I had the chance to dive in the Visayas for the first time this month, for a magazine assignment on rediscovering Negros Occidental as a dive spot from Jan. 8-11.
I had never dived the Visayas before - all 40+ of my dives had been in Anilao and Tubbataha (another story altogether). I was excited to see the dive sites of the Visayas and have a change of scenery from Anilao, particularly, to see some big fish for a change.
I was on assignment for Balikbayan, the Asian Journal Magazine, to check out the diving in the area. I had never heard before that there was any diving on the west side of Negros (Negros Oriental on the east, home to Dauin and Apo Island, is far more well known), so I was intrigued.
Joining me for this assignment were my friends Carmen del Prado and Nixee Garcia, members of our Philippine Voyagers team that dived and documented Tubbataha together back in 2011. Taking us along was Vince Samson from Balikbayan Magazine.
Our host and home base was Punta Bulata White Beach Resort and Spa, 160km south of Bacolod. It's a pleasant 3-4 hour drive from the airport. We arrived past 8 pm and were met by Thomas Zayco, the resort's young GM. I love the laid-back vibe of the resort and food is varied and delicious - it's a perfect place to come back to after diving.
The next morning, the weather didn't look promising: it was wet and very windy. We went ahead anyway and boarded their immaculate, purpose-built dive boat that can hold fifteen divers. After just a few minutes, I was grateful for its size because the waves were of the large-ish sort on the half-hour crossing to Danjugan Island.
There are 44 dive sites here in Sipalay, this region on the eastern rim of the Sulu Sea, 10 of them in Danjugan. Danjugan Island is actually a conservation success story worth reading about. For more info on Danjugan and Sipalay, check out my article in the upcoming Feb-Mar 2014 issue of Balikbayan mag.
Our first dive of the day was at a site called Bonifacio Reef. I was hesitant as the rain began pouring in sheets accompanied by strong winds, but once we were down, I was stunned: 25-30m of visibility and warm waters with no current. The first part of the dive was a straight drop down to its deepest part at 24m. I could see bottom clearly from the moment I dipped my head in the water. Pretty cool.
This reef is a mini pinnacle with great coral cover. The table corals here can get pretty massive. While lacking in big fish, it's significantly busier in fish traffic than similar sites in Anilao. A good and easy first dive.
Somehow the weather managed to get even worse during our surface interval after the first dive, but we went ahead and dived at nearby Manta Reef. Like the first dive, the water was blissfully warm and the visibility was 25-30m. This was a gorgeous coral reef. I'm told that it's actually right up there with Apo Island in having some of the best coral cover in the country. Again, no big fish, but schools upon schools of smaller ones swimming up and down the reef.
By the time we had surfaced however, we were just about freezing and the weather barely improved, so decided to call it a day.
Over dinner that night, I asked if we could dive one of the three shipwrecks in the area. I had heard that one lies in just 6m of water and could not quite believe it.
The next day, with slightly better weather, we made our way over to a site called Julien's Wreck, final resting place of the vehicle transport M/V Guimaras that sank in 1980.
The moment I jumped in water, there it was, as promised, sitting in several chunks in the shallows. This is definitely a photographer's dive: it's a small area that you can go around and explore to your heart's content, and the shallow depth gives you heaps of bottom time. There was also a greater variety of fish and critters here than I'd spotted in the previous dives, including ribbon eels, stonefish, and a large but shy black-blotched porcupinefish. Only downside was some nasty chopping current that I guess was due to surface conditions at this shallow depth, but at least it was just bouncing us around and not dragging us far off the site.
Having spent a good hour or so around the wreck with air to spare, we decided to call it a day for our diving as it was getting too cold for us. We spent the rest of the morning hiking around Danjugan Island and shooting around the resort instead. Oh, and, naturally, taking advantage of the perfect sunset off Punta Bulata's white sand beach. Hehe.
We had a memorable stay and managed to get in some good dives despite the bad weather. Thomas and the staff of the resort were also excellent hosts that made us feel at home. That said, I would love to see the place in perfect weather, as I'm sure the 41 remaining dive sites will have a lot more in store! Thanks again to Vince and Balikbayan Magazine for the opportunity and Thomas and Punta Bulata for having us. Do check out my writeup on this trip in the Feb-Mar 2014 issue of Balikbayan mag.
For more info on diving and the story of Danjugan Island, check out these links:
EDIT: Check out the article here!