We weren't sure about diving in the Philippines because I couldn't get a clear sense of whether or not it was the right season. It was definitely low season. None of the dive operators I contacted had scheduled trips to Apo Island (where I wanted to dive) and several weren't even going to other sites. But that doesn't mean the diving would be bad necessarily. It's more likely to mean that the water would be rough for the trip to and from the dive site. Some would have been willing to go with a full boat--usually 4 or more divers--but we were alone and I had no idea if I'd find people who wanted to go diving when we got there. When we left Singapore, we didn't have anything booked and we really weren't sure if we'd get to dive or not.
I offer all this as an excuse for why I did not bring the underwater camera--which our friends had loaned us--on some of the prettiest dives we've done.
Our first night in Siquijor I heard a guy call Apo Island Disneyland for divers. A tiny little volcanic island between Siquijor and Negros, we'd heard Apo is one of the best dive sites in the Philippines and is the site of the country's first and most successful marine reserve. But Disneyland?
We talked a bit more; he had been recently and said the diving was great. Visibility was good. The boat trip wasn't bad. We decided to head back to Dumaguete on Sunday night and see if we could arrange a trip for Monday. The guesthouse where we were booked in Dumaguete ran trips to Apo, so we emailed them on Sunday morning to let them know we were interested.
The first thing we asked when we checked in late Sunday afternoon was about an Apo Island trip the next day. They needed 4 divers to go, but another couple had mentioned it, so they'd ask them. Later that night the front desk let us know that the trip was on.
We ended up being a group of 6 divers and 2 dive masters. We rode in the back of a truck from Dumaguete to Dauin, where the boat was, before taking the 7km boat ride to Apo.
The trip was infinitely better than either ferry ride although it took about the same amount of time. Being in the open air is so much nicer. It's been a while since we've been on a dive boat that isn't a liveaboard though.
There was no where to go between dives but relax on deck and enjoy a picnic lunch and stunning scenery.
We dove three sites in the crystal clear water around Apo, and it really is like Disneyland. The visibility was phenomenal. Every time we entered the water I was sure I was going to hit bottom when we jumped in because it just looked so close. I was shocked on the first dive to look at my depth gauge and find that we were 30 meters down. The light was so good, I would have guessed we were in much shallower water. (I paid attention after that. That's a good way to get yourself a trip to a decompression chamber.)
We saw several critters on my wish list: a frog fish the size of a dinner plate (a black one though, not any of those crazy colors), some awesome shrimp including a boxer, really fantastic varieties of coral, and Mandarin fish (!!), though they were being very shy. [Links go to Google Images]
I, of course, wished the whole time I had a camera so I could show you the incredible things we saw, but Kyle, as usual, was glad I didn't. (I get very, um, involved in the camera when I have it). Regardless, I'm so glad it worked out even if all we had to show for it were dive hair and entries in the dive logs.