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Saturday, 19 August 2017
 
 
Philippines 2003 - Southern Leyte is not dived by many from the UK but Guildford has connections Print
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Easter 2003 saw a group of Guildford BSAC divers heading for the Philippines again; this year electing to dive from Southern Leyte, an area largely unknown to UK divers.

The party arrived at Cebu International Airport, on Mactan Island, which is linked to Cebu by two road bridges. Cebu is one of the International arrival ports for the Philippines, making it a very convenient starting point for trips to the Visayas. The island of Mactan is famous as the place where the tribal chief 'Lapu Lapu' killed Magelan.

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A day was spent chilling out at the Montebello Villa Hotel in the Banilad district of Cebu City, conveniently located near the 'Sandtrap', a drinking hole frequented by ex-Guildford BSAC members Richard and Jacque Weeks. In their time with the Guildford Club, Richard and Jacque held various positions, including D/O and Training Officer; they now live in Cebu.

After a boozy evening, the following morning dawned bright (and hot for the Brits) as they boarded a Banca for the journey to Leyte (via all good diving spots en-route). The Banca is a local type of boat commonly used for diving, they have a long waterline but are narrow in the beam and are stabilized by twin bamboo outriggers. They are very fast and reasonably stable, but are prone to go through big waves rather than over them! It can get a tad wet at the sharp end, even in a viscous ripple!

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The plan was to use the Banca for travel and as the diving platform, but for the divers to go ashore each night to eat and sleep. During the journey to Leyte the Southern route around Bohol Island was taken, returning around the northern part of the island at the end of the trip, effectively circumnavigating the Island. Bohol is famous for the 'Chocolate Mountains', these were mentioned in the book 'Chariots of the Gods'.

On the outbound trip the opportunity was taken to dive some old favorites, like Cabilao, and Balicasag, Islands, as well as several 'new' sites. Accommodation en-route varied from Nipa huts on the beach (Nipa is the local name for bamboo), to a cliff-top luxury air-conditioned hotel, with swimming pool. Accommodation on Southern Leyte was Nipa huts in the grounds of the dive centre, conveniently situated at the back of the beach (about 3m from the high water mark).

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Gunter and Alona Mosch run Southern Leyte Diving, assisted by local young women. Accommodation was good and the food was excellent! If one senior member had hoped to reduce his waistline during the trip, it was certainly not going to happen here! The dive centre also has a school, and appeared to be set up to teach diving from ab-initio through to advanced PADI courses. The trophy wall sported an old twin hose valve and 'fins' made from plywood with a foot pocket made from rubber sheet nailed in place. The latter was not so funny when we spotted our skipper using just such 'fins' in his search for lunch, and doing every bit as well as the divers with their 'hi-tech' fins!

The party comprised experienced divers, so they had no need of the school facilities, but even so Gunter was happy to act as guide.

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The diving was predominately walls and slopes (or sloops, as Gunter pronounced it), some were stunning, some were not, but I guess that is what exploring a new site is all about. Two sites stood out: 'Gunters Wall' on the side of Limasawa Island, and 'Fish Sanctuary' on an island with a name that sounded suspiciously like, 'nip and tuck'! 'Nip & Tuck' Island was linked to Leyte by a rather impressive bridge over a channel of very fast flowing water. The area is notable for whale sharks in the early spring; we were a little late but even so we managed to find a 4m 5m 'baby' to play with. One of the photographers regrets leaving his camera on the boat, as an excellent opportunity presented itself for a shot of his two children swimming either side of the shark, complete with pilot fish and remora (the shark that is, not the kids).

The weather in Leyte during our April visit was hot and sunny, with no rain, typical for Easter time in the Philippines. The sea was calm and U/W visibility was reasonably good.

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Next year? There was some talk of a diving safari based on a banca, but sleeping rough on the beach and exploring virgin areas well away from civilization. Time will tell.

Keith Green

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