Wakatobi: Snorkelling

We don’t normally snorkel on dive trips, mainly because we’re too tired from the diving and packing up the gear at the end of a trip that it’s not always worth our while. Unsurprisingly, Wakatobi was different. The house reef is really quite something, especially when just standing at the jetty you can see plenty of life. We saw crabs and even an octopus one day. Too bad we couldn’t get to the camera in time. This peppered moray eel, on the other hand, came out often enough for us to get a good shot! Imagine what the snorkelling is like if it’s like this just from the jetty!

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Snorkelling was much less cumbersome than diving. We simply walked into the water from the beach in our booties, with mask, snorkel and fins in hand. When it got deep enough, we slipped on the fins and mask then kicked off. The house reef was full of coral just a few metres away from the sandy beach area. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t much different-looking in landscape than when diving. It was wonderful to see the deep blue of the water even so close to shore.

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What was more astounding was the sighting of a banded sea snake so close to shore. I always thought they were too shy to go close to shore. Maybe it was desperate for air because it shot straight up to the surface. Luckily I managed to take a quick snap before it disappeared.

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It is much harder to take photos while snorkelling. Even though we weren’t in our wetsuits, it was tough to stay down. Some people snorkel with weights, even. Photos have to be taken quickly and accurately, like how DC got this shot of a honeycomb grouper.

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Either that or you’ll end up with strange compositions, like this with the same group partially hidden in the coral rubble.

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I was also surprised to see species that I’d not seen while diving, like this slender green fish with yellow stripes. If anyone can identify it, please let me know. It could be a juvenile, considering that it’s hanging out in the seagrass. Seagrass areas are well-known to be fish nurseries.

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I was very pleased that DC managed to capture a picture of this freckled hawkfish. If you follow this blog, you’ll know that hawkfish are one of my favourites. Sadly enough, I didn’t get any good shots of hawkfish while diving and was very pleased to add this to my collection of hawkfish shots.

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There were plenty of other types of fish, but what we got were generally pictures of fish trying to get away from the sudden movements of a snorkeler, like this Picasso triggerfish…

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… or this palette surgeonfish.

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We didn’t do so well either with this spotted boxfish, but at least we can show that there really was a lot of life near the shore.

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Closer to the seagrass were plenty of fish, like this school of parrotfish…

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… and a titan triggerfish that we were glad to see swim away.

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Right by the jetty were plenty of  network pipefish that were again a pain to photograph, especially with the surge as the waves hit the jetty. DC was very patient and took enough photos so we got this shot.

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On the jetty itself, we found our good friend the peppered moray. It was lovely to end our two-hour snorkel in the small area by reciprocating a visit!

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April in The Philippines: Island Hopping Like the Swallows

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El Nido literally means “The Swallow,” in reference to the many creatures inhabiting the limestone cliffs. I read in an inflight magazine that harvesting their nests for birds nest soup is still a thriving industry. But for now, I was far more interested in the tourism side of things.

We headed out on the island hopping tour on one of those eponymous outrigger boats. The first stop was Small Lagoon, nestled within a circle of limestone cliffs. It was a popular spot…

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… especially for canoeing.

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It was accessed through a little gap in the cliffs and made for a natural sheltered swimming pool. The bottom was nothing but pure white sand and the sides of the cliffs had interesting little creatures to stare at. Freediving a few metres down, I saw a moray eel and some shyer tropical fish. In the main part of the lagoon, there were plenty of white jellyfish. These didn’t sting and it was fun holding the squidgy mass in my hands. There was also a little cave at one end of the lagoon. As I squeezed through the little entrance I saw a shaft of light lighting up the centre of the dark cave. It was beautiful.

We moved on over the clear water that ranged from deep blue to azure to green and shades of pale jade according to the depth of the water. Contrasting with the sand that was so white I had to squint at it in the sun, this was the colour sea is meant to be. I soon gave up thinking up new names for the shades of blue and sat back simply enjoying the view.

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Next up was Big Lagoon, simply a sheltered area of otherwise open sea surrounded by several limestone outcrops. It was beautiful like the rest of the lagoons in El Nido, but not particularly special as the snorkelling was marred by the dynamite holes in the coral.

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Next, we pulled up at this secluded beachlet.

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The boat was simply driven up onto the beach as the fine sand didn’t seem to be capable of doing much harm to the hull.

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Here there were many purple jellyfish, again harmless. They were quite large and often got washed up onto the beach to perish in the heat.

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While the tourists frolicked in the shallows, the boat crew busied themselves with lunch. Here they took barbecue to a fuss-free level. Back in Singapore, it normally takes at least an hour and lots of paraphernalia to get the fire started and at least another hour before there’s the hope of getting any decently cooked food at all. In El Nido, the fire was started with just a few sticks of charcoal, a dash of lighter fluid, some dry twigs taken from the beach and one match.

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Soon after the fire was started and got going, the fish was set on the grill…

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… and lunch was ready in a jiffy. I timed it: only 30 minutes! And what a delicious meal it was! Freshly grilled fish adorned with soy sauce and lime, plus cabbage salad dressed with vinegar, was such a treat on the beach.

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After lunch one of the guides took me out snorkelling. The water was amazingly clear and the coral beautiful. He brought me up to a giant white stinging jellyfish and showed me how to stroke the top without getting stung. Cute and quite fun!

Then on to Secret Lagoon, a pool of water completely surrounded by cliffs and entered by a hole at the side. It felt pretty much like a cave without a ceiling. It was quite strange that this place was dry during low tide as all the water drained out then.

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Our last stop was Seven Commandos Beach, the significance of which was lost to me. I liked the water more than the beach and ended up chatting with the boat crew most of the time there.

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They soon busied themselves with coconut leaves. Doing what, I wasn’t sure.

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But soon it was apparent. They fashioned little animals out of the coconut leaves. I got a bird…

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… a fish…

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… and a grasshopper. It was very imaginative and skillful work, fitting mementos to end the lovely day.

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April in The Philippines: Puerto Princesa

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Some members of another church in Singapore were also Michael’s supporters. Knowing that I couldn’t find a room in Puerto Princesa (it was chock full because of a regional sports meet happening at the same time), a pair of ladies very kindly let me stay with them in their hotel room. Not only that, they also shared a queen size bed and let me have the other queen all to myself! It was bliss staying in a nice starred hotel with private toilets after so long.

The next day was Sunday and I went with them to visit one of the Kagayanen churches in Puerto Princesa. Apparently a lot of Kagayanens migrated to the main island and settled in Puerto Princesa.

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We attended the service in the small church…

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… and saw the fruit of Michael’s work in the hands of the Kagayanens. It was lovely to see how happy they were to have the bible in their own mother tongue, in a language that could speak straight to their hearts.

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I also went to have a peek at the Sunday School, where all the children were smiley and happy and enthusiastic.

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Of course, they were far more enthusiastic after Sunday School let out. The lechon was a huge draw for the kids, especially when the adults were hacking it up into juicy, crispy bits.

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As with church and Filippino custom, there was a sturdy table piled with an incredible array and volume of food. The lechon was the first to go as it was everyone’s favourite. Good thing they offered us some morsels first, because after the tray left it, we simply didn’t have a second chance. The rest of the food was really good too, all home made. It was such a great way to sample local food cooked by locals! Let’s see, I had some kind of offal dish, something called kare-kare which was a dish with braised banana hearts, and the usual chicken and fish cooked in unusual ways. And we couldn’t leave till we were groaning, not the table.

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The next day, we took a trip out to Honda Bay for some snorkelling and general relaxing. It was paradise-blue, amazing.

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We had a little picnic by the beach. Some of us walked on the beach, some of us snorkelled. (It was pretty amazing, I saw some razorfish and trumpetfish.)

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And some of us just lazed like these two starfish on the beach.

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