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  • Writer's pictureSarina Harper

Philippines ↣ Diving Balicasag and Panglao Islands

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

Just one month after diving Puerto Galera further north, we returned to the Philippines once more to dive a different region. While the diving didn’t rival the Verde Passage, it was still spectacular in its own right. We took day trips to Balicasag and Pamilacan Islands, diving two or three times day around the dramatic coral plastered walls that sprung the islands up from the sea floor.

The region has strong currents, resulting in us doing drift dives which are quite fun: the boat drops you off, you drift along the wall with the current (freeing you of the effort of having to do any swimming), and upon surfacing the boat magically appears!

In awe, I faced the wall with my back to the sea, riding the current in a manner akin to an item moving along a conveyor belt. Drifting by the massive wall adorned with vivid corals, every nook and cranny was festooned with captivating growth for our eyes to feast upon. Eels poked their heads out, mouths methodically and hungrily opening and closing, enjoying the nutrients the currents brought along. Splendid little squishy nudibranchs crawled about, while suddenly a massive school of jacks swam behind us, and below a banded sea snake slithered sleuthly by.

Clown fish swam towards us with adorable aggression, protecting the anemones they called home while minuscule, translucent shrimp busied themselves tidying up the place for them. Mantis shrimp, known for their velocity and powerful attacks, drew us in with their rainbow colored bodies, letting us capture their splendor before shooting off at the speed of a bullet. Giant clams opened then snapped shut, also taking advantage of the nutrients from the currents.

Turtles glided past, stopping to munch on sea grass, one eye trained on us as they chowed down. While these types of dives result in photography being a deep challenge, I enjoyed leaving the camera by my side and just absorbing the sights through my purple mask.

When staying on Panglao Island we enjoyed relaxing dives sans currents, which gave us the opportunity to explore more freely - and photograph steadily! We entered a swim through in the wall that led twenty feet up to an exit, spinning as we ascended, looking at the magnificent growth in the cave.

Chocolate chip starfish dotted the sea floor, massive bucket corals stood proudly in our way, and lionfish hovered menacingly around nooks and crannies. Three foot long sea cucumbers climbed lazily around the reef and purple ribbon eels poked their heads out from the sand. A sunken jeepney covered in flora and fauna seemed oddly in place under the sea.

And if that wasn’t enough, the highlight: finally spying a seahorse, which has been on my diving bucket list for years! Notoriously challenging to find, this one blended right into the coral it called home. I snapped the requisite photos, controlled my breathing and hovered just above the sand. I watched as it used its tail to cling to the coral, swinging around like a weightless monkey. And then, just as I’ve done on all the numerous dives of my past, I appreciated yet again how lucky I was: I was in an area of the world with the best diving, witnessing a world so few get a chance to, watching this exotic creature.

The sound of my breathing reminds me of raw reality: that I’m not where I’m supposed to be, this equipment is keeping me alive, but also allowing me to witness this strange world. As always, the thought elates me as the spark of adventure fills my soul.

After so much diving I treated myself to a coconut oil massage, the table stuck in the waves gently lapping the shore. Costing just a few bucks, I was tempted to have one every day! We stayed in a beautifully appointed dive resort right on the beach, taking dips in the bath-like ocean water as we pleased. In the evenings we witnessed fire shows on the beach, a dozen or so men drumming as performers twirled and danced effortlessly but no less impressively. Fresh fruit stands lined the beach by day and skewers of barbecued meats ruled the nights, with reggae bars serving up our favorite lethally delicious alcoholic concoction: The Weng Weng.

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