Llantrisant Sub-Aqua Club
www.llantrisantdivers.com



Why go on dive trips? Well, firstly your destination is usually somewhere in the world where you haven't visited before, somewhere that's been featured in dive magazines complete with riveting narrative and stunning photos, somewhere where the sun shines and the water is warm and beneath the waves you can see for miles…well 20 metres at least. But there's more to it than the destination.

The beauty of going on a dedicated dive trip is that you will be diving with your mates, divers you've dived with before: you know their skill levels and their capabilities. Anybody who has used a dive centre whilst on holiday will be familiar with the uncertainty you experience when diving with strangers, when you dive with your mates you don't get that. I'd encourage any club member to come on a dive trip, the experience is far better than diving as an individual, you visit better sites, see more life and the apres-dive is something else.

I've just come back from a trip to the Philippines, a destination I probably wouldn't have considered for a holiday: it hasn't the allure of the Maldives or the glamour of the Caribbean. But according to the dive magazines the Philippines has critters you can't find elsewhere. I've read articles and seen images of some weird marine life that you can encounter whilst apparently muck diving and I don't mean struggling in 6 inches of sh.. off St. Anne's Head. I'm fast approaching my sell-by date this might be a last opportunity so when the D.O. said he was organising a trip I put my name down.

Now I must admit at the time I didn't know a lot about the Philippines, I couldn't have looked at a map of the world and pointed directly but I did some research and found out the Philippines is 8 hours in front of UK time, that Manila, the capital is a 15 hour flight from London, that the water temperature in Mindoro, our destination, is around 28C - 29C and the weather in January is usually good. When the time came I packed tee-shirts, shorts, sandals, loads of factor 30 etc and for diving, my 2.5mil wetsuit. As a precaution I threw in a dive hood and a rash vest…more about these later.

The trip was gruelling, 7 hours from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi then 8 hours to Manila. The planes were crammed full due mainly to 180 cruise ship staff members who had finished a long stint at sea and were returning home. Peter Rees, Huw Jones and me sat in a row of 3 seats, we're all big blokes so it was a bit cramped but we managed, good job we're mates. Allan Wicks and his wife Rosemary sat opposite. The others in the party were travelling from all around the globe. Leo who lives and works in Moscow met us in Abu Dhabi, Dave and Ella who met in Moscow but now live in America and Andrey who lives in Moscow but is currently working in Hong Kong would meet us in Manila. We've all dived together several times before in Egypt, the Maldives and Cocos. I was looking forward to meeting up again.

Arriving in Manila, Peter had pre- booked us all into a Hotel and when the rest of the group finally arrived we went out to eat, Andrey who has contacts worldwide phoned a friend and we ended up in a restaurant with non other than the British Deputy Ambassador to the Philippines - Steph…. Andrey and Steph are both avid Liverpool F.C. fans.

The following morning we were collected by two air conditioned mini buses and taken to the ferry port in Batangas about three hours journey from Manila. Traffic in Manila is crazy but as we left the city and joined the motorway things calmed down. The weather was overcast and soon the rain was lashing down and the wind was howling. The journey was interrupted by stops at toll-booths, there must have been ten between Manila and Bantangas. I'll never complain about the Severn Bridge again.

The ferry port was just beyond and we were met by a guide from the dive resort who supervised the loading of our cases and helped us aboard. The crossing to Mindoro took about an hour, thankfully the wind and rain had eased, the sea state was calm and I wondered how they managed in bad weather, it was a small boat with open sides…and a big bag of life-vests with a message on the side in English…must be worn at all times.

At Atlantis we were greeted by smiling Hotel staff who offered cool towels and welcome drinks. The Manager, a German guy called Marcus gave a briefing, our package included all meals and 5 dives per day. The ground floor of Atlantis is taken up by the dive centre, a restaurant, reception, a small shop and a bar.

Accommodation is carved into the hillside. I was sharing with Leo and to get to our room meant climbing 62 steps. En route you pass a neat little swimming pool, the water looked cold and I didn't see anyone use it all week.

Our room was quite large, we had a big bed (I bagged that, sorry Leo) and a single. The shower room is basic; there is a separate W.C. and a small sink. Air conditioning and a ceiling fan kept the temperature bearable. Electricity is 220 volts and you need an adaptor to convert 2 pin to 3. There is a television. with multi channels including films in English.

Leo had so many electrical gadgets it made my head spin. I couldn't believe he was working every day, communicating via I phone or laptop with his company and each night one his many gadgets would buzz or ring and he'd be connected via the web to his family. What a boy. My phone only rang once; it was a message about PPI.

The dive centre manager originates from Aberdare. Kris was anxious for news about Wales and rugby but eventually we got around to the diving.

The centre is well organised, each diver is allocated locker space and there are racks for suits boots, and bcds. Our kit would be washed and stored at the end of each day by dive centre staff: air is included in the package and nitrox is available at an extra cost of $100 for the week. Most of us used air.

For the photographers there's a room with chargers and storage for cameras. We were allocated two dive boats and two dive guides: BJ and Larry, two local boys were with us for the week and would dive up to 5 dives per day. I asked about the water temperature and was told to expect 26C or less. Not good.

Our first dive was that afternoon. We dropped into shallow water mainly to check out our kit and weights: I rolled off the boat and hit the water. It wasn't warm.

I didn't do 5 dives a day. My diving was confined to the two morning dives and a dive just after lunch. And I wore a dive hood and my rash vest beneath my wetsuit but towards the end of each dive I could feel the cold creep in. Most of the group dived at least 4 times a day, they're younger than me; they don't feel the cold.

I did do one night dive. We all wanted to see the mandarin fish which, according to the guide came out most evenings from their den in the coral to perform a mating ritual. On Thursday night 8 divers dropped into 6 metres of water and formed a circle around the spot where the mandarin fish live....

We waited….and waited. I looked at my watch, 30 minutes. I still had 180 bar of air, it was bloody freezing: my computer read 25C. Another 5 minutes and the dive guide made a gesture with his hands and in the torch light we could see that for whatever reason the mandarin fish weren't coming out to play. So we spent another 30 minutes looking around and fair play there was plenty there including some of the critters I'd seen in the dive mags.

The big plus about Atlantis is without doubt the staff. Wherever you go there's a smiling face; from the maids to the manager, from the boys who tend the garden to the bar staff, all had a friendly greeting and a smile. And away from the Hotel friendly locals selling trinkets and local foods aren't offended when you decline to buy.

In the restaurant the choice of food is good; if you don't fancy anything from the menu there's a Mongolian wok alternative and boy, didn't the team take advantage. They piled their plates with fish, chicken, pork and an assortment of noodles, pasta and veggies and chef did the business. Bliggy Peter and Leo were in their oils.

Breakfast lunch and dinner is served by smiling staff' they couldn't do enough for us. And in the aptly named 50 Bar a competent barman served iced beer in iced glasses. He also makes a mean Bacardi and Coke; ask Bliggy, he may tell you how one afternoon when the others had gone on an island trip we stayed behind and got absolutely bladdered.

All too soon it was time to go. I'd enjoyed my diving, I'd seen seahorses, big frogfish., flamboyant cuttlefish, and some beautifully marked nudibranchs. Peter has photos of porcelain crabs, shrimp, pipefish and a host of exotic critters some unique to the area.

Would I go back? Probably, I liked the Hotel, the staff and the diving. The dive guides knew where to find stuff and they were keen to show us. It's a pity the weather let us down. Kris told us it was normally around 30C in and out of the water.

The weather front that had affected much of SE Asia brought dark clouds, wind and rain which forced temperatures down but considering the devastation caused by freak weather in the south of the Philippines we were probably lucky to have dived at all.

The journey back to Manila was un-eventful; business commitments meant I had to fly back to the UK; most of the team stayed a further week. Peter has a promotional DVD given to him by Kris; I bought a DVD produced from images taken by a photographer featuring what we had seen on 2 dives, one over a reef and one on a wreck. We'll show them one club night it'll give you a sample of what's available but it's no substitute for being there. I'd encourage any member to come along, the experience is fantastic.

Phil the Post

Puerto Galera is a small town located on the northern side of Mindaro Island, just a few hours south of Manila by road and ferry. Together with the two adjacent towns, Sabang and White Beach, and the surrounding waters the whole area is often referred to as Puerto Galera and is known worldwide for fantastic diving.

There are around 40 dive sites ranging from 5 to 40 metres in depth and water temperatures are between 26 and 29 degrees Celsius the whole year round. Currents are common in the area and are sometimes strong and unpredictable so can be challenging but great for divers who are a bit more experienced and enjoy drift diving. However, there are always dives available with little or no current for beginners and those who prefer a more leisurely dive! There are also several wrecks in the area both deep and shallow so can suit all levels of diver as well as deep underwater canyons for those interested in going down the technical route.

Puerto Galera is well known for its numerous scuba diving spots; the area was designated a Man and Biosphere Reserve of UNESCO in 1973 and has some of the most diverse coral reef diving in Asia located at the very heart of the 'Coral Triangle'. The area also features numerous pocket beaches and stunning tropical scenery.

Atlantis Puerto Galera is beautifully built into the hills of Sabang Beach of Puerto Galera and has a great beachfront location; in many travel guidebooks and magazines Atlantis is quoted as one of the most outstanding resorts of the Philippines with its award winning design.

The bottom line is this is a great place for a diving holiday and with such healthy and varied reefs it is difficult to get bored, particularly for the underwater photographer.

The Underwater Gallery
photographs by Peter Rees

Watch the video: Atlantis Resort & the Web Site
Manila Hotel: City Gardens, Makati. Web Site
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