Two of the main things that draw tourists to Bohol are the Chocolate Hills and tarsiers.
The Chocolate Hills (touted as one of the flagship tourist attractions in Philippines) is a geographical formation of more than 1500 symmetrically rounded hills in a 50 square kilometer area and is supposed to look gorgeous. The tarsiers, on the other hand are supposed to be the world’s smallest mammals. They have HUGE eyes, and as one of our friends put it, “look like mini gremlins caught in headlights”.
Realize that “supposed” is used a lot in the paragraph above?
That’s because we did not go see the Chocolate Hills nor the tarsiers. It’s not because we did not know about them, but we were too enamored by the underwater scenery from the day before (at least Jo was), such that we decided to forego them in favor of one more day of diving at Balicasag (an island 40 minutes away from Alona Beach) instead.
Not a bad call from us, since it turns out that Balicasag is one of the best dive sites in the Philippines.
Our first dive was at a marine sanctuary where we swam against a coral wall that was 40 metres high. It was GORGEOUS, and we felt kind of surreal floating alongside the wavy soft corals as swarms of huge fish passed us by on the other side.
One of the most memorable sights for me was seeing a giant school of jack fish. If you had shown me a picture of a singular jack fish before this, I probably would have told you that this very plain looking fish (I am being kind here) probably belongs more on a dining tray than any advertisements to promote diving in Balicasag. But when these plain looking fish bunch together and swim in unison, they glide along in formation and execute the most amazing spiraling moves.
There is something so majestic about them that at that moment in time, I was tempted to believe that there really is a Watch Maker. I’ve seen my fair share of wonderful sights, but those singularly ugly jack fish are something I will remember until the day I die.
I mean that in a good way.
Totally wowed by our first two dives and kinda emboldened by our previous escapade, I decided to bring my DiCAPac soft casing down for a trial run on our third dive. The sales lady had told me that the casing is water proof up to 30 metres, although the camera would be pretty much useless beyond 11 metres because of compression of the air within the casing. I’ve come to find out that I have a rather unhealthy “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude towards advice like this, but I forgot that the penalty of her being wrong was the complete destruction of my camera.
We started out the dive at the 12 meter spot, and the casing held out relatively well. The plastic was now clinging tightly around the camera so it was no longer possible to change any settings, but I could still take some shots…
Diving a bit deeper, it was no longer possible to squeeze the trigger.
I believe this caused Aman, our dive master, a good deal more grief than it did us.
After wiping away his tears of laughter, he realized that he now had to take care of two rather “rusty” divers, one of whom was fumbling to hold on to a loose piece of equipment. The DiCAPac casing is buoyant, so it kinda made me look like a kid at the amusement park \with one of those floating balloons trailing behind me. There was one point in the dive where he had to take off ALL the weight in his weight belt to put on me because I was floating away too much. It sounds like a scene from Up, but believe me, it is not funny when you are the one doing the floating away.
More frustratingly, that particular dive was also the one where we saw “rare” fishes like mini frogfish and baby lionfish. He would gesture for us to take a snap, then realize (again) that the camera that had been causing him so much grief was effectively useless.
Thankfully the casing (and my camera) held out through our dive to 24 meters. There was some slight condensation within the case, but nothing a quick wipe could not handle.
No disrespect to people who like to look at mounds of dirt and/or large eyed primates, but I would’ve taken the diving over the Chocolate Hills or the tarsiers any day.