Thursday, December 24, 2009

Life Aquatic (without Steve Zissou*)

A giant school of little yellow fish, which all got of our way very reluctantly

A colorful fish, which almost looks like a flower. We figured out the name after the dive, I wish I'd remembered it!

A little blue eel working his disproportionally large mouth open and closed... unagi us tasty!

Found a humangous lobster in a little cave - he was waving all of his claws and antannae around agitatedly. I figured he had come to seek revenge for his brothers and sisters we had for lunch back in the San Blas...

So, I went diving! And took lots of pictures after having invested in an underwater case for my camera. How would you describe diving in El Nido? Well, personally, I like seeing the big things - sharks, eels, turtles, rays, etc. (a place called Donsol, on the East side of the archipelago is a place where you can snorkel with gigantic whale sharks, which reach up to 20 feet in length(!). drooling...). None of those live here on the Northwestern tip of Palawan, so I wouldn't describe it as spectacular (that would be nearby Borneo), however, even a non-spectacular dive site in the South Pacific still happens to be amazing - the coral reefs, the myriads of fish, an occasional surprise like a big, angry looking lobster, beautiful warm waters, I don't know how much else you can really ask for! Of all the places I've dived (and I'm now apparently up to 25 dives!), the South Pacific sites have been unmistakably the best - Fiji, Borneo, Thailand, Japan's Okinawa chain, and now the Philippines. New Zealand is just as good as far as diving goes, but it's quite a bit colder in the water. Vietnam's Halong Bay is crap because there's absolutely no visibility and the dive shop was incompetent (and I didn't like Vietnam...), but I hear there are some amazing sites down the Southern coast. So, really, you have to wonder why you'd dive anywhere else (and I have, and will again, but it just won't be as good). Costa Rica was good - we saw rays and turtles, but it still lacked the ridiculous assortment of fish and coral. Croatia is just crap in comparison, and that's one of the better sites in the Mediterranean... I hear Egypt's famous for the wrecks, but I have a hard time imagining it can match the wildlife. Well, you shouldn't take my word for it, I suppose - I haven't been... you should go and find out, I eventually intend to, even if I don't think it can live up to the South Pacific.

There's also the price - two dives, all equipment and lunch included, here on Palawan was about $60 USD, or at least 40% less than I've paid anywhere else so far! Next time I'm here in the Philippines (and like just about every other place I've been to, I want there to be a next time, even if I don't have any idea if or when it might happen), it'll need to be between March and June, so a trip to the outlying Tubattha reefs will be possible on a live aboard, as those are considered the absolute best dive sites in the archipelago...

In between the dives, we had lunch on one of the islands, where I snuck away briefly to snap a few pictures of the crazy karst formations making up these islands:

So that was the diving. That evening I debated catching a ferry [an expensive ferry] to Coron island the following day to dive its famous ship wrecks, but after some internal debate, I concluded that it would just be too rushed, and El Nido was too nice, and the people running our guesthouse were too friendly, so I stayed for another couple of days. The next day, Till, Hannah, and I met up with Ria, whom I had met on the diving trip, and we went on our little motorcycle tour of the Northern part of Palawan island. I drove one of the bikes, Ria trusted me not to kill her, holding on sitting behind me (and I only dropped the bike once... at slow speed... we were both unscathed!). Till drove the other, and failed to kill himself or Hannah as well, and we all happily returned just in time for dusk. More on all that in a previous post.

The day after, our merry band swelled to five when we ran into Marty (he's in some of those Sabang pictures, as we met him there a couple of days ago and parted ways when he didn't want to pay 2,000 pesos to sail up to El Nido...), and all of us headed back out to the islands for a so-called island-hopping tour - basically a full day spent on the boat and on the islands, visiting some pretty locations, snorkeling, having lunch, and generally enjoying the beautiful day. Pictures are worth a thousand words (and I don't want to write a thousand words):

Five of us walking across the shallows towards the boat

First stop at the Secret Lagoon - a little rock outcropping surrounding a pool about 25 feet squared. You climb through a little opening in these rocky walls to enter

Entrance to the Small Lagoon. Not really all that small actually. Featuring a spectacular cave, skylight included. I didn't bring a camera to the cave though...

Four of us in the bluish-green waters of the Big Lagoon, after we had a bit of an arguement with our boat driver as to whether or not it was possible to get to the Big Lagoon on this day. It was. And they are no match for Till's German bargaining powers!

Ria striking a pose in the Big Lagoon

More islands on the horizon as we sail back

That evening, we all gathered back at the Makulay Lodge, where Hannah, Till, and I were staying for dinner because Rose, the owner had offered to cook us a farewell dinner. The delicious five-course dinner for a grand old total of 200 Pesos (about $4.50) each was very much a perfect conculsion to the week on Palawan.

Cheers! we figured we'd bring some wine for dinner too...

And the following morning, I was on board this here bus heading back South to Purto Princessa in order to catch that evening's flight back to Manila (no jeepney this time for the seven hour journey).

Marty, who was on the same bus, and I deliberated how many breakdowns would be required to cause me to miss my 7:30PM flight (estimated bus arrival: 2PM) and settled on about three (breakdowns aren't all that uncommon as the road isn't all that paved). We arrived at 2 o'clock on the dot. So, I'm actually typing this up at the Puerto Princessa airport where I've got three hours of free time waiting for my flight. Posting will happen eventually later, as there is a Wi-Fi network here at the airport, but nobody knows the password... Later tonight, I'll be back in chaotic Manila, and late tomorrow, I should be in Hong Kong! Where first order of business will be arranging my visa to China, but, unfortunately, a close second will be repairing my camera, which got dipped in the salt water during the island-hopping tour... Considering my underwater case is specifically designed for this camera model, and I fully intend to do more diving in Thailand, Burma, and maybe even Hong Kong itself, I am going to find a way to get it fixed. Fortunately, if ever there was a good place for electronics repair, Hong Kong is it!

* Life Aquatic with Stephen Zissou was a highly underrated movie. Only in small part because Owen Wilson's character dies in it...

1 comment:

b mathew said...

Great underwater pics. Ok I have to say thought that Life Aquatic was terrible!!!!!