To break the routine of weekend diving, I recently went with a dive buddy on a backpacker-style dive trip. Well, it wasn’t exactly “roughing it out” because it was just at nearby Samal and life’s comforts were ever within reach — but the point is, we hardly availed of them. The plan was to discover what two dive sites, which we hadn’t experienced yet, could offer: Isla Reta and Kaputian.
Andy (a British national who’s a certified dive master) and I rode the 9:00am boat, Pacific, from Sta. Ana Wharf to Sta. Cruz on Talikud Island. The trip took almost an hour and a half — these public commuter boats are rather slow — and ₱60 per person one-way. We brought 10 cylinders from the Carabao Dive Center for our planned dives (that’s ₱200/tank). Isla Reta Beach Resort is but a stone’s throw away from the Sta. Cruz pier, but we hired a small banca for ₱100 to take us and our gear to the beach. (Going back to the pier the following day, we discovered that you could actually request for the resort’s staff to help you with your luggage.)
When diving locally, I pack my gear in a yellow plastic barrel, locally called “laton”, which can fit everything except a tank. It’s very convenient and it keeps my fins, BCD, mask, gauges, etc. safe and secure. It can even be used for soaking gear! (Apparently, this practice of using a laton to transport scuba equipment is uniquely Dabawenyo.)
After parking our stuff at a table under the talisay trees at Isla Reta, Andy observed the prevailing currents and chose an entry point on the wide beachline. It was already noon when we finally geared up, but we decided to dive first and then have lunch afterwards.
Isla Reta’s nearshore is an expanse of sand and seagrass, with budding coral heads here and there. The bottom’s gradual decline is almost unnoticeable, unless you’re watching your depth gauge as you go farther. When we entered the water, the current was running from south to north, but reversed and picked up strength after a few minutes. There’s a berm offshore, and there the current held no sway as I searched for critters to photograph. Maximum depth: 111ft/34m.
Lunch at Isla Reta consisted of two grilled garfish that Andy bought at the local wet market outside the resort. We also had okra, garlic and eggplant — which we also grilled. The resort won’t charge corkage fees for food brought in, only for alcoholic drinks.
After a two-and-a-half-hour surface interval, we plunged in again, but this time chose the northern end of the beach. More of the same surroundings: sand, rubble, seagrass — but lots of photogenic critters!
The more interesting photos were taken during our night dive, when Andy and I entered through the beach’s southernmost end, at around 8:00pm. Fully geared-up, we hiked along the coast to a jetty and descended from there. Making our way north, we spent a little over an hour at an average depth of 47ft/14m (max 80ft/24m).
Andy, as it turns out, is an excellent spotter of the nearly impossible to see! Thanks to my dive buddy, I saw a tropical bottletail squid, several baby scorpionfish, a juvenile painted stingfish, a cockatoo waspfish, and more!
Before I got my c-card, I thought I’d never be able to handle being underwater at night — the mere thought of being unable to see beyond a flashlight’s illumination gave me very uncomfortable sensations. But now, I can’t get enough of night diving!
We spent the night at one of the resort’s concrete bungalows (₱800/night). We’d eaten dinner before the dive, because the kitchen closes early, and we didn’t want to do any cooking ourselves anymore. A native chicken (whole) cooked adobo style plus rice plus a 1.5-liter bottle of cola set us back less than ₱250 each.
The following day, we took the Hof Gorei boat to Kaputian District on the mainland (that is, the main island of Samal). We also asked the boat to bring our empty tanks back to Davao City — this commuter boat plies the Davao-Talikud-Samal route. Fare: ₱30/person (if I remember right) and ₱6 per tank.
The pier is right beside Kaputian Beach, so we hired a tricycle to carry our 4 tanks and gear to the beach, while Andy and I walked the short distance.
It’s a public beach, operated by the local government, and it’s surrounded by small houses and a fishing community. Entrance fee per person: less than ₱20 (I can’t recall the exact amount anymore).
The dive site could be described as a wasteland by the casual observer, but it’s yet another muck-diving destination for underwater macro photographers. Take a look at our photos:
I was delighted to have spotted conchs, helmet shells and cowries there. Conchs and tritons are the natural predators of the dreaded crown-of-thorns sea star, which are voracious eaters of coral. I really wish the Samal local government would do more to protect these mollusks and try to get their populations up again.
Aside from the critters and the shells, the highlight of the Kaputian dives was when two juvenile jacks (trevally) kept trailing us. They seemed unafraid of us, and even swam at arm’s length more than a few times. (Too bad I don’t have an underwater strobe yet for my camera!)
We did 2 dives at Kaputian and lunched on local fare, procured from the local market. The beach has covered tables (with electrical outlets) for day use, and that’s where we lounged for a bit after our undersea explorations. And we also met up with the Philippine Coast Guard’s Special Operations Group there by chance — they have an outpost beside the beach, and they were conducting skills training that day. It was good catching up with my friends at the SOG, and they were very generous to oblige us when we asked to have our empty tanks loaded onto their fastboats on their return trip.
It’s strange that Kaputian doesn’t have ferry service between Samal and Davao after Hof Gorei‘s scheduled morning trip. The district does have a sizable population…. The only option for us was to take the bus (Island Express) to Davao City. There is a bus stop nearby and the last trip is at 11:00pm; fare: ₱90/person. The bus goes north to Babak District, gets ferried across the channel, and ends up at Magsaysay Park in Davao, after about two hours on the road.
And that was the end of our two-day dive adventure.