From Diary 2.
15. We tumble out of bed early to get south. Not many buses to choose from - in fact not one. Plan B: A taxi costs 700 kroner! We are going down to a port city, south of Manila. End with plan C: Two hour taxi to another port city, Balanga for 150 kroner, and catamaran to Manilla. It costs 25 kroner, but unfortunately we arrive just too late. Must sit and wait two hours. The area we drove through was the driest we have seen, almost desert-like, here at the end of the dry season.
It takes at least only 40 minutes with the catamaran. From the same big ferry terminal, a boat head to Mindoro in half an hour. Many other ferries depart, but our Super Gigi is cancelled. Get the money back, and buy a ticket from another company. The mood is a little depressing. We haven't moved very much, and we are sitting in a crowded waiting room with a lot of noise.
For 15 kroner we get an hour sailing in a not very big boat. We land in the last rays of the sun on a Bounty beach, with a small strip of small, cosy hotels and restaurants. The water is crystal clear in the bay. We can see coral and sea-grass many meters down. Incidentally, I diagnosed myself: I suffer from transport narcolepsy. I can sit for a maximum of five minutes in a bus, taxi, plane or boat, before sleeping. It gives the slightly unfamiliar phrase: "Wake up, you must go down!" when we dive.
The first hotels are sold out, and what we find that have available rooms ask for 80 kroner per piece! We trade the price down to 65 kroner, and we are ashamed, as we are awarded three bungalows with full kitchen, huge living room / bedroom and a large terrace with dining table and a huge love room.
Although it looks like a tourist trap, there are very few foreigners here. Those who are here, are exclusively for diving. Around the corner, about 10-15 kilometres away, is the local party country: White Sands. We saw all the young locals who had packed the weekend bag in the terminal. One great dive shop after another lies between hotels and restaurants. We find a big one, but a very likeable divemaster. We arrange some dives tomorrow, and walk along the beach to find a good restaurant. Found with some difficulty back to our bungalows through the dark.
16. We had thought about eating breakfast at our dive centre that had something similar to a restaurant, but the elderly Vietnamese owner advised against it: His food is very strong! It doesn't seem like they use their restaurant. The house is one of the biggest and flashiest on the beach, they have fantastic facilities and a lot of diving gear, but we are the only customers? We see other boats, loaded to the breaking point with up to 20 divers sailing from other centres - glad it's not us!
We find some more main-stream breakfast, and
are ready to dive at nine. All the dive sites are a maximum of 15
minutes sailing out into the bay. There are not many waves, but
great visibility. The first dive is on a relatively low reef. Great
life, fish, crabs, things in general cover the dense planting of
soft and hard corals. I got very good at my diving, mainly because
of the fitting mask. It just gives off a reprimand from the
divemaster: Why didn't you say you were experienced divers? Morten
and Jesper had mentioned, they had more than 200 dives behind them.
Second dive is hardly going so well. Halfway I get a stinging jellyfish down my back. There are dangling arms stuck in the collar of the wetsuit, and it feels like there is a guy with a glowing iron, presses against my neck. I don't get to see the banded sea snake and the micro-seahorses, but it goes amazingly well with that used air! At home at the dive centre I get lime and very hot water, but it bothers me the next few days, like a heavy sunburn.
We eat a very expensive lunch: 40 kroner! It is a bit low on cash, but it turns out there is an office in a hotel, that lets one withdran on Visa for 7.5%. It sounds expensive, but is the same as vending machines in the big cities. The fee is 30 kroner, but you can only withdraw 400 kroner at a time! I donate 2000 kroner and Jesper the same. She fished, without preferring a mine, the money up from a drawer in the desk. We're talking more than the annual salaries for locals!
There will be a shower, but we will sail out to dive at three o'clock. We see a lot of life: dragonflies, octopuses, searchers, moraines and everything else the heart can desire. Could spend a lot more time down there, if it wasn't for the air and nitrogen accumulation.
We go for a walk to find the lighthouse. Perpendicular to the country, up the steep hillside. Here are small bamboo huts where staff from the beach hotels and restaurants, as well as local fishermen live. Up on the ridge are some huge and flashy new houses. It is probably the owners of the hotels.
Here is lush, dense forest, but at the top, there is a large sweaty grassland. We find the abandoned lighthouse and I walk around the neglected garden. Gradually has a nice collection of seeds for the Botanical Garden: Bombacaceae, Fabaceae, passion flower and - eah, others. T
he sun has disappeared and we get a little
busy getting down to the beach, before it gets quite dark. Instead
of the steep climb down through the dense forest, we take the narrow
road, which fortunately leads down into the city.
After dinner, I almost stay awake until nine o'clock. The brothers always sit and shake their heads, calling me old, when I say I go to bed. They are young and fresh on several beers. The times when I find an internet cafe on the way home, I see them sneaking past within five minutes, on the way home to bed. Incidentally got Jesper to admit, he is for SM. He may have meant San Miguel; the local beer?
17. The first dive of the day is The Canyons. Here is an incredible amount of fish of countless species. After a proper break, we dive down to Shark Cave. A one-meter-high but very wide cave leads far into the reef. Inside are at least five white-tipped reef sharks, the largest over two meters. They swim around a bit, and we get pretty close. We search further, and find toad-, kite-, lion- and other fish. Here are the sweetlips, which are pretty big and ... a lot of other stuff.
I am still bothered by the meeting with the jellyfish, and chose to go for a walk in the primeval forest. I pass one beautiful bay after another. Buy a bottle of water in a small bamboo kiosk, and keep me in the shade as far as possible. It is hot and humid. Finds several seeds, including some that resemble mini-cashaw nuts and some nice red and black Fabaceae.
Coming to a jeepney place where the drivers
sit and play cards for money - quite some money actually. That
explains why six or seven pieces came straight after one hour ago,
and never saw anyone.
18. We have to get up early to get ready for the boat at seven. It is Super Gigi, who failed last. The slightly larger boats anchor up, a little out in the bay, and a small boat sails people out. They stand up like herring in the barrel. We are going with a smaller one that simply sails up the beach.
We reach a bus at nine, and are in Manila
at half past twelve. We try to re-confirm our tickets over the
phone, but it doesn't work. Taxi to the airport, re-confirm, and
then out to Rizal Park.
The first two are really disappointments. They have not been maintained for a long time, and have never really been anything special. The Chinese are as exciting as the Common Park, the Japanese as H. C. Ørstedsparken. They are filled with sleeping people who are obviously willing to pay 50 cents in entrance fee.
The orchid garden there in courage is amazingly beautiful, 20 times more expensive in the hallway - and closed on Mondays! I don't really feel, the local gods are on my side!
One of the city's other main attractions is a huge fortress: Intramuros. Built by the Spaniards in 1571, it was the only European city in Asia. We walk on the outer wall. Inside, there are typical Spanish colony houses, outside a small narrow golf course and the rest of the city. We are often offered trips in beautiful horse-drawn carriages, biased tiny horses. One hour guided tour: 10 kroner. We are more likely to relax and find a park. In the middle of it lies Fort Santiago. The park itself is nice, there are even some plants I have been looking for for a long time. Found them just before we left, but get some great photos.
There is a moat around the fort itself. Here,
a man walks between the water jugs with a long-handled net. At
first, I think he picks up trash, but then sees the wire. He turns
down the net and collects the paralyzed fish.
We find the city centre, and a rather poor hotel. Get half an hour shut eyes, and then hea out to find dinner. We are in a Muslim neighbourhood, and end up at an Iranian restaurant. Really delicious food! Then we go down to the harbour promenade.
I've seen many harbour promenades that have been made just as well, but never one with so much life. Some very special street lights in different colours along the way. On the pier itself are a myriad of fairly large restaurants. Many of it has live music or other entertainment. We hear about ten bands and individual musicians, all really good.
Sitting a bit in a cafe with really good
coffee and delicious cakes. There is a good atmosphere along the
entire promenade, but many empty seats. It really has to be up and
running when it's filled up. The quartet behind is a quirky mix of
very lousy bamboo sheds and brand new, very modern and tall hotels
and office buildings.
19. Taxi to the airport and fly at 10.45am to Busvanga Island, this time with South East Asian Airlines. We are weighed along with our luggage, and are not surprised by the size of the aircraft - or lack of the same. It is an LET 410 with seating for 19 passengers. We are some whites and some Japanese and Koreans.
Great flight down over Mindoro and a whole bunch of small islands. It's cloudless and the air is incredibly clear. After an hour, we land in a very small airport. Outside there are three small bamboo braid shops and one jeepney. We climb aboard and start the long trip down the island. It passes through very steep mountains, some scorched, over green valleys and fertile plains. Most of the road is red dirt road, which is dusting incredibly.
We come to a small sleepy port city. After a
bit of rooting back and forth, we find a German who has a diving
centre. It is well over two hours sailing to the west. His closest
neighbour to the west is Vietnam, about 1,000 kilometres away. It
should be really smart to live out there. Then you are right by the
wrecks and the reefs. He says.
We meet in his office, and then sail out in his nice our-rigger-boat. We sneak around a myriad of small and medium-sized islands. Some inhabited, others deserted. They are all dressed in green from top to beach. Most coconut on the inhabited, with a dense primeval forest beneath. We sail through some huge Japanese pearl farms. Armed guards sit on tiny wooden rivers.
We come to the last island: Popotutan, which is part of the Coron archipelago, which in turn is the northern part of the Palawan archipelago. This island is quite large, there is a small village with about 50-100 residents. A little further out are a couple of very large houses in their own bay. Resided by some French billionaires. Then we come to his bay.
A small town, consisting of five bungalows, a common restaurant and various service buildings. We get rooms in one bungalow, which consists of five rooms, a shared library and two large bathrooms. It's getting late, and we're eating at dusk. There are a myriad of different bird voices. I hear one that I can't recall. Take the flashlight and sneak around the building. Mutual horror as I surprise two courtesy tokays. It is the world's largest gecko, these are 20-30 centimetres long, and very wide. Very nice, with mouse-gray bodies, adorned with scattered red spots. They have a distinctive and very high calling, almost to-kayyy.
There is a deafening noise from countless cicadas. Empty casings are everywhere from the larvae. When you light up the trees, the adults panic and the big bats are on the spot right away. After throwing a handful of cicadasout of the large room, I pull the curtain for the big hole in the wall and crawl into bed.
20. Waking up early by bird song, going for a little walk behind the camp, and getting ready for breakfast. We plan the first dive, an easy one, so he can see us dive. He does not have much gear, but we are equipped, and it is in reasonable condition.
We sail an hour back towards the city, and hop in, by a sunken landing craft from WWII. There is a lot of life here, and we swim scattered around, up and down the sloping wrecks, and on the beautiful reef right next to it. The wreckage is also covered with vegetation. We see, among other things, harlequin fish, which swim completely insane, and the death-defying octopus. Underwater photos from the dives.
Lunch on the boat, moored by a very beautiful island, and then over to another wreck. This time it's a 180 long hull of an oil tanker from the same time. Again, a lot of life. We arrive home at half past five, and after a refreshing cup of coffee, we set out on an expedition to explore the nature of the island. We see some weird birds, I find some new exciting seeds, and a really exciting pachy-like tree. It is shown a member of the Barringtonia genus. Also finds some quirky epiphytes, probably a Hoya. They are like small flat plates with the bottom in the air. Very close to the trunk.
As it gets really dark, we swim out to the house-reef, and dive. It's a fantastic moonlight, which is quite brilliant as the batteries in my flashlight quickly give up. Looking over to Jesper, who swims around with a number of lux that can make any trucker soft on his knees. Here there is also lively night activity. A low dive, so it will be long. And then you sleep so well afterwards ...
21. I'm up early to photograph Barringtonia's flowers. Namely, it is night-flowering, and the flower is an essential part of identification. On the way out to today's dive (an hour towards the city again) we meet the crew of the unusually awesome motor boat, anchored up the bay. It is a very great German billionaire, a skinny Englishmen and a young Thai girl. They get a lift, and snorkel over us, as we dive into yet another overgrown wreck of a cannon boat. Next to it is a fantastic reef that we also get to see.
After lunch we dive on a fantastic live reef wall. The rest of the afternoon is spend down to the beach, where we find countless huge clams, brightly coloured snail encasings and fascinating small clams and corals in whole or fragments. In the vegetation along the sand grows some huge cycas and other huge and very exciting plants. Watch some brightly coloured ticks high up in a tree. As I get up there, there are some really brightly coloured olden burrs as well.
After supper, it is once again time for a night dive. We seak further east, out on the house-reef. The hope is to see one of the extremely rare dugongs. A large seagrass-eating mammal. Unfortunately, we do not see it, but we see the blue-ring ray, a small nurse shark, some huge nudibranches, up to 30 centimetres!, and some millimetres small squid and a really big one. Here are flocks of catfish, some crocodile fish and moraines. Finally, we manage to find a giant conch, and it is even alive.
22. We start, after breakfast, with a dive in the open sea. Finally, we are sailing farther away from the city and into the South China Sea. Morten has problems with his ears. I've had that for a long time too, but that's when I'm not in the water. We take a partial tour of an atoll, the wildlife and plant life is great, but the current is powerful. Yielding but hard dive.
The afternoon is spent in the dense primeval forest on the hillside behind the camp. There is only a single path, and it is very difficult to penetrate the tangled mass of thorny undergrowth. Suddenly a thin, very lively adder appears. As I do not know if it is poisons, I give it some rome, as we (with varying success) penetrate the dense vegetation. It turns into some reasonable photos. The evening passed with fun and packing of the huge luggage. The main part consists of seeds for the Botanical Garden.
23. Get up early, as I head out into the woods to pick up some cuttings of the epiphytic Hoya I have found. There will also be time for a longer trip, east-over. Here I find pomegranates and an exciting plant with beautiful red flowers, something alá Ericaceae. I also find a pretty big skink and a huge woodpecker. Right behind the camp, I finally managed to get close to some jungle hens. The special thing about them is that they bury their eggs in the hot sand, and then just leave them.
As we have to settle the bill, the problems
begin. It turns out we have to pay for the rental of gear, the boat
trip out here, the rental of lamps (with very little power) and
someother small things. Then suddenly we do not have enough money.
He will not take our word for it, we will send the last 500 kroner
(then he has received just over 3000 kroner).
Close to three hour sailing into town, fast
lunch and then two hours in the minibus to the airport, where we can
reach the plane before. There's just no room. Two hours in the
airport - actually just a room, is a long time. One hour flight,
facilitates just at the dot, from a dirt track! Then in taxi to the
interntional airport, where we just have to wait two more hours.