After taking three flights and a trike (Filipino version of a tuk tuk), we finally made to the Philippines! The Philippines is made of 7,107 different islands and our first stop was to a group of centrally located islands called the Visayas. It was 7 AM so we checked into our guesthouse in the city of Dumaguete where we enjoyed the complimentary rooftop breakfast of sticky rice with melted chocolate drizzled on top and then promptly passed out for the next few hours.
We booked three dives to nearby Apo Island through our guesthouse for the next morning. We woke up, got fitted for equipment and made our way to the small island off the coast of Dumaguete with our dive boat. All three of the dives were amazing. The most memorable was a drift dive where the current was so strong I had to hold the regulator in my mouth because it felt like it was going to be ripped out. At one point, we all clung on to a few rocks to watch a huge school of jackfish but the current was so strong I could barely hold on, even with both hands. The other two dives had beautiful trenches covered with coral and reef fish. Throughout the day we saw turtles, puffer fish, lionfish, starfish, sea cucumbers, schools of jackfish, sea snakes, scorpion fish, leaf fish, and my new favorite…nudibranchs and tip worms!
The dive boat dropped us off on the shores of Apo Island before heading back to Dumaguete. We found a place to stay, rented snorkel gear and promptly hit up the beach with just a few hours of daylight remaining. The main section of beach in front of Apo Island is known to be teeming with turtles that come to feed off the coral and sea grass. We entered the water and before we knew it, everywhere we looked, there were turtles. We couldn’t count them all if we tried and had to pick and choose which ones to swim with and watch. We’ve swam with turtles in Hawaii but never with so many in one place…it was awesome! After a couple of hours snorkeling with the turtles, we snapped a few photos of the setting sun, found dinner and called it a night.The next morning, we woke up early and hit the beach for another snorkeling session. The reef was so nice and the turtles were so active that we came back to shore, ate lunch, and went back again in the afternoon. Aside from turtles, the reef was filled with beautiful coral, sea cucumbers, starfish, sea urchins, puffer fish and clown fish (who were so incredibly curious!) swimming around their colorful anemones. Unfortunately, for about every five turtles we saw, we’d come across a black and white banded sea snake, meaning we saw a lot of sea snakes (definitely not my favorite). They breathe air so they would slither their way to the surface and then back down to the sandy shore. Even the photos give me the heebie jeebies! The dive boat picked us back up in the afternoon to take us back to Dumaguete. That evening, we went out to dinner and then hung out on the guesthouse rooftop for free oysters. Chris and I easily killed at least four dozen oysters and had our first Filipino beer, Red Horse. We sat with the people we had gone diving with and got the low-down on our next stop in the Philippines…Panglao Island. Transportation can become a nightmare when you are trying to jump from island to island and fellow travelers have proven to be the best resource for transport info!
We woke up pretty early the next morning to make our way to the ferry terminal for our fast boat to Bohol Island. We crammed into a tricycle with another traveler and made our way to Alona Beach on Panglao Island.After searching and searching for a decent guesthouse, we were finally successful and headed to the beach for the rest of the day for swimming and sun. The beach was beautiful and the sand was so fine and soft it felt like mud! We found a great barbecue joint close to our guesthouse offering different combo meals of grilled meats and fresh seafood. Barbeque pork and barbeque chicken served with rice and iced tea has been our go-to meal for the past three nights.The next day we rented a motorbike for an all-day adventure to the neighboring island of Bohol (connected to Panglao Island by bridge). Our first stop was the Chocolate Hills which were formed by the uplifting of coral deposits mixed with time, rains and erosion – definitely pretty scenery we’ve never seen before! We left the Chocolate Hills, made a few stops for snacks and were driving through rural unpaved roads when dark clouds started to roll in. We made it about 15 minutes before a downpour ensued. Luckily, we had pulled over next to a locals’ home and the family waved us over to take shelter in their hut. We spent the next hour and a half watching the rain, chatting with the family and the watching the father shuck a pile of coconuts. I can’t believe I didn’t snap a photo of the nice family before we left, but I did take a photo of their crazy pet monkey named “Monkey.” The rains subsided but we were following the tail end of the storm so we were pretty wet when we rolled up to the Tarsier Conservation Park. We weren’t overly enthusiastic about this stop so Chris dried himself in the waiting room while I went into the park. For $1.50 I was able to see about a half dozen tarsiers – small primates with giant eyeballs and very long tails. They were cute in an ugly way and were definitely worth a quick look. We hopped back on the bike, made our way past town after town, crossed the bridge and were finally back in Panglao. We rented the motorbike for eight hours and I doubted we’d use it for that long but sure enough, we rolled in with only two minutes to spare and right before it started to get dark.
The folks we dove with on Apo Island told us that even though Apo was awesome, Panglao was even better. We didn’t really plan on diving while we were on Panglao but dives in the Philippines are cheap(!) so we booked two dives to the neighboring island of Balicasag. The boat ride out to the island was beautiful and the dives were amazing.I think we can say that they were our favorite dives so far because we saw so many things we’ve never seen before and such a wide variety of sea life – frog fish, schools of angelfish (hundreds and hundreds!), schools of jackfish, stonefish, floating flatworms, tons of nudibranchs, lionfish, gigantic fan coral (larger than a person), tuna, grouper, etc. One of the dives was along a rock cliff that dropped 50 meters to the ocean floor and the different types of fish and coral were just unreal. I wish we had photos of the things we saw but at the same time, it’s so nice to fully enjoy the experience without having to try to capture everything by camera!
We loved Panglao…the beach, reefs and food were all awesome, but it was time to move on. The next morning, we took a jeepney, tricycle, ferry, and two more jeepneys to the neighboring island of Cebu (told you transportation is complicated here). Jeepneys are old military jeeps from WWII that are now the most popular (and colorful) means of public transport in the Philippines.
Chris found us an awesome guesthouse to stay in so we relaxed for the remainder of the day. We awoke very early the next morning to make our way to Oslob, a small town on the southern tip of Cebu Island, to swim with whale sharks! Once we finally reached Oslob, we were given a short briefing, snorkel gear and hopped into a boat that took us to where about eight different whale sharks were swimming. Although whale sharks can grow to be up to 40 feet long, they are harmless and incredibly gentle giants. Chris guesstimates that the largest one we saw was 30 feet. They were so big and we were swimming so close that it was hard to photograph their entire body in one shot. Despite their name, whale sharks are classified as fish, not whales or sharks. They mainly feed off plankton and when they eat, they look like giant vacuum cleaners! Swimming with whale sharks was such a great way to end our trip to the Visayas! We’ve been in the Visayas for eight days and have already visited seven different islands, logged five dives and five snorkel trips. It’s been a jam packed first week and we are looking forward to chilling out on the beach for awhile. From Cebu, we fly to the island of Palawan, the largest and most western province in the Philippines!