Text and photos by Carmela Inez V. Joaquin
FOLKS who are seriously into underwater adventure can explore top dive sites with the help of Discovery Fleet, a company whose two ships — Discovery Adventure and Discovery Palawan — bring visitors to dive sites in the Philippines and Palau.
The company has different tours depending on the time of the year, and from January to March, Palawan is where it is at — divers can explore the world’s second-biggest contiguous coral reef in the world (Apo Reef) and the numerous Japanese wrecks from WWII in Coron.
But non-divers will not be left behind as they can enjoy a full day of beach and island visits, snorkeling, kayaking and more.
Along with the Apo Reef-Coron tour, Discovery Fleet’s Cebu-Malapascua-Visayas route (October to December) is also open to non-divers. Divers, meanwhile, will enjoy a tour of the various reefs in the area and have close encounters with thresher sharks and whale sharks. From late March to mid June, the two ships tour the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park off Palawan — this is for divers only — then the Discovery Adventure goes to the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau where from October to March she brings divers to the Blue Corner, Chandelier Cave, and Ulong Channel.
Discovery Fleet recently took a group of non-diving media people on a tour of Palawan, with stops at Apo Reef, Culion, and Coron. This is their story.
DAY 1 — MANILA TO BATANGAS
We traveled from Discovery Suites Ortigas to Batangas Port where Collin, the boat manager, greeted us as we boarded the Discovery Palawan.
Built in 1972 in Holland, the ship sailed in the Caribbean until she was brought to the Philippines to serve as an adventure cruise ship. Renamed Discovery Palawan in 2013, she underwent a $1.5-million renovation and today serves as a dive boat. With a gross tonnage of 539 tons, the 49.20 meter-long ship has an air-conditioned salon, a sundeck, a dining deck and separate bar deck. She has 16 standard cabins at the lower deck with centralized air-conditioning and four upper deck cabins with personal climate control.
As we were welcomed with drinks and lunch, the staff brought our luggage to our respective rooms. We proceeded to our rooms where we found goodie bags containg tumblers, caps, reef-safe sunscreen and caps, all of which we could use on our trip to practice eco-friendly traveling. After getting settled, we returned to the saloon for a briefing on the trip, then proceeded to have cocktails on the deck, followed by dinner. But we did not stay up late, opting to get rested up for the adventures ahead.
DAY 2 — APO REEF
The day started with Sunrise yoga on deck. Afterwards we exercised drills in case of emergency. All warmed up, we went on to have a bit of breakfast and then got ready for our day trip at Apo Reef, located between the island of Mindoro and the northern Palawan island of Busuanga.
There was a pavilion on the tiny island in the middle of Apo Reef Natural Park which became our base — we were lucky to have the island pretty much all to ourselves. We went snorkeling and spotted an eagle ray, a white tip shark, and lots of turtles. We had lunch on the island then in the afternoon indulged in some sunbathing, explored the mangroves, then went up the island’s lighthouse before heading back to the boat. Had another round of cocktails while admiring the sunset. Had dinner then headed to bed. It was a long, fun day.
DAY 3 — CULION/CALUMBAYAN
We woke up off the coast of Culion Island in the north of Palawan. We had breakfast on the ship then took the small chase boats to get to the island. We visited Culion town’s church, La Immaculada Concepcion Church, for a few prayers, then proceeded to its museum/archives which tells the island’s unusual history. A bustling town during the Spanish era, the American colonial government transformed it into a leper colony by the in 1906, and was maintained as the country’s leprosarium until 1998 when, after nearly a century, administrative control over the island was transferred from the Department of Health to the Municipality of Coron. The Culion Leprosy Archives was officially inscribed to the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register — Asia and the Pacific.
It was a quick morning tour then we headed back to the boat in time for lunch before sailing for Calumbayan island for another round of snorkeling and yoga. This time yoga was held on the beach at sunset.
Again we were pretty much the only tourists around so it was pretty private. We headed back to the boat for dinner then spent the night exchanging stories over cocktails making the most of our last night of the cruise.
DAY 4 — CORON
We woke up in Coron, anchored just a few meters away from the famous Kayangan Lake. Those who could wake up early enough had a round of early morning meditation before breakfast. After breakfast we headed for Kayangan Lake for some snorkeling (again) — this time in fresh water. Some of the group went on to see the popular snorkeling spot Siete Pecados while the rest headed back to the boat to pack up their things.
We had our last lunch together then hopped on the chase boats to head to the main island of Coron where our vans were waiting to take us to the airport. It was a smooth ride from there, flight was a bit delayed but no trouble.
We said our goodbyes as we collected our luggage at the airport terminal.
It had been a full and fun three days.
For details on Discovery Fleet, visit its website at https://www.discoveryfleet.com/#/
To see more of the Discovery Fleet trip to Apo Reef-Culion-Coron, view this video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nqGtDn2JEk