Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text:
In need of salt water, I dive these days with nostalgia in my last underwater pictures brought back from the Philippines... It was early 2020. Before the Covid and the closing of the borders.
Yes, I was really lucky: I was able to fly to the Philippines at the end of February 2020, and come back without a hitch a fortnight later. On the eve of the first lockdown in France and at Manila.
I spent two weeks there diving and exploring underwater sites on several islands of the archipelago: the south of Leyte (Sogod Bay), the southwestern part of Cebu (Moalboal), and Northeast Palawan (Pangatalan).
See and see again... I must admit, I was not disappointed. I even found Sogod Bay more beautiful than I remembered. The area remained authentic. The dives are superb. This is the kind of place that really makes you feel good.
To occupy my days in Sogod Bay, I have planned a few activities:
Diving, of course, but perhaps also being able to watch a whale shark, this time! (I totally ruin the suspense with the picture above... 😉 )
Learn about environmental initiatives in the bay, which has several small marine protected areas (MPAs), including the hunting of the acanthasterthis fearsome coral-eating starfish, with the Sogod Bay Scuba Resort and a coral nursery, with the local association Green Inc.
Meeting up with my friend Carol, who organizes eco-friendly diving trips with her agency Equilibre, and has planned to travel there at the same time to accompany a young French diving couple.
I will detail all this in several posts in the coming weeks... 😉
If you're on Instagram, you can also check out the story about Leyte that I had posted in "live" at the time...
February 2020, no restrictions for travellers yet
When I arrived at the Manila airport on February 29, 2020, there are signs about coronavirus for travelers, but no specific measures, other than a fact sheet to fill out and a temperature check.
Many people wear masks, which does not surprise or worry me. It is a habit already well established in Asia, especially since previous SARS outbreaks. But when I disembarked, the mask was not yet mandatory, and there were no sanitary restrictions on travel in the Philippine archipelago.
I was far from suspecting that the Covid-19 epidemic would take such a magnitude and last so long.
The domestic flight from Manila to Tacloban that takes me to the island of Leyte is not very long (1 hour and 20 minutes), but there are still several hours to drive to Lungsodaan, a village in the municipality of Padre Burgos, in the south of the island. Twelve years ago, I had come by sea, by night ferry, from Cebu. And at the end of this new stay, it is also by ferry that I plan to leave, to return to the island of Cebu.
In Padre Burgos, I am pleased to rediscover the Sogod Bay Scuba Resort (SBSR)where I had already been in 2008. This small dive center with adjoining restaurant and rooms overlooking a beach of dead corals, remained simple and welcoming. I celebrate my return with a well-deserved mango juice, facing the bay.
It is an Australian-Filipino couple, Phil and Darlene McGuire, who run the store, with a young Filipino team (the Englishman Ron Sparkes, co-founder of the resort with Phil, and with whom I had dived in 2008), passed away in 2014.)
At SBSR, the atmosphere is family, relaxed and without fuss. The diving trips are done in small groups on a large bankga (traditional Philippine outrigger boat) comfortable. And above all, in Leyte, we are far from the tourist hordes that are rampant elsewhere, on other islands of the archipelago much more popular ...
In other words, we're just fine. 😎 🌴 👌 🐠
There's quite a bit of wind in the south of Leyte at this time of year, but that doesn't stop us from sailing across the bay or diving. The best preserved and most beautiful sites are the reefs in the marine sanctuary of Napantao (Panaon Island) located on the east side of the bay, right in front of Padre Burgos, and those of the island of Limasawa located in the south at the entrance of the bay.
About 10 kilometers long, Limasawa is also a place of historical and religious significance. It is there that the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan would have made the first lasting contact with the indigenous population on March 28, 1521, just before Easter, and would have celebrated the first Roman Catholic mass in the Philippines. The event, which will be the 500e anniversary on March 31, 2021, marks the beginning of the Christianization of the archipelago.
Twelve years ago, I wasn't equipped like I am today. My little compact camera at the time didn't really allow me to take underwater pictures. So I was mostly focused on the "little" during my stay in Sogod Bay. This time, it's different. Each evening, I choose to put myself in "wide angle" configuration. I want to capture the special atmosphere of the coral reefs.
Photographing them has become my great passion... The more I dive, the more they fascinate and amaze me. And I am well aware of their fragility. The damage caused in the world by overfishing, pollution and global warming (corals bleach and die when the water is too hot) have taken on unprecedented proportions in recent years.
Between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the "Coral Triangle" of which the Philippines is a part, has already suffered a lot. Despite everything, it is still the place on the planet that concentrates the greatest diversity of coral species. There is still life, in profusion on some sites, and hope: the ocean is capable of resilienceIf the ecosystems are allowed to regenerate.