Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Diving in the Philippines

I'm writing this post in the Frogfish Cafe in Sabang. Where is Sabang? It's situated around a bay on the most northerly part of Mindoro, one of the islands in the Philippine Archipelago. The largest nearby town is Puerto Galera.

The capital, Manila, is an hour's boat ride in an outrigger boat powered by an elderly Isuzu truck engine followed by a three hour white-knuckle ride in a bus along congested highways.

The diving has been quite super. The water temperature was around 25C, and it hardly ever gets colder. Some selected underwater photos are posted here under the 'underwater' section.

Apparently, the absolute minimum water temperature is 22C. Given that a lot of the divers were in full 5mm or 7mm wetsuits, I dread to think how much like the Michelin Man they appear when the water is cold. I was diving in a 2.5mm shortie and was quite warm enough, thank you.

Pier: All the diving starts and ends here

There is plenty to see and do around Sabang. Aside from the diving, there are numerous bars, restaurants and (as is evident from my typing here) internet cafes.

And food and drink is ridiculously cheap. A bottle of San Miguel has been regularly setting me back around 40p, which is roughly 40 Philippine pesos.

For five quid, how about a pound of Australian rib-eye steak with all the trimmings?

Biker Bar: There seems to be only one way to get here

I bought some new dive kit from one of the local dive shops. I have been promising myself a new regulator for years - ever since my old Dacor was rendered obsolete by the manufacturer and it became impossible to service it. The regulator still works perfectly, but I decided to treat myself.

The diving itself isn't particularly cheap. It's around US$22 a dive, but that does include the boat trip, tanks and weights. All the kit gets hauled to and from the boats by dive centre staff. The boat boys are generally very good, correctly setting up everyone's equipment on the right boat - and Asia Divers has several boats and a lot of customers with almost identical kit.

Asia Divers is only one of the many dive operations in Sabang. It is a separate operation to El Galleon hotel, and separate again to Tech Asia. However, the three outfits are very closely related, and it was super convenient to step out of El Galleon straight into the dive centre, and also to buy tekkie kit from an emporium just a short walk up the beach.

Nitrox was available from Asia Divers for a ridiculous US$8 a go, but a week's unlimited nitrox for US$40 (a theoretical maximum 28 dives' worth) represented much better value.

The hotel and dive centre staff were all genial and helpful. In particular, I should mention that the dive guides were all very good, being friendly and efficient. They tried to keep everyone happy, organising dive trips to sites that were requested by the punters as far as possible.
El Galleon provided good, basic accommodation, including ensuite shower and air conditioning. It was very relaxing to sit under the shade of the coconut palms between dives at the front of the resort.

Comments about the friendliness of the locals extends to pretty much everyone in Sabang. Yes, the local vendors did keep pushing their fake Rolex watches, baskets, rip-off DVDs (for movies that aren't out on DVD yet!), blowpipes, beads, bangles, belt buckles and baubles, but they did take no for an answer, at least for a few minutes.

"No, thank you. I don't want to rent a jet-ski. (Not at US$50 per hour!) Nor do I want a boat trip or a coconut.

Another special mention is Capt'n Gregg's restaurant, bar and dive centre. This is the 'home of the original Gin Juice', a highly acceptable mix of Gordon's, lime cordial and ice water. Capt'n Gregg's is also the home of some delicious steaks. There was never, I was told, an original Capt'n Gregg. The only one I've been able to find is from the movie The Ghost and Mrs Muir. 1947 and 1968 versions

I should also note the plethora of wee beasties. Everything underwater seems either to bite or sting, and it doesn't get much better on dry land. Just behind Sabang is jungle. Industrial strength insect repellent is definitely recommended, as is plenty of antihistamine to deal with the inevitable mosquito bites. Those green mosquito coils do work well. Left to burn in the room, they emit an eye-stinging vapour that ought to kill anything that flies, bites and sucks blood.

All too soon it'll be time to fly back and get back to work. Thursday morning, actually. I expect to be back at my desk at 7:30 on Saturday morning.

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