Malapascua, Philippines – First impressions

3rd June to 10th June, 2013

After a fantastic first leg of the trip in Tubbataha Mark S. Tom W and I flew to Cebu and took a three and a half hour transfer to Maya. As it was low tide we had to wade into shallow water and get into a small wooden boat. There were several men that carried our baggage that we had to pay a few hundred pesos to, at the time I thought it would have been included and found out later it was. But as the running story goes, the locals can spot you a mile away and try whatever they can to make a bit extra.

It was quite an experience to say the least and I was relieved when we got onto a larger Catamaran style wooden boat that seemed much more sea worthy. When we got over we transferred again to a small boat and onto Malapascua Island.

Malapascua is a small island with sandy paths as roads for the local’s mopeds, there are no other vehicles on the island. There are various resorts and restaurants along the waterfront and although the native people do not make much money they really have an amazing lifestyle, on a slice of paradise. Boats are wooden and handmade, there is no doctor on the island so getting a dive injury or getting bent means a long journey back to the mainland. You stick out like a sore thumb as a foreigner but the locals are very polite and friendly.

We met up with Nick K here who had come over a day earlier and had already seen the Thresher sharks. We dived all week with Thresher Shark divers who was recommended to us by Nick R.

Diving is the number one attraction on the island. If you don’t dive, there is bugger all to do but sunbathe, swim, drink and get one hour massages for three hundred pesos or the equivalent of seven Australian dollars. For some people I am guessing this would not be an issue!

But thankfully for me I am addicted to diving so it poses no potentially boring predicament. It is dirt cheap to holiday in Malapascua. Accommodation in the best resorts there average fifty dollars a night and meals range from seventy pesos which is less than two Australian dollars to the average of two hundred pesos. Drinks are even cheaper again, you can get a double rum and coke for fifty pesos, or a triple rum and coke for forty pesos. No that is not a typo, it is actually cheaper to drink rum on the island than coke. Or you can buy Boracay coconut rum which actually tastes nicer than Malibu for eighty pesos or two dollars a bottle from a bottle store.

The bars have a great selection of cocktails, and they are not short of happy hours where you can get two for one cocktails for the equivalent of five Australian dollars. Oscars does particularly good Mandarin cosmopolitans and Exotica makes a mean Strawberry Mojito for a ridiculous three dollars! Don’t let the price fool you, they are just as good as the real thing if not better – and I should know I’ve competed in International Cocktail competitions before.

So, getting to the diving part! Diving in Malapascua is simply magic. More so on the macro side of things, as there are few pelagics, but they do have their star attractions; the Thresher sharks.

The Thresher shark dive is five am morning dive but the island comes alive well before then and it’s always beautiful in the mornings there. There are two sites, one sits at thirty metres on a slope and the other at twenty two metres where you must stay behind a rope. Obviously the best idea is to dive these on Nitrox. When we were there a storm had just passed and the visibility was only ten metres at these sites, on every occasion though we saw the sharks, but only after about forty minutes so those on AIR always missed out.

Some people had some lucky dives where the sharks circled just above them. Strobes and torches are not allowed on these dives. I managed to get some video footage on a few occasions. The sharks are truly beautiful and their tails waiver perfectly in the water and measure longer than their actual body.

On my first few dives I hung off the back of a small moped behind Nick K and the driver holding a camera in one hand and balancing myself whatever way I could with the other. Reason being small ripples in the water there are considered rough and so they took us to a calmer area on mopeds.

I was glad Nick had given me the heads up about one of the lines that hung low on the sandy paths so I didn’t wipe myself out! Corners were a little scary but I was more so worried about my camera taking a fall than myself! Anyway, I started to like the whole moped ride, it added that little bit of Mission Impossible to the day!

My second dive was Bantigee and hands down the best macro site I have ever seen. Only instead of enjoying the site I was furious that my Canon G12 had finally decided to go Apocalypse Now on me and cark it. The screen completely white and unusable I had no option but to clip it off and watch painfully as some of the most incredible things I had ever seen started to emerge.

Garden eels, Banded pipefish, schools of catfish, Shrimps of all kinds, Cuttlefish, Tube worms, amazing Decorator crabs, Squids with eggs, Lionfish families, and very strange multi coloured Moray eels buried in the sand…Tom even saw Razor fish which I would have killed to see but perhaps that was when I was restraining myself from shattering my camera against a rock.

Post dive, I attempted to attempt the impossible and get my hands on another Canon G12. I searched the net for places that sold them, made phone calls, it was all too hard though as I would have had to make a trip back to the mainland. Just as I was starting to become a sulky, moody and depressed Cow, Nick told me he had seen someone with a Canon G12.

I began the hunt and soon found Lorien who was finishing off his instructor course on the island and was happy to hire it to me. What are the chances of being on an isolated island where someone on your holiday not only has a G12 but is happy for you to take it for a whole week?! What a lifesaver and struck of pure good kharma. Luckily I got to do Bantigee again!

We saw so many amazing things in Malapascua it is hard to even name them all. I always felt like there was so much diving to do and so little time to do it in. We did a night dive at the Lighthouse where I saw my first Mandarin fish mating, not to mention my first Seahorses in brown, purple and white, pregnant and in couples and groups of six at a time.

We saw Pygmy seahorses, Banded pipefish which I fell In love with, Pipefish, Ornate Ghost pipefish! Black and yellow, many different Shrimps; some transparent, Mantis shrimp and Coral banded shrimp armies in caves, the Cuttlefish were just incredible.

The mating ones particularly impressive, as were the teeny babies that were the size of my fingernail, the Flamboyant squid, hundreds of Hermit and Cone crabs, Box crabs, Decorator crabs topped with bright yellow sponges, or crazy purple striped anemones. Frogfish, Catfish, Octopus blaring bright red, Sea snakes, Reef sharks, beautiful anemones and florescent tube worms, huge Triggerfish that looked like that could take a chunk out of your face, Blennys, Motorbike shrimp…the list goes on and on.

On one dive we were supposed to do Bugtong Bato which is a Pinnacle dive site and one of the best. We descended on a rope as there was some current. We seemed to be diving around a small pancake rather than a pinnacle.

There was nothing to see here but a Lionfish and a Moray eel. It seemed cramped and overridden with divers. Not the time to have a gas malfunction. As I looked back to what was my one hundred bar gauge only to notice it was now sitting at twenty bar at twenty two metres.

I’m pretty good on my air so knew something was wrong. I headed over to my buddy Nick K and signaled to share air. Pretty happy of course he was diving side-mount and had plenty to spare. As we proceeded to surface up the rope I looked up to notice about thirty divers, no exaggeration, up the rope coming down it. Not really ideal when you are sharing gas with your buddy in a current on a line with thirty other divers already.

Once I completed a safety stop at eight metres as there was no chance of getting higher, I proceeded to change back to my reg of twenty bar to surface. One would think this would be a good idea given the cluster of people and entanglement hazard with Nick’s regulator. However, as I moved up the line I got to the end of it, as in it was cut about a metre below the surface. It then occurred to me why there were so many people waiting on the line.

I grabbed my guide’s fin, Tom surfaced and grabbed his other one, we think we may have made him two centimetres taller during this process. Mark and another girl surfaced and we had a human daisy chain going on.

In the end we found out that that dive site was not Bugtong Bato. Fishermen had stolen the mooring and moved the line, apparently a common crime in Malapascua due to the poverty of some fishermen who are not able to afford rope.

Another two large dive boats and their divers had also fallen for the dodgy mooring and had tried to descend down. I guess you never know when someone is going to steal your mooring and move the dive site! Laughs. Diving twins would have been nice in this situation. All in all it’s a funny story, and big thanks to our dive guide Boyet who did a splendid job of keeping us all together.

This wasn’t quite as funny though as the time I surfaced from Gato Island letting out a scream because a crab had crawled into my wing in the cave.

Gato Island was by far our favourite site, similar to Julian Rocks in Byron Bay but larger, and with an incredible cave that runs through it and an air pocket filled with bats and birds. We had a ball exploring the cave and tunnels inside and put Nick and Tom’s canister torches to good use.

The second time we went to Gato it was Tom’s birthday and we celebrated that night with dinner and cocktails, local games and for some of us, no names mentioned; Nick, far too much local rum! which lead to a night sleeping outside and one nest of Green ants later….hmmm but that’s for another blog. Laughs.

We made some great friends in Malapascua and have to thank our fantastic dive guides: Boyet, Riza, Balt, Tata and Gibbs who knew the sites like the back of their hands and found us the most amazing things to photograph. I survived a gashed finger, an ear infection, a bad belly and heatstroke which caused me to vomit all day on our last day there, but none of it stopped me diving.

I will definitely be back to Malapascua within the next year, I loved it and am looking forward to all the other sites that still await me. If you want the best macro diving and Thresher sharks you have to do Malapascua!

Remember to always respect the local culture, tip as much as you can and support the local economy.

Selamat Malapascua!

4 thoughts on “Malapascua, Philippines – First impressions

  1. Very enjoyable read Ms Anita. Look forward to hearing about your exploits soon. Perhaps you care to bring a memory stick down to D3 and show off some of your handiwork.

    Sounds like an outstanding trip. Am most jealous. Of course, 20 bar, cave, single tank. Say no more 😛

    PS – Remind me to show you how to sidemount 🙂

    • Looks like it was a great trip! Maybe we should pencil in a trip next March. Malapascua’s even better when the hammerheads are around too:)

      • Haha you had to mention the Hammerheads didn’t you lol yes we are keen for that, I would die to see one! I am addicted to Macro photography now, think I will even order a super macro lens….SO much fun, love the dive guides there, missed you on the trip but god I can see how Erbhie must have been bored going with you, there is hardly much to do on the island if you don’t dive! She is a keeper you know!

    • Yes side mount is looking all the more practical an option…hmmm. It was funny after the cave dive I came up and said to Nick, all I could hear was Daren’s voice in my head saying MISS ONG single tank, no bail out…cave *disapproving look lol What can I say those evil dive guides made me do it!! haha The best of my photos are going up on facebook tonight, and i’m working on a wicked video at present I’ll send you the link once I finish it. 🙂

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