All things dive travel – Remember when flying used to be fun?

I recently took trip to the Philippines for diving in the Tubbataha Natural Marine Park and in Puerto Galera.  I was lucky enough to be invited on a familiarization trip with one of my suppliers.  These trips are crucial to learning about an area for individual and group dive trips, which are my bread and butter.  I get very excited about traveling before and during a trip and I am fanatical about diving.  So this post is a totally different thing for me.  I just need to sound off at the airline industry about the total annihilation of all things fun (and affordable) about flying!

First, let me say, this trip is not the only reason for the post.  I have not really had a good flying experience for a very long time and I fly quite a bit.  To start with, lets talk fees.  Everyday I read about more and higher fees being added by the government or the airlines to make it more expensive to get anywhere.  Last week it was that congress was increasing the TSA fees on every leg of every flight.  Increase?  They at least doubled every fee and added new ones if you have a long layover.  Ok, so we need to fund the TSA, right?  Wrong, this will not be used to fund the TSA.  This will be used at the discretion of congress!  Give me a break.  Why are travelers the new unlimited bank for a totally out of control congress.

Now the airlines fees.  First it was a small baggage fee for checked bags and no more free food.  I have a group that will be going to the Philippines in February and I finally got the airfare arranged with United.  This was after 2 months of trying really hard to get a decent group rate on at least 6 different airlines and finally giving up and booking individual air.  Then I checked the bag fees.  OMG, they just raised them earlier this year and instead of the usual 2 – 50 lb bags for an overseas flight, they allow one and charge —–READY FOR THIS—–$100 for the 2nd bag!!!  That is highway (or skyway) robbery.  When you are a diver (or a golfer, or a surfer, or a hunter, or a fisherman, etc.), you have some luggage because of your dive or sports gear.  The only saving grace for this trip is the partner airline that will be the first leg back out of Manila, All Nippon Air, didn’t change theirs to 1 bag and $100 until 3 weeks after we bought the tickets.  Lucky us, we only get extorted one time for $100 instead of two.  Look out, I bet all the overseas airlines will be following suit.  What’s next?  Carry-on fees, charging for water, having pay toilets?

Now for the next thing.  Theft out of checked bags.  I have had things stolen out of a checked bag three times, locked with a TSA approved lock two of the three.  This trip was the worst.  My dive knife, a safety sausage, a retractor and several other items were stolen.  The replacement cost is $120!  I can’t use a regular lock because the TSA would cut it off so I can’t protect any of my belongings.  I take all real valuables in a carry-on but this was just small dive gear stuff and the knife that I can’t carry on. My knife has been stolen from a checked bag before.  It is perfectly legal for me to bring a dive knife and it can save my life if I get entangled while underwater.  What gives some airport schmuck employee the right to endanger my life and steal my safety equipment?!?!?  Why are they hiring thieves in the first place?  I’ve seen hidden camera reports about this and it’s a serious problem and rampant in most large airports!

Because I flew on 2 airlines, I don’t have anyway of knowing who to blame.  I flew EVA from Manila to LAX and United from there home.  It’s just disgusting that they know they can steal anything they want and get away with it, no problem.  You can’t secure your bags.  I have tried the no lock way too.  I still have had things stolen.  I will be looking for a metal box to put the knife in from here on.

That’s just the first installment, next will be luggage abuse!

 

Dive the Philipines – Critter diving at the Atlantis Resort, Puerto Galera

Puerto Galera Day 1 019b sm Puerto Galera Day 2 164 sm

After a really wonderful week diving the Tubbataha Reef area, I traveled to Puerto Galera for a few days.  There is nothing easy about getting here but it is definitely worth the effort.  We took a short flight back to Manila and Atlantis loaded our luggage in one van and the rest of us in a couple of other vans and we were off.  It is about a 2 hour drive south of Manila to the dock where we caught a boat to Puerto Galera.  A 1 hour ride on a boat and we were there.  Puerto Galera is not what I expected but the diving is great.  There are wall to wall dive shops, resorts and restaurants lining the coast but we never felt crowded on the dive sites.  There is a lot to see here, especially little stuff.  My first dive here was my 500th dive so I really wanted it to be special.  We saw the yellow pygmy seahorse above on that dive.  I think any dive with a pygmy seahorse is very special.  The nudibranch on the right was a later dive but the colors and variety of them in Puerto Galera is amazing.

Puerto Galera Day 1 084 smPuerto Galera Day 1 179a sm

The critter life here is really varied and interesting.  Above is a Warty Clown Frogfish and an Ornate Ghost Pipefish.  These are things you don’t see in a lot of places.  I was not there long enough to schedule a full day trip to Verde Island but I am sure I would have enjoyed that as well.  It is highly recommended as a day trip of diving.  Instead we concentrated the 2 days we did have to dive on the best of the local diving and it was very good.  The only down side was a night dive that had very strong current and should have probably been called off.  If you want some adrenalin in your system, go out in heavy current on a night dive!  You can’t see where you are going well enough and always feel like you are going to hit something.  It was crazy.

Puerto Galera Day 2 133 sm Puerto Galera Day 1 269a sm

Above is one of 3 Fimbriated Moray eels I saw during my stay at Puerto Galera.  There were some other not so usual morays there as well.  I saw a Snowflake and a White-eyed Moray there as well.  I have not seen many of these 3 varieties in the past so it was a thrill.  The yellow thorny seahorse above cracked me up when he rolled his eyes up for this picture.  It was like he was saying “enough with the pictures, already!”  You can do up to 5 dives a day and you choose which ones or all.

Puerto Galera Day 1 247a smPuerto Galera Day 1 241a sm

The Atlantis Resort at Puerto Galera was interesting.  It is in the middle of town, basically.  You have the 50 Bar in front near the water, then the dive shop & briefing area, then an alley that the town people & the public walk through, then the rest of the resort.  The restaurant had great food, just like the Azores did.  They really do a fine job on that.  There is a gift shop, a dive storage area with rinse tanks and then the main desk.  The rooms are in back as well as a pool.  The rooms were very nice and had plenty of space for everything.  All in all, a great resort.  If you want to be in town, this is the place for you.  If you are looking for an out of the way place, away from everything, this is not it.  The diving is really good, however.  Above is a pygmy scorpionfish that was about 1/2 inch long.  Pretty cute and a first for me.  The Flambouyant cuttlefish on the right, was one of 3 we saw.  That is incredible.  I had only seen 2 ever, before this.

To recap, the Atlantis Resort in Puerto Galera is a nice resort in a really different location and a good choice for great diving and some extracurricular activities in town.  I wish I could have done Verde Island but there just wasn’t enough time.  This was a short stop so I could experience this area and it’s diving.  The diving in the Philippines has yet to disappoint me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dive the Philippines – Diving the Tubbataha Reef on the Atlantis Azores

Tubbataha land 145 sm3 turtle go pro sm

First thing to say about the Tubbataha Reef is that you would have to try really hard to find a more remote and stunning place to dive.  You take a grueling flight into Manila that takes about 24 hours of flying and airport time from the west coast and that’s only the start.  Here is where Atlantis Resorts and Liveaboards shines!  They meet you at the airport with a cold bottle of water, get your luggage and you into vans and take you to Terminal 2.  You’re thinking, same airport, right?  Wrong!  Different airport for domestic flights.  Atlantis stays with you through the check-in at Cebu Pacific and you’re off the Puerto Princessa.  Again, the Atlantis people pick you up and transfer you and your luggage to the Atlantis Azores,  their liveaboard dive boat, and you’re off again.  The pictures above show the stunning sunsets & sunrises and there are 3 turtles on one coral head in the other.  That is unbelievable!  That was a first.

TUBBATAHA DAY 4 159a smTUBBATAHA DAY 1 - 2 029A sm

The Tubbataha Natural Marine Park is 90 miles from land in the middle of the Sulu Sea.  There is virtually no land anywhere there, it’s crazy!  You can see how calm the seas were from the first picture in my post.  There are a couple of sand spits always visible and more at low tide.  One of the sand spits has the ranger station and the other has a lighthouse.  The entire area is protected and is a no fishing, no take zone and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It really shows in the fish life and marine & reef health.  It is actually a group of Atolls but with the lack of land showing, you would never know it.  The huge schools of fish, numbers of Pelagics -Shark, Turtles, Whalesharks, etc. is amazing, considering this is Asia.  Most parts of Asia have depleted the fish populations and with shark finning rampant, their numbers are dangerously low in places.  I was very impressed.  The reefs, walls and coral are incredibly healthy & vibrant.  You can see from the sharks above, they’re not afraid of divers here.  I loved that!

TUBBATAHA DAY 4 194a sm TUBBATAHA DAY 4 030A sm

I has some firsts here.  Above is a marble ray.  It was stunning.  There were many varieties of moray eels too.  I can stress enough how healthy the marine life is here.  Literally thousands of fish of every size and shape EVERYWHERE!  There is also a lot of little critters to see like nudibranchs and tiny (1/4″ or so) creatures like the pygmy squid below left and pygmy seahorse right.  I had to have the dive guide put his finger behind it to find it in the camera lens.  I was expecting big things not tiny!  I always wonder, who ever found these things in the first place.  You can’t believe how small they are!

TUBBATAHA DAY 3 117a sm TUBBATAHA DAY 3 104a sm

The Atlantis is a really beautiful liveaboard with a fabulous staff that works very hard to please the guests.  The food is the best I have had on a liveaboard.  If you go on a night dive, they ask you what you want to drink after like tea, hot chocolate with baileys or for me, a glass of wine.  I was met with my wine after a hot shower on the back of the boat.  Nice!!  I have been on a variety of liveaboards and I have to say this one is really very good.  The staterooms are not large but adequate and functional, the bathrooms are pretty big and they are 110 power so you don’t have to use adapters or converters.  That is a HUGE plus!  They do several different itineraries during the year and I may have to try another one in the future.

TUBBATAHA DAY 3 085 smTUBBATAHA DAY 4 076a sm

This is only the first of my posts about the Philippines.  I will be visiting Puerto Galera and Dumaguete in the next few months so stay tuned.  So far, the Philippines diving is very impressive indeed!