, the others slept while I walked around the beach and got myself badly sunburnt), we got back on the boat to move the gear to fresh tanks while the banca headed for Sepok Wall.

Sepok is a popular spot: a short wall on the edge of an expanse of sand, tapering to a lush coral reef in the shallows. All sorts of fish and coral live on the wall and along the top of the ledge, braced against a strong current, which makes the dive challenging but keeps the water wonderfully clear.

As expected, there was a strong surface current, but it weakened along the bottom. My equipment gave me no trouble this time, but it was a bit of a trial to swim against the current, and my muscles ached with the strain.

We spotted a small baby lobster clambering across corals along the slope at the top of the wall, eyestalks curiously staring at us. My brother Francis also managed to catch a small puffer fish in his hands. The puffer angrily inflated itself into a spiky ball. Funny little fish.

After we surfaced, I had planned to spend a little time snorkeling around, but the water was so cold, and the surface current so strong, that my aching muscles decided against it.

3/18/2001, 8.30am
DIVE 53: Cathedral, Anilao
DEPTH (Avg/Max): 50 / 65 ft
DIVE TIME: 50 mins

The next day, we woke up early to squeeze in a couple more dives before we headed home after lunch.

Cathedral is one of the most popular scuba attractions in the Philippines. Very near the major dive resorts, the “Cathedral” is two pillars of coral, about a hundred meters from shore, stretching up from the sloped bottom at 50 feet, to about 20 feet at the top. Between the pillars, a group of divers from decades ago has placed a stone cross, about five feet high and two feet across. Near the cross is a small castle made of stone, big enough for a diver to fit in the open “courtyard.” Cathedral is teeming with fish of all shapes and sizes, all around both coral pillars.

A strong current made for tiring diving as we made our way from the buoy (where the boats were tied) to the cross. The flow was a bit weaker there, as it was blocked by the pillars of rock. On arrival, we took out bags of leftover bread to feed the fish — schools of which happily swarmed around us in a huge cloud, pecking at floating bits of liquefied bread.

We also saw a giant puffer fish, probably three feet long, hovering near the south pillar. It was almost stationary, finning against the current, but as I approached it stealthily, it was quick to move away. Later on, when I thought it had left, I spotted it again, hovering in the same place. I’d love to try and get a hold of him. He could quite possibly puff up bigger than two basketballs.

3/18/2001, 10am
DIVE 54: Koala, Anilao
DEPTH (Avg/Max): 40 / 65 ft
DIVE TIME: 50 mins

Our last dive for the morning was at a relatively new spot nearby, called Koala. I found the site largely nondescript. Lots of fish, and lots of coral along a gentle gradient, but nothing you can’t see elsewhere in Anilao.

The current was strong enough to warrant a drift dive, so we just floated along while the bankeros up on the surface followed our bubbles. That way, we wouldn’t have to fight against the current to get back.

We saw a baby shark resting underneath a large table coral. That was about it for the highlights of this dive. Afterwards, we spent the last ten minutes or so of our dive in a shallow, calm part of the reef, about 15 feet, for a safety decompression stop, before climbing up the anchor rope of our banca and heading home.

Just one more travel note: There’s a new expressway in the South. After you exit from the South Superhighway towards Batangas, you’ll see an exit, a few kilometers down the road. Take that, and you’ll find yourself on the “Star Tollway,” which will take you straight through the province across gently rolling hills right up to the doorstep of Batangas City. It cut our travel time by more than an hour.

Well, that’s the last you’ll hear from me for a few days. I’m rather busy, working on a Flash interface for the New Media website. (That’s my company.) So my blog and homepage will have to be relegated to sub-secondary priority for the time being while I juggle the Flash site with other suddenly-active aspects of my professional and personal life.