It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Anilao 2018

After much waffling about where to go for vacation this year, we landed on Anilao for a few reasons.  First, we wanted to go somewhere that had really good macro subjects.  Second, we wanted to go somewhere that was not ridiculously annoying to get to.  Rob had to be in Hong Kong for work in July, so we decided to go somewhere that we could get to easily from there, so that we could meet in Hong Kong and hang out there for a few days.

Anilao was a lot of fun, and they really do have great macro life.  We stayed at Buceo Anilao, which is definitely not a luxurious place, but it is a nice place to go if you just want to dive, sit by the pool, sit on your balcony looking at the ocean, eat, drink, etc.  Our dive guide, Elmer, was excellent at finding cool critters, but otherwise left us alone.  I would definitely go back to Anilao (and stay at Buceo Anilao), but I would probably go back at a different time of year, since the viz is supposed to be better in the winter, and apparently that's the best time to look for rhinopias.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Anilao 2018: Trip Home

Tasty food at the lounge
 On our last day in Anilao, I went to the spa for a massage in the morning.  It was fine, but nothing amazing.  It was all the way at the top of the hill that the resort is on, so there's a nice view from there.  Our flight was not until the evening, so we left after lunch.  On the way back, we took the opposite way around the little peninsula that is Anilao.  Once we got to Batangas, it seemed like we were in traffic forever.  I guess it was rush hour :P  Even
tually we made it to the other side of Batangas and then the trip to Manila was pretty speedy.

When we checked in, I was confused by our seat assignments, because I had changed them recently so we were seated together, and they seemed to have changed again.  Then we eventually realized we had been silently upgraded to business class.  W
oot!  We headed through security and made our way to the lounge.  The last time we flew out of Manila, the lounge was pretty crappy.  There's a new (as of a few years ago) Cathay Pacific lounge in Manila now, and it is roughly a billion times better than the old lounge.  We got some food at the noodle bar, and then still had a lot of time to pass because we got to the airport so early.  While we were waiting, they called us to tell us we had been upgraded to business class for the Hong Kong to SFO leg too.  Double woot!  So the flight ended up being not as terrible as it could have been, and roughly 16 hours later, we finally made it home and were reunited with the kitty cats :P

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Anilao 2018: Day 7

The last day of the trip.  Boohoo.  We did some pretty exciting dives today.  First we went to Red Rock, which is around the corner to the left of the resort, but much further than we'd been before, all the way back to Mabini town.  The site consisted of a nice pinnacle from around 20' to 60' that was very big around.  We didn't spend that much time on the pinnacle; most of our time was on the rubble at the bottom all around it.  I found what was one of my most exciting finds of the trip -- two tiny white Okenias!  I'm pretty sure they were Okenia brunneomaculata.  I couldn't believe it when I saw them.  To the naked eye, they looked like tiny Okenia felis, but with really skinny processes.  While we were having our fun with the Okenias, Pascal and Corina found a flamboyant cuttlefish.  I was sad to have missed it, but I think the tradeoff was worth it :P

We hung out on the boat for our surface interval and then went to another site near town for a muck dive.  It was pretty mucky.  The viz was quite bad and we didn't really see a whole lot, but we had a nice interaction with a (non-flamboyant) cuttlefish.

In the afternoon, there was horrible wind on our side of the channel, so we went over to Maricaban Island, where the wind was remarkably not horrible.  I neglected to take notes about this dive or the night dive, so once again, you just get pictures :)

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Anilao 2018: Day 6

Unfortunately my notes from the diving on this day are sketchy at best.  In the morning, we went on a wreck dive.  I believe (based on my not-so-extensive web research) it was the Daryl Laut.  It's mostly just the frame left, so you can swim inside without worrying about getting lost :)  This site could have been a cool site, but the problem was there were TONS of divers on it.  It was a zoo.  A zoo in technicolor.  Fins in every shade of fluorescent that they make :P  We found some cool nudis at the bottom and a big electric clam (inside of the frame of the wreck, in an area where for some reason no one else was).  We also saw a cardinal fish with eggs and a pink-eyed goby.  So cute!!  So I guess looking back on it, it was a pretty good dive in terms of all of the stuff that we saw, but all of the crazy divers are what were most memorable :)

After that, we headed back to Bethlehem, where we saw tons of slugs.

I took no notes at all about the afternoon or night dive, so those stories have been lost to the ages.  This is particularly sad, because this afternoon was when we finally managed to find a flamboyant cuttlefish, but I don't know where we were when we found it.  Boohoo.  Fortunately, the photos that Rob took have not been lost to the ages, so you can look at some more pretty pictures instead.

A hungry frogfish:

And last but not least, Shaun the Sheep nudibranch.  I have to admit, I thought Rob's obsession with getting this shot was strange, but once he finally got the shot, it's just ridiculously cute:

Friday, August 3, 2018

Anilao 2018: Day 5

For the first dive of the day, we went back to Elmer's Point to look for the pygmy seahorse again.  We saw 5 (well I saw 5; others may have seen more :P) on the darker pink sea fan.  We could not find any of the orange ones though.  Aside from those, which we spent quite some time looking at (and watching Rob take pictures), we saw a huge cuttlefish snoozing in the sand.

After that, we went to the other end of Secret Bay for a muck dive.  Rob and I got almost immediately separated from the rest of the group, because Rob stopped to photograph a sheep nudibranch.  We couldn't find the rest of the group, so eventually we surfaced and followed their bubbles back down.  Doh.  We saw more sheep nudibranchs (Rob's favorite), a ghost pipefish and a sea horse.  It seemed like we spent a lot of time on this dive not finding anything, but I guess overall we had some good finds.

In the afternoon, we went to Bubbles Point.  We went out and back along the wall and saw lots of slugs on it, including several new-to-us dorids.  The wall has tons of encrusting sponges.  This spot was definitely one of my favorite sites in terms of topography.  The wall is nice and it has lots of great stuff living on it.

We did a dusk Mandarin fish dive, which was a pretty long boat ride to get to.  We found a bunch of Mandarin fish, but they weren't in the mood.  We hovered in one spot for about 60 minutes staring at the coral rubble that the fish darted in an out of.  There were a couple of times I really thought they were going to come out, but it never happened.  After we finally gave up on the Mandarin fish, we saw two cuttlefish and two squid.  One of the squid was very cooperative with photos and videos.  So we ended up spending quite a bit of time with him, and that sort of made up for busting out on the Mandarin fish.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Anilao 2018: Day 4

Today was wide angle day.  It would turn out to be the one and only day that Rob shot wide angle.  We went over to Maricaban Island, a little to the right from the resort.  The spot had really nice coral formations, but the viz was chunky and it was cloudy.  This is, of course, why we didn't end up doing more wide angle days.  Apparently the bad viz is seasonal, so it would be interesting to return during a better viz time of the year (there are also certain critters that are only around other times of year).  We saw a little school of barracuda and also a lot of anthias and other tropical fish.  It was a nice dive, but just not the best conditions for photography.

Next we wnet back to Mainit, but we went more toward the point and shallower.  In this area, there were some really nice pinnacles and walls.  The viz was bad again.  It was kind of variables; there were spots where the viz was pretty good, but overall it was pretty murky.  But Rob managed to get a few keeper pics in the better viz spots.

In the afternoon, Rob switched back to macro.  We went to a spot near where we had looked for flamboyant cuttlefish yesterday, to look for pikachu nudibranchs.  The site was called "Nudibranch Safari", and has a slope down to about 70', where there is a flat muck area.  We had no luck finding Pikachus, but we found plenty of other slugs to keep us busy.  I guess it's a pretty good name for the site.

For the night, we went back to Secret Bay.  We saw three ghost pipefish immediately after descending, so it was off to a good start!  Other than that, we saw lots of tiny nudibranchs.  There was one which I thought looked kind of Aplysia-like, and when I showed it to Rob, he wasn't really sure that it was a nudibranch.  In the process of trying to inspect it, it flew off of the hydroid or whatever it was on and we almost lost it to mid-water.  But then Rob managed to get some pretty cool shots of it against the black of mid-water.  Right at the end of the dive, we found a squid, and we followed him up to the surface.

Pina colada, at last
I guess a food shipment had arrived during the day, because they finally had pineapple at the bar, so they could make me a pina colada.  So I finally got my pina colada, and confirmed that mango coladas are actually tastier than pina coladas.  I will have to put this new knowledge into use at home sometime, when it is good mango season.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Anilao 2018: Day 3

In the morning, we headed over to Maricaban Island, and spent the whole morning (including surface interval) there.  Our first dive was at Bethlehem, which has scattered reef on a downslope, which flattens out to a rubbly area around 60 or 70 feet.  We were promised we would find tiny nudibranchs on the dive, and we did indeed see lots of different ones.  Some of the coral on the way up the slope looked pretty nice too.  The reef goes all the way up to about 10'.

We spent the surface interval anchored on a little beach.  The second dive was at Kirby's Rock.  This site has a pretty sheer wall, and a little pinnacle just off of the wall (which I assume is the rock that the site is named for).  This was one of the nicest sites, in terms of pretty reef, that we went to.  The wall and the pinnacle were both very colorful, with all different colors of crinoids and tons of yellow sea cucumbers all over the wall.  There was some different colored soft coral (like they have in Fiji) as well, and lots of different colored little sea fans too.  So just lots of different colorful life all over the wall.  This site would be good for wide angle, especially when the viz is better.  We saw two frogfish on this dive, one of which was HUGE, four moray eels, a hammer crab with eggs (which Rob got an awesome picture of) and lots of different nudibranchs.  It was a great dive.

In the afternoon, we went back over to Maricaban Island for a muck dive, but this time to a dive site to the left after you cross the channel.  I'm not sure what the name of the site was.  We were looking for flamboyant cuttlefish.  Upon dropping down, we immediately found two non-flamboyant cuttlefish, which were still pretty cool, since they were the first cuttlefish we'd seen on the trip.  We also saw a mimic octopus, which was so cool!  We lost Rob for a little while during the dive; while we were able to communicate with him by tapping bolt snaps on our tanks, it took a while before we managed to actually find each other.  This should give you an idea of what the viz was like on the dive.

The night dive was another site past Secret Bay, but a little bit further down the beach than where we went last night, I think.  The theme of this dive was cephalopods.  So many cephalopods.  We saw cuttlefish, different kinds of squid, and octopus.  Yay.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Anilao 2018: Day 2

It's probably about time that I say something more about the resort, or well, really anything other than diving, since yesterday's post was very dive heavy.  So we've already covered the sisig and the mango coladas.  The other notable thing about the resort is that they have amazing mango juice (and also fresh mangoes) at breakfast.  I didn't think the breakfast was particularly amazing overall, but the mangoness was quite amazing.  Another positive aspect about breakfast (or any meal, really more an aspect of the dining "room") was that there was a mom and kitten that were super cute, and super friendly, especially if you had some meat or eggs to offer to the kittens.  The kitten was so teeny tiny and friendly!  Rob even picked him/her up a couple of times.  So cute!

For the first dive of the day, we went to a spot just to the right of the hotel that was a muck dive.  I think the site was called Twin Rocks.  For the second dive, we went across to the other island (Maricaban Island) to look for hairy gobies.  The site consisted of coral rubble, and I believe it was called Olympic Point (though there is a question mark after that in my notes).  I was not really familiar with hairy gobies before the dive and didn't really know what we were looking for.  But Elmer found one, and now I could see why they were named as they were.  They are so ridiculously cute; they don't even look real in pictures, they look like cartoons to me.  Those guys are also VERY skittish and like to disappear back into the coral branches when the flash goes off.

After lunch, we went to Bubble's Point, which is a bit further past Secret Bay.  This site has bubbles that come up from a volcanic vent.  This site has tons of crinoids (which I love), and a cool wall that goes down to at least 100', and lots of big cool fans on the wall.  The site also had, in general, some bigger fish compared to other dives we'd done so far.  At the top of the wall, there a sort of coral rubble field, which had a lot of whip corals with shrimp on them.  It's always fun to look for shrimp on those.

For the night dive, we went to a similar site as yesterday, but a little bit further down the beach.  I'm not sure if it's still Secret Bay or if it had a different name.  Anyway, it was another muck dive.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Anilao 2018: Day 1

At last it was time to go diving, woot woot.  We got our gear setup and met our dive guide for the week, Elmer, before breakfast and then we headed to the dining room to have breakfast.  There was a breakfast buffet every morning.  There were two things on the buffet (most mornings) which were pretty awesome: 1) mango juice and 2) fresh mangoes.  Rob ate his weight in mangoes every morning (until they ran out of mangoes for a couple days, which I am pretty sure Rob was singlehandedly responsible for).

Eventually it was time for our first dive, which was at the closest dive site, just to the left of the hotel.  I believe they call this site Buceo Point.  It consisted of scattered coral heads.

The second dive of the day was in front of the hotel where we transferred from van to boat yesterday for the ride to the resort, and the site was called "Secret Bay".  This was a muck dive, there was a slope which upon an initial look seemed like there wasn't much there but sand, but in fact there were lots of little bits of junk that critters were on and around.

For the third dive of the day (after lunch), we went looking for pygmy seahorses.  And we managed to find two!!  They were the darker pink ones (rather than the more orange-y pink ones that I've seen before).  I think that Elmer found more on the same sea fan, but we could only manage to see two of them.  That was plenty.  Rob spent quite a bit of time taking their pictures.  They kept hiding behind branches of the sea fan, and re-finding them was kind of driving me nuts :P

For the night dive (which we left around 6 for), we went back to Secret Bay, which was an awesome night dive and also a very conveniently short boat ride back to the resort.

Once we got back, we went to dinner and then went to the bar (which is in the middle of the resort just above the beach) for a drink.  I tried to order a pina colada, but they were out of pineapple.  So instead the bar tender suggested a mango colada, which is a million times better than any pina colada I've ever had :)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Anilao 2018: Arriving in Anilao

View from our balcony
We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, so we hung out in one of the Cathay Pacific lounges that I'd never been to before.  I think it might have been closed for renovations the last time I was in Hong Kong.  After killing a bunch of time there, it was finally time for our flight, which was only about 2 hours.  When we arrived in Manila, we had no trouble at all finding our driver and got going.  The drive is about 2 hours and then there is a very short (5 to 10 minute) boat ride to the resort.  The weather was not so good on this day.  When we came around the little point just to the south (I think) of the resort, there were huge whitecaps.  The ocean looked very angry.  It was also a bit overcast.  So overall, it did not exactly look like a tropical paradise when we arrived.

Sisig, Rob's new favorite food
The staff met us when we arrived and took our bags for us and we sat down in the dining room to check in, and also ordered a late lunch while we were there.  We ordered the "sisig" which is a Filipino dish that Rob became obsessed with during our stay.

It was really really windy for the rest of the afternoon.  So windy that it was not very comfortable to sit outside on our balcony or at the pool.  I was worried that the conditions would be like this all week, but that turned out not to be the case.  This was the worst wind of the trip, and only a couple of other afternoons had much wind.

The rooms are named after sea creatures, and we stayed in Ghost Pipefish.  The art/photography in the room all contained ghost pipefish.  This room is on the top floor of the building right above the pool.  The proximity to the pool was pretty convenient, and it was nice that it wasn't too much of a hike up the hill to get to our room.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Anilao 2018: Stop in Hong Kong (Day 2)

Pork bun!
In the morning we met up with Bev at Tim Ho Wan, which is a dim sum chain that has a Michelin star (for some of the other locations).  We went to the one at the IFC mall.  There was a short wait, but it was not too bad.  The food was very tasty; the bbq pork buns (baked not steamed) were really really good.  After that, we visited the Apple store so that Rob could attempt to replace a laptop charger that he accidentally left in Taiwan.  Unfortunately they didn't have any with the right plug.  But it's got to be the best Apple store ever (not that I am really into Apple stores) because of the view.  Then we went for coffee and chatted about what to do with the day.

We decided to head to Peng Chau, which is a little island village that you can reach by ferry.  The good thing about this plan was that the ferry ride was well chilled.  But once we were there, it was insanely hot outside, and we were walking around in the middle of the day.  We alternated short bouts of walking with going into places with air conditioning.  We did manage to walk around the island a bit, and found a place with cheap stir fried noodles and fruity slushy drinks.  Ahhh, slushy drinks.  Then we decided to head back to the city and rest for a bit.  In the air conditioning.

Later in the afternoon, we went to Bev and Matt's apartment.  We brought Rob's birthday cake and ate that, and hung out for a bit, and got to play with (or attempt to play with) their cat, who I managed to not take a picture of :( 

View from the ferry
Then we went to Sai Kung for dinner, which is an area with a lot of fishing villages and thus a lot of seafood restaurants.  We took a ferry and then a long cab ride to get there.  By the time we got there, I was melting from the heat, even though it was long past sundown.  We went to a restaurant called Loaf On.  Bev ordered way too much food, which was all delicious.  One of the more delicious items was abalone.  Mmmmm.

After attempting to kill us with food, Bev insisted that we return to Central to go to a bar (or some bars, to be more accurate).  She wanted us to go to Quinary, which is apparently one of the ten best bars in the world (whatever that means).  But it was way too crowded, so we continued on to another bar, whose name unfortunately eludes me.  There are just too many trendy bars in this part of Hong Kong to be able to find it using google maps :P  We eventually continued on to yet another bar, 001, whose entrance is an unmarked black door with a door bell and video camera.  You ring the bell and they decide if they want to let you in.  They eventually let us in :P  Well the concept is a bit silly but it was a pretty nice, comfy bar.

That was all of the excitement I could take for one night, so we eventually headed back to our hotel, with not that many hours until we had to leave for Manila in the morning.  Yawn.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Anilao 2018: Stop in Hong Kong (Day 1)

Cab ride in Hong Kong
Rob was in Asia the week before our trip to Anilao, so I met him in Hong Kong and we hung out there for a couple days with our friend Bev (and her not-so-imaginary boyfriend, Matt).  It was not the ideal time to visit Hong Kong, as it was super hot.  But we had a lot of fun, in between feeling like I might collapse from heat stroke.  I'd really like to go back sometime in the winter (or at least not the peak of summer).

PDB on flight to Hong Kong
I arrived in Hong Kong on a Friday morning, and Rob and Bev also flew back to Hong Kong that morning, so we planned to meet at the airport.  The flight was uneventful, and actually better than expected.  I flew premium economy on Cathay Pacific, which was better than I expected.  I managed to sleep for a reasonable amount of time, which I didn't expect to be able to do without a lie-flat seat :)  Plus they gave me champagne before takeoff, which is really all that's necessary to make me happy.  Anyhoo, I arrived a couple hours before Rob and wandered the airport and had some dim sum.  We eventually met up and headed to the hotel, but Rob had a meeting in the afternoon.  So he deposited me at the hotel and I went to the pool and napped for a while, until Bev was free for a late lunch.

Brisket noodles!
She took me to a "brisket noodle" place called Kau Kee, which was a tiny restaurant with a ridiculously long line in front of it.  But somehow the line moved incredibly fast, so after not too long at all, we were seated (at a table shared with some other random people) and we (well mostly Bev) ordered some delicious noodle soup with delicious meat in it.  And iced coffee, which is exactly what I needed considering the heat and jet lag.  The bowl of soup was pretty small, so we ate it quickly and moved along, which explained how they could move people through there so quickly.  We walked around a little bit and eventually made our way to the escalators that run through central Hong Kong, and took that up the hill a little bit to Tai Kwun.  It's a good thing for those escalators or I would have died of heat stroke walking up the hill.  Around this time we finally heard from Rob, who was headed back to the hotel.  He said after he got there and changed, he'd come and meet us.

Really good iced coffee
We walked around a bit more and after we couldn't stand the heat, we found a cafe/wine bar whose name I can't remember.  It's unfortunate that I can't remember it, because I had what I think is the best iced coffee I've ever had.  And I drink a lot of iced coffee.  I think it was right on Hollywood Road, but I did a bit of googling around and couldn't find it.  After quite a while, Rob eventually showed up, and only after Bev got on the phone with his cab driver and explained where we were :)

Beer at Blue Supreme

After a bit more wandering around, we ended up at Blue Supreme, a gastropub-ish place where Bev's nephew (whose name I have forgotten) cooks.  The kitchen wasn't open yet so we drank beer for a while and then eventually when the kitchen opened, Bev's nephew brought us a few dishes of his choice.  Everything was very tasty.  The plan was that we would just eat a little and then have dinner later on, though that didn't end up working out, because we ate too much tasty food here :P

Next we went up to Victoria Peak to see the view.  It was insanely crowded, but we managed to get up there and get some nice views and snap a few pictures without getting pushed over the railing by the throngs of people.

View from Victoria Peak
 After that we headed back down to Central and went to a bar called Stockton, which was way too cool for me.  I suppose you could say it had good ambiance, but the cocktail menu was full of complicated cocktails that each had so many ingredients that at least one was something I don't like.  But I sucked it up and found something to order.  I don't remember what the actual cocktail was, but it came with this huge cube-shaped ice cube (maybe that's redundant) which was coated in cocoa butter (I assume) so it was matte white.  So that looked pretty neat.  I think it had Frangelico in it.  Or something nutty.

We finished up the evening at another bar that was right next to our hotel, the Cafe Gray Bar (no relationship to Grey Cat).  It's on the 49th floor of a hotel, so there is a nice view.  It had a much more reasonable cocktail list than Stockton, though it felt a lot less like I was in a James Bond movie.

Rob's third birthday cake
When we got back to our room, we found that the local sales team (that Rob was with in the afternoon) had sent a cake and bottle of champagne to our room for Rob's birthday (which was on Thursday).  Gotta love sales guys.  This was the third birthday cake that Rob had during his travels around Asia.  Unfortunately I was too tired to eat cake.  Isn't that terrible?  So we saved it for tomorrow.

I was planning to cram all of our Hong Kong stay into one post, but it seems it was too eventful for that.  So I'll save the rest for a second post.