Should you find yourself in the Bohol/Panglau region of the Philippines and you’re a diver, there is a place I can thoroughly recommend. Even if you’re not a diver, this place could possibly persuade you to be one.
Every dive shop in the area offers trips there, because it is so good, it’s unavoidable in fact I would say. As soon as the weather is good enough they said, “we’ll go”.
So, with a recommendation like that and a shop like Philippine Fun Divers providing me with good rental gear, a great boat taking me there and expert guides I couldn’t really refuse.
Good thing I didn’t, because even though the weather was still a bit….”marginal” the diving was anything but that.
Once the Banka boat had approached the low lying sand fringed island, myself and the 2 other divers got geared up, had a briefing from our DM Greg and we got in. Almost immediately I’m seeing stuff I’d not seen before or multitudes of critters I see rarely. One of my favorites is the little Tobies or Pufferfish.
As we set off, Greg is in his element. When a guide tells you to approach a rock from a certain direction you know he knows his reefs, sure enough a Ribbon Eel is sticking it’s head out from it’s hole. Only visible from a certain angle, I’m grateful for the advise, as it’s a little shy, I only get a couple of shots off before it retreats.
There is nothing quite as valuable here as a good guide. Certainly my photographic productivity is orders of magnitude higher when being shown from one great subject to the next, Ornate and Robust Ghost Pipefish hiding in sea grass, Frogfish, Nudibranchs, commensal crustaceans, I’m on a conveyor belt of discovery.
He knows where to find things and can spot them before I do, the result is that we spend well over an hour each dive going from one spot to the next to the next. We definitely hit low on air before we run out of things to see.
From an Instructor’s perspective Balicasag is a God-send too. Shallow water with a sandy bottom for confined and Dives 1+2+ Nav etc. A drop off at about 15m for 3+4 and Advanced Deep.
If it’s good for an instructor it will be good for a student, so I can recommend to you, if you are thinking of giving SCUBA a go, that this is an awesome place to do it.If you need a break from all the small stuff that Balicasag has to offer, it is also home to some pretty cool big stuff too. The shallow sea grass areas that greet you as you jump in are home to a large number of Green Turtles. These gentle reptiles rest there, casually munching away on the grass, bathed in the dappling sunlight. It’s like a Turtle paradise. At times it seems like gathering with 4 or 5 in the area. If I was doing my DSD, OW, Adv OW, lying on the bottom waiting to be Rescued or equipment exchange for my DMT I would be pretty stoked. I love Turtles…..
Out in the blue, large schools of Long-Jaw Mackerels cruise by sifting plankton and on the flank of the island a school of Big Eye Jacks circle in their Fish Tornado. I had to take that last one on Greg’s word as it was still too rough to get there, but that is good enough for me.
Whether you choose to shoot Macro or Wide Angle here, the large boat has two cabins where you can swap lenses on your camera, dry and out the way of gear and wet divers. Given that there is a heap of both types of subject here, this swap and the space to do it in was absolutely necessary.
So even on the not so good days, Balicasag still has a heap to offer, whether you have a few dives under your weight belt or not. The hard decision will not be whether you want to come back, but will be whether or not you swim to the shallows, walk up the beach and check in at the bungalows there……you never know, you might find me….
Richard Brooks owns a media production company Lightning Strike Productions, traveling and underwater photography are just two of his favorite things.