One of the “intro dives” I did back when I wasn’t certified yet was in the town of Maasim in Sarangani Province. It was at the Lemlunay Dive Resort, where a group of bloggers were hosted by the provincial vice governor and the resort owners. That was more than two years ago.
Last 13 & 14 October, I was able to rediscover the waters of Sarangani, and this time see with diver’s eyes just how beautiful their underwater destinations are.
We did three dives in Maasim: the Sand Bar in Bgy. Tinoto, which connects with the wall in front of Lemlunay; and Rocky Beach in Bgy. Kamanga — one in the afternoon and another at night. We were promised Napoleon wrasse at the Tinoto dive site, but the Mameng (the local name for this species of wrasse) were a no-show. And because we didn’t see any big fish at all, the first dive was a bit of a let-down; although, it should be said that the marine sanctuary appears well managed indeed, with its healthy coral communities and abundant tropical fish.
The second dive, however, more than made up for the previous excursion’s lackluster outcome. At Rocky Beach, a wall presented itself when we got to about 40 feet (12m) deep and around 100 meters from the shore. There I saw my first marine turtles in the wild. The first was gliding high above us: we were at 90 feet, the turtle at maybe 40, and it looked dreamy silhouetted against the bright surface. The second was on the wall, possibly snacking, but it scuttled away from us as we approached — I guess the eight of us venting noisy bubbles bothered it.
Still no sign of the legendary Mamengs of Sarangani, but I did spot a 4-foot red snapper, and a tight group of plate-sized oriental sweetlips. Also, it was my first encounter with the redtooth triggerfish. I’ve not seen this in Samal yet, but in Sarangani this attractive variety of triggers can be seen in large schools. Oh and there are giant clam ensconced on the wall, too (makes me wonder if they shouldn’t fall from those precarious ledges when they grow bigger…).
The best moment for all of us was on our night dive. We saw a very large hawksbill turtle sleeping in a small cave on the wall!! It was at around 50 feet, and the pawikan was nestled in the sloping sand. We made so much fuss around the poor animal that we eventually roused it.
(: That was my 100th dive, by the way.)
Here are photos from our Sarangani dives, taken by Christian Te.
Our arrival in Sarangani was at around 10:30am, coming from General Santos City, where we secured tanks from the Cambridge Dive Center. I was with one of my regular dive buddies, Christian; Andy, the British dive master I met a couple of weeks ago; and SDI dive instructor, East, and his three friends. We checked ourselves into a family room at Cambridge Farm Hotel and proceeded to the first dive site.
We bought fresh fish from a sidewalk vendor somewhere in the outskirts of General Santos, and had it prepared as kinilaw and barbecue at Rocky Beach. This dive site is an interesting affair: it’s situated by the roadside, so the huts are actually on the road’s wide shoulder, and the beach (and dive entry point) just beyond that.
After the night dive, we gorged on barbecue fare on Tiongson Avenue in GenSan. That place is akin to hawkers’ stations in Malaysia or Singapore, with a variety of food offerings.
The following day, we decided to dive within the city limits. Joel Sarenas, our dive master, brought us to Maharlika Beach for the second day’s morning dive. That was my first black-sand dive site; although, the sand didn’t appear to be purely volcanic — maybe it’s a mix of white and black.
Maharlika Beach is ideal for muck diving. I suggest going far out into the sea, though, because the waters nearer to shore are turbid. I think the turbidity is being caused by a halocline — there are fresh-water streams pouring into the beach. In fact, the beach resort features a spring-water pool, which has been dammed to provide visitors a wide wading and swimming area (and a place for us to rinse our gear aprés diving).
The final dive was at an offshore reef, about 20 minutes away from Maharlika Beach via a small outrigger boat (which we rented for ₱500 for the afternoon). The 50-foot-deep entry point is the top of the shoal, which is surrounded by sloping walls. There the divers of GenSan and Sarangani have long ago deployed artificial reef domes, which now serve as homes to various fish and other marine animals.
Speaking of which, it’s very commendable how the divers of Soccsksargen Region are actively monitoring and protecting their marine environment. They have deployed hundreds of those domes in various places, and they’re still at it. Their marine sanctuaries — which they call “no-take zones” — are thriving with healthy stocks of fish and crustaceans. We have quite a few things to learn from them.
Here are more photos by Christian, taken in GenSan:
These out-of-town dive trips are always something I look forward to doing, especially if it’s the roughing-it-out kind. Our total spend per person for that 2-day adventure was less than ₱2,000 per person, including the hotel room and food. And I even got my first stage checked and adjusted for free!
The people at Cambridge Dive Center were very professional and accommodating — I have no compunction at all recommending them to any diver. I can’t wait to go back to Sarangani to experience the other dive sites, of which they have plenty!