Friday, February 18, 2011

Jan Dive Trip to Mindoro "Last 2 Dives" Day 8`

22 January 2011 Saturday

Day 8

As I write this I’m so exhausted I can hardly think. We only did two dives today but they were tough ones, taking a lot of energy. And then after each dive I had my stepdaughter meet me in the water so she could continue to get acquainted with the use of the regulator as she swam along with me at my side.

So we had our last two dives of the trip today. I feel sad that the week passed so quickly but I’m exhausted now and need to go home to rest up from “my vacation.”
Recreational diving is not really physically demanding, but doing two and three dives a day along with some ancillary snorkeling can add up and take its toll it seems. I love it, especially because it’s about the only way I can get in some exercise that puts absolutely no stress on my load bearing joints, ligaments and tendons; except that is for the few seconds it takes to get in and out of the water. Luckily here though, there is a dive assistant that is ready to grab your tank or give a hand up when it’s time to stand up with 70 lbs strapped on. Ugh! Quiver!

Bonus, I believe I lost some weight too. My extremely dysfunctional sour stomach does not allow me to eat a normal breakfast or lunch without causing nausea while diving; so, my wife fixes a bowl of fruit for breakfast and between dives I have a banana and water. Aside from that I have eaten only one traditional meal every day, having it up on the veranda while watching gorgeous tropical sunsets every evening. You just can’t beat it.

Both of our dives lasted about an hour each, the first was 52 minutes, not including the snorkeling we did to put ourselves over the desired descent point way out past the pier where the drop off begins. Our second dive was just over an hour, and we also snorkeled quite a ways out first for that one as well. Again, the goal was to conserve our air for the areas we wanted to see underwater instead of using up several hundred pounds just to get there, all this because the resort still hasn’t repaired it’s dive boat motor. Ehhhhh!

A few of the more outstanding events during the two dives mostly comes from the second one. Lazily exploring a series of small sea caves all in a continuous row at about the same depth we rounded a rock and there checking out our approach was a seriously large grouper, at least I think it was a grouper. In the video it takes on a greenish hue, but for real it was brown with darker brown markings with a full round body, large eyes and fat fat lips. I turned my cam on it but only have a few fleeting seconds of it quickly retreating into its cave burrow. I tried to catch a glimpse of it in its hole but it must have a very deep one, because it was no where to be seen when we peered in using search lights. The second or two I managed to get of this big fish is at the very beginning of the following video.

The other memorable extended moment followed soon after the grouper sighting when we got to where the hill slopes up to meet the coast line several hundred meters to the east of the resort directly up the coast. The visibility wasn’t the greatest today but the sight of the rounded hillside covered with colorful swaying anemone tentacles, like a field of wheat rolling in the wind was stunning.
And then, looking up towards where the sea meets the coast, and there, 15 or 20 feet above, is the crash and swirl of waves on rocks and boulders, a unique underside view that only a scuba diver gets to see. It drowns the senses.

Watching the compilation video I just put together for this post I remember that in that last dive on our way home back up the coast we had to fight a fairly strong current all the way in. The only way we could make any headway was to stay flat on the bottom and crawl in by using rocks as handholds. If we hadn't done it that way we would have run out of air for sure. Thing is, it ripped the hell out of my gloves; looks like I'll need a new pair now.

We had bad luck with our cameras today. First, all the hundreds of photos we’ve taken on our little Cybershot were dumped when the 4 gig memory card went belly up out of the blue. The same thing happened about three years ago with the other card that I had bought on line the same time as when I bought the card that crapped out today. I should have learned my lesson and continuously downloaded my photos every evening, so as not to lose too many. Live and learn.
The other cam issue was not nearly so tragic. Don was willing to video Jen-Jen and me while we practiced our tandem scuba. The problem is that the 8 gig card was full, so no go. Jen was very disappointed, and I was too for that matter. (Turns out there was actually plenty of memory left on the card, but I had left it on after the last video clip. All I would have had to do was delete that last video, which was over 40 minutes long! No wonder the card was full up.)

We’ll be out of here before 9 am according to Don to catch the 11 am ferry for Batangas out of Calapan. May the saints of safe travel guide our winding ride home.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jan DiveTrip to Mindoro "Trumpet, Eels, Pipes & Scallops" Day 7`

21 Jan 2011, Friday
Day 7

We put in a total of well over three hours under the waves today. For the first time ever we did three dives in one day. I had mentioned it last night sitting here on the veranda that it would be really cool to do three dives in one day. Don thought about it for a while and remarked that he never had either, so today we did.

First dive was at 9:30, the second started at 1230 and the final began at 3:15. Each one lasted right about an hour or more. On top of that I put my stepdaughter on my buddy regulator and was I ever surprised at how she took to it. She easily breathed underwater, floating on the surface at my side.

All three of the dives pretty much mirrored each other. Don feels comfortable going straight out to the primary buoy located at 35 feet down right on the edge of the down slope. He takes a break before heading east, down and along the underwater ridge where so many fish hang out. When one of us gets down to 1600 lbs of air pressure we start heading back the way we came. Each dive we porpoised along the cliff face anywhere from 40 to 60 feet. That’s pretty much where all the sea life hangs out.

A few of the interesting things I saw today:

A round clam-like creature (maybe its a clam?) with yellow, white and blue mottled flesh in its maw was on a cliff face. I noticed it as I approached with video already running. I knew it would probably close up as I got close so that’s what I did
getting it all on video. The shell, about a foot or more across, has rows of warts running from a central point at its hinge ending at short spikes or spines on the leading edges of the maw. Once closed it looks like just another nondescript old shell, camouflaged with silt and seagrowth, like hundreds of others out there.

(Actually, I have two videos of two of these bivalve type mollusks, the second being rather fleeting. I'm fairly certain now that these are a type of rock scallop, although I'm still not certain. If anyone can point me in the right direction, please do.)

I noticed two moray eels, one quite large based on the size of its head, which was a little larger than my hand; while the other smaller one was probably a fifth the size of the larger. They like dark holes and overhangs to hide out in. The large one’s eyes shown luminescently from back in its cave, kind of creepy and very cool.

The lion fish continue to be everywhere I look. From my numerous photos and videos I’m realizing how many variations of color and pattern there are. I took a picture of one on my third dive today that resembles a zebra’s white and black markings.

Saw the first trumpet fish I’ve seen in several trips back here. It was at a 20 foot safety stop on the way in at the end of our third dive. This one is dark with a
yellow tail. They are a very wary fish; they tend to hide under and around large rocks with deep overhangs and caverns. In the video it almost doubles back on its own body when it is about to run into the side of the tiny overhang cave, forming its body momentarily in a “u” much to my delight as it returns to me for an even better shot in my view finder. The shape of them fascinates me, with their long slender stick body and extended snout and tiny odd shaped mouth at the end of it. I wonder what they eat.

Under the same rock I noticed a pair of delightful little sea serpents. They actually resemble trumpet fish in that their bodies are also long with elongated seahorse-looking heads; although these fish have bodies that seem even more flexible than the trumpet fish, more like a snake the way they make themselves wriggle in tiny “s’s.” Their color is magically luminous; from just in front of its round white tail, it is encircled by dark and yellow stripes, alternated, just like the banded rings on a coral snake. With its round white tail, centered with a red dot, kept perpendicular to the seafloor, they resemble tiny wriggling darts.

We’re not sure how much longer this resort will remain open. Since our first stay here back in May of 2010 it is slowly losing the amenities it used to offer. At this time there is no dive boat, no dive master, no internet, no TV, no restaurant (or at least no cook), and no hot water. Belen, used to manage it, but now some absentee manager named Louie out of Manila claims to be the manager and who knows what he’s been doing, perhaps presiding over the demise of the place?

To make my point, just a few minutes ago, while the sun was still beautifully setting, a young European couple was turned away because Belen had already gone home. Unbelievably, she is the only one allowed to check folks in. The guard had to tell them to come back tomorrow (They never did).

Heck, the first two days after we got here stormy seas deposited a thick layer of flotsam on the slack water corner of the jetty only ten yards from our door. Five days later that deposit of floating garbage began stinking as if a dead body was hidden somewhere in the huge mass of bobbing banana tree trunks and other nasties. Out of our own pocket we paid a couple of young lads to pull the mess out of the water, only they were told by Belen that there was no place to put it. Evidently, her plan was to leave the stinking rotting trash right in the water in front of the hotel until supposedly the next big storm would magically suck it away back out into the channel. Eh? Now I like Belen, I think she’s a good egg, but surely she is not serious. So, the whole mass of rubbish has been piled onto the boat dock to the point that the dock is no longer visible. How much you want to bet all that crap will still be there when and if we return. Geez, I hope not. Tell me there is no cultural gap between foreigners and Filipinos and I must frustratingly respond through gritted teeth, "I---beg---to---differ!"

Ah well, ultimately, none of that stuff is important. It's just part of the fun of living here. Sure it's a struggle, trying to get our "way" and all; but mostly it detracts very little from the experience.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Jan DiveTrip to Mindoro "Black-blotched Puffer" Day 6.4`

Jan DiveTrip
Day 6.4

At the base of a drop off some 50 feet down I spotted something, perhaps just a bit of movement. I poked my camera behind the edge of some kind of cone shaped sponge or coral that was about three feet across at the top, and there in the viewer was a huge bulbous unblinking eye surrounded by green skin followed a second later by a fluttering yellowish pectoral fin.

In the video this fish has a huge head that immediately tapers down to its tail. The fish is not quite two feet long and it looks to me like a cross between a fish and a leopard frog, because of its oversized eyes, frog-like skin and head reminscent of a blunt nosed ampphibian. It has no scales, instead it looks to be covered with smooth skin at the head where it becomes wrinkly and pocked and pored toward the rear with spines that lay flat, almost invisibly so. It has the look of some ancient species. I’m curious to know what it is. It’s definitely a puffer an extremely shy one.

Okay, I spent several days poring over one internet photo after another of scores of different types of pufferfishes, and believe me, worldwide, there a LOT of pufferfishes. After all that picture studying though, I'm around 95 percent sure that this bashful fella is a black-blotched porcupinefish. They can grow longer than two feet and this one is a little over half that long. The several informational sources claim that they are nocturnal; during the day they tend to hide along reefs and rock faces. The description matches up well with the one I saw, and physically it also matches up pretty close with all the photos I found, except for the one in wikipedia that shows it to be tan colored instead of the leopardfrog dull green color that my porkypinefish happens to be.

I took several videos of swimming lion fish, always a treat for me. In one I was able to follow beautiful specimen all around a rock for most of a minute. These fish
are so majestic and look so unlikely that I am captivated everytime I catch sight of one.

The more dives we do from this spot the more we have begun to know the terrain. For instance, when we swim through a bone white sandy spot consisting of bleached coral
fragments with very little muddy silt we know we have found the area directly to the front of the end of the pier and always, regrettably, it signifies the end of the dive.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Jan Dive Trip to Mindoro "Cleaning Station for Fish & An ethereal Sea Fan" Day 6.3`

January dive trip
Day 6.3

Interesting fish behavior:

A tiny two inch blue and white striped fish apparently grooming a juvenile puffer fish with a comical dog face before moving on to groom another species of colorful fish that I haven't ID'd yet, and then moving back to grooming the dogfaced one.

I watched the video below with my wife and step daughter and we all laughed at the show. Then, back here at the house I watched it once again with my little boy, only this time I provided the appropriate cartoon "fish voices narrative," and he could not stop laughing. As you can see, the little blue and white fish, a type of wrasse, really seems to be providing a service to the other fish species and does so with a lot of enthusiasm. Notice that due to the odd shape of its caudal fin it's very difficult to tell from its head or its tail. Then again, most wrasses have this distinguishing feature.

This time, when I did my research based on what I saw in that video I got lucky and immediatey came across something called a fish cleaning station. I kid you not. I typed in "cleaning fish" into the search engine and "cleaning station" popped right up on wikipedia and even included a picture of the Bluestreak cleaner wrasse that I filmed in the video.

After leaving the tiny cleaner wrasse to flit about its cleaning duties we followed the face of the precipice, basically heading east, and came to a white curtain of a creature with the just a hint of purple tinge. Before I learned better about these things I would have sworn something like this ghostly being must be some kind of giant sea plant, but I've long since learned otherwise. Perhaps it’s what they call fan coral, and in fact, after doing my research back here at the house it is indeed a type of soft coral called a Gorgonian also known as a sea fan.

To me it looks like the cross-section of a large round bush, at least it does from the side anyway. The one in my video is huge, maybe eight feet or more across. In silhouette the branches and sub-branches of this "fan" looks like an intricate web of light purple blood vessels, like a super high-definition of a cat scan image of a human's lungs. It’s one of the most ethereal sights I’ve seen down there.

In the video you can see that it is only a few inches deep; in proportion to its size it’s a very flat creature obviously oriented to catch the full effect of anything carried past the cliff face in any moving water current. Now admit it, for all you who don't know that these things are fauna wouldn't you assume that they are a type of flora?

In all the dives I've done in that area, and i've now done more than 40 now, I've only seen one other sea fan that even approaches a quarter of this one's size. This particular one, because it is so majestically peculiar and so easily seen from afar, makes the perfect reference marker. Once we catch a glimpse of it we know that we are only down the hill and a little to the southeast of the dive site buoy in front of the hotel pier.

Like all other types of corals the sea fan is not a single animal but a colony of thousands of individual polyp entities. Can you imagine? How the heck do these "individuals" figure out what their place and function is within the whole? The more I learn about the incredible life forms I observe down there the more amazed I become. If you ever have any doubts about God's existence, go diving in such a place and have your faith completely restored. Well, if you're an atheist it just might sew the seeds of doubt, eh?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Jan DiveTrip to Mindoro "cukes & tubes " Day 6.2`

Jan 20, 2011 Thursday Day 6.2

Half way down the cliff side I spotted a creepy three foot long giant caterpillar looking thing (what is it?). In the video I pick it up to see the underside, but before I did that I carefully and gently poked it with a gloved finger. I wanted to test it to see if there might be some kind of adverse reaction to my touch while ensuring I didn't harm it.

Its body is rubbery stiff, its outer surface covered with warty bumps and horns. I will assume its coloring and texture is mottled and warty to camouflage it from predators; it only makes sense. I also lifted it up at one end to capture on video what its undersurface looks like. I was kind of expecting to see suckers or something; instead its underside looks a bit like uncooked bread dough. I have no idea what this little monster is, but I hope to find out.

(I searched for another two hours on the net checking pictures of everything from sea slugs to nudibranchs to sea cucumbers, and I'm fairly certain it is a type of warty seacumber. There are a wide variety of these things in all the oceans and seas of the world, a creature in the same phylum as starfish. In other words they are like a one-armed starfish. I've seen these things several times over the years as both snorkeler (from high above) and now as a diver and it always gives me a creepy thrill to spot one.)

I took a couple videos of anemones doing their disappearing act. I watched them in slow motion, but even on the slowest setting still they pull their tendrils back so quickly as to immediately disappear from view. They are like a jack-in-the-box in reverse.