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skin diving

March 21, 2008

Samal Island

After the Mt. Apo climb and walking about Davao City, most of the climbing team left off for Manila leaving Reggie and myself to explore the reefs of Samal Island. We explored Samal twice, one on a ferry with a habal-habal ride and the second one, on a scheduled boat dive. Samal Island is just a short ferry ride away from Davao City. It offers excellent beaches and dive spots. We chose the less known and rougher Canibad side, a beach campsite and a more popular destination amongst campers and mountaineers.

First Trip by Habal-Habal
Where we alighted from the motorbike, it was a short walk to the beach. Being a holiday, the beaches were packed with campers and the shore was lined up with tents. But like any other campsite, the prevailing atmosphere was chill. Beside our campsite was a group jamming on activist songs.

Entrance Fee
We paid an 'entrance fee' to whoever was looking after that portion of the beach. The funny thing is, while walking along the stretch of the beach and swimming where it felt good, another person approached us to collect another 'entrance fee'. Of course they should not even collect fees for use of public land. I pay anyway to support the local community, but this was annoying at best.

Coral Reef
The dive spot is a fish sanctuary and rich in the sponge-type corals. It's perhaps one of the few remaining dive areas left pristine. It reminded me of how diving was back in my UP days - the corals alive and colors are screaming. Fishes of all colors were in parade. Skin diving would have been perfect if not for the strong current that takes you out to sea. I took a few safe dives but remained wary being washed away. A few locals were spearfishing although it was illegal to do so.

Second Trip by Boat
Luckily, while browsing inside a dive shop, the manager offered to piggy-back us with a scheduled boat dive for P300/person. A whole day of boating with stops on choice dive reefs? Not a bad deal. We showed up on the scheduled day and off we went together with a group of scuba divers from the same dive shop.

Samal Island Dive
First stop was the same dive site on Samal. It was more reassuring this time to be more adventurous despite the current. The thing to do was to go with the current and the boat picks you up wherever you end up - well, at least in theory it was good. In actuality, with no floatation device to keep bouyant when it's time to get picked up, I'd still be at the mercy of the current and I could end up too far for the boat to see. I played it safe by diving within 'swimming range' of the boat.

Shitting in your Backyard
The scuba folks on the boat were nice peeps who somehow took us in. They would have been fab except for one thing - they were stealthily spearfishing in a fish sanctuary. They were armed with expensive high-zoot spear guns and they were making a good harvest. I felt uneasy about all this. As divers, they were supposed to be the guardians of the reef, offering protection and nurture against poachers and the elements. Instead, they shit in their own backyard. As a piggy-backer on their boat, I felt helpless.

As karma would have it, barangay officials on paddle boats caught wind of what's happening and surrounded the divers from the surface. It was a cat-and-mouse after that. The divers dumped their catches and hid their spears within the corals. They got caught red-handed just the same. The team leader (a medical doctor), had to go to the barangay office and as he said, "apologized profusely" and even promised a medical mission. They really had it coming.

Ligid Island
Fresh from their harrowing experience, the boat left Samal for Ligid Island. There was a very small skin diving area as most of it is an 80-ft wall beneath the surface. The current is much stronger than Samal. Even for the scuba guys, it was something they were cautious about. By the time they surfaced, they had speared grouper and cuttlefish. One diver, at an earlier dive, was said to spear a 20K yellow fin tuna. It was dark when the boat started heading back.

Ending Thoughts
Divewise, Samal Island is one best kept secret...just mind the current.

--- TheLoneRider

    Getting There from Davaao City proper:
  • Take the bus from Magsaysay Pier to Sasa Port
  • From Sasa Port, wait for the bus that will board the ferry. This bus loads itself on the ferry to continue its route within Samal Island
  • In Samal, get off Central Convenience Store in Babak and contract a habal-habal (extended motor bike where you ride at the back) to take you to the beach area (P150/2 persons).
  • From there on, it was a short walk to the beach
  • make arrangements with the habal-habal driver for a return pick-up. Agree on the same price. When he picks you up, chances are, he'll still ask you to pay P50 extra because 'he didn't get a passenger' on the way to pick you up. It's pure bullshit. We had a stand-off. He backed down.
  • If you're traveling alone, it'll be too expensive to charter a boat to dive. Piggy-backing on a boat dive is much less expensive way.
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Reader Comments:

(Apr 30, 2008) Very early karma indeed. I salute those barangay officials who untiringly protect the sanctuary.

(Apr 30, 2008) What's the name of the doctor? Do share it so that we know (and shame the man).

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