Sometimes it takes someone else’s eyes to see the beauty that surrounds us. Familiarity can be numbing at times and comfort can make us overlook what’s in front of us. That can be said the same to some people living along the area of Tañon Strait, the largest protected seascape in the country sandwiched between two major islands, Cebu and Negros. Ask where the strait is to a few, they would show a blank face, not knowing that the sea in front of them is part of it. Oceana Philippines, organized a photo safari to explore the length of Tañon Strait and I was fortunate to be part of this 6-day expedition. It was an exciting project as everything was new to me. Our objective was to capture and showcase the beauty and bounty of Tañon Strait. Maybe, just maybe, through our photographer eyes we could share and let more people appreciate this natural wonder.
A cup of coffee taste so great while at sea. Our breakfast of bread with peanut butter, saba bananas and a unique concoction of crushed cereal with honey made by Harold himself of Harold’s Dive Center was enough to energize our morning. It’s the last full day of our Oceana Philippines Photo Safari and time simply flew by fast here while at Tañon Strait. From Mantalip Reef in Bindoy we were headed to our last stop in Dumaguete but not before we do some Bais Dolphin Watching and a visit to the largest remaining mangrove forest in Negros Oriental, the Talabong Mangrove Park and Bird Sanctuary.
It was hard to get used to the comforts of Hale Manna and explore more the beauty of the underwater world of Moalboal as in day 5 of our Oceana Philippines Photo Safari, we were on the move again. Off the coast the large white liveaboard outrigger vessel from Harold’s Dive Center in Dumaguete awaits to ferry us from Cebu, across Tañon Strait to Mantalip Reef in Bindoy, Negros Oriental. It was an impressive boat, spacious with lots of sitting and lounging areas, a well-kept mess area, restroom, and solar charging area. Ocean travel always had that soothing comfort, embraced by the breeze with boundless possibilities seen across the horizon.
The soothing comfort of Hale Manna in Moalboal may tempt us to just lounge around its garden in solitude but Tañon Strait, just over the cliffs, is calling to explore its depths. We’re on our fourth day into our Oceana Photosafari in Tañon Strait and it’s the day we get to become water creatures by being on the ocean the whole day visiting the denizens below. I was excited for this part of the trip that I made sure to bring my own snorkelling gear set. Some of our companion would be diving which I’m sure they’ll get the front seat in seeing the underwater spectacle. Some of us though would just content ourselves to explore near the surface and free dive once in a while.
It was a relief that after travelling at least four hours from Bantayan Island, then a short 200 meter hike from the roadside, we were welcomed with Cebuano folk songs by the staffs of BAETAS (Bojo Aloguinsan Ecotourism Association). I may not fully understand the words but I could feel the collective liveliness from the group vocals to the energetic strums of the lone guitar. We were on the third day of our Oceana Philippines photo safari at Tañon Strait. We traveled southwest to the town of Aloguinsan to experience their Bojo River Cruise, the towns foremost attraction with activities revolving around the 1.4km river leading to Tañon Strait.
Bantayan in northern Cebu is also the northern tip of Tañon Strait protected area. Other than Sta Fe and the Virgin island, we visited Madridejos found north of Bantayan Island facing the Visayan seas. A town formerly known as Lawis, it was the first settlement north of the island. In 1917, the town was renamed Madridejos in honor of Benito Romero de Madridejos the former Archbishop of Cebu. Prior to World War II, Madridejos enjoyed being the “Little Alaska of the Philippines” because of its rich fishing ground. The first canning factory in the country was also here until it was bombed during the war. Our visit with Oceana Philippines seeks to observe and capture the communal richness of Tañon Strait with the people of Madridejos.
If the mainland beach of Bantayan Island at Sta Fe is not enough for a true-blooded beach bum, which, mind you is already a lovely stretch based on my personal standard, visitors still have options to explore the nearby islands. Second day, mid-day of our Oceana Photo Safari, we’re still at the start of our exploration of Tañon Strait in which the Bantayan Islands is a part of. The small Virgin Island, about 45 minutes off the coast of Sta Fe by outrigger boat was our destination.