In late summer of 2013 I signed up for the dive trip to the Philippines with Andrew Martinez. The plan was to visit two locations; first week in Atlantis Dive resort in Dumaguete and second in Crystal Blue resort. I read that Philippines considered to be one of the best places for macro photography. And since that’s what I like to do the most I couldn’t wait for the day of the departure.

Philippines. Dumaguete, Atlantis Resort

We all were a little worried as the time of our trip coincided with a hurricane period in the region. The further research showed that ferocious weather rarely affected Dumaguete, yet I still felt uneasy. (Jumping ahead, I can tell you that one couldn’t dream of a better weather). Eventually, the only drawback was that Typhoon Rammasun, the seventh that passed through the Philippines in 2014, caused some damage and wiped away lots of small animals.

Atlantis Dive Resort

But upon arrival all fears diminished. I’ve never, at least up to this point in my life, seen such a flat, glass-like sea. “Bangka” – Philippines style outrigger – glided to and from dive sites like a skater on ice, reflecting in the calm waters of the Bohol Sea.

Bangka – Filipino style outrigger

If not for a few short showers, every single day the weather was perfect. Water was about 82-84’F and exceptionally clear, especially at high tide, one could see 50-70 feet ahead. But during low tide agitated silt cause visibility to drop to 15-20 feet. And yet considering that macro photography is a close up work, such interference did not present much of a difference.

Atlantis Dive Resort

Our experience with Atlantis began way before we arrived at the resort. It started the morning of 19th when we’ve entered airport of Manila for our next flight to Dumaguete. 3 guys, wearing Atlantis’s uniform, met us at the main entrance and … and all our worries – where to find right airline, do we have enough time to get through enormous waiting line, will weights of our carry-on suffice and so forth – just vanished. Even a genie would envy to the degree of the Atlantis organization. We followed those guys to the counter, one collected our documents, the other ran all our luggage through, third distributed new tickets and 30 minutes later we marched on through security to our gate.

What concerned actual hotel – it is a very nice place to relax, eat, sleep and dive from. Every employee at the resort is well mannered, considered and generous with sincere smiles. Air-conditioned rooms are very spacious and clean.

View from a room

I was worrying that I may not have enough electric outlets to charge all my power hungry gadgets. But besides that I found numerous plugs in the room, there is dedicated “camera parlor” with all kind of helpful implements.

Photo-room at Atlantis Dive Resort

High tables with bottom shelves. Air-guns, delivering compressed air to each station, fresh towels, lot’s of light, and even suspended, large flat TV with all kinds of connections, including USB, for easy video/picture viewing. Food is good and quick snacks are readily available.

Dive shop

It is located right on the territory of the resort and close to the shore. Each diver receives its own cubbyhole for storing fins, mask, small items, etc. There are a few separate rinsing basins with fresh water, each dedicated to a clearly marked purpose; suits, mask, fins, BCs, cameras. Dive shop possesses multiple compressors for refilling tanks with Air, Nitrox and even Trimix (tanks could accommodate yoke or din). All heavy gears, including cameras, are carried to and from the boats by dive shop staff. All dives, by the way, were initiated from the bangkas. Even to the “House Reef”, the dive site located just a few yards from the shore, we were hauled sitting in the boat. So all you had to do is to get dressed and walk to the boat. Thus, I can assure you that whole resort worked hard and they utterly succeeded to make each dive a delightful experience.

Deckhands preparing boats for the trip to Apo island

For a non-divers … I don’t think you’ll get bored. There are lots of activities that the front desk can arrange for you. Besides enjoying sunbathing, pool, great spa and wonderful service, on wednesdays you can visit Malatapay “barter” market, which will take about an hour to walk through.

At the market

Ah, yeah … one could also get to Twin or Balanan lakes and natural spring pools. Also, a few from our group went on a Bird watching trip. It took all day and I believe they returned very happy.
Or, non-diver, the best thing to do while staying in Atlantis … is to take a class at the resort and become a diver!!! You won’t regret.

Diving

As I mentioned before I couldn’t wait to begin exploring underwater reaches of the Bohol Sea. This area, as I was reading, was well known for muck diving and we I not disappointed. I love to photograph small animals.

Dancing shrimp

I always was taken by the diversity of shapes, mind-boggling spectrum and combinations of colors. I don’t want to “dive” into discussion of the origin of the life on this planet. But I can tell you that The “Originator” possesses a pretty awesome imagination and did not skimp on fantasies.

Painted frogfish

I was so giddy to see “bizarre” objects I’ve never seen before, that often I was forgetting to compose my shots, I was just shooting, and shooting, and shooting.

Armina sp. 2

We were divided into two groups with one divemaster per group. Almost all my dives I was with Marco and thanks to him I was as happy as a kid in candy shop.

There are a few large posters in the dive-shop, one depicting some nudibranchs and the other fish. So before my third and fourth dive, I pointed, as it seemed to me, to the pretties nudibranch and jokingly “demanded” to see it. Marco laughed and said that it is not a best season for that particular sea slug. The very next dive he found it.

Costasiella kuroshimae

Before our next dive, I’ve showed to Marco my next pick. He smiled and said that I am choosing animals that are very rare and hard to find. “We just were very lucky”, he answer me smiling, when I remind to him that he found my first prize. Well, next dive he located my second pick.

Halgerda batangas.

Eventually he found everything that I pointed to on the board. He was laughing as I begin to take requests from other divers.

Apo island

On second or third day we went to Apo Island. I was told that it’s going to be “wide angle lens” dives. As someone described Apo dives – “There will be awesome sceneries with a lot of colorful soft corals”.

On a way to Apo island

I decided to stay with my macro lens and did not regret my decision. Diving at Apo was good, but in my humble opinion, it is a long stretch to describe it as “awesome sceneries with numerous, colorful soft corals”. Perhaps previous storms caused some damage and the area needs to be restored to the aforementioned beauty.

Shot with Canon macro 100mm lens

At Apo, the visibility was so great that I was able to shoot a large turtle passing by with my macro lens. I also found some nudibranchs, but there was a strong, persistent current. I passed on a second trip to the island.

Mandarin fish

But I went on two “Mandarin fish dives”. To encounter mandarin fish you must dive at dusk. It is the only time, if you are lucky, you can observe and try to photograph a ritual that lasts just a few seconds. Marco positioned us at a pile of rubbles and for the next 35-40 minutes I did not move. When I saw my first mandarin fish I couldn’t believe how small it was, especially females. They were appearing just for a second darting between pieces of dead corals. It looked like they were playing hide-and-seek, searching for the their counterpart. Then we spotted a male and I carefully turned on my red focusing light.

So far my “best” mandarin fish shot. Wish they were facing me 🙁

It would be hard to guess where those beautiful creatures decide to perform their ceremony. But Marco positioned us at the right places. The only problem, I couldn’t guess if couple will face me or not. They didn’t. My heart began to pound as I saw two clinging to each other fish begun to rise. An instant later I felt disappointed as they were turned away from me. But for all that it was a great experience and I decided to go back for another chance.

A few days later I settled at the same spot. At the crucial moment the fused twosome rose for a brief moment above the rubble … and again they were facing away. If I am not mistaken, they were facing exactly the same direction as previous time. I can’t be sure, but I think it was direction of the setting sun. Well, I’ll check my theory next time 😉

The Trip to Brumini resort

But if you ask me, – What was the highlight of the whole Dumaguete trip? Then I’d tell you that it was snorkeling with whale sharks. Since I’ve never seen  them before, it was the most impressive and memorable experience.

Whale shark about to swallow the diver … just kidding, they are completely harmless

What a beautiful and graceful animals! Those who snorkeled with them can totally appreciate and understand my sentiment. Actually, to snorkel with “placid giants” we went to the neighbouring island – Oslob. You can find some information here. It took additional $95 pp., and about an hour to get to the Brumini beach resort. It turned to be very festive and nicely organized place.

Conclusion

It took quite some time to get to Dumaguete. We, actually, flew over Siberia and I saw miles and miles of a completely frozen surfaces. We spent 13 and a half hours in one plane, but it was well worth it. Besides wonderful diving, an excellent setting of the resort, awesome weather and great food, I was able to meet lots of nice and kind people. I did not see one fake smile and no one shown indifference towards their guests. Of course my special thanks to all who were directly involved in diving activities – captains, deckhands. And my particular appreciation to Marco Inocencio and Junnar Kitane for guiding and working very hard to find “cool animals” that makes me wish to come back. Thank you, guys, very much.

I also would like to say that underwater flora and fauna of the Philippines is full of wonders and will not disappoint the most demanding explorer.

Our Dumaguete group. Left to right; David, Sandy, Laura, Meg, Alexine, Andy, Candy, Lana, me and Elmina.

Safe diving to all and many new discoveries.