Manta's, Threshers sharks in Malapascua
25.06.2008 - 07.07.2008 30 °C
I arrived in Malapascua almost two weeks ago and was dismayed to find out that the reason for my arrival had ceased to exist. The Floating Bar had been destroyed by my good buddy Frank the Typhoon! (see previous blog entry) Ok, it wasn't destroyed, but it was damaged and not to be used until high season, which is in December. Shoulders stooped and heavy dive bag being dragged behind me (in thick beach sand), I continued my search for accommodation on Malapascua Island, just north of the Philippines top tourist destination - Cebu. I was a little down at this point - I had heard from mates in London that the bar was a MUST-DO on any Philippines backpacker trip. The misery!
Of course, I hadn't travelled all this way just for a bar: the diving in Malapascua is famous for its thresher shark and manta ray sightings. Signs had been good on the way to the island as I crossed the channel from Cebu - the boatman had pointed to something in the distance and said that a Manta had just leapt out of the water. Of course, I missed it. Perhaps he was just talking rubbish, because when I got off the boat, he took me straight to a dive shop (probably gets commission for dropping me off there if I sign up with them).
Anyway, ol' Frank had clearly had an impact on the island and the beaches were covered in coconuts, massive palm leaves, sometimes whole palm trees, and in general there was a lot of cleaning up being done by the various restaurants and bungalows on the beach. There couldn't have been more than a dozen foreigners on the island, and I had clearly missed the "Malapascua Closed" sign! But with such losses, come some great advantages too. Every place on the island was offering accommodation at a third of the price and dive shops were keen for business too. I signed up with Malapascua Beach Divers, and booked a dive for the next day - at Monad Shoal - famous for Manta Ray sightings in the afternoon.
I've really tried to avoiding making this blog a sort of "Diver's Chronicles," but sometimes these things need to be explained! A manta ray is not a little fish. An adult has a wingspan of about 6 meters, and the largest recorded was almost 8 meters wide. They don't look like sting rays, and I don't think they even have stings in their tails. They are famous for their massive wings - they resemble giant birds underwater, you could say. They are not shy with divers - they often come very close to someone underwater. Its a member of the shark family, although large shark species hunt them, and its not uncommon to see one with a piece missing, apparently.
These were the sorts of things running through my head, as the banka made its way to the dive site. I descended with my instructor Emma, and a fellow backpacker, Canadian Nathan, and I was full of nerves. We descended to the sand at about 24 meters, and had swum for perhaps a few minutes when a MASSIVE shape passed by in front of us, perhaps 10 meters away. It was about 5 meters in width and yes, it was a Manta! Visibility was a little poor, but it cruised passed again, getting cleaned by all the fish coming off the reef. Then it was gone - into the blue.
We headed off to the next so-called cleaning station. We chilled for a while, all lying on the ground waiting for something to happen. Nothing was happening, the minutes were ticking by, and soon I were checking my gauges to see how much air I had left. As I was starting to think that our dive was pretty much over, a manta off to the right begins to materialise from the blue. It was also quite large, perhaps 3.5 meters in width or bigger. And it was coming straight at us! Its mouth was open, and it was taking in plankton; it hardly moved; it just glided right towards us; and kind of steered its way right OVER us. It wasn't intimidated by us or the bubbles in any way! In fact, it was totally checking us out - its big eye on us the entire time as it glided past us! If I stretched my arm out, I could have touched it! It was incredible!!!
What a magnificent creature.
The next day I went to the same site - Monad Shoal - at 05h30!! Early rise, but apparently that's when the Thresher Sharks arrive at the site. I wonder what else they get there?! We dived down, and once again, at about 24 meters down, we saw thresher sharks. Its also an incredible creature - its famous for having a tail the length of its body. We saw two on the dive, and one must have been 4.5 - 5 meters long (including tail). Its an amazing animal - its long tail curving behind its body, and cruising past us to see who these funny visitors were on its reef. It was quite inquisitive, which I was fine with - I wanted to get a close up, and we got just that.
I left Malapascua after six days, highly satisfied with the diving, the beaches, its people, the One Republic and Leona Lewis repeat songs (still very big in Philippines), and the cock-fighting! Malapascuans love betting on cock-fights. Everybody wants to own a rooster and enter it into the next betting day! They're unfortunately rather gory affairs, with plenty of chopped off feathers and cut-up roosters, as the owners attach huge blades to the back of their feet. Its literally a fight to the death. If the rooster is pretty much dead, but not "quite yet," it gets picked up and thrown in front of its opponent to be finished off. There are countless rounds, and during the fights there are chicken pieces being gnawed on by the various spectators. I was told those pieces belonged to the losers!! I betted a few times, and seemed to be pretty good at predicting the outcome, despite my limited knowledge on the "sport". Its simple: you either double your money or lose it all.
Anyway, I'll attach one of the less grisly videos next time, when I can download better at another internet cafe.
Biking roadtrip in Bohol:
I made my way by ferry to Bohol next, and I met a fellow South African in Panglao Island at yes, you guessed it, a dive resort. I won't bore with any of those dive details, other than to say a moral eel nibbled on my finger when I held onto some reef (very bad dive ettiquete) on one dive. I dont know what it was doing, but it was a very funny experience. The diving in general was very good there.
So the two Saffa's, Clinton and Dave, decided a roadtrip was in order. We hired two bikes and headed off into the Bohol hinterland. We had a map from the local tourism centre and thinking this was enough preparation, we headed off. Thirteen loooo-o-o-o-o-oong hours later, we rolled into our scheduled stop-over and collapsed on our beds. The day had been absolutely draining, perhaps even tear-jerkingly frustrating at times!! To start with - Bohol has no road signs. None. The map doesn't differentiate between tarred and dirt roads. Dirt roads in Bohol are not for novice riders like myself! I wiped out on one very muddy descent, head over heels, not knowing that perhaps its better to use the rear brakes! Clinton was a little better prepared than me, since he owns a superbike
Local villagers are also not that clued up on geography! We were frequently informed that a 5km trip was in fact 25km long, or vice versa. Or we discovered that tarred roads (according to the map) were actually old dirt tracks. We found ourselves cruising around bush avenues late at night, and constantly checking with each village that we were on the right track. When we finally got in that night, at least we could tick off the Tarsier reserve. Tarsiers are the smallest primates in the world. They look like a cross between an Ewok and Yoda. Pictures tro come in the next entry - they're pretty funny little things.
The next day, battered and bruised - we headed to the Chocolate Hills and some old Spanish chucrhes. The hills were impressive - its definitely a nice day trip out. Clinton and I stopped at any old church along the way - there were some really nice old buildings, although very delapidated.
And now, I'm back in Manila, ready for my flight to Malaysia. As a Manila taxi driver told me - Las Vegas may be the City of Sin, but Manila is the City of 'tion'....! I asked what he meant? "No, my friend, we are the city of 'tion'. You know, corruption, congestion, pollution, addiction, inflation, no solution, abortion, prostitution, extortion, etc, etc!!!"
And with that, here's me signing out from beautiful Manila!