After a week of settling into the Mindoro pace of life in our little village of Aninuan, getting used to the ever-present critters and pesky mosquitos, we were finally due a break over the weekend. The first week mostly entailed classroom-based learning for the Green Fins project, including the theory of how to assess dive centres on their environmentally-friendliness. We were also given an excellent run-through of various other facets of the marine conservation world, even those which won’t be as directly relevant during our time on the ZEP, which made it clear how the Green Fins project fits into the global realm of conservation, and gave us a good indication as to how the ZEP should help set us up for future careers in the field. For our weekend break, it’s tough to know when it really started, as our Monkey Beach dive was really meant to be part of the work, getting us acquainted with the local diving, but already seemed like an afternoon getaway for us, and we’ve been out snorkelling most afternoons to get up to speed on Reef Watch survey technique; but then maybe that’s the benefit of working in tropical paradise!
So when our weekend off arrived we decided to start it in the most suitable way for Puerto Galera, SCUBA diving. Lucy and Falk opted out of the first dive to get a longer sleep in, so Phil and I jumped on the usual tricycle (125cc motorcycle with pimped-out sidecar) to Muelle port, then took a jeepney (pimped-out jeep/bus combo) ride to Sabang, where the majority of dive centres are located. The journey to Sabang is only about 20 minutes, but with dive kit on the roof, overhanging trees and potholes along the route, the ever-present “God Help Us” bumper stickers take on a slightly different meaning. In Sabang we’d already made arrangements to head out with the same Green Fins certified dive centre that had taken us on our Monkey Beach dive, so we headed straight for there to get ready to jump in the water.
Our first dive was the wreck of the MV Alma Jane Express, an 60-ton 115-foot cargo freighter scuttled in about 30m of water off Small La Laguna Beach in 2003. While not populated with vast amounts of marine life, it’s managed to attract a good number of sea fans and feather stars, and during our dive played host to a large shoal of batfish under the stern, and nudibranchs (sea slugs) on the hull.
Our second dive promised to be the well-known Canyons dive site off the North-Eastern tip of Sabang. A quick glance at the tide tables gave us a little moment for concern, but we decided to head out anyway. Once at the dive site, we rolled off the boat and quickly descended, knowing there would be some current, but we hadn’t anticipated its strength. Phil and I spent about five minutes down at 12m or so, before deciding to head up and join the others who had drifted off a little way. A shame to be sure, as the Canyons has a reputation as an excellent dive site, and the glimpse of what we’d seen made us wish we could have stayed. We’d heard that the currents could be strong in this area, but none of us were expecting the raging torrent of water we encountered. Once back on board the boat we opted for a more relaxing site, Dungon Wall, sheltered from the stronger tidal currents. On descent the site seemed ok, but nothing too special, but once down a little deeper, several large sea fans loomed into view, surrounded by fields of feather stars all around. Each turn promised something new, with colourful nudibranchs, anemone fish, and even a juvenile boxfish appearing for us. All in all an excellent start to the weekend.
On Sunday, after being woken by the incessant wailing of the village roosters, we decided to take the edge off the tropical morning heat and take a walk up to the local waterfall, where the waters promised to be several degrees cooler than the sun-drenched shallows waters off the local beach. We slowly ascended along the track behind the village, passing countless dogs snoozing in any shade they could find. We traversed the small river numerous times, crossing rickety old bridges and passing under towering coconut palms, seeking out the smallest of trails. When we finally arrived, we were startled to find that there was a house built right next to the falls, more or less in the middle of nowhere, and the entrepreneurial local was charging 20 pesos for access to the waterfalls! In the midday tropical heat, 30 pence seems a reasonable price to pay for a luxurious cool-off in the flowing fresh water, so we were soon lazing around enjoying our time off.
And now the next phase of our learning has begun. No longer in the classroom, but visiting dive centres with the aim to either get them to sign up for the Green Fins project, or train their new staff ways of reducing their environmental impact. We’ve also found out where we’ll be based in Cebu once the training has finished, Lucy and Falk in Moalboal, and Phil and I in Mactan. And so the story continues…