Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Club Paradise, Philippines
Thousands of feet below me, littered on the brilliant blue waters, are a dozen or so very small islands. Off the plane’s port side there is a huge reef running out from Mindoro. The view is magnificent as the plane starts its slow descent towards the small dirt airstrip I can just make out ahead.
We make a giant turn and I can see off to my right our destination, Dimakya Island. It really looks idealic from up here. Straight below there is a long thin island which, with a few smaller islands, makes a very protective harbour. I will soon find out that this is where we will dive on a World War II Japanese shipwreck.
A few minutes later we make a smooth landing at the small "airport" (that is being very generous) at Decalachao (a location, not a town - a least from what I saw), although the correct name for the airport is apparently Yalu King Ranch. One hour and ten minutes ago we had taken off from Manila and we were now on Busuanga Island in the Calamian Group of the Philippines. Busuanga Island is a fairly decent sized island, about 55 kilometres long and 20 kilometres at its widest. It has a few hills, with some rugged jungle sections as well as quite large grassed cattle stations in the centre.
As I indicated earlier, we are heading for Dimakya Island which is located about six kilometres off the northern coast of the larger island. We are staying at Club Paradise and as we get out of our plane we see that the resort’s jeepney (see it at the left - like a huge gaudily decorated and painted 4WD - with our own added decorations) is waiting for us. Unfortunately for us, we have flown with what is perhaps the world’s most disorganised airline, Pacific Airways, and we have been forced to come on three separate planes. The 13 of us are on two planes and our luggage is split between these two planes and another plane. This is very strange as at their Manila terminal there were three or four much larger Twin Otters sitting idle which are capable of carrying all of us and our gear in one go.
We had been warned about this airline before we left Australia and as unbelievable as it may seem, the weight allowance for each passenger is 60 kilograms. This is not 60 kgs of luggage, this is the total permitted weight of the passenger and ALL luggage. Not many Aussies can get by that limit, certainly no-one on our trip, not even the thin females. So, we get slugged for excess baggage, not too bad on the forward trip (US$10) but the return trip is a disaster. More about this in another article.
Anyway, after a cool Coke in a traditional bottle (60 cents), we finally get our luggage and depart on a 30 minute drive along a bumpy dirt road to where our boats await us. The workers from Club Paradise carry our bags 200 metres or so along a boardwalk to the wharf where we climb aboard two bancas (based on traditional boats but with diesel truck motor and gearbox).
Finally, we seem to be "on holiday", speeding down the river past small villages, sipping a Coke or two and then hitting the open sea. The water is very calm and in 45 minutes we are standing on the beach of Dimakya Island.
This is a fantastic looking island, with beautiful beaches, a couple of small hills and a variety of accommodation on the water’s edge and further away from the sea. It is not very big, maybe 200 metres across and 500 long. We are welcomed to Club Paradise with a great non-alcoholic cocktail and given a very good briefing on the resort’s features. We book in and trundle off to our room, ideally located on a small beach, just five metres from the water. It has been a hot trip so we hit the water and cool down. This is the life.
I have been crook since before we left Sydney and not having eaten for almost 48 hours, I am finally getting a bit hungry as we head off to lunch. The meals are all smorgasbords, with a compulsory food charge of US$37 per day. This works out at more than A$57 per day (when I went there in 1996) when the 10% surcharge (what the hell for?) and 10% tax is included. At more than $30 for dinner, $15 for lunch and $12 for breakfast, it does not take Einstein to figure out that unless you have very high quality food, this is a bit of a rip-off. In my view, the food was quite average (except as I will detail below) and it did not represent good value, especially considering what meals in the rest of the Philippines cost. Strangely, the drinks at the resort were quite reasonably priced, with beers being $2.40 and even cocktails only $4 to $7.
After our lunch we decide to do a shore dive off the island’s main beach. We enter the water and drift with the tide to the south. The depth never gets much over 14 metres but we have a nice, easy relaxing dive. The fishlife is not prolific, but we still see quite a bit including clownfish, trevally and other tropical fish. As well as the remains of a small boat, there are some dumped items including a small cement mixer. Towards the end of the dive we see some turtles, a giant cuttlefish (the first I have seen in the tropics) and some fascinating shrimps. I find a giant anemone which is inhabited by not only clownfish, but dozens of extremely small, transparent shrimp which clamber all over my hand and arm as I watch them. Fantastic!
We finish the dive by coming up to the shallows and swimming back to where we started, the current being non-existent here.
After dinner and a few drinks, we go to bed but are awaken by an enormous storm a few hours later. Lightening, thunder, rain and wind lash our small hut and we rush to close the window before we drown. The next morning we awake to find the seas raging (at least for here) and the whole island racked with dumping waves. No chance of diving early as it is impossible to board the boat from the beach and all our tanks and gear still has to be loaded. Finally, after swimming the gear out to the banca (we put most things in a small toy rubber duck and push it through the water to the boat) we are ready to go.
We are going to dive the wreck of the Kyokuzan Maru which is located in the sheltered waters of Cabilauan Island about 60 minutes away from the resort. The 160 metre long freighter was one of 24 Japanese vessels sunk on 24 September 1944 around Busuanga Island by aircraft from Admiral "Bull" Halsey’s Task Force 45. Apparently the ship was disguised as an island but the American pilots obviously saw through this attempt at deception. For more information about the ship and diving her, see my Kyokuzan Maru Page.
Today the vessel sits upright in just over 40 metres of water. It is fully intact and two dives on the wreck are just enough to gain an impression of the ship. The wreck is almost fully intact, very much like the Japanese wrecks in Chuuk Lagoon. The forecastle area of the bow is quite interesting, with easy access into the rooms and a few things to see. On the starboard side there is evidence of a bomb exploding and causing quite a bit of damage.
This is an excellent dive, as good as many in Chuuk, but not containing as many artefacts.
After our first dive here we go a few kilometres to an island where we have lunch on a small beach. Despite my comments above about the quality/cost of the food, the lunch here is excellent, well worth the cost. After a couple of hours we do our second dive on the wreck and then have a leisurely trip back to the resort.
That night we have dinner on the beach and party a bit. This is the life. I have really enjoyed my stay and the diving at Club Paradise. It would be an very good location for a family. This is not a location that many Australians visit, most guests are Europeans (there were a lot of Poles there, all as red as a beetroot after one day).
The next day we leave the island and travel to Coron, but that is another story.
Michael McFadyen travelled to the Philippines courtesy of Allways Dive Expeditions, AUSI dive certification agency and Philippine Airlines. He stayed at Dimakya Island and dived courtesy of Club Paradise. Ian Lockwood of Allways Dive Expeditions can help you with more information on diving this and other sites in the Philippines. He can be contacted on 03 9885 8863 or fax 03 9885 1164.