Thursday, March 18, 2010
Anilao in the Philippines offers great escape and exciting adventure in diving and snorkeling
By Nancy T. Lu
If you love the sun, the sea and, even more, the undersea fairy garden, head for Anilao in Mabini, Batangas Province. You are going to love every minute of your Philippine travel adventure.
More than 30 years ago, I made my first trip to the area, experiencing in the process without harboring any fear of the unknown the pristine Philippine water and the breathtaking coral kingdom. Memories of the outing linger on.
I remember boarding a motorized banca, after a long drive from Manila, to get to a private resort accessible only by water in the final stretch. The exciting exploration of the bay around the Calumpan Peninsula shortly began.
As I was not a swimmer and still am not one, I went out to sea initially to just enjoy the breeze. A snorkeling friend popped up at one point to urge me to join him in the water and to simply have a look. He had actually found a spot on a coral bed for me to stand on.
Clinging to the banca’s outrigger, I bent down to marvel at Mother Nature’s totally magnified aquarium. Wow! The schools of brightly colored tropical fish swimming by reminded me so much of the documentary films of Ron and Valerie Taylor about the fascinating marine life in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. The sight really took my breath away. I finally understood the divers' passion to go underwater.
The banca, which was constantly pushed by the waves, finally forced me to climb – with difficulty, I must admit – back to where I was comfortably seated earlier. I nearly lost my bearing after discovering that I was suddenly only one step away from the unfathomed deep. Somebody had to literally pull me up.
Anilao or Barangay Ligaya, 127 kilometers from Manila, has changed for the better since those days. Improved roads nowadays make it more accessible. You can drive directly to Leisure Dive Resort, for example, for a weekend of aqua sports. Travel time from Manila to Anilao today is only two and a half hours.
Refreshing juice from “buko” or the young coconut was what I was served upon my arrival at the Leisure Dive Resort not too long ago. Before lunch, I saw a fisherman bringing in his fresh catch from the sea to sell after pulling his banca ashore. Shortly the wonderful smell of grilled fish wafted through the air, whetting my appetite.
Arthur and Mel Riosa (shown in picture at right), who own the place, were around during my visit. They personally saw to it that the kitchen staff did not delay in serving a hearty lunch of Filipino dishes that day.
Mabini, the town named after the brain of the Philippine revolution against the colonizing Spaniards and to which Anilao belongs, is bounded on the east by the Batangas Bay and on the west by the Balayan Bay. Known for coral diversity and dive spots, it attracts visitors interested in scuba diving, windsurfing, trekking and snorkeling. Daytime, therefore, is usually reserved for snorkeling and diving activities at different nearby sites. There are at least 20 such locations.
Mel Riosa claimed she herself did not know how to swim. But after getting into a wetsuit and putting on a life jacket and fins, she jumped into the water without hesitation when the small group she was guiding arrived at an area for baby shark watching. I balked at following her but was convinced in no time to be adventurous. I ended up watching the sharks from a distance. They stared back.
The motorized boat later took visitors to another dive site called Cathedral Rock. Some tourists began tossing pieces of bread into the water to attract the hungry fish. Indeed the creatures with fins shortly went into a frenzy over the thrown food. Twin Rocks with a barnacle-covered capsized barge I did not get to see that day. I only heard about it. Mainit (mening “hot”) was another special diving point with hot spring water spilling into the sea.
And then it was on to Sombrero Island for the small entourage. Years ago, I easily picked up beautiful shells on the beach to bring home as souvenirs. But on this more recent trip, such treasures were harder to come by due to the large influx of tourists over the years. Visitors must now even pay to be able to explore leisurely the island resembling a hat from a distance.
Before calling it a day, I learned to blaze a water trail on a jetski. Another fun option was to get on the banana boat. Actually I shuddered just thinking about getting thrown without warning into the choppy sea.
The Leisure Dive Resort has rooms with native furniture for nearly 40 guests. The rooms have balconies looking out to the sea. For families and friends, the beautiful glow of sunset each day can be admired together from a big and open pavilion, too.
Anilao’s sun and sea are calling. Start planning a trip today. Get information about pickup at the airport in Manila for a direct drive to Anilao from Leisure Dive Resort through email address Volksline@bayanmail.net.ph
All photographs were taken by Nancy T. Lu.