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Sunday, November 20, 2011

South of Cebu Dive Log: Whaleshark Interaction in Oslob

If you are one of the many following Pinoy Big Brother Unlimited, you should know about Finding Fifi.  Fifi is an remote controlled nemo that has been missing from big brother's house.   While everyone else is curious about Finding Fifi, I was preoccupied finding butanding.

I have a never ending affair with whalesharks. I don't know what's up with these gentle giants, but they just simply amaze me.

A few weeks ago, I spent four days out at sea, in Leyte in search of whaleshark, seen none but instead saw pilot whales, dolphins, seahorses, turtlessss....  (read my Leyte Dive Log).  Sometime last year, we also ventured in Pescador Island, Moalboal, Cebu to see thresher sharks feasting on sardines, some divers in the group were too lucky to also chance upon a whaleshark and caught it on video.  A few years ago, I had an awesome experience snorkling with whalesharks (butanding) in Donsol, Sorsogon.  Took me three attempts to see eight, and I was able to compile an extensive guide to whaleshark interaction in Donsol, Sorsogon.

This time, news broke amongst the diver community that there have been whaleshark sightings in the south of Cebu.   My dive peers went ahead immediately after our Leyte trip, while I was recuperating from an ear infection.  The following weekend, I had to gather my family and some friends to join me on an early morning two and half hour drive down south of the city.

We left at 4:30 in the morning, passed along General Maxilom Avenue and found party people still up and about while we are awake for a new day.  Two hours later we arrived at our jump off point, just in time for the seven o' clock feeding time.  The owner gave us a short briefing.  We were told that these whalesharks are actually resident whalesharks and the local fishermen have been feeding them for the past two years.  (But the fishermen says it's just for the past 6 months.)  These spotters (local fishermen) look for it and pour food (as bait) so it follows them nearer to the shore.
paddle boats

While us divers, swam out from the shore, non-divers were escorted to take the small banka (paddle boats).  These banka are small and could hardly carry one passenger, no safetly facility like life vest is available.  In a separate occasion, my friend's paddle boat sank.
snorkling with whalesharks

It took longer for me to gear up with shore entry than finding myself in the midst of a baby whaleshark.  Just two minutes into the dive, the whaleshark was just there, unmidful of the banka and people around.  On the surface, the fishermen were feeding it with some shrimps and krill - that kept it on the surface for a long time. 
The local fishermen allowed people to touch it.  Kids aged 5, 7 and 8 were able to pet it from the banka without having to get wet.  I dove around it for an hour, without needing to chase it.  The waters are crystal clear, one can actually admire it from a distance.  In previous days, there are have been sightings of up to three whalesharks, but this time, seas were kinda rough and makes it harder for the spotter to look for them.
feeding them shrimps

There is no existing ordinance to protect these gentle giants in the area.  The locals are neither educated how to protect these.  The fishermen themselves allow tourists to touch them.  The locals are definitely not ready to accept the influx of tourists.  I fear that doing this commercially at this time might harm these gentle giants.  Nevertheless, it's a joy to know that they are here.
  • Leave the city by 4am to get there before 7am.
    1. Take the public bus going to Oslob at the South Bus Terminal.  Advise the driver to drop you off at the Barangay Hall in Tan-awan. It's about a 3-hour ride from the city.
    2. By private car, drive down south of Cebu, passing through South Reclamation Project,  the towns of San Fernando, Carcar, Argao, Alcoy, Boljoon  until you find yourself 125 kms from city center, 2 and half hours later.  There is a marker by the road side.
  •  Look for a blue gate with the 'Whale Shark Watching' sign just beside the road.  Since it has become popular, there are quite a number of people on the road inviting you entry to their respective resorts, thus you won't miss the area.
    • You can contact Jr at +639235688401  to reserve a boat.

      Do interact responsibly.  Keep a safe distance and don't touch these gentle giants.  I hope government officials will seriously take part in the preservation of these gentle giants.
      from bottom up

      Post Trip Accounting:

      P100/pax Spotter fee
      P100/pax Boat rental
      P75/pax Resort fee

      P2000/2dives Diving fee, all inclusive of guide and tank

      As there are no decent place we can purchase food in the area, we brought our own food.

      P3800 whole Cang's lechon

      Note:  new rates as of April 2012:
      Snorkeling: Local- P500/ Foreigner- P1000 (inclusive of boat and guide)
      Scuba Diving (per dive): Local P600/ Foreigner-P1500 (shore entry, exclusive of dive master, gears and tank)

      Tuesday, November 15, 2011

      Leyte Dive Log

      It has been a year since I last had a good dive, that was an out of this world encounter with thresher sharks at Moalboal, Cebu. This time, I got an invite from Aquadive Inc, to go on a south safari to Leyte, in anticipation of diving with whalesharks. With the president's short notice to declare a long holiday, I was lucky to still be able to confirm.

      Aboard an outrigger boat, fourteen of us left Mactan, Cebu at 630am. The group was composed of a handful of nationalities, there are Filipinos, German, Australian, French, South American, Indian, American... When breakfast was served, cultural differences was obvious. Filipinos feasted on rice, sardines and chorizo; while the rest opted for sandwiches, carrot sticks and chips and dip.

      On a good weather day, the sea was practically calm, it turned a little rough in the open seas around Leyte. Five hours later, we reached the seas of Leyte.
      Dive 60, 61 Limasawa Island. 69ft 59mins, 79ft 51mins

      rich soft and hard corals
      Dive 62, 63 Nahpantaw Island 89ft 42mins, 89ft 49mins

      up and down current: turtle overload
      Dive 64 Pintuyan Island 71ft 52 mins

      spotters, the group had to pay P5,000 but no whaleshark in sight :(
      Dive 65 Max climax 79ft 63mins

      Dive 66 Binit 89ft 54mins
      pretty in pink: nudi

      spot the pygmy seahorse
       Dive 67 Padre Burgos Pier 27ft 74mins
      night dive: stargazer
      night dive: seahorse
      lovely calm day with our boat
       Kuting Reef

      We checked-in in Kuting Reef for three nights.  Kuting Reef is said to be one of the best in the island.  It is hours away from town.  The ambience was good, the room size was generous, but the walls are thin, I can hear our neighbors talk and the strokes of a massage.  Food is average but takes hours to prepare.  Like anywhere in the province, you ought to order a meal in advance.

      For three days, I did eight dives, missed out on three dives.  It was a disappointment not to find any whalesharks, instead, saw pilot whales (sorry no evidence), dolphins, stargazer, seahorse, pygmy seahorse, candy crab, frog fish, pygmy frog fish, turtlesssss, tuna, jacks, bump head parrot fish, porcelain crab, squat shrimps, cuttle fish, barracuda, stargazer...  oh it was not so bad afterall.

      Thursday, November 10, 2011

      Mactan Cebu: Gilutongan Fish and Olango Bird Sanctuary

      It's not so bad after being grounded in Cebu.  Nine of us was determined to get stoked one Sunday, the wanderlass was determined to go somewhere, anywhere! 

      With last minute arrangements the night before, we hired an outrigger boat through Aquadive Inc. since their own boat wasn't available, the owner helped us find another one, "Super Lucy", it was big enough to comfortably fit like 30 people.  It was a good deal for P6,500 in comparison to other smaller boats.  I could feel the monsoon wind that day, true enough, the sea was rough but Super Lucy was big enough to brave it and keep us safe.
      aboard Super Luci with fashion blogger thirstythought

      Gilutongan Fish Sanctuary

      Our first stop was Gilutongan Island.  Gilutongan is a fish sanctuary.  Entrance fees is pegged at P100 per person for snorklers and non snorklers.

      Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary

      This trip was meant to see the bird sanctuary in Olango Island.  It has been years since I last went there but didn't see anything.  So we thought of revisiting it.  November is said to best time to visit Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary, and it must be timed at least two hours before high tide.  The bird sanctuary doesn't appear like what I imagined, where birds fly in flocks.  When they get there, the birds are scattered around the vast sanctuary, feeding themselves, making their stop over from the winter months on the other side of the globe.  You would need binoculars to see most of them.

      How to get there:

      With an outrigger boat, depart the mainland of Mactan Island to Sta. Rosa Port Terminal, Olango Island.  P1 per person terminal fee plus P64 docking fee is charged by the Cebu Port Authority.  From the terminal, take a tricycle to Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary.  After haggling with opportunist tricycle drivers, we paid P250 for 4 pax, roundtrip.  We know we can haggle it much less than that but my bargaining skills wasn't that good.  The tricycle waited for us, for our return trip.

      P20 Olango Wildlife Sanctuary Entrance Fee
      P10 Birdwatching Guide Fee
      P10 Non Professional Camera
      telescope is provided by the guide

      spot the bird from afar

      zoomed in!  check out these endanged chinese egret

      fees, fees, fees... i don't mind paying as long as they issue receipts!

      Sunday, November 6, 2011

      Shopping in Seoul, South Korea


      Budget Shopping: Namdaemun Market (Great South Gate)

      Map DataMap data ©2011 SK M&C - Terms of Use

      Map Data
      Map data ©2011 SK M&C
      • Address
        • Myeong-dong next to Hoehyeon station
      • Transport
        • line 4 to Hoehyeon, Exit 5
      • Website
      • Phone
        • tel, info: 02 2128 7800
      • Hours
        • hours vary depending on stall/shop; some are 24hr
      You could spend all day in this awesome night-and-day market and not see it at all. Each section has hundreds of stalls. The market specialises in cheaper-range clothing and accessories for all ages and styles, but you can find anything under the sun here – from food and flowers to spectacles and seaweed. The seaweed may be natural or factory-made, and these days can be flavoured with wasabi, kimchi, green tea or even chocolate. Different sections of the market have different opening hours – wholesalers are open all night and many shops open on Sunday. Alpha has two floors of toys and two floors of stationery. Samho has a jaw-dropping amount of fashion jewellery spread over two shopping sections, with some of it made on the premises. Mesa Family Fashion Mall, the market’s first high-rise mall, has over 1000 shops on 16 floors. For food, Noodle Alley has a dozen stalls selling sujebi (dough and shellfish soup), homemade kalguksu noodles and bibimbap (mixed rice, meat and vegetables) for around W4000. Restaurant Alley has a huge range of Korean food – all with plastic replicas outside to make choosing easy. A very popular wangmandu stall sells these large dumplings freshly made at a bargain price, while a little further on Jungang Jokbal sells great-tasting pork hocks (a W15,000 plateful is heaps for two people). It comes with vegetable soup, lettuce wraps, a salad and side dishes.

      In complete contrast to the raucous hustle and bustle of the market, wrap yourself in luxury inside Shinsegae Department Store. Down in the basement is the opulent supermarket (the cakes are works of art) with one food court, while another is up on the 11th floor together with Starbucks and a garden with seats to relax in after footslogging around the market below. In the Hoehyeon underground arcade, shops selling secondhand LPs, CDs, cameras, stamps and coins are mixed in with boutiques, money-changers and shops selling bargain spectacles.

      Mid-Scale Shopping: Dongdaemun Market (Great East Gate)

      Dongdaemun Market
      Map DataMap data ©2011 SK M&C - Terms of Use

      Map Data
      Map data ©2011 SK M&C
      • Address

      • Transport
        • line 1 or 4 to Dongdaemun, Exit 5 or 7, or line 2, 4 or 5 to Dongdaemun Stadium, Exit 1
      • Phone
        • tel, info: 02 2261 2192
      Where to begin in this colossal market? Many shoppers start at Doota Mall, a leading fashion icon full to the brim with domestic brands. Besides floors dedicated to adult clothing, it has a floor of accessory shops, a bag and shoes floor, a children’s floor, a brand-name floor and a food-court floor. Migliore Mall is another fashion mall next door. Others in this area also have cinemas and saunas. The multistorey Dongdaemun Shopping Complex has an unbelievable range of fabrics and trimmings of every conceivable kind. Other parts of the market specialise in shoes, pets (some are shockingly overcrowded in their cages) and street stalls. Soccer shirts are in the Euljiro underground arcade. The other market buildings sell all types of clothing and accessories, both retail and wholesale. Some shops have prices, but many don’t, so bargaining is the name of the game. Russian and Central Asian companies import clothing from Dongdaemun Market and have offices and restaurants nearby.

      Mid to High-end Shopping: Myeongdong

      Myeongdong is all about shopping! From the towering super stores of Migliore, Lotte Department Store, Avatar and High Harriet to the cozy, mom-and-pop shops lining the sidestreets, Myeong-dong has something for everyone. Whether the search is for accessories, athletic wear, shoes, boots or a number of other mid-to-high priced items, you’ll find it all here. With the main streets boasting larger, well-known stores, many of the better bargains are to be found at some of the discount stores that require a little walking to get to. All this selection of styles and sizes, coupled with the freedom of strolling in the open-air make Myeong-dong a shopping destination not to be missed and an adventure sure to be remembered.

      Located in the center of the city with streets sprouting up new stores at an alarming rate, shopping is very convenient. Everything is within walking distance and there is an endless list of restaurants and cafes for hungry shoppers to escape to for a break.

      Indeed, Seoul has many other shopping districts for visitors, namely, Insa-dong, Namdaemun and Dongdaemun. But whereas Namdaemun and Dongdaemun offer a large selection of discount outlets selling products at low prices, one will be hard-pressed to find the kind of variety that exists in Myeong-dong. Insa-dong is more of a traditional area, full of historic significance, galleries and higher end antique shops catering to visitors looking to come away with wooden carvings, traditional tea sets, or beautiful artwork from local artists.

      If it’s variety that you’re after, there’s no better place to shop than Myeong-dong where you’ll find everything from internationally-recognized name brands to unique items with lots of personality. Keep reading for a newcomer’s guide to the Myeong-dong shopping district.
      International Brands at Myeong-dong
      There are numerous globally-recognized clothing brands to be found in the area—everything from athletic wear to casual and formal apparel. Prices here are mid-range, a little higher than some of the lesser-known shops.
      Those in the market for trendy athletic wear should head straight to Puma. The Myeong-dong location is impressive, boasting a large layout and a wide selection of the company’s product line. You’ll find everything from gym bags and track suits to footwear and jackets.
      Tel: +82-2-777-3350
      Store Hours: 11am - 9:30pm
      Address: Seoul –si, Jung-gu, Chungmuro 2-ga, 66-19 (Myeongdong Station, Subway Line 4, Exit 7)
       American Apparel 
      Another brand that has remained rather popular in Korea is American Apparel. The clothing line focuses primarily on comfort and practicality and is a good fit for those with slightly more conservative tastes. Products are known for their good quality and are also popular among those who enjoy working out.
      Tel: +82-2-779-2660
      Store Hours: 11am - 10pm
      Address: Seoul –si, Jung-gu, Myeongdong 2-ga, 52-8 (Myeongdong Station, Subway Line 4, Exit 6)
      Although GAP doesn’t need much of an introduction given its far-reaching global appeal, this particular location is special because it was the first GAP store ever introduced in Korea. Although prices here are a little more expensive than, say, Giordano, the quality is exceptionally good and the clothing line is very diverse. Shoppers will find everything from casual wear to formal wear. The store is a favorite for those looking for bigger clothing sizes.
      Tel: +82-2-778-3600
      Store Hours: 11am - 10pm
      Address: Seoul –si, Jung-gu, Chungmuro 1-ga, 24-4 (Myeongdong Station, Subway Line 4, Exit 6) Website:
      At Myeongdong, there is a famous Spanish SPA (Specialty store retailer of Private label Apparel) call ‘ZARA.’ Just like any other SPA brand, ZARA provides a wide selection of items at affordable prices; new products are stocked twice a week. Prices are around 110%~120% of what you would pay in Europe, but the brand offers slightly larger sizes and a wide array of product lines that range from basic and conservative to vivid and trendy.
      Store Hours: Lotte Young Plaza: 11:30 - 21:30 / Noon Square: 11:00 - 22:00
      Address: Lotte Young Plaza: 7-minute walk from Euljiro 1-ga Station (Subway Line 2) Exit 7
      Noon Square: 5-minute walk from Euljiro 1-ga Station (Subway Line 2) Exit 6
      The first local flagship store of H&M, a famous Swedish SPA brand, the 4-story building (2600㎡) in Myeong-dong has become an incredibly popular shopping spot for internationals and Koreans alike. The 1st and 2nd floors offer a plethora of women’s clothing, the 3rd floor is exclusively for menswear, and the 4th floor is dedicated to infants’ and children’s apparel. Befitting its reputation as a quick-cycling brand, H&M introduces new lines of products every week. The brand collaborates with famous designers such as Sonia Rykiel to add to its products’ artistic and luxurious vibe.
      Store Hours: 11:00 - 22:00 / Open all year round
      Address: 5-minute walk from Euljiro Ipgu Station (Subway Line) Exit 6
      Myeong-dong Department Stores & Discount Outlets
      Towering high above the streets below are several large department stores that sell everything from discounted items (Migliore and Hi Harriet) to tax-free and luxury brand products (Lotte’s flagship Department Store and Avenuel).
       Lotte Department Store & Avenuel 
      Lotte’s flagship Department Store is situated snugly in Myeong-dong. Aside from boasting all the global luxury brand names, one can also find several duty free shops here as well. Avenuel is similar in nature and carries a fine selection of upper-end, higher priced items.
      Tel: +82-2-771-2500
      Store Hours: 11am - 10pm
      Address: Directly connected to Euljiro-1ga Subway Station (Subway Line 2)
       Migliore & Noon Square 
      Both Migliore and Noon Square are huge discount outlets where shoppers can find numerous styles of clothing at bargain prices. The outlets have everything from accessories to boots and shoes.
      Tel: +82-2-2124-0001
      Store Hours: 11am - 11:30pm / Closed on Mondays
      Address: Directly outside Myeongdong Station (Subway Line 4) Exit 5

       Noon Square  
      As an iconic landmark of Myeongdong, Noon Square is a one-stop shopping center full of fashion, food, and entertainment. The center houses the H&M flagship store as well as the famous Spanish brand shops ZARA and Mango. Here, a wide variety of brands, both local and international, are available at affordable prices.
      Store Hours: 11:00 - 22:00/ Open all year round
      Address: 5-minute walk from Euljiro Ipgu Station (Subway Line 2) Exit 6
      Street Vendors
      Dotting the dozens of sidestreets are countless individual vendors selling virtually everything. Some bargaining may be done here making prices along these walkways the lowest in the area. Anyone wishing to grab the best deals or simply experience the traditional market scene should definitely check it out. Purses, cell phone accessories, scarves, hats, and shoes are just some of the things you will find as you stroll around. Be sure to keep in mind that items purchased at blowout or discount sales are often non-returnable and non-refundable.
      Smaller Shops
      Part of the fun of shopping in Myeong-dong is venturing out to look at all the little shops that are scattered throughout the many sidestreets. One should definitely walk along these lesser known areas to find the best deals and most unique purchases.
      Shopping Tips
      ● Tourist Information Centers in Myeong-dong
      There are two tourist information centers in Myeong-dong. The first can be found just outside the entrance to Myeong-dong’s underground shopping center, directly across from the Lotte Department Store. The second is a short 500 meters away along one of Myeong-dong’s main shopping streets (Jungangno). Both locations supply maps and various information regarding events and sites in and around Seoul.