Sunday, November 16, 2014

From San Francisco to Sangat Island

This view = the vacation is ON!
Fortunately for us, Philippine Airlines runs one nonstop flight a day from SFO to MNL (our round-trip tickets were $850, a pretty good deal in our opinion). Our departure was on a Thursday night (10pm SF time), but we lost a whole day in the air, arriving on Saturday at 4am Manila time. After clearning customs and withdrawing some cash from an ATM, we transferred to another terminal for our domestic flight to Busuangua Island, which wasn't leaving until 8:30am. In the domestic terminal, we found a spa and rented some napping chairs for a couple hours, earning us a little bonus rest. Soon enough we were back on a plane headed for Busuangua and our first Philippine destination, the Coron Town area. Our flight there was a little delayed getting going, arriving about an hour late at 10:30am.

One of the main reasons we chose the Philippines for our trip was its reputation as scuba diving destination. The area around Coron Town on Busuangua is well known as a destination for wreck diving, as about a dozen Japanese ships were sunk there during a WWII battle. After a little bit of research, we decided to stay at the Sangat Island Dive Resort since it looked like it was very close to the wreck sites - although a bit more pricey (especially since the only room available was a 4-person room), this turned out to be a great choice for a number of reasons. From the airport a van took us to Coron Town in about 30 minutes, where we hopped on a boat for the 40 minute ride to Sangat Island. Upon arrival we were greeted and given a couple fresh coconut waters...finally (~12:30pm local time) we had "officially" arrived!
Fresh welcome drinks at Sangat Island - well deserved after ~20 hours of travel!

The resort was a beautiful tropical island retreat - a nice beach with several bungalows along the water, some hours without electricity etc. Our room was waterfront, elevated up one story with some hammocks hanging underneath.
Our first home in the Philippines - a beachfront bungalow for 4
We were excited to get in the water, and due to the proximity of the dive sites to the resort, the dive center had 4-5 dives each day on offer. Unlike other dive trips where you spend all day out on the boat and do 2-3 dives, at Sangat, for each dive the boat leaves and returns to the resort, where you can grab food or take a break on land. Quite an advantage due to Sangat's location being so close to the dive sites. We met the divemaster Jojo from Germany and got our equipment setup for our first dive, the 2:30pm dive to the Olympia Maru.

It had been about a year since our last dives, but we were confident we'd get right back into retrospect, it might have been better for me (Todd) to have done a simpler intro dive.  Between struggling with my buoyancy & my leaky mask (even though its my own!), I was sucking down air at a higher rate than normal, and had to borrow some air from Jojo in order to finish the dive. Still, the wreck was impressive - gigantic (over 300 feet long) and with some huge swimthroughs. We saw a turtle and a scorpion fish, among other marine life highlights. After the dive we did some snorkeling on the Sangat house reef, and joined the dive staff and other guests for dinner then drinks (the first of many San Miguels) under a beautiful starry sky.

Beach at Sangat Island

After falling asleep to the lapping waves out in front of our place, we were ready for more diving on day two. Our morning dive, again with Jojo, was at the Irako, an even bigger ship than the Olympia Maru the day before. Although my mask problems continued, my bouyancy control was much better and with a larger tank of air I had no issues on that front! The visibility at this site was the best of any of the wreck sites, and as we did a lap around the refrigeration ship, we saw some schools of barracuda and a few lionfish. We poked around the interior of the ship a little as well.

Our afternoon dive with with another divemaster, Luke, to the Morazan, the highlight of which were the giant boilers in the engine room (you can see some pictures & video from all the wrecks here on the Sangat website). This was the only dive site we visited where we saw another group of divers, which didn't help the visibility - at one point we had to turn around rather than try to feel our way through! After swimming through the wreck we finished by cruising over the side that is not buried into the ground (this one rests on its side), where we saw lots of different fish including clownfish, pufferfish, boxfish, and jackfish. By this point we had gotten back in the rhythm of diving, it would have been nice to stay another day and get a couple more dives in but our schedule required us to move on. Overall I've got to give a lot of props to the dive center at Sangat - our overall experience the best of any dive center we've ever used - first and foremost they are very safety-conscious at all times, they are prepared for a big schedule of dives each day, they have a respect for the environment and the sensitive nature of the sites we were diving (places where human lives were lost), and they were great folks to hang around with - either out on the boat, around the dock, or in the bar!
Two thumbs up for Jojo and crew at the Sangat Island Dive Center!

Before sunset we (and another couple) took out the kayaks from the resort in search of a hotspring that we were told was in the mangrove forest about a half-mile from the resort. It was really easy to kayak in the sea near the resort - there are so many islands in the area that it keeps the currents and waves pretty minimal. Along the way we passed giant limestone cliffs and saw some birds of prey hunting in the water, it was very picturesque (alas, we were in a hurry to get to the hotsprings so no pictures - sorry!). We cruised through the mangroves and found the hotsprings pretty easily - it was a nice place to relax for a bit:
Hotspring, hidden in the mangroves on Sangat Island

Sunset on the way back was beautiful - the water like glass and the colors on the horizon:
Sunset on Coron Bay
Dinner that night at the resort was a beach barbecue, apparently something they do once a week, which made the vibe even more festive as we socialized with the guests and staff, continuing the night at the bar, under the stars until we had had our fill of sips from the Mojito trees :). We had an early wake-up call the next morning, at 6am a boat was coming to pick us up and catch us up with our cruise, which had left Coron Town the day before and was anchored for the night somewhere in the nearby archipelago.

Beachside BBQ dinner - our last night at Sangat

1 comment:

grace c tullis said...

Enjoyed your blog on the Philippines. You really make it an interesting read and great photos!