Island to Highland
Seeing something majestic almost always leaves people speechless, even breathless! At least that was exactly how I felt the instant I laid my sights on Davao’s rich aquatic resources, and more. The experience is utterly difficult to translate into words when none of it would ever suffice to describe its beauty and splendor.
Located in the Southern Mindanao region, journalists had a sneak-peak of Davao city’s teeming natural wonders from underwater to above the surface landscapes in a “Dive the Gulf” adventure sponsored by the Department of Tourism (DoT) recently. A three-day escapade to a paradise waiting to be explored that sent us chasing the thrill of adventure on the island and the adrenaline rush in the highlands.
DAY 1: INTRO DIVE
For someone who doesn’t know how to swim, it would seem like a challenge to submerge one’s self into the open waters of Samal Island, the best site for underwater adventure. But no. It’s rarely a requirement. All one needs is a brave heart.
According to Wind and Wave dive master Randy Pascua, it’s a common misconception for first timers (like us!) but dive masters are competent enough to wade for two. Just don’t forget to breathe through the air regulator.
Our first dive site was at Marissa Reef, named after Marissa Florendo who was one of the proponents of underwater photography in Davao of which Pascua is a member of the auxiliary team. It is an underwater mountain with a sudden drop that could send diving neophytes into panic. I guess I was lucky to have reached 15 feet.
Likewise, buried in the deep waters of Samal Island are World War II Japanese battle vessels that go as deep as 90 to 115 feet, making it ideal for shipwreck dives.
“This location is ideal for macro diving, or underwater photography adventures. Underneath, there are a lot of water species still unnamed and are yet to be discovered,” injects dive master Johny Lee of the Hongkong Technical Diving Association. Lee has been traveling back and forth to the Philippines, specifically in Cebu and Hongkong at least thrice a month to teach scuba diving to a variety of students. Right now, they’re looking at the prospect of bringing his students to Samal Island to explore its diverse marine life.
DAY 2: LIKE A PRO, ALMOST
There are more than 23 dive sites in Samal Island that opened up to the public in 1993. Apart from Marissa Reef, the Coral Garden located in Talikud Island, just five minutes away from the beach is the next most visited site. It is an underwater cliff that spreads up to a five-kilometer stretch of corals boasting of colorful underwater vistas. To get there, boats and launches are available at Sta. Ana Wharf and km. 11 Wharf in Sasa.
Acclimatized and confident this time with what to expect and how to solve the common problem of water getting into my swimming mask, as well as dealing with the constant buzzing in my ear each time the dive master goes a notch down, this writer was able to reach up to 22 feet and enjoyed every minute of the less than an hour dive. Clown fish and dory became my best pals as they played with me at the palm of my hand. Also spotted were nudi branch, a tiny fish that crawls underwater, a sea turtle that was swiftly swimming away, and a pygmy seahorse, pregnant one at that!
The experience was exhilirating! Thus, I couldn’t help but ask, how much would a person need to do it all over again? According to Rhea Delfinado, one of the dive guards for Wind and Wave, their services for introductory dive costs P750.00 per head that includes underwater photos, souvenir shirt, food on board, briefing session and 30 to 45 minutes actual underwater dive. Likewise, the group holds three-day certificate dive for those who are interested to teach diving lessons and making it a living. Check out their website at http://www.windandwavedavao.com/home.php.
BACK ON LAND
On the second night, we were treated to a slight detour of conquering the depths and heights of Davao in a feast called Caracoles Festival held at Sta. Ana Wharf. It was the first time in many years that the celebration was held in a different venue as it was previously done in Samal Island from sunset to sunrise.
The occassion proved to be an interesting one with various designers competition that aims to promote the national government’s advocacy campaign of preserving the environment.
The group was met by Davao’s tourism regional director Sonja Garcia who explained the organization’s ongoing efforts.
“Davao Gulf is a hotspot which means areas that have marine mammal strandings and they are declared marine protected areas. It is also included in the Coral Triangle Initiative along with Indonesia and Malaysia. Thus, we’re doing our best to preserve it not only for tourists but for the future generations as well,” Garcia tells.
DAY 3: ENTERING THE GARDEN OF EDEN
There are many other wonderful adventures to engage in while in Davao. Apart from scuba diving, the city offers water tubing in Sibulan River in Davao del Sur and caving in Kapalong Davao del Norte.
But for a more sedate kind of exploit, I suggest visiting Eden Nature Park for an adrenaline rush, cool weather and organic food.
The 60-hectare expanse owned by Jesus Ayala boasts of a thriving forest area that serves as an animal sanctuary, and a plethora of lush flora, mangosteen orchard, giant ferns, macademia and native durian trees. Located in Mount Tolomo within the administrative district of Toril, it is currently one of the greenest ecological tourist spots in the Philippines.
In addition, tourists and guests can enjoy comfortable villas, cottages, and rooms, where they can stay overnight while enjoying the beautiful sights all over the place.
And while there, don’t fail to try the “Skyrider”, a 60-feet, 200-meter zip line ride that can’t easily be found in other travel destinations. The tagline wasn’t lying when it said, “Heaven is a little closer in Eden.”