Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Mindoro & Luzon, Philippines, Oct-Nov 2003

¤ IANTD Normoxic Trimix Diver
¤ TDI Advanced Wreck Diver
¤ IANTD Trimix Diver

travel blog

Philippines - info sheet

VisumNo visum is required - unless you want to stay more than 3 weeks. In Copenhagen, a 59 days visum can be obtained from the Philippines consulate within two to four weeks. Besides your passport you must bring one picture, a copy of your travel documents, fill in an application, and pay 345 DKK.
TimeManila time = Copenhagen summer time + 6 hours
Manila time = Copenhagen winter time + 7 hours
WeatherAir temperature: about 30°C warm and humid. Partially cloudy, with an occasional shower now and then. Water temperature: 27°C.
Currency1 USD = 54 PHP
LanguageEnglish is spoken by most.
ElectricityElectrical plugs are USA style.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Seahorse parade

Armed with a Sea&Sea MotorMarine IIex underwater camera, it's a whole other game now. The hunt for subjects is open.

Asia Divers being rather busy, I've switched to Frontier Scuba. I already dived with them last year and know Rick (the owner) and Oying (the main guide). It's a smaller dive shop, offering a more personalized service, meaning you can have Rick or Oying as your private guide on most dives.

And they're a photographer's best friend! In stead of telling which dive sites I'd like to see, I ask them for a certain fish or marine creature. Then they just bring me to a site and find whatever I wanted to see. It's quite incredible. Today, Oying found three seahorses and a big orange frogfish on our first dive. And plenty of colourful nudibranchs on the second dive.

Not a day goes by without us seeing a new critter: pygmy seahorses, spotted and thorny seahorses, seamoths (aka dragonfish), slender pipefish, seagrass filefish, flying gurnard, dragonet, cockatoo waspfish, frogfish, lion-, scorpion- and stonefish, reef- and flamboyant cuttlefish, octopus, anemoneshrimps and -crabs, hermite- and boxcrabs, green and white mantis shrimp, blue and black ribbon eels, moray eels, flounders, various kinds of nudibranchs, seapens, etc. Besides of course all the other free moving reef fish (usually not inclined to be photographed) and the occasional turtle.

There was a problem with the camera's macro-frame, but several pictures did come out anyway, though not as many as hoped. Lesson learned: develop asap, so you can take corrective measures.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Recreational diving

Having finished all my technical courses, I can now enjoy the freedom of diving with just one tank again. All I have to do is rollover into the water, have a great time just looking around and surface when I'm done.

My recreational configuration is of course technically correct: meaning I'm still using a harness and backplate, but now with smaller, single tank wings. I can't get much more streamlined than that, except by becoming a freediver.

Friday, November 14, 2003

A typhoon passes by

It's been raining through the night and all of the day. The intensity varying from drizzle to tropical downpour, soaking everything and everybody venturing outside. A perfect day for watching movies, except there's no power and they won't start the generator until nightfall. So most tourists hang out in the bars, soaking there insides with San Miguel beer, thus restoring their humidity balance with the outside world.

Monday, November 10, 2003

IANTD Trimix Diver -upgrade-

InstructorsDave Ross (academics+skills)
Sam Collett (training dives)
Dive centerTech Asia, Small La Laguna, Puerto Galera, Mindoro, Philippines
Duration4 days
Dives1 confined water session
3 trimix dives to max 80m
Price300 USD + about 240 USD for Helium (incl. the instructor's)
CommentsHaving done the normoxic trimix course only a few weeks ago with the same instructor team, this course was just an upgrade to full trimix.

In order to go yet a little deeper, there are some new skills to master and some additional risks to consider. The main one being the fact that the bottom mix is now hypoxic at the surface and shallow depths.

Actual bottom time gets even shorter and decompression time longer (e.g. about four times the bottom time for medium deep dives). As more Helium is needed in the mix in order to keep a clear head, the price tag per dive goes up accordingly too.

Dave and Sam are great dive professionals who take their job seriously and do it thoroughly, gladly sharing their knowledge and experience - they're truly an example to follow.

Remark that the full trimix course would normally take longer, require more dives and cost more.

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Manila to Small LaLaguna

After a short overnight stay at Malate pension (550 PHP/night), I took an early morning taxi to the City State Tower Hotel (31 PHP) and bought a bus/ferry ticket to Sabang (400 PHP). The bus left a little after 8am, and we arrived in Batangas around 10:30, from where I took a big banca outrigger directly to Sabang beach. The crossing took an hour, and could potentially get wet depending on the wheather conditions.
My fully furnished studio at Sha Che (500 PHP/day) was waiting for me, and I made myself comfy straight away. Now I can truly relax, having worked my way through the two main dive courses I wanted to do here. The one left is just an upgrade of the first one, so I can take it easy from now on :o)

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Subic Bay to Manila

Not liking Subic too much, I left it as soon as the course was done. I could again share a chartered van (2700 PHP) back to Manila with Mark and Steve. With the same old driver, barely understanding a word of english, and always nodding yes to whatever we'd ask him. But he got us where we wanted. Through the endless traffic jams.

Monday, November 3, 2003

TDI Advanced Wreck Diver

InstructorJohn Bennett
AssistantMark Cox
BuddySteve Bates
Dive centerMasterDive (used as a base only), Subic Bay, Mindoro, Philippines
John Bennett and Mark Cox run the Tech Dive Academy in Port Douglas, Australia
Duration5 days
Dives1 confined water session
8 wreck dives on air or nitrox
Price750 USD
CommentsMore than just an introduction to overhead environment diving. The skills are very much the same as for cave diving, but the environment and its hazards pose different challenges.

Again, buoyancy control is crucial to perform the line laying, following and retrieval skills, through narrow to tight horizontal, vertical or inclined restrictions. Propulsion technique is very important to avoid silting up. And of course one has to be very aware of one's air reserves.

Contrary to cave diving, we were never totally gone from daylight sources, except for a short shaft penetration. Gear configuration is very much an issue here, as anything dangling or sticking out could be a potential entanglement hazard. And believe me, things do get tight in there, I've never felt so big before.

Though the skills must be mastered, they're relatively easy to learn. The main challenge really is mental. To remain in control when things don't quite go as expected.

With six divers (one instructor, one assistant and four students) we got to practice no viz exits a lot. With that many divers working their way through narrow corridors, silting up is almost inevitable. Bubbles cause falldown, holding on to a coral encrusted corroded beam causes clouds of rust particles to swirl around, just looking at something intensively might cause it to crumble.

In these no viz situations, the guideline truly becomes a lifeline. My hands must have a hundred small cuts from feeling my way around and my fingertips are pretty much worn off. The equipment seriously gets roughed up too from all the bumping and scraping. My corrugated inflator hose didn't last very long before being punctured. My wetsuit still bears rust colored marks on the thighs, from when I clammed myself in doorways. And my fins have several new scars.

The visibility outside the wrecks varied from around 3-5m to an amazing 8m the last day. A pitty really because one can not get a sense of the size of these great wrecks. Nor that some of them are actually battleships. Visibility inside the wrecks was usually better than outside - that is, untill we messed up everything.

John Bennett, current world record holder of deep scuba diving on mixed gas (308m!), is a sympathetic man, who knows what he's doing. He's a good instructor, but being four students was a bit too much to my taste. We did get a lot of training dives, but not as much actual line laying/retrieval practice as necessary in my opinion. Especially if you've never done this before. The course itself wasn't somehow as structured as the cave course I did in Mexico. There wasn't e.g. as clear a progression in skill difficulty or general understanding. There's no exam by the way.

We only used MasterDive as a base, it being located conveniently close to the wrecks. Having our own equpment all they provided was doubles with air or nitrox. The doubles were in a rather sorry condition and they didn't have enough of them. They've got no gear storage space to speak of nor adequate rinsing facilities. But what can you expect from a dive center squeezed in a cargo container.

I can't honestly recommend them. They're not very well organised and the way the local shop assistants mistreated our precious life-support equipment was beyond stupid carelessness. I've actually never seen anything like it. I couldn't have subjected myself nor my gear to their care a day longer then required. My doubles were bubbling from the right tank valve in a rather noisy way (loosing 40bar overnight), but all one of the guys in charge could say was: "He'll survive". A pity really for I would have liked to do some non-training wreck dives after the course.
Training wrecksEl Capitan: Large freighter about 80m long lying on its port side between 6 and 21m. A nice wreck where we did our initial line laying, following and retrieval skills.
 USS New York: WWI battle cruiser about 100m long, sunk in 1941, lying between 18 and 21m. Ideal for wreck penetration training. Some passages have barely recognisable permanent line.
 LST: Land Support Transport vessel lying upright in 36m deep water. Allowing multi-cabin penetration, after getting through a short but narrow stairwell. We used a deco stage here, left outside the wreck during the actual penetration.

Saturday, November 1, 2003

Subic Bay

We stay at the Mangrove mini-resort hotel/restaurant on Baloy beach near Olongapo city. For 1200 PHP/night you get a big but not very well designed aircon room with hot shower (but no direct light in the bathroom) and small TV (uselessly far away from the bed). There's a small closet, but no wardrobe, no table, no chair. All rooms overlook the bay, and there's a mini swimming pool. The restaurant serves decent food at reasonable prices (150-250 PHP).

The busy main street, a 10' walk away from the resort, is rather shabby and of course dusty, heavily polluted and noisy. In short, not a pleasant sight.

Mangrove is a 15' ride from the ex-military base and the MasterDive dive center we'll be diving from. They'll pick us up every morning and bring us back in the afternoon.

Subic is a strange place, with lots of British and Australian expats, all rather storyful characters. Everybody on the wreck course I'm following being British too, I feel very much an outsider, having no particular interest whatsoever in the rugby championship nor being much of a social small talk beer drinking mate.

It being the 1st of November, I witnessed quite a sight: the hillside cemetery crawling all over with people coming to spend the day and night with their ancestors. Having a family picnic around the graves, chatting away with relatives, the ghosts left pretty much speechless as far as I could tell. At night the whole hill was lit up by thousands of flickering candles.