We spent a week at the beginning of June, 2010 at Kasai Village resort in Moalboal, in the Central Visayas. And what a week it was! Kasai is a pretty little dive lodge in the middle of nowhere, 3 hours’ drive south of Cebu, the city into which you fly. There are 13 rooms, a dining room, bar/rec area, pool, and dive center, and that’s it! The food and service in the dining room were fantastic and the staff was warm, friendly, and eager to please. Their motto is “come as a guest, leave as a friend.” And that’s exactly what we did. Oh, and we were the only guests in the entire place, so it was quiet, restful, and all about us!
We came to the Philippines via Seoul, Korea, where my husband, Rob, had been doing some teaching. The flight from Seoul arrives in Cebu near midnight, so we stayed overnight at Be Resort, recommended by our travel agent, Ultimate Dive Travel, and were picked up the next morning by a van for the three-hour drive to Kasai Village. Traffic in Cebu city (second largest city in the Philippines) had four way intersections with no lights: the one whose bumper is first [or who was bigger] has right of way, but it all seemed very pleasant between drivers. The horn honked at least once a minute for three hours, but it was not a harsh horn, just warning to folks we were passing, etc. We went by miles and miles and miles of abject poverty. At one point there were families living in tents provided by the government and some NGOs on the sidewalk because of the "fires last week." Our driver explained that it had been close to two months with no rain, the water supply is down, everything is tinder, and the 30 minutes of rain last night was the first in a long time.
After going over the mountains to the other side of the island, and down the coast, we got to the town of our resort, Moalboal, and turned off on a narrow road through the jungle, then a narrower road, then a rutted track not much wider than the van width and finally we arrived. We were met by cheerful young women, fragrant flower garlands and cold mango smoothies, and the dive master Michael. We soon learned that this was low season – we were the ONLY occupants of the resort for our entire week here!
The next day, we dove. Immediately, we confirmed that it’s definitely worth traveling ½ way around the world for this diving. The reefs are so healthy, and teeming with fish, every square inch is covered with hard or soft coral, and hiding in the spaces are tiny crabs, fish, and who knows what else! The problem was that everything was new to us, and sometimes, we didn’t know what the dive master was trying to point out to us, ‘cuz we didn’t know what to look for. I felt like a kid at a carnival –things calling for my attention from every angle, and I didn’t know where to look first. I figured that, as the week went along, I’d be able to focus more on individual critters, corals, fish, sponges, etc., but for the first day or so, I was just trying to take it all in. A few evenings spent studying the i.d. books was definitely on the agenda.
The first dive was a mandatory "check out dive", a shore dive, meant, I guess for the DM to assess our skills, make sure our weights are right, etc. The "house reef" was a short walk out in shallow water, then plunging down the wall. Even the shallow part, only 10 feet or so deep, was beautiful. We saw a pair of beautiful blue nudibranchs, just when we put our faces into the water, and the rest of the dive was just as good. Fortunately for my knees, they wheeled the gear on a cart to the end of the jetty, we climbed down the stairs to the shallow water, and the DM carried our heavy gear out to a depth where we could don it comfortably, and there was no surf to get thru, just calm swimming pool-like warm water. No long walks across sand beaches and bashing your way through surf! The water was like a bathtub– 84 to 85 degrees in most spots, with a few little thermoclines of warmer or colder water. At the beginning of the day, I thought we’d made a mistake by bringing our wetsuits, and not our lycra skins, but by the middle of the third dive of the day I got a bit chilly, so I guess we made the right call.
The third day of our trip, I wrote an essay on “Smallness”:
Everything in Philippines is small
* The women serving in the restaurant and in the hotel office are at most 4'8" tall, 75 lbs. soaking wet, looking like they are 13-14 years old.
* The men are a whopping 5'3" -5'5", and slight of build, but looking wizened, even the younger ones, probably from lots of sun exposure
* The bananas they serve between dives are only about 6" long, but intensely banana flavored
* The mangoes, only 4", but yummy – can’t have too much. Better than chocolate? Maybe.
* The pussy cat greeting us outside the resort restaurant makes Pogo [our 6# Burmese cat] look fat and big, she’s probably 4 lbs, and her kittens are about 2 lbs. But, boy, does she want to be scritched! Rubbing our legs, purring up a storm, head-butting, etc.
* The fishing boats, just wide enough to hold these slim-hipped men – about the width of a scull, and only about 6' long, balanced by outriggers.
* The huts along the road, probably 8' square, made of woven bamboo or cinderblock, with open windows and thatched roofs.
* The "vans", narrow and low to the ground, the better to navigate the narrow roads
* Pygmy sea horses, no more than 1cm, best seen with a magnifying glass
* Tiny little crabs & shrimp living on the reef – Rob aims his camera where the guide points with his stick, and we hope that what ever it is was in focus and we can blow it up on the computer and see it.
The first dive of the day was at Pescador Island. This is the famous dive site that people come to this area to dive. It’s only about a 20 minute boat ride from our resort, and we can see the island from our place. A Japanese photographer was on board, but it turns out that he doesn’t dive. His magazine is featuring Moalboal [the town we’re in] in the next issue, so he’s shooting topside. He had a female colleague along, who did one dive, maybe she’s a writer for the magazine. They weren’t very sociable, maybe afraid to use their English & we don’t speak Japanese. "Pescador" means "fisherman" and the island was surrounded by little one-man fishing boats, hanging out to snag the schools of sardines that mob here. It was quite picturesque. Beneath the sea was gorgeous. Since there’s a mild current around the little island, there are nice fans, soft corals, and crinoids, all waving and catching the nutrients that drift by. There was a giant frogfish at 110 feet, the deepest one wants to go when diving Nitrox – I dipped down to snap his/her portrait, and came back up again to a safer depth. An ornate ghost pipefish, a turtle, swarms of sardines, and the "usual" reef fish filled out the dive. The top of the reef, like all the reefs here, is at a depth of between 20 and 10 feet, so, instead of hanging in the blue water at 15 feet for a 3 minute "safety stop" at the end of every dive, we got to paddle around and look at the healthy hard corals with tiny little fishes darting in and out of the branches and the dappled light coming through the surface of the water making interesting patterns. A nice way to finish every dive. Usually, the pattern is to do two or three dives in a row at Pescador, but the Japanese had to be brought back to the resort and check out and make an appointment somewhere else, so we only did one dive there, and did the second morning dive near the resort. The afternoon dive at Tuble Point was super. We found the two giant frogfish again (we did this dive on the first day), this time we had a view of one of them, perched on a sponge on the wall, facing out into the blue, with his little angler lure bobbing and his mouth opening and closing trying to catch little fish. We didn’t actually see him catch anyone (probably scared all the little fish away with our big bodies and cameras), but I caught a good photo of him with mouth agape (I say "him", but it’s hard to sex a frog fish, so it might easily have been "her" – there’s clearly a pair, so there’s probably one of each). Then we went from the giant frog fish (about 18 inches long and 12 inches tall) to the pygmy sea horse. Mike found several on a gorgonian sea fan. These little guys are maybe less than 1cm long and thread-thin, and they hang onto the fan with their tails. They are exactly the same color as the fan, and near impossible to see, even with our bifocal masks. Rob just aimed the camera and took lots of pictures, and you can kinda see them blowing up some of the shots.
The previous night, I studied the fish i.d. book, so I was able to recognize and name many of the fish I saw, and can now caption my photos.
The highlight of the night dive, and the thing that draws folks to the house reef at this resort is the mandarin fish mating. We got into the water just as dusk was falling and hovered over a bunch of staghorn corals, and after about 15 minutes, I saw these little (2" long) fish dart in and out among the coral fingers. These are the females. A larger male cruised around, flirting with the females. Then, about 10 minutes later, just before it got dark, the male and a female rose out of the corals about 18", belly to belly, and released a cloud of sperm and eggs. They parted in an instant and went back to the coral. The male made it with 6 or 7 females in quick succession, each cloud being a little smaller. The mandarin fish are really beautifully colored, but of course it all happened so fast, the pix didn’t work out. We’ll have to remember them in the mind’s camera – and find images on the internet.
The last dive of the trip was the capstone. Here’s Rob’s perspective: “Today something is swimming by. I click one photo off, another, and it perches, somehow covering itself with sand. By the time it took off, I had squeezed out 14 frames, 11 in focus. What I saw was an orange fish maybe three or four inches long with iridescent blue circles on it, maybe the circles were 3/8" in diameter. Very pretty, so I took all those pics. We surfaced close to an hour later, and there is joy and jubilation between Robin and Mike.” Now, my perspective: While Rob was trying to photograph some tiny transparent cleaner shrimp in an anemone, Mike began gesturing frantically for us to come over, about 10 yards away. I tugged at Rob and we finned over to where Mike was waiting for us. He was pumping his fist up and down, grinning in his face mask and pointing wildly down at something: A BLUE-RINGED OCTOPUS!!!! It was sitting on rock, pretty as can be. After Rob squeezed off a couple shots, it jetted across the sand, deepening its color to rust with deep blue rings, and then settled into the sand again, transforming itself to a nubbly beige and brown lump, with pale blue rings. We were soooooo stoked! What a sweet way to end the trip!”
In sum, the diving was FANTASTIC! The reefs were so healthy, every square inch covered with coral, sponges, anemones, etc. And fishy? OMG, so many fish, there were times the schools were so thick you couldn’t see through them!
What new friends did we make?
* Ornate Ghost Pipefish
* Giant Frogfish
* Blue Ringed Octopus
* Warty Frogfish
* 5 different kinds of Anemonefish
* Sea Moths
* Threadfin Anthias
* Pygmy Seahorses
* All kinds of little shrimp & crabs hiding in anemones, on fans & on Crinoids
* New butterflyfish and damselfish
* A gazillion nudibranchs
* Moorish Idols
* and much, much more!
Boat diving is from "bancas", long narrow boats with arching outriggers on each side – the basic configuration of most boats around there, from the smallest fishing boat to the larger dive boats. There is an awning strung across a pole in the middle for shade, and some benches to sit on. It’s perfectly serviceable with only two divers aboard, but I can imagine that with six, it would get quite crowded. The boat crew handled our gear and handed our cameras to us once we were in the water, and were happy to haul my gear out of the water for me in order to save my arthritic knees. The dive sites were within 15 minutes of the resort, with the exception of Pescador Island, which took closer to 30 minutes. Each dive was at least an hour long, and ended only because Rob ran out of air – often Mike would stay down with me for an extra 15 minutes or so, till I got my fill of the shallows. Visibility was huge, probably 100 feet, and the water was calm every day, making entry and exit a breeze. Most of the dives were on a wall, with the top of the reef as shallow as 20-10 feet, so we could do our “safety stop” tooling along the top of the reef, where light played through the wavelets over the soft corals, anemones and sponges and little damselfish and dascyllus skipped between the finger coral stems.
The “dive shop” consisted of concrete benches with individual showers [hoses with spigots –warm water from the sun], separate big rinse tanks for gear and photo equipment, and shaded rods for hanging stuff to dry. Basic but met our needs.
You can see our photos on Webshots:
I give this place 5 stars – not luxury, but very comfortable, nicely furnished rooms with individual A/C [essential!], excellent food, wonderful staff and service, and super diving. What more could you want?