Are you an individual or a group/club of divers who enjoy one-of-a-kind diving adventures? If so, try “Remote Diving”. I have written this article to share my experiences and to give you an idea of what it involves.
I started a plan to dive the remote coastal barangay, or village, of San Vicente, Jabonga, Agusan del Norte, Philippines in April, which can be reached from Butuan City. Butuan is the place to stay to arrange diving logistics, supplies and transportation and there are a few options available to reach the dive site:
- Divers can visit the Provincial Tourism Office in Butuan to discuss diving plans and ask for transportation support if there is a vehicle and driver available. The divers pay for the fuel and food needed by the driver, as the driver stays for the duration of the diving activities. Divers can also rent scuba cylinders from the tourism office.
- Divers can rent their equipment from the local dive shop JJ Dive Shop in Butuan. The dive shop should be contacted ahead of the trip to ensure equipment is available and they will also assist divers with transportation needs.
- For divers looking for more comfort and ease, all dive logistics can be arranged easily with Punta Bilar Dive Center located at Surigao City.
My friends and I decided to use public transport from the dive shop and our journey involved a tricycle ride with our equipment, a bus to Cabadbaran City and then a jeepney to Molobolo, San Vicente. It took 3-4 hours to get from Cabadbaran to Molobolo and the single trip per day departs around 8am.
After we arrived we went to Baranggay Hall to meet the head of the local authority, known as “Baranggay Captain”, and set up our camp along the shore. We could see the Bito Wall dive site some 50m away and arranged a boat ride from a local fisherman for the next day of diving. We watched the sunset as we prepared dinner; enjoying the solitude of the place and star gazing until we fell asleep. We woke up early, around 5:00 am, prepared our breakfast and noticed it was very good weather. The dawn was beautiful.
After our breakfast, around 7:00 am, the boat arrived and we loaded our diving equipment. We hired the boat from local fishermen for 300 php per day and with 100 php for the fuel.
I felt nervous heading toward the dive site but also excited to see and discover the treasure of “Bito Wall”! It is known for its deep wall drop off, corals, pelagic fish and clear visibility, according to the local fisherman and scuba divers who visited the area.
We arrived at around 7:15 am, the weather was very nice and the sea surface was almost flat. The water was so clear, we could see the beautiful corals below and spotted a giant grouper fish hunting for prey along the coral ledge wall.
We briefed a dive plan before our entry: We would dive to a maximum depth of fifteen meters, with a maximum bottom time of thirty minutes, and scout along the corals ledge of the wall. We would then complete a safety stop and inform the boat captain of our exit point.
The moment came to gear up, complete our buddy check, enter the water, complete another buddy check and set a bearing of the direction towards our exit point. We set the time and I signalled our descent. As we descended, I saw different corals and formations, including brain corals and sponges. The visibility was around twenty meters, we drifted along the coral ledge and I enjoyed the scenery of coral and different fish species. I occasionally saw some very shy giant groupers from a distance. They disappeared when they felt our presence, as we dove down to fifteen meters and maintained our depth along the wall. It was one of my all-time favourite underwater geological formations.
At around twenty minutes into our bottom time, I signalled my buddy to ascend slowly and maintain hovering at thirteen meters’ depth while we continued forward. I felt a current slowly pick up, pushing us forward, which give us the advantage of minimal finning effort. Suddenly our bottom time was completed, so I signalled my concern to my buddy.
My buddy stopped and gave me a ‘scary eyes’ signal that something dangerous was ahead of me. When I checked it out I was surprised to see a white spotted, giant fish. Instantly I recognized it was a whale shark!! I quickly signalled ok to my buddy, as the whale shark was moving forward again in our direction. I felt such amazement at the swimming giant and my adrenaline was pumping whilst trying to maintain a hover.
I kept saying to myself ‘I have seen and witnessed the treasure of the Bito Wall!’
I was so blessed and lucky to have my first encounter of a whale shark and on my birthday! What a gift!
After the whale shark said his/her greeting to me, it disappeared from our sight. With a big smile, I signalled to my buddy to ascend to the top of the wall. We stopped for a moment to absorb the experience ourselves whilst checking the pressure gauges. With ninety bar remaining and at nine meters’ depth, we had enough air to try and find another subject on the reef. We looked carefully at every coral. When my gauge dropped to 80 bar I saw two nudibranchs and my buddy found three nudibranchs. I also saw some gobies hiding behind the coral and anemone shrimps.
Whilst completing our safety stop, I looked around for our boat but saw no sign of it. When the safety stop was complete, we ascended towards three meters’ depth whilst I purged my octopus air bubbles on the surface so our boat captain could spot us. Thankfully I saw the shadow of the boat rowing toward us a minute later. The moment we surfaced I saw our boat captain smile and ask what we had found. We answered immediately that we had seen a “tikitiki” or whale shark. Once aboard, we returned to our camp site.
So much had happened and yet we had ended our dive at 8:30 am. As we arrived at our camp site and unloaded our scuba equipment, I told the boat captain that our second dive would be at 12:00 noon. It was a good dive with similar visibility and a stronger current than the first dive. Our dive objective was scouting for macro life and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Our dives were complete by 1:45 pm.
After our dives that day I continued to enjoy the area; watching boats arrive at shore from their fishing trips, viewing the sunset and listening to the sound of gentle waves washing the shore. The solitude of the place brought joy to my soul.