Tubattaha

Saturday 31 March 2018

I’ve been to the Philippines a couple of times. And never really enjoyed it. The food was always pretty bad (just fried stuff). Travelling about was a big hassle. And staying in places was expensive (poor value!). So I’ve surprised myself that I’m visiting again. But I’m not really visiting. More just passing through to go to a reef!

Despite a late night, I was up early. Breakfast at the hotel wasn’t too exciting – there was a huge queue. And it was packed. I had some fruit. No other options!

The hotel is walking distance to Terminal 3 – which is where I needed to be.

Check in was easy. Not too much of a queue. And I was through scanning very quickly. This terminal is much less chaotic than I remember it being 5 years ago when I was last here.

My flight was at 11am. But we were running a bit late – queue of planes to get onto the runway.

It was about an hour and 20minutes down to Puerto Princesa, on Palawan island. Great views of the reef, when we were coming in to land just over the water.

I’ve been here before – I travelled all down Palawan. So not staying this time. Just the place to get on the boat to go to Tubbataha reef.

As we weren’t allowed to join the boat until after 3pm, I was taken to a hotel in the city and left for a few hours. It wasn’t very exciting. The restaurant didn’t serve vegan food. And I was hungry. So I sat and edited photos / browsed the internet for a couple of hours.

The van was back at 3pm for the short drive down to the port.

There are 16 guests on the boat for the week. They all seem nice, but mostly significantly older than me.

We started sailing about 6.30pm, just as the sunset had gone down. It’s around an 11 hour sail to Tubbataha reef national park, in the Sulu Sea.

We had dinner shortly after wards. And they had made me a special meal – lots of broccoli, carrots and tomato pasta. I hope the food continues like this!

Sunday 1 April 2018

We arrived at the reef around 5am. But weren’t woken until 6am.

We spent a while filling out paperwork. Could have done this last night and had a lie in!

We are at Jessie Beasley reef. An atoll, with 5km drop all around the edge. The top was around 9m. And walls dropped off all around.

The first dive had a strong up current and was rather annoying to swim against. But we saw loads. The whole water was full of fish. So many schools; Barracuda, butterfly fish, unicorn fish, jack fish, rainbow runner and many more. There were some large tuna swimming around. Probably the largest I’ve ever seen. And a lot of sharks – a very small grey reef, some other grey reefs and white tips hanging around on the ground.

It was rather disappointing that most of the group ran out of air after about 20 minutes. Ridiculous. And I wasn’t allowed to stay down. So that was short.

We had breakfast back on the boat. They had cooked special food for me again – potato, tomato and papaya. Was good.

Next dive, at 10am. Back at the same reef, but much less current. All the same things still hanging around. Plus a small whale shark headed over the top of us! It was around 10m and we were at 25m, so couldn’t get up to it fast enough. How cute!

Lunch was at 12pm. And they had cooked a plate of vegetables with tofu for me, in a ginger soy sauce. It was so delicious.

After lunch, more diving. Again, the same spot. And again – a whale shark! But just beneath us this time. It was around 30m and we were just shallower.

After coming up, we started sailing down towards the north atoll.

Here, we were doing a night dive on the Malayan wreck. The current was strong. So we didn’t stay at the wreck. Instead we drifted along a shallow reef. Lots of large bumphead parrot fish hiding under rocks. They weren’t together in a school, just alone, but all over the place. I also got a cool picture of a crinoid shrimp on a feather star.

Dinner was late – it was nearly 9pm by the time we were done with the night dive. Again I had special food. And again, it was delicious.

Then an early bed time.

Monday 2 April 2018

This morning we woke up on the South Atoll. At 5am. And I didn’t want to get up.

The first dive was at 5.45am on Delson wreck (although we didn’t see the wreck as it was deep, at 60m) but it was really cool. Lots of things going on. Many grey reef sharks. And schools of fish. Then a large shark I hadn’t seen before – a silver tip! Shortly followed by another one. The whole group had already surfaced, but I was left with one other guy, and both the silver tips came up onto the reef. They were circling around beneath us. Very cool.

We were moored up right next to the atoll. It was really pretty. All colours of blue. A small island nearby, with a lighthouse on top.

After breakfast, the second dive was at 9.30am. A few people had requested a 40m blue dive. I’m not a massive fan, but didn’t really have a choice.

Blue didn’t really mean too much blue. We were only a bit away from the reef. But the people who had requested it didn’t even go. They were faffing around miles above. There wasn’t too much going on. Didn’t see anything out in the blue.

Lunch, at 11.30am (!) was good – pesto pasta and vegetables for me. As we were eating lunch, there were a lot of turtles coming up to the surface to breathe.

The third dive was just along the atoll, a nice sandy patchy reef. We saw a squat lobster, hidden in a feather star. I’m a big fan of the small things!

For the last dive of the day, we were near the lighthouse and we did a sunset dive. So it was still light the whole time. We left at 5pm. There were lots of green turtles – and some mating! I’ve seen that before. They swirl around in the water together. And a squat lobster again!

Tuesday 3 April 2018

Another early morning. Up at 5am. Diving at 5.45am. This time, a bit further around the south atoll.

The first dive wasn’t very exciting. A wall. Not much happening. And a cleaning station. Nothing happening. The only cool thing was that we had made it back to the big boat, so surfaced underneath at the back.

Second dive. So cool. A Pygmy seahorse in front. And a manta just swimming behind. Shame I had the wide lens, so couldn’t get a good photo of the Pygmy. So many schools of fish also.

Lunch is early here! 11.30am!

So ready to dive again at 1.30pm. Which was good. Back on the same reef. More similar things again.

For the evening, we weren’t going diving again. Instead, we were at the ranger station, on the north atoll.

This was just a sand bar, with one small building. We had to go and sign in. And they were selling t shirts. The crew set up a small seating area on the beach, where we could watch the sunset, then have dinner.

They had been making a barbecue. But of course had made special food for me! Skewered vegetables and a jacket potato. Was good.

They had also set up a screen and a projector. So we watched some videos and an episode of blue planet (obviously)!

It was around 8.30pm when we headed back to the boat. We had to walk through a lot of shallow water and stumble over rocks to be able to get to the boat – as the small boats couldn’t pick us up directly at the beach.

And of course, a nice early bed time.

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Another 5am morning. But now we’re on the north atoll. And well into the routine of dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat.

The wall was really pretty – full of sea fans. I was busy taking a photo of a marble ray and hadn’t noticed that the group had been swept away in a current which suddenly picked up. So when I looked around, there was no one left except the guy who was my buddy. We swept along in the current for a while, but it was going very fast. So we came up. As did all the rest of the group, which by then was in 4 parts! Luckily the small boat drivers are really good – they watch the currents and largely anticipate where they expect you to be.

The second dive was at a similar area. We seem to be making a habit of going out into the blue. But never really seeing anything different. A lot of very large tuna always around. Similar in size to the sharks. And there were a lot of sharks here – towards the end on the edge of the reef, I could see over 10 white tips.

Lunch was good – a plate of vegetables!

Then a bit of a sail further around the north atoll.

Next dive was at 2pm. There wasn’t much going on on the wall that we were on. No schools of fish. But we did see a cool T-bar nudibranch. And another Pygmy seahorse!

And night dive at 6pm. Back again at the Dalson wreck we did a few nights ago. But tonight there was no current, so it was much easier to look around and find things. I found a robust – my favoured fish – so was very happy. The guide also found me some skeleton shrimps, which I didnt think I had seen before (but they are actually everywhere). But by then the current had picked up and my photo wasn’t good. The thin plant that they live on moves a lot in the current.

For dinner I had a plate of spaghetti, with olives and tomatoes. It was a bit boring, but I was hungry!

Thursday 5 April 2018

Last day of diving already. The week has flown by.

A slight lie in today. Diving at 6am. But I was still awake by 5am.

The plan for this dive was for everyone to stick together. Go to 40m into the blue. And look for hammerheads. And turn off strobes.

If only the French team were listening.

We did see a hammerhead though. So that was cool. It came very close, at a similar depth. Then back around us, much higher. My photos didn’t work at 40m, with no strobe. Just a blur. So only got a silhouette picture.

I had a plate of vegetables for breakfast – ocra, tomatoes and aubergine.

Then off again. Back to the same dive site. But intending on staying on the wall. And not into the blue. Despite that, we did drift off a little into the blue when we spotted the hammerhead again – but this time only for a few seconds. Most of the group had given up diving by now, so there was only about 5 of us. So cool.

Nice early lunch. Breaded tofu with vegetables.

And then off at 1.30pm for the 18th and final dive of the trip.

What a way to end – 2 whale sharks (although could have been the same one twice). The first was much higher than me, so again only a silhouette photo. But a few minute later, one at 30m, similar depth to us. And I managed to get right in front of it. My photos weren’t great – bit too much back scatter – and hard to get good light at 30m. But it was cool.

As only a few of us were diving, the rest of the boat were incredibly jealous.

What an awesome day.

At 3pm, we started the 12 hour sail back to Puerto Princesa.

Friday 6 April 2018

Despite being allowed a lie in until 7am, I was still up at 5am.

Well, really, I woke at 3am as the engines turned off and we arrived back into Puerto Princesa.

Everyone was leaving at different times today. As the first group were off at 7.30am, we all had to be ready for a group photo. We really could have done this on any other previous day!

Then a few last things – paying bills (park fees and nitrox). And breakfast.

I left at 10.30am, so had a while to laze around.

The airport was close by. The terminal is brand new. So much nicer and pleasant to sit for a few hours waiting for my 1pm flight. (Last time I was here, the airport was the old terminal, which was tiny).

Back in Manila. Through immigration and a few hours to wait until my next flight. I had hoped to buy some food – it was 3pm and I am used to an 11.30am lunch time!! But there was no vegetarian food to be found. I thought I was safe with a bread roll. But it was filled with hidden cream cheese. Annoying.

So dried mango it is.

Next plane was at 5.30pm, to Hong Kong. But we didn’t leave until gone 6.30pm. Always seems to be delays through Manila – every single time, waiting in plane queues.

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