Coron - Palawan, Philippines wrecks diving by Mohamed Azhan
Note: As this is a trip report filed by a Singaporean writer, to his friend, it may goes into some details that, for some readers, find some words,phrases and terms used detract from the usual meanings, but took on some Singaporean flavour.
Well, hope everyone is in the best of health and moods, I know I am after the Philippines dive trip. After all the years of diving and thinking that I have seen it all........then comes Coron Bay, Philippines. It is an eye opener both underwater as well as above water. It is not your regular run-of-the-mill dive trip for sure. It is was an adventure more than anything.
The flight to Manila is a uneventful one except for the fact that we shared the plane with loads of folks from Jakarta on their way to Manila . They looked and seemed like they are from some "Pesantren" of some sort. Anyway, the next leg of the journey was more interesting. We were booked on a domestic airline called Seair running 19 seaters turboprop planes. Here was the setup, get to the domestic airport ( which is not that easy without the meeting services ), get ourselves to the Seair counter, weigh in the baggage ( 10 kg max ) and then........weigh oneself in the presence of everyone!!!! Imagine the horror on some of us, especially the women folks. Each one of us are only entitled to 86 kg each all inclusive, bearing in mind that we are divers, with equipment, cameras, video setups and stuff like that. Anything above that was chargeable at about US$1 per kg. We overshot the weight limits for sure and paid about US$33 total ( managed to check in as a group, more weight allowance ).
Everyone was a little jittery about riding in a small propeller plane and this was no exception. Seats were allocated according to passengers weights to evenly distribute the load across the plane. Then the journey began................1 hour of nervousness in the faces of passengers. 60 minutes later, we were on the approach to Busuanga airport, actually airfield would be more appropiate description. Being seated behind the pilot, I was able to observe the landing throughout the whole session. It was a hair raising experience............aim the plane to the small and short runway, drop the plane on it, apply brakes frantically, make a sharp right turn ( else you'll end up at the buffalos grazing area ), taxi to the terminal ( this felt like a 4WD jeep ride ) and we're at Busuanga. Baggage handlers were a couple of scrawny village kids barely strong enough to carry our huge bags. Exit the airport building, met by two Jeepneys ( some kind of local minibus thing ) and boarded one, the correct one please, because the other one heads to the prohibitively expensive resort called Club "P". It was then another 45 minutes bumpy ride to the town on gravel and sandy track .
So far the trip had been fairly filled with surprises and there was more on the way. Kokosnuss was the next surprise ( or jolt for some ). The resort dispelled all ideas we had of a resort. It was "different", very basic, very into nature, very stressful for some of us. Everything except for the 3 bungalows were made of some sort of bamboo material which is not very resilient to some of us who weighs like three Filipino. The floors keep breaking wherever I stood. Replacement by the staff was quick though. Rudolph, the owner and his son, York, were friendly. The rest of the resort staff were local girls and Anke the German Sherperd.
We were then met by Dennis the manager of Dive Right and was briefed very briefly about diving in Coron. We had a short tour of Coron town ( real small town ) and went on to the dive shop. Met the other dive staff and was the issued the dive bags and then we were on our way back to the resort on a tricycle for dinner. Main means of transport for the town are tricycles, motorcycles with sidecar attachment acting as taxis. Rides were charged at 5 pesos one way, evening after 8 pm, it is 10 pesos. Town consist of many provision shops, small restaurants ( just few of them ), bars, Karaoke joints and some basic inns. Dinner at the resort was ok, but the time taken for it to be served was not..........it took a very long time for us to get the dinner. Apparently, I heard from some friends that it is a common practice on the Philippines for the food to be taking a long time to be prepared and served. Just remember next time anyone is there, order your food long before you are hungry or planning to eat. This is the style of taking it easy .
Now comes the much anticipated part..........Diving the wrecks. There are plenty of wrecks around, it is just that they are all far apart and it takes at least 1 hour or more to reach them. Dive boat was a large banca, big sampan like vessel with outriggers. There were toilets onboard and a small galley to prepare our lunch. Ice cold beer and soft drinks are provided ( chargeable ) and so was fresh water ( free ). Since it is not a purpose built dive boat, equipment rigging area was quite limited and the absence of a dive platform made back roll the only choice of entry for divers. Exits from water was easier with the use of the ladder, actually more of a stair-like thing. Due to the huge outriggers, there was very little rolling when the banca was under way, good for those who are prone to seasickness.
We did a total of 7 different wrecks over a period of 3 days plus a spectacular and crazy dive at the Barracuda lake. First dive was on the Irako and it was a sight to behold. The wreck was real huge and covered all over with corals, sponges and marine life. Visibility was in the 8 to 10 metres range at the bottom, better visibility was found only on the shallows. Since this was like an intro and checkout dive, no penetration was done and we only did a swim around for about 45 minutes. Generally, the wrecks are relatively deep, especially the bigger ones. There are a few like the gunboats which are not too deep.
We went on diving the other wrecks, Taiei Maru, Lusong Gunboat, Akitsushima, Olympia Maru, East Tangat Wreck, Morazon Maru and the Barracuda Lake. Generally most of the sites are serious wrecks for advanced level divers with some experience. Water temperature was in the upper 20s nearing 30 and a 3mm wetsuit would be suffice for most divers, I was diving skins only. The wetsuits comes in handy when one plans to penetrate the wrecks, because these are steel wrecks, there are plenty of sharp edges and corals that one will encounter. A few of the wrecks are easily penetrable, while others requires extra training and specialities. Most of us were on Nitrox ( custom mix ) to maximise bottom times without hitting the decompression limits and dives were mostly in the 45 or so minutes. Safety stops are required for all dives and the dive boat also hangs a tank with 3 regulators at 5 metres for those folks running low on their air. Although there were no big fish encounters, the amount of small stuff made up for that. There were too many to spot and name. On some of the dives, there were lots of jellyfishes near the surface and getting oneself to the boat was quite a challenge. Slight currents were encountered on some of the dives but they were fairly manageable. Dives starts at the mooring ropes and ends there too. As long as one pays attention to their bearings and direction in relation to the wrecks when diving, it is quite easy to get back to the ropes and commence the ascents for the safety stops. Most of the wrecks are far too big to done in one dive, we mostly did half or two thirds of the whole length of the wrecks........there are simply too much things too see. On some of the bigger wrecks, going over to the sides changes the wreck dive to a wall diving-like experience, diving on the decks is very much like diving at a regular sea bottom due to the vast size of the wrecks.
We also did a crazy dive on the Barracuda Lake. Crazy because we had to put on the gear, secure the fins on the first stage and start climbing sheer, near vertical limestone outcrops for about 15 minutes to get to the lake. The climb was real fun but taxing for some, but the boat crews were on hand to give a helping hand ( for about 50 pesos ) for those not keen on gearing up and climbing. The lake it self is quite big and the water was very clear. The top bit of the lake was fresh water and at about 18 metres or so, there was a visible thermocline and it was then saltwater with temperatures of about 40 degrees celsius ( hot, hot, hot ). The bottom is mainly decomposing matter that have settled throughout the years. We did see the lone Barracuda at the start of the dive. The underwater seascape is very surreal, very much like a moonscape.......eerie. The different water temperature and type of water made the dive a fun one. One thing though, bouyancy was out for most of us due to the fresh water, people were descending like a rock. This is one dive people should not miss when they are in Coron. Although there was nothing much in terms of marine life, the climb, the fresh and salt water combination and the varying temperature made it a worthwhile adventure.
In conclusion, this is a real off-the-beaten-path dive destination for Singaporean and those craving for the "extra". Only those, willing to take really cold showers(most of them don't), don't mind huge geckos the size of baby crocs on the walls, mosquitos, fighting dogs at 3am, 4am wake-up calls by the resident roosters, slow food, small propeller planes rides that feels more like jeepney rides and with a sense of adventure and humour need to apply.
Posted 9th Mar '01 by "Mohamed Azhan" - firstname.lastname@example.org
. Made the Coron trip from 1st to the 6th of March '01.