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Elaine, the Freediver (in El Nido, Palawan)

Last weekend and up to Tuesday, we went again to Palawan!  This time, in El Nido.  El Nido is one of the three tourism areas of Palawan (the others being Coron, where we’ve been before, and Puerto Princesa, the capital city).

Anyway, I’d like to show you photos of a good friend and the the one who introduced us all to the joy of freediving, Elaine.

While we were all clinging to lifevest (several months back), Elaine was already enjoying the freedom of not using them and being able to go to depths and look at fishes and corals from a closer view.  She was then an applicant for ISDA (probably an acronym for International Skin Divers Association or something and is also the Tagalog/Filipino term for fish).  Now that we are on a level that she was several months ago, she’s levelled up to deeper depths, diving in stronger currents and breathholding for longer.

The next few pictures were taken in Small Lagoon, a stop on tour A in El Nido (tours being coded as A, B, C or D).  As a snorkeling/freediving site, it really isn’t much.  It is surrounded by limestone cliffs cutting out most of the light from reaching the bottom, hence, the lack of visibility down under compared to the other (probably deeper) sites.  However, one good thing about this location is the rays of the sun filtering through the cliffs and the vegetation provides beautiful rays of light in the water.  We went there first in the morning (arrived there around 10am) and the light streaking through the water was just awesome for taking these photographs.

This first picture was for me, the most beautiful of the lot.  The light was wonderful, no distracting people in the background, just Elaine, her happy yellow fins and the water.  Unfortunately though, her head is not seen as she arched her back to look down below.
Second one, more about her happy yellow fins (the one the camera chose to focus).  She’s on her descent here.

Third one is where she’s making a turn from going down to ascending.  Her body position seems awkward but I like the effect of here centered in all the blueness of the sea.
And this is her on her ascent.  As taught by freedivers (and I guess for scuba as well), you need to raise one of your arms when ascending so that when you accidentally hit a boat (or worse a propeller), you’ll just hurt (or cut) your hand, not your head.

And finally, we see her face!

On our second to last dive site for the day (another area), I loaned her my long fins.  Since my feet are much bigger than hers, she wore it with her booties and with the fin grip to prevent accidental slippage of the fins.

Yes freediving long fins are reeeeaaallly long. Probably as long as her leg and thighs…


…but she uses them more efficiently and gracefully than I could. (My flutter kick involves too much knee bending).

These final two pictures aren’t the strongest of the lot (they are in fact, the least best pics of her) but they show the true joys of recreational freediving.

Being able to see sea creatures up close (this one’s a hawksbill turtle).
And enjoying freedom from heavy scuba gear and the joy and relaxation of moving effortlessly (more or less) through water.

That’s it for now, I’ll be posting more pictures from our El Nido trip (including the wonderful sea creatures underneath the surface of the water).  In case you’re wondering how she looks when out of water, here’s her picture.

My First Freedive Experience: Panicking in Vistamar

Freediving is all about relaxing your mind and body.  Things I could not do when in the water.  And in that state, I joined my first (introductory) freedive with ISDAxMUNI dive in Vistamar Resort, Anilao, Mabini, Batangas.

I didn’t know how to swim and I still don’t.  Before, I couldn’t go on the deepend of the water without a lifevest, even with flippers, mask and snorkel.  The weekend in Vistamar is the first time I’ve done without the lifevest so in a way it was a success.  However, I am still not calm and when it comes to diving down, I always panic and as a result, gulped a lot of seawater.  And I mean a lot!

Some of my fellow newbies fared better, getting to the seafloor (about 15 feet down), some fared worse, always attached to the lifebuoy.

My dive buddy diving down towards the shipwreck below.

Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles everywhere… the sign of a newbie freediver.

A lonely leaf floating in the sea.

After a while of trying to go down, I just gave up that day and went to the shallow end of the sea.  Fortunately, it wasn’t devoid of anything to see.  There were fishes, sea urchins and a whole lot of sea creatures.  I got to see lionfish/scorpionfish.  Two of them in fact, hiding inside the hollows of an algae-covered rock.

A scorpion fish!

Another nameless fish (one I can’t identify yet).

One of them sea plant (or animal).

A different kind of sea urchin.

One of the lucky girls who can already dive on her first try.

Though I wasn’t able to dive down at all, I still consider that day a success, even just because I could on the water without a lifevest.  Though I gave up diving down that day, I tried on other occasions and eventually succeeded.  Though I still need a lot of practice and a lot of breathholding to do.  This truly opened up a whole new world for me.  Seeing fishes in their natural habitat, creatures I’ve only seen in fishtanks, pictures and movies.

There is one documentary I downloaded about creatures under the sea.  The copy was so clear you can check the details of each creature.  This is so much better than that!

Hundred Islands Underwater

Our trip to Hundred Islands was motivated by our desire to go underwater.  Luckily, Hundred Islands has a place for snorkeling and with giant clams as bonus!

The “lips” of a giant clam.


Giant clams on the seafloor.

I didn’t even think I’d even see giant clams.  I once read a book about a boy whose leg was caught by a taklobo (giant clam).  That was my first “encounter” with a giant clam and that was about 15 to 20 years ago.  It was quite unreal seeing these magnificent (who are slow to close and the adult of which cannot fully close).  They are of different colors, some blue, some purple and some green.  Their lips are peppered with luminiscent spots.  Good thing that there are many (probably hundreds) of them in the national park and that they are protected by the local government.

Moorish Idol

It seems that everytime I dive now, I can see Moorish Idols (so-called because Moors of Africa once considered them good luck).  They are beautiful and graceful creatures that are very conspicuous in reefs.

Blackbelly Triggerfish

Triggerfish are notorious for being very protective of their territory.  In fact, another species of triggerfish bit my neck as I was diving down to look at some fish.  It was a black triggerfish that hides under a rock/coral and went out to bite me.  Fortunately, there was no skin break.  Also, it is not this guy.

Eastern Triangular Butterflyfish

This one, I had trouble finding the identification on the internet.  I first thought it was either an angelfish or a butterfly fish (based on its body).  After combing through several sites, I found out that butterfly fishes generally have small mouth (such as this guy) and the color palette is limited to white, black, yellow and orange.  This made it easier to narrow down the search to butterflyfishes and found the species name.

An unidentified fish, probably a goby.

This fish I still couldn’t identify.  From the body type, I assume it is a type of goby.  The thing with gobies is that it is a very large family (or some other classification) of fishes that narrowing it down is difficult.  So for now, I’ll just let this fish be unidentified.

Clownfish in its anemone home.

Clownfish!  Made very popular by Finding Nemo.  I guess almost all people know this fish as Nemo.  They are easy to spot due to their bright colors (though some are darker than the others).  Once you find their anemone home, they are quite easy to photography as they will guard it very well.  They will resort to intimidation tactics to try and scare you off.  If you do not go, they may go inside their home and just peak and then go out to try and scare you again.  Such bravado!

Other than fishes, snorkeling sites are often full of corals.  Braincorals are the easiest to identify since they look like… brains.

Brain coral.

Another coral or something.

Snorkeling and freediving for fishes is a fun activity.  Another fun thing to do is trying to identify the fish species at home.  For sure there’ll be more dives for me (just wish there is a better underwater camera for me though).

 

Hundred Islands

Hundred Islands is a national park located in Alaminos, Pangasinan (about 4-6 hours away from Metro Manila).  It is composed of about 127 separate islands.  Of these islands, only 3 or 4 are developed.  The other islands are either too small, have no beach or both.  There are undeveloped islands which are interesting – two of them are Monkey Island and Snake Islands, so named because of the inhabitants of these islands.  Most of the islands are made of limestone and packed with vegetation, so dense are these vegetation that even if you manage to get on one of these islands, you’ll have a hard time squeezing through them.

The following two pictures were taken from Governor’s Island , one of the developed islands.  Governor’s Island has the highest point (elevation) among the islands and these two pictures were taken from that point (using Olympus OMD EM5 and 12-50 lens).  This highest elevation isn’t really that high as it takes only 125 steps up (through a cemented stairs).  From this point, you can see most of the other islands but you’ll be hard pressed from distinguishing one from the other (other than they’re so alike, the hill is low so that in the distance, some islands looks like they’re merged).

Another developed island is Children’s Island (because the island’s beaches are shallow and ideal for kids).  We didn’t get to land in this island as we were excited to go snorkeling.

The next picture (taken with Olympus TG2) shows Crocodile Island and Turtle Island, so named because they look like these animals.  For the Crocodile Island, I can see the resemblance.  For the Turtle Island, there is also resemblance to that animal but so does tens of the other islets near the area.

There is also another island called Marcos Island (named after former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos).  According to our boatman, this island was named that because locals then believed that this is where Marcos hid some of his treasures.  The island has a small beach and a small cave near the beach.  There is also a path going towards the middle of the island.

The following two pictures (again taken with Olympus TG2) were taken at Quezon Island, named after then president, Manuel L. Quezon.  This island is one of the biggest and the most developed of the islets.  The island has two low rocky hills connected by a short sandbar.  It is also one of the closest islands to the snorkeling area and to the giant clam sanctuary.

Quezon Island is probably the most popular among these hundred islands.  There is a group of people who maintain the islands.  There are two pavilions (with tables and chairs), some restrooms (which aren’t that clean and which use seawater, a couple of concrete cottages and a cute cottage on top of one of the rocks.  There is also a small store that sells some food and essential at high prices.  Other than our group, there were several groups camped in the island for the night but come Sunday morning, the island suddenly filled with people (who are there on daytour).  We went to the snorkeling area for a few hours and when we returned, the island was dotted with people swimming, eating, etc.

For those planning to get there, it isn’t too expensive.

  • Boat (can seat 10 people) – P2200 (P550 each)
  • Overnight fee for all the islands – P80 each
  • Tent pitch fee – P200 per tent (P100 each)
  • Bus fare from Cubao to Alaminos – P395 one way (P790 both ways each)
  • Shower (in one of the resorts in Alaminos) – P30 each
  • Tricycle from town center to the wharf – P60 for one tricycle one way
  • Food – you can bring your own food and cooking stuff

All in all, each of us probably spent less than P2000 for an overnight stay.  Not so bad considering that this is the first time we say this National Park and the giant clams.  Giant Clams!!!

 

 

Giant Clams!

This is my very first time to post a video here!

This was taken last weekend on our trip to Hundred Islands in Alaminos, Pangasinan.  There is a sanctuary for giant clams (known in Tagalog as taklobo) there are probably hundreds of them.

Please forgive the jerky motion and lack of resolution, clarity, etc. of the video.  This was taken using Olympus TG2, with correction in exposure, contrast and vibrance in Lightroom and then spliced together using Windows Movie Maker.

Boracay: Diagonal Line

Another black and white photo taken in Boracay.  For this one, I removed some people in the upper right side using Lightroom’s clone and heal stamps.

Boracay: Woman in Yellow

A recent photo I took in Boracay.  She’s wearing yellow (though the photo is in black and white).  This one was taken with the Fuji XE1 and the 18-55 kit lens.  To my eyes, the Fuji files are very very good in black and white but much too saturated in color.  Also, the photos seem to be not very sharp, even compared to the Olympus EM5 with its less superior 12-50mm kit lens.  This could perhaps be due to smearing as a result of the x-trans sensor whose output is not yet properly demosaiced by Adobe.

Boracay: Snorkeling Site

Last weekend, my parents, my sister and I went to Boracay.  This is our second time this year in Boracay.  There were only 4 of us, however, compared to our first time there where the whole family (including my brother and his family).

As my parents are already old (my father’s already 78 and my mother 63), we can no longer do most of the water activities there.  Instead, we rented a boat and went around the island.  We just stopped in one area, the snorkeling site and had our fill of the wonderful fishes there.

With me of course is my Olympus TG2 camera.  An underwater camera I’ve been using for about a year now (after I lost the charger of my Panasonic TS5 and couldn’t find a replacement).  I’m quite ok with this camera.  It has a wide view lens (25mm equivalent) which is wonderful for taking pictures underwater.  It also has a nice 2.0 aperture (at the wide end) resulting in pictures taken at lower ISO.  However, I dislike that it doesn’t record raw files (limiting the post processing that can be done).  This lack of raw recording makes it very difficult to correct white balance should I or the camera get it wrong.

Anyway, onto the pictures of fishes, fishes, fishes.

Clown fishes (with 1 stripe instead of Nemo’s 3) and a yellow fish (don’t know this one).

Another clown fish among the anemone.  To me the anemone looks “pregnant” as if ready to burst anytime.

Some less colorful fish with blue fishes with yellow tails.

I don’t know these fishes but they look like they could be the one being sold in the market and eaten (as opposed to sold as aquarium fishes).

Another fish.  I got lucky that the camera’s focusing and flash caught this one very sharp (as sharp as the camera can capture) but this pic is cropped (about 66% of the frame remains).

Some blackish fish whose scale pattern looks like moire.

My sister using a lifevest and snorkel.

Feeding fishes.  Just read that it is not good to feed fishes as they come to be more tame and not afraid of humans (thereby increasing the chances that they’ll be caught).

And lastly, me!  This year has been an amazing year for me as I finally learned how to be in the sea without a lifevest.  I just need to have a snorkel, mask and fins and I can spend time in the sea, even in deeper waters (though without them, I’d surely drown).  I’m also just learning to freedive (albeit at the very beginning stage still).

Nagsasa: Sunset Reflections

Some pictures of beautiful Nagsasa Cove.  These were taken at sunset with the sky and hills reflecting on a small pool of water.  Taken with Fuji XE1 and the 18-55 kit lens.

Nagsasa Cove: Underwater

Zambales is a province north of Metro Manila.  During the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the 1990s, it is one of the most affected provinces.  Such deadly eruption, however, gave birth to beautiful beaches in the coves of Zambales.  From a jumpoff in the town of San Antonio, you can visit Anawangin, Talisayen, Nagsasa and Silanguin Coves – all made more beautiful by the ash and sand deposited by the volcano.

Two weekends ago, we visited Nagsasa Cove (I’ve visited the nearer cove of Anawangin, 5 years ago).  I’ll post the pictures of the beach in another post as I’d want to show just how clear the water here is.

Nagsasa Cove has one of the clearest and cleanest waters of the beaches I’ve been to (Others being Calaguas, Tingloy and the beaches of Coron).  Though there aren’t many fish and corals to see in Nagsasa (nearby Camara and Capones Islands have better and more fishes for snorkelers), there are some box fishes and school of small fishes.  The sand, however, is fine and the waters oh so clear!

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