Raja Ampat, Indonesia 2019

(For those who cannot view the vimeo link above use this from youtube instead)
Youtube: Raja Ampat Video

Raja Ampat, which means “four kings” in Bahasa, is not an easy place to access in Indonesia. It is located in West Papua and for us to reach Raja Ampat, we flew from Cebu to Singapore-Jakarta-Sorong via Silk Air and Garuda Indonesia. Garuda Indonesia was amazing as it offered free 23-kg dive luggage per person which was very helpful with all our gear. The travel may seem like a short distance, but getting to Sorong was challenging as there were limited flights to the remote area. Upon reaching Sorong airport, we also noticed that there were no money changers, good thing we had small US dollar bills to give a tip to the porter who helped us with our huge bags. We boarded our Phinisi liveaboard- Tiare cruise in Sorong, which was our home for 8 days. We have always wanted to try the traditional Indonesian sailing ship called Phinisi and we are so pleased we finally did.

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Our 1st stop was the southernmost part of Raja Ampat called Misool, which took us 12 hours to get there. The island landscapes are as stunning as the underwater reefs. It was in this area where we dove one of our favorite dive sites, Magic Mountain (aka Shadow reef or Karang Bayangan). This site really lives up to its name as we saw 4 manta rays and one was very close to both of us.

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For the most part of our dives in Raja Ampat, we had some decent current as it was close to the full moon. Our reef hook skills came in handy.

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Aside from the mantas, the magic lies in the blue with traversing giant trevallies and reef sharks, a lot of schooling fishes and numerous turtles cruising right beside you.

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Raja Ampat is mostly known for its rich biomass of marine creatures and corals being in the coral triangle it was a great place to take some wide-angle photography, as well as a plethora of critters perfect for our macro lens. As most of our day dives were big schools of fishes, we switch to our macro set-up prior to our night dives. The hassle of switching was very much worth it when we saw this rare but beautiful blue-ringed octopus, which we have seen only for the 2nd time in all our diving history.

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Another creature that we have only seen once before, but is fairly common in Raja Ampat, seen almost in every dive is the tasselled Wobbegong shark. It is referred to as a carpet shark for its bottom dwelling nature, flattened bodies and patterned skin perfect for camouflaging against the coral reefs. It takes a keen eye to spot them, usually under table corals.

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We had multiple jetty dives during our trip but my favourite was in Sawandarek jetty. Probably the most beautiful jetty I have ever been in terms of underwater biodiversity. It was also our 1st time to see schooling fishes of 4 or more different species, with beautiful hard and soft corals in between.

school in jettyfish in jettyAnother beautiful observation in most of our dive sites are the vibrant colors of the soft corals. It can serve as the main focus or can make an attractive backdrop even to the simplest moray eel.

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The sheer volume of fishes in Raja Ampat is difficult to match, you see just about any type of schooling fishes. From the tiny Fusiliers to barracudas and sweet lips.

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The diversity of nature is very apparent not just underwater, but also on land, with multiple mangrove coastlines and lush green rainforest all around. The landscape above the surface is equally breathtaking.

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The land excursion and hiking to the peaks of the islands were very enjoyable as we get to see this paradise in a different perspective. Both the heart lagoon and Piaynemo viewpoint were worth the hike. We get to interact with the locals, although there is a large language barrier, their smiles were more than enough.

 

On our last dive day of the trip, we visited a pristine white sand bar. Another place to bond with fellow divers and snorkelers in our liveaboard, just enjoying each others’ company.

Our hearts were full just as our stomachs are, with all the sumptuous meals prepared to us by the hard working crew.

It was indeed a successful 4th year wedding anniversary for me and Brian, coinciding with my 300th dive made festive by the thoughtful crew of Tiare cruise.

As we always say, we will be back Indonesia. There is still so much more to explore and we are already looking forward for our next trip to the world’s largest chain of islands, Indonesia.

Bali, Indonesia 2018

Being a part of the coral triangle, Indonesia has always been one of our ‘diving bucket list’ destinations and we chose Bali because of the good mix of land and underwater tour. Bali however has so many dive sites and planning it alone with the logistics in mind may be a headache. Thanks to our friends from Oceanshutter, dive safari was well recommended. We booked with Underwater Tribe and true enough, we were never disappointed with their service and the tailored schedule suited for our convenience.

We took a plane from Cebu-Manila-Denpasar Bali via Philippine airlines. It was 4 hours in total flying time but we arrived at midnight and waited for another 2 hours for immigration and customs. Because of our late arrival, we wanted to have a relaxed land tour before starting our dive safari. We stayed in Seminyak but drove to Ubud, which is an hour away to experience a couple of things.

Elephant ride in Bali zoo:

Kopi luwak or civet coffee straight from its plantations:

Monkey forest and Goa Gajah:

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Our dive safari started in Nusa Penida. To get to Nusa Penida, we have a 45-minute boat ride from Sanur. Sanur is 30 minutes away from Seminyak, where we stayed. If you visit mainly for diving, Sanur also has nice hotels but because we wanted to celebrate our 3rd year anniversary with a good variety of restaurants, we opted to stay in Seminyak.

Nusa Penida dive is mostly pelagics or the big animals. Our 1st stop on both days of diving there was Manta Point. The visibility was not great but it is always the case as Manta rays stay there for the very reason why it has poor visibility — the planktons.

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Nusa Penida can have rough waves and swells so it might also be worth while to take sea sickness medications beforehand. Also a tip from our dive guide was to put half of our wetsuits on before leaving Sanur just to minimize movements and aggravate sea sickness. I learned it the hard way but made sure I did both precautions on our 2nd day there. Another good dive site is Crystal bay. During the sunfish (molamola) season, this is a great place to spot them. But the season usually runs from July to September, we were here on March so no molamola for us in this site BUT we were still so lucky to see one in Ped (another dive site in the northern part of Nusa Penida). We saw it at 25 meters and it was very skittish, probably because I literally screamed underwater. This picture is an “evidence shot”, not really the most ideal photo but atleast I can say, I really saw a molamola for the 1st time.

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Also another gem that we saw for the first time was this Wobbegong shark. It was staying relatively shallow at around 11 meters.

 

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After 2 diving days in Nusa Penida, we headed to the north east of Bali called Tulamben. Before switching to our macro lenses, we dove the famous Liberty wreck. The liberty wreck was hit by a Japanese torpedo then was beached near Tulamben however, the eruption of Mount Agung caused the vessel to slip off the beach in 1963. The best time to dive here is in the early morning for lesser crowd and more opportunity to see the schooling bumphead parrotfishes.

Tulamben is known for its macro diving. This place is comparable to Dauin Dumaguete when it comes to critters and opportunity for macro photography. Dive sites are also very close, usually around 10-15 minute drive from the hotels. Sidem was our 1st stop and I was so happy to see these boxer crab also known as pompom crab with eggs. DSC05768 copyDSC05861 copy

Seraya was our favorite dive site in Tulamben, we even did a night dive there. We saw a tiger shrimp for the 1st time and of course, the beautiful harlequin shrimps were everywhere.

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Shaun the sheep nudibranch (Costasiella) has always been my personal favorite, and I was happy to see them in most, if not all, green algae in Tulamben, as well as in Puri Jati (2 hour and 15 min drive from Tulamben).

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What I love about underwater photography is the challenge to get better shots each time. To get to that ideal shot, new techniques should also be learned. I dedicated 1 (or 2) whole dives to learn about ‘snooting’. A snoot is a creative lighting tool to narrow the beam of light. This way, you will be able to highlight a small critter subject among its camouflaged home. I used an INON-Z240 snoot set. I was lucky enough to have the most supportive guide, Parman from Underwater Tribe, to help me find the greatest subject for it- Hairy shrimp and to help me with my snooting.

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Another interesting, but very hard to shoot was this skeleton shrimp with babies.

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Our last stop for the dive safari was Padang bai, a 2-hour drive south of Tulamben. It was quite different from Tulamben because we have to use an outrigger boat (called Jukung) as oppose to shore entries in Tulamben, and mostly white sand (black in Tulamben). It is still mainly macro diving in Padang Bai but some mid-sized creatures like this leaf scorpionfish are also pretty common.

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We stayed in an eco-resort in Padang Bai called Bloo lagoon. It was very relaxing as our room was overlooking the bay area. Here’s an early morning drone shot by Brian of our beautiful resort.

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To conclude our cultural Bali experience, we went to Uluwatu temple to see the Kecak fire dance before catching our midnight flight back to Manila. Several men chant while the performance takes place. The show happens every 6PM, as the sun sets.

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Our over all experience in Bali, both underwater and land, was great. It was a good variety of gastronomic and cultural enrichment, the same is true with the big and small underwater creatures. It was a great way to spend our 3rd year wedding anniversary.

We will definitely be back for the molamola season next time and get better shots and footage of that!

Palau Adventures 2018

Even though we reside in one of the countries closest to Palau, we’ve only heard of this pristine paradise when we started getting into (serious) diving last 2016. We had wanted to visit last January 2017 but we heard the iconic jelly fish lake was closed due to a drought in 2016. Until recently we were invited by our new found friends from Ocean Shutter who also happen to be a couple that does photo and video, we were thrilled to come back on board our favorite liveaboard, the Solitude One.
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Palau is an archipelago of over 500 islands, part of the Micronesia region in the western Pacific Ocean. It is a trust territory under the United States, rich in history specially during the major battles in World War 2. It is also commonly referred to as one of the seven underwater wonders of the world. The banning of commercial fishing in 80% of its territories and only allowing a small portion for domestic fishing resulted to the creation of the largest marine sanctuaries.
To reach Palau from Cebu, we took a plane ride to Manila for an hour and from Manila to Koror (the commercial centre of Palau) was a 3-hour direct flight with United airlines. Since we arrived at our hotel in Koror around 4am, we skipped the first day of diving and did a land tour. We went to a traditional Bai where their chiefs and elders meet and also dropped by the stone monoliths which is believed by most Palauans to be built by the gods.
Palau underwater has even greater things to offer. Some of the iconic spots in Palau are the caves/caverns. The blue hole is a huge cavern which offers a perfect backdrop of bright blue water and ambient light.

 

The enchanting Chandelier cave where you can witness the stalactites and stalagmites resembling glittering chandeliers was an interesting taste of cave diving for us.
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Siaes tunnel is also very photogenic with its gorgonian sea fans towards the exit and some large groupers, usually being accompanied by its cleaner wrasse which we saw prevalent in almost every dive site.

 

But of course, we have our top 3 favorite dive sites in Palau:
Blue Corner – This is now ranked #1 as our best dive site in the world! There is always something great to see there. We dove there 3 times, all were great, with or without current. There is a friendly resident Napoleon wrasse that visits every single diver.
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There are schools of fishes in the blue like this black tail barracudas.
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What was really unique and spectacular with our blue corner experience was the Orange-spine unicorn fish aggregation accompanied by hundreds of gray reef and white tip sharks.
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German Channel – our second favorite site. This is very well known for its feeding and cleaning Manta rays. This is also the most Mantas we’ve seen, an average of 4 per dive. And we dove this site 3 times as well.

 

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Peleliu Cut – offers spectacular opportunities, but could be a hit or miss. Lucky for us we hit it on the spot, being there on a new moon very early in the morning. We saw a large aggregation (probably around 5000) of spawning Red snappers. But this is a tough site because of its very strong current.
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Peleliu is iconic because of the bloody battle between the U.S and Japan during World war II. We were fortunate to be able to tour around Peleliu and witness the remnants of their tanks, man-made cave system, weapons and the old Japanese headquarters.

 

Before leaving Solitude one, we had 1 non-diving day and enjoyed the beautiful rock islands visiting some of the most pristine beaches and the iconic arch. We also went to the Milky way where we had a natural mud bath.
This will definitely be NOT our last visit in Palau and we are looking forward to visit the Jelly fish lake in the future.. This is definitely a world-class and pristine underwater paradise.

Dauin, Dumaguete 2018

This is our 2nd time in Dauin, however we specifically came for macro (muck diving) this trip. Although there is a beautiful Apo island just 30 minutes away from Dauin, we dedicated this trip in shooting the ‘small critters’. To get to Dauin, we drove 3 1/2 hours from Cebu City to Liloan port. We took a ferry for 30 minutes to Sibulan, Dumaguete and another 1 hour drive to Dauin. We stayed in 2 different resorts while we were in Dauin- Mike’s dive resort and Acquadive (in Zamboanguita, which was 20 mins from Dauin).

We were at the tail end of the ‘Octopus season’ which runs from October to January. The most famous dive site for Octopus in Dauin is the not so secret “Secret corner”. We dove there twice, and in 1 dive we saw 8 Octopi! This site may be tricky, as any other ‘corner’ dive sites because the current can be strong or may change directions at any time and may not be conducive for photos and videos. It was our first time to see the Mimic octopus and we were so amazed as to how it camouflages like this photo:mimicmimic octopus

Another type of octopus, not to be confused with mimic octopus is a Wonderpus. It has small eyes on elongated stalks with a conical papilla over each eye.

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Another subject I love to photograph was this sheep nudibranch (which was around 3 mm in size). It is so tiny that you could easily miss seeing it with your naked eyes. Thanks to my CMC-2 diopter (A magnifying lens), I could clearly see the beauty of this critter.

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Even though I see this quite often in Cebu, Candy crab is still very nice to photograph especially with its vibrant pink color.

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However, our ultimate favorite critter in the whole trip to Dauin is the the Flamboyant cuttlefish. It is a color machine that constantly flashes vibrant yellow, maroon, white, brown and red along its body. It is however the only poisonous cuttlefish. Unlike other cuttlefish species, the flamboyant cuttlefish doesn’t dart away when threatened. It remains stationary and flashes its hypnotic color scheme.

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We can’t wait to go back to Dauin and apply the tips we’ve learn from our friends in Oceanshutter. We would definitely go back for the hairy frogfish season!

Sipadan, Malaysia

Dive trip video made by Brian below: When we heard about Sipadan and the neighboring islands that offer diversity in both big and small underwater creatures to see, we have added it to our “must-go” diving destinations. So when Brian knew he will be going to Penang, Malaysia for a business trip, we both decided […]

Dive trip video made by Brian below:

When we heard about Sipadan and the neighboring islands that offer diversity in both big and small underwater creatures to see, we have added it to our “must-go” diving destinations. So when Brian knew he will be going to Penang, Malaysia for a business trip, we both decided to stop by Sabah to dive.

Since I was already in Manila, I flew for 3 1/2 hours via Malaysian Airlines to Kuala Lumpur where I met Brian, since he had to fly from Penang for an hour via Air Asia. Then we both took the plane to Tawau from KL for 3 hours via Malaysian Airlines. From Tawau airport, we had a bus ride for 1 1/2 hour to Semporna jetty. Kapalai resort was an hour speedboat ride. Boat and land transfers were included in our resort package.

Kapalai resort was recommended by a friend and is known to be one of the best places to stay to dive Sipadan. It is a beautiful water village with all inclusive package for both divers and non divers. For us divers, we also have unlimited dives in their house reef.

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There are 2 types of schedule for diving there: Kapalai/Mabul and Sipadan. Kapalai/Mabul is muck or macro diving (you see tiny critters). Occasionally, you can see bumphead parrotfishes and schooling chevron barracuda in the Kapalai housereef while you see giant groupers and turtles in Mabul. Mabul is just a 5 minute boat ride from Kapalai.

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Sipadan is a 20 minute boat ride from Kapalai resort. It is a restricted area with military bases and before diving, you have to register personally with your dive guide. They only allow 120 divers per day for marine protection and you are not allowed to roam around the island except for the designated area for resort guests.

Sipadan on the other hand offers pelagics (big creatures) which include schooling jacks, schooling bumphead parrotfishes, turtles, giant clams and white tip sharks. My personal favorite was the schooling bumphead parrotfishes. I’ve never seen so much ever since. They are commonly seen in barracuda point or the coral garden dive site.

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The schooling jacks were a common sight too. We see them in the shallow 5 meters, sometimes escorted by giant trevallies and white tip sharks.

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In diving, we say luck is being at the right place in the right time. Well, guess what? We were lucky to see both schooling jacks and parrotfishes all in the same time. Isn’t traffic more fun underwater?

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It was indeed an amazing dive, which happened on our last diving day in Sipadan. But we even got some more surprise as we descended. It looks like it is mating season for the turtles here since we’ve seen it twice in our 3-day dive in Sipadan. It was also in Sipadan that Ive seen so much turtles in 1 dive, atleast 30 of them!

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After diving Sipadan, Mabul and Kapalai, we both feel blessed to be living in the triangle of biodiversity between Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. We look forward to exploring more of this triangle soon!