2024 Philippines – Cagayan Safari – Trip Report

An amazing adventure – Remote Island Glamping & Diving

We are back on Aussie soil, caught up on sleep and sorting through images and footage from an amazing week in the Sulu Sea.

The plan was to take from Brisbane: 2 jet flights, a 4hr car ride, and finally a very small light aircraft 40minute ‘hop’ to Cagayan, a remote island in the Philippines on the same reef ridge as Tubbataha Marine Park.

An exciting week of diving awaited us facilitated by a traditional Bangka boat.

To complement the experience, we would be ‘glamping’ in permanent canvas huts with the Sulu Sea only meters from our beds (although a couple of us opted for some luxury and upgraded to air-conditioned rooms to soothe some sunburn!!)

So, our first flight with Philippine Airlines to Manila was easy and comfortable, and an overnight in Manila at the Belmont Hotel saw us sitting around the rooftop pool enjoying dinner and a few adult beverages, while new buddies met and old buddies caught up since their last outing.

Our next morning took a short flight to Dumaguete, where sadly a bag missed the flight, so some delay occurred to get that sorted.

A reminder here for all travellers:

1 – Take a photo of your luggage before flying for ID purposes.

2 – Use trackable air tags – these really saved the day!!

3 – Remember – luggage can be lost and may not find you for your entire holiday – so always pack medications, dive computers, dive mask and other vitals in your carry-on.

We then jumped aboard with our van drivers for a 4hr transit to stay overnight with Easy Divers Sipalay.

Repacking bags for our lightweight flight to Cagayancillo, and negotiating the many steep stairs, we enjoyed a great dinner onsite before waking early for our awesome low-level flight to the island.

The adventure begins.

The light planes took us on an amazing 40min scenic flight to our home for the week.  Not to be missed, the early morning was stunning in all ways.

Arriving and excited, we threw our home gear in the tents, our dive kit in baskets and embarked straightaway aboard GOYO for 2 afternoon dives to shake out the cobwebs, get weights, buoyancy and buddy systems sorted.

We had the best boat crew –

Jen – our Bosun – chief organiser of us all – drinks, snacks, lunch and keeping everyone in line. Celso – Goyos’ engineer and always ready with a big smile and to help us up the ladder. (And finding random tools when Di asked!!) Dexter – our safety entry guru – we will never Giant Stride again without thinking of: ‘CHECK-CHECK? ONE-TWO-THREE-GO!!” Cheffie Bunbun – How on earth Bunbun can serve up excellent Breakfasts and Lunches plus snacks – from such a tiny galley (kitchen) aboard Goyo is still a mystery – not to mention Bunbun would then cook us a huge dinner from a tiny hut on the island beach each night too! Skipper Mosing…. The very best welcomes every morning when we reach the Goyo with big waves and bigger hellos. Finding our dive sites with incredible accuracy – especially when we went searching for recent (2019) ferry shipwreck ‘Forever Lucky’ – that had not been dived in 2 years, and very very seldom since – basically – ‘It’s there – get in’ – look down in 20m – there she was. A GPS, a Compass and a Radio. Who needs more?

We made amazing connections with our dive guides Sammy, Sabrina and Davide, who we discovered completed his PADI Instructor Training with the same PADI Course Director as Diver Di – 21 years apart 4000klm away in North Queensland! It’s a small world!

Once we got the systems sorted, this became our regular schedule, with each day starting early – heading out to the Goyo for breakfast, snacks, lunch, relaxing surface intervals, stunning views and 3 excellent dives, and then heading back to shore to wash off the salt and settle into very comfortable beanbags on the beach together like a family gathering.

The laughs were many, the jokes overflowing, cheeky comments and sassy comebacks. The wonderful staff got involved and laughed along with us (beanbag backflips, Filipino hut entrances and keys lost in the sand to name a few…). Dinner is served, with more laughter, cheers, and eventually people nodding over the table so off to bed to be up and ready to board the ‘water taxi’ at 6 or 7am.

We made amazing connections with our dive guides Sammy, Sabrina and Davide, who we discovered completed his PADI Instructor Training with the same PADI Course Director as Diver Di – 21 years apart 4000klm away in North Queensland! It’s a small world!

So what else occurred in this incredible week?

Diving. Lots and lots of Diving.

Awesome diving. Great buddies. Water from 27 to 32 degrees. Stunning drop off walls. Undercuts and overhangs. Huge Gorgonia fans, Crinoids, Sea Whips and Soft Corals dripping from the walls. Huge Volcano Sponges defying gravity hanging from above and the side. Tiny weeny critters (Thanks Sammy – excellent spotting!!). So many species of Anemone and their fishes (Even the false clown species – [We found Nemo!’]. Turtles, Sea Snakes/Kraits, Leaf-fish, even stonefish, Robust Ghost Pipefish, Garden Eels, Rays, Mackerel, Trevally, Cuttlefish, Catfish. The biggest Nudibranch we’ve ever seen. Jorunna rubescens – about 23cm long!! (and lots of other nudibranchs!).

A casual Whale Shark cruising by… SQUEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!

Schools of Butterflyfish, Pilchards, Fusiliers. A shipwreck that VERY few people have ever dived or will ever experience. (The ‘Forever Lucky’ passenger ferry has an interesting story…)

A new dive site that its likely no one has ever dived (Now named ‘Go Dive Drift’). Incredibly calm seas, rock cliffs next to underwater drop-offs, odd rock formations we started to name, and even seaweed farms (and yes, seaweed salad was sampled – rather tasty with a sharp vinaigrette!!

We even climbed to visit the ruins of a Spanish Fort built over 200 years starting in the 16th century. Cagayancillo Fort – high on the hill, build from Coralline blocks hauled up from the sea.

So, what didn’t quite go to plan?

You might remember China started making noises about military movement around mid-April. On our departure day – after some big noisy thunderstorms rolling around us from 4am, with some very large raindrops arriving here & there, we were all packed early morning, ready to load up the small planes after their arrival, to fly back to Sipalay.

However, the Philippine Government decided to run military procedures and at very short notice, grounded all flights in the Sulu Sea for 2 weeks —> all within 30min of our flight plans!

Our divers rolled with the changes, and we were organised to take our dive vessel, Goyo, to sail the 8-14hours across the Sulu Sea back to Sipalay. 3 divers would miss their connections, but it couldn’t be helped, Dive Adventures got to work rescheduling their plans.

Thunder still grumbling above, we quickly jumped aboard Goyo, somehow the crew magically loaded all our gear, enough food to feed us all for the transit along with drinks, fresh water and fuel for the trip. Thunder rolled, and as we depart the skies opened and the deluge began.

8am, Skipper Mosing navigated out of the lagoon and into the open sea, which were a tad bumpy, but nothing compared to what we expected for crossing the open sea.

9am – our flight ban was lifted to allow us to fly off island! We turn the boat around and head back to Cagayancillo.

But the thunder and rain continued – 945am – The pilots have no visibility – all flights are grounded again – we turn Goyo around again and head to sea – now totally committed – we are sailing to Sipalay!

But to be honest it was a truly lovely sea-going experience. The outriggers make the vessel super-stable and the narrow hull slices through the waves. For the last 2 hours of the crossing the sea was like glass. For that time most of us sat perched up at the bow seeing the mainland far ahead on the misty horizon grow larger. We felt sad that the journey was coming to an end.

We watched the flying fish skitter away from us as we flew over the water, arriving at Sipalay with the sun soon to set.

Rehydrated after many Kamikaze’s (coctail of the night made with local Calamansi), and full of a lovely dinner, we all stumbled up the stairs to repack and sleep before our early drive back to Dumaguete.

The staff at Easy Divers Sipalay were wonderful, ensuring we all got to the correct rooms in one piece! Despite a wobble with rebooking flights, we all got to our respective destinations. Most of us made good use of Manila airports lounge before our final flights back to Australia.

Lifelong buddy teams made and reinforced, friendships forged, and future plans made.

It was Go Dive Brisbane’s final international trip just after closing the doors for the final time – and it was the first Dive Adventures group trip to this location. It was memorable in so many ways, but mainly made incredible by the people involved.

The divers who attended, and the Easy Diving staff who looked after us so well we felt like family, not customers.

As any good trip should make you feel; I’m sad to be home…… I miss everyone.

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Our Aussie & Kiwi Mob
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Our epic Goyo Dive Team.

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