Saturday, April 14, 2012

Malapascua 2012, Day 9 & 10

April 14-15, 2012

Today was our last day on the island of Malapascua. Eric got up early to go out and film the sunrise and take some photos. I decided to sleep in. I got up about 8 o’clock and wandered over to the Craic House to get some breakfast and say goodbye to JD and Beth, one of the couples we met, who were leaving around 9 o’clock.

After breakfast Eric got started on packing all of our stuff up (which mainly consists of photo gear and dive gear). After getting just about all of our packing done we went back over to the Craic House to get some lunch. They had orange infused chicken on a bed of fettucini with herb focaccia bread on the menu for lunch. It was really good.

It was another warm, sunny day on the island. We had every intention of wandering around the island a bit and taking some photos, but we decided it was just to warm and we were feeling a bit lazy. We arranged to have a late check-out for our room since we were not scheduled to leave until 6 p.m., so we went back to the room and laid down and had a nap.

After our nap we got our bill taken care of and sat at the Craic House a little while and chatted with some of the people we had met during our stay before ordering our last meal on the island. For dinner we had the wild mushroom and bacon risotto, followed by ice cream for dessert.

Shelagh made it back with her dive group a little after 5 p.m. and we said our goodbyes to everyone. We put our shoes on for the first time since getting to the island and boarded our private boat transfer at 6 p.m. as the sun was going down. There were some storms over the island of Cebu and the ride was a bit rough. We got to the dock in Maya and because the water was so rough they could not take the boat up to the dock. They signaled and yelled and then called using their cell phone for them to send out a little boat to pick us up. We sat there for a while and no one seemed to be coming out to get us. We wondered if we would make it back to land. After a few minutes they pulled up anchor and headed down shore a little further with flashlights in hand to try and bring us to shore in a different spot.

Our private driver was waiting for us on shore and when we asked him about what had happened he said there was a little boat to go out and pick us up, but no captain. Fortunately we made it safely to shore. Then began our four hour car ride to the airport.

We made it to the airport and made it through security, etc. and waited in the Asiana Lounge until our flight to Inchon, South Korea boarded. Our flight boarded on time and we were on our way for our four hour flight. I managed to get a little sleep on the plane after they served us dinner. I took some decongestant for the flight and did okay going up but could not get my one ear to clear as we were coming down. Fortunately it cleared within about an hour after landing but was rather annoying until it did.

It was a rather interesting landing at Inchon. As we were on approach to the airport we looked out the window and all we could see were the tops of some very tall buildings with lights flashing, the tops of a bridge, and the tops of some mountains. The fog was thicker than thick. Eric wondered if we were going to be able to land, but it must be a common thing here. The next thing we knew we hit the runway. The fog was extremely low and you could see absolutely nothing through it.

We had reservations at the Transit Hotel in the airport for our 10+ hour layover. It is really nice that they have this hotel within the secure area of the airport so you don’t have to go through the hassle of leaving the airport and then coming back through security. We had about an hour before our reservation at the hotel so we went to the Asiana business class lounge to hang out for a while.

I went to use the restroom in the lounge and got to experience a Korean toilet. They have sanitizer that you dispense to wipe down the seat with first. I sat down and discovered the seats were heated, not to mention having about 20 other controls for things the toilet seat would do for you, none of which I attempted to use. The heated seat part was nice, though.

We then checked into our hotel room, which was actually very spacious and very nice. We laid down and got about four hours sleep and then got up and took our first real hot shower since leaving Phoenix. Boy was it nice.

Then we ventured out into the airport to see if we could find the ice skating rink. Unfortunately, I asked about it at the information desk and they said it was after immigration (on the basement level). That meant we would have to go through immigration and security and then come back and there was no way we were going to do that, so no ice skating for us.

This has got to be one of the fanciest airports in the world. From what I have read it definitely is in the top three along with Hong Kong and Singapore. We walked a good part of the airport and there is every store you will find in the Bellagio shops plus more. Fendi, Gucci, Tiffany, Omega, and on and on... There are also plenty of areas to relax and sleep. They have a relaxation area with large chaise lounges and lots of comfy chairs to sit in. They also have free showers and a spa area where you can get a massage or facial. They also have big leather massage chairs. All the plants in the airport are real. In several areas they have hundreds of live orchids in bloom.

We are just about ready to check out of the Transit Hotel now and head to our gate for our approximately 12 hour flight to San Francisco.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Malapascua 2012, Day 8

April 13, 2012

Today was our last day of diving so we got up early again to do the shark dive at Monad Shoal. I decided not to even try diving today as my head was still plugged up, but I rode out on the boat with them. Our group actually went out about 30 minutes later than usual.

Eric decided to do some video on his camera since I had not gotten any good video of the thresher sharks yet. He figured it might be even better going out later today. He thought there might be fewer boats and fewer people and the lighting would be better. They got really lucky. They had at least three sharks circling around at the cleaning station and they came in really close. Eric got some excellent video. One video actually has two sharks swimming together.

The second dive we went out to Bogtang bato, which was one of the first dive sites that we went to the day after we got here. This time there was no current like there was the first time. Eric got lots of good nudibranch pictures and some good pictures of another extremely shy pigmy seahorse.

The third dive we went out to Chocolate island again. Eric really enjoyed that dive yesterday and wanted to try it again with his fisheye lens. He had fun playing around with strobe placement, etc., and got a few photos.

We had a relaxing evening at the Craic House, even though it was a bit on the hot and steamy side with very little wind. We had fun talking with one of the owners and his fiancee and a bunch of other people we have met during our trip.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Malapascua 2012, Day 7

April 12, 2012

We got up early to go do the shark dive again this morning. Unfortunately, I got down to about 20 feet and my left ear would not clear, so I came back up and sat out the dive. Fortunately, they told me I did not miss much. They saw about three thresher sharks but they did not come in very close, so Eric did not get any good photos.

We came back after the dive and had some breakfast and got ready for the second dive on the house reef. I decided to go out and give it another try. Unfortunately, I got down to about 10 feet and again could not clear my ear, so came back up and waited on the boat. Eric and the group had a good dive and saw the seahorses, nudibranchs, frog fish, sea moths, squat lobster, catfish, etc.

We came back and had some lunch. Eric had the Asian chicken patties with a peanut and bean sprout salad that he said was really good. I decided to have a grilled cheese and french fries. We had another dive planned at 1:30 to Chocolate Island.

I decided to give it another try. I figured third time is the charm, right? This was a very shallow dive and we basically paired up as buddies. Eric and I went in first and again I got down to about 10 feet and could not clear my left ear. Eric went ahead with Gino (the dive guide) and I went back to the boat. I got my gear off and then got back in and snorkeled while they dove. The group had a very nice dive. They saw a sea snake, many different types of nudibranchs, some mating and some in the act of laying eggs, and a crinoid shrimp (which Eric had been looking for).

We came back and got cleaned up. My solar shower was EXTRA hot today. Today was a very sunny day (no rain showers), so the water was beyond hot. I added cold water to it twice and it was still hot. I only used about half the bag of water so I left the other half for Shelagh to use.

Tomorrow is our last dive day here, so we will give the shark dive a try again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Malapascua 2012, Day 6

April 11, 2012

Today we slept in and then got up and had breakfast and were scheduled to do the 9 a.m. dive to Lapus Lapus. Since my head was pretty congested I rode the boat out with them but did not dive. I took the opportunity to do some filming of us picking them up, the island and us coming back to shore from the dive.

Eric said they had a very cooperative mantis shrimp that was standing and practically posing for photos, lots of nudibranchs, etc.

Then we came back and had lunch and headed out for another dive at 1 p.m. We were going to dive the house reef again but the current was too strong so we went to another spot called Deep Slope. It was a nice dive. We saw four pigmy seahorses, two yellow and two purple, clownfish, a wire coral shrimp, and an eel.

We headed back and had an afternoon snack and relaxed a bit before we went out again to dive at 5:15 at the lighthouse. This is the spot to dive to see mandarin fish. Eric went the night before but after he got in the water he realized he had not set the flash properly on his camera and so could not take any photos. They saw a mating pair rise up and do their business, etc. He decided he had to go back to get some photos. We were the only two divers along with our two guides that went tonight, so we had the whole show to ourselves. We actually saw three pairs mate.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Malapascua 2012, Day 5


Today we got up at 4:30 a.m. again to do the thresher shark dive. It is by far the most popular dive site here, but then that is why a lot of people come to Malapascua is because it is one of the few places in the world where you can consistently see thresher sharks. At 5 a.m. it looks like rush hour traffic on the 101 with all the boats headed to Monad Shoal to drop off divers to see the sharks.

As soon as we got in the water Shelagh spotted some mantas swimming off but the visibility was pretty bad and I did not get to see them. We had a thresher swim by us right after we got in but none of us with cameras were prepared, so we did not get any shots. The sharks we saw later in the dive never really came in very close and the visibility was pretty poor.

After the shark dive we came back and had breakfast. I have to say the food here is really good. I had a ham and cheese omelet this morning with toast and butter and of course a fresh mango and a glass of mango juice. They bake all their own bread here. Not only is the food good but the presentation is awesome. This stuff looks like it is coming out of the kitchen of a five-star restaurant.

Last night for dinner they had breaded mozzarella stuffed chicken breast with balsamic glazed eggplant and roasted potatoes with dill. Every day they change the menu so the items for lunch and dinner are different. We liked the chicken we had last night so well we asked them if we could have it for lunch today too. The desserts are beyond awesome. I have had the banana fritters with ice cream and Toron surprise with ice cream. I have never had anything that good at home...

Good food and good diving, what more could we ask for.

Eric went out diving again at 5 p.m. They were headed to the lighthouse where supposedly there are some resident mandarin fish. I decided to sit this one out as the cold I came down with decided to move to my head this afternoon. There was such a nice ocean breeze blowing I decided to go out and swing in the hammock in front of our room and wait for Eric to return.

He got back about 7:45 and said he was definitely going back to that spot. They said there was a coral head with a pair of mandarin fish in it that were darting around and then as sundown came they rose up above the coral in their mating dance.

After Eric got back and cleaned up we went over to get some dinner. Eric ordered the blackened chicken with a caribbean salad salt and vinegar and I ordered the bacon and wild mushroom risotto.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Malapascua 2012, Day 4

April 9, 2012

Unfortunately, I came down with a bit of a cold yesterday so I decided to sleep in and Eric went and did the shark dive with the rest of the group. They saw three or four thresher sharks and one of them circled around them for quite a while.

After he got back from the shark dive we had some breakfast and got ready for the next two dives of the day which were at Gato Island which was about an hour away.

The first dive at Gato was a cave/tunnel. We got in the water and dropped down and entered the mouth of the tunnel and headed toward the other end which opened into a cave where the sharks usually sleep and hang out. It was neat seeing the light shining into the tunnel silhouetting the sharks swimming around.

The current was trying its best to suck us out of the tunnel and into the open water. We all had to fight to stay in place to take pictures/video. After we swam out of the tunnel there was an area where the sharks sometimes rest/sleep. There were three or four sharks laying there. Eric crept up really slowly on his belly and got some good pictures. I took a vantage point above him and when they started swimming around one of them swam right at me as I was recording. I got some really good footage.

After we left the tunnel/cave area we swam around to the left and up along the wall.
We saw tons of clownfish. I bet every five feet there was an anemone with some type of clownfish/anemone fish in it. We also saw a very nice cuttlefish and several different nudibranchs.

After the first dive we got back on the boat to have our lunch and of course a nice Filipino rain shower moved in and lasted almost our entire hour plus surface interval. By the time we got back in the water for the second dive it had cleared off, of course.

The second dive was also at Gato but was just along the wall. There was a pretty good current most of the dive and we drifted along pretty good for a while. Right as we got in we saw a sea snake below us swimming off into the blue. The visibility was not the best for this dive but there was lots of colorful soft coral to see.

The dive guides here are really good. One of them is from Vermont and I can’t help but like her, her name is Shelagh (the traditional Irish spelling of Sheila). The captain of the boat confirmed that is the first time they have ever had two Sheilas on board the boat. She is an excellent dive guide and all around a lot of fun. She has been here at Evolution since October of last year. I told her I would leave her our solar shower when we leave since she has not had a hot shower since she got here--she was very excited.

The first day we got here I put out my solar shower and it got so hot I had to add a bunch more water to it to bring it to the point where I could attempt to use it. It felt really good though. The last two days it has clouded up and rained in the afternoon so it has not had a chance to get as hot, but still feels pretty good after a day of diving.

Eric and I were just commenting today we have not had a pair of shoes on since we got here. We walk everywhere barefoot. It is really nice.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Malapascua 2012, Day 3

April 8, 2012

Today was an early start. We woke up at 4:15 a.m. to do the 5 a.m. trip to Monad Shoal for the thresher shark dive. We dove with 11 other people. We had a quite diverse group of divers. Some from Sweden, Switzerland, Philippines, Canada, Germany, Holland and of course us from the U.S.

We got lucky and had quite a few shark sightings. Someone who was on the dive the day prior said they came in much closer this time. Unfortunately, I don’t think I got very good video today, but I am sure we will be going back. However, Eric got some good pictures of the sharks.

After the shark dive we came back to Evolution for breakfast and then headed out again for a longer two-dive trip to Kalanggaman Island. Both dives were wall dives. We started out shallow, then went over the edge of the wall and made our way along the wall for a bit and then came back up onto the top of the wall. We saw nudibranchs, tons of clownfish, lionfish, several pigmy seahorses and all the other usual specimens.

After the first dive we did our surface interval on the island and had our lunch, then went out to do the second dive. After the second dive we headed back for Malapascua and got into a heavy-duty Philippine thunderstorm. Only Eric and I and one other person on the boat had rain jackets. We were glad we had the jackets. They kept us dry but did nothing for warmth. It was a COLD, hard rain.

We made it back to just off shore and huddled together on the boat waiting for it to let up, but there appeared to be no end in site. It was low tide and so we were waiting for the small boat to come out and pick us up, but apparently it had flooded and they could not get it started. So the captain maneuvered the large boat around all the rocks and got us up close to the shore. We all got off the boat in the pouring rain and headed for shelter.

After we took a shower and got cleaned up we came over to the Craic House (the Irish pub at Evolution) to check out our photos/video from the day and get some dinner. Eric ordered the black and white chicken chili with tortilla chips--which he said was very spicy and I ordered the wild mushroom pancetta fettucini with pesto bread which was of course awesome.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Malapascua 2012, Day 2

April 7, 2012

Yesterday after we got somewhat settled in we did our first dive of the trip. We just wanted to do an easy dive off the house reef to check out our equipment and weighting, etc. We saw cuttlefish, ornate ghost pipefish, moray eel, catfish, just to name a few. By the time we got back we were pretty tired.

They were doing a thresher shark dive this morning at 5 a.m. but I told Eric I was just too tired and thought it would be best if we slept in instead, which is what we did. Of course they ended up seeing three threshers and three different rays on that dive. Oh well.

We did the 9:30 a.m. dive and the 1p.m. dive. The first dive had some good current and the visibility was not too good but we ended up seeing some nudibranchs, clownfish, batfish, a cuttlefish and most importantly we saw our first pigmy seahorse. Eric actually got some good pictures of it too. The second dive was much shallower, but we saw lots of interesting stuff like several different types of pipefish, nudibranchs, crabs, clownfish, etc.

Then, of course the food...I have been having mango juice with just about every meal. Last night we had a chicken and eggplant fettucini with pesto sauce that was really good and today for lunch we had the roast lemongrass chicken sandwich with garlic aioli. For an afternoon snack before dinner I had the deep fried camembert with a walnut crust and mango salsa that was awesome and we ordered the chicken escalope in a butter lime sauce, “fireslaw” and Asian potato cakes that was also good.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Malapascua 2012, Day 1

April 4, 2012

The trip to Malapascua, Philippines begins. We left Phoenix around 7:45 a.m. for our flight to San Francisco. We had a couple hour layover in San Francisco before our approximately 12 hour flight to Inchon, South Korea.

We flew business class on Asiana Airlines and boy what an experience. We had the lay flat seats and in theory could have gotten a good amount of sleep, but I think both of us only got a couple hours. The electric multiposition seats in this plane put the seats in Jody’s Lexus to shame.

Right after take off we started the journey through our two-hour, six-course meal. I actually skipped the main course and am glad I did. By the time I got to the end I was about to explode anyway. We started off with an appetizer of artichoke, kalamata olives, grape tomatoes and cheese, then moved on to salad with shrimp, then potato leek soup, the main course, a cheese and fruit platter, then tiramisu cake for dessert.

I have never had a meal on a plane where they come around and put a table cloth out for your meal, put individual salt and pepper shakers out on your table cloth and a porcelain plate and dish for every little thing, and used real silver-plated silverware. Pretty high class. I think there were about six flight attendants just taking care of business class alone.

The plane also had to have had the cleanest airplane bathroom I have ever seen. After every couple people used it one of the flight attendants would go in and clean it. They also had L’Occitane body spray and lotion for use and complimentary combs, toothbrushes, and toothpaste. We also got complimentary slippers and a complimentary toiletries bag.

About two hours before the end of the flight the second meal time came around. This meal only consisted of a salad, the main course (Eric and I chose the spicy chicken with rice) and then a fruit plate for dessert.

I watched a couple movies on the flight, Despicable Me and Eat, Pray, Love, and the time actually went by pretty fast. We made it to South Korea where we had another couple hour layover before our flight to Cebu, Philippines. The Inchon airport is an amazing place. We walked around a little bit, but will do more exploring on the way home when we have about a 10-hour layer and have reservations at the transit hotel inside the airport.

Our flight to Cebu was delayed about half an hour as the plane coming into Inchon was late. We made the four hour flight to Cebu without any problems and collected up all our bags which made it successfully. We had reservations to stay at a hotel very near the airport as it was 1 a.m. and we did not want to make the rest of the three hour trip by car to the end of Cebu in the dark. The hotel had a car waiting for us at the airport to pick us up and take us to the hotel. We were both exhausted and slept pretty well.

We got up about 7:30 a.m. in the morning to get cleaned up and eat breakfast before our driver was to pick us up at 9:30 a.m. and drive us to the end of Cebu. Our driver picked us up and managed to deliver us to the end of the island in only 2-1/2 hours instead of the usual 3-4 hours. He actually arrived before our boat had gotten to the dock. It was just a short wait for our boat to arrive and then we were on our way for the approximately 1/2 hour boat ride to Malapascua.

We got off the boat in Malapascua and since it was lunch time Eric had a Thai Red Chicken wrap with peanut sauce and I had a mango shake at the Craic House at Evolution before we got settled into our room. Our plan was to get settled in and then do a dive in the afternoon to get our equipment and weighting all figured out.