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Cagsawa - Legazpi - Malapascua

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Tue, December 20, 2016 16:01:58

First update from the Philippines & Micronesia project

My six week Philippines & Micronesia project started on 11 December, and so far I have visited Cagsawa, Legazpi, Cebu City and Malapascua Island, situated just north of the larger Cebu Island in the Viscayas. Here are five of my photos that I find showing the highlights of the trip so far. More of my photos will be posted as the trip unfolds, both here in the Philippines and in Micronesia.

My first photo pictures the Church Ruins of Cagsawa in front of Mount Mayon on 14 December. The baroque church of Cagsawa was built in 1587 and burned down by marauding Dutch in 1636, and reconstructed again in 1724. On 1 February 1814 the strongest eruption recorded to date of the Mayon volcano buried the town of Cagsawa and its surrounding areas, killing an estimated 2,000 people. Hundreds of inhabitants of the town of Cagsawa purportedly sought refuge in the church, but were also killed by the pyroclastic flows.

My second photo pictures the harbour of Legazpi with Mount Mayon in the background on 15 December. On some maps of Legazpi there will be a hill pointed out just south of the Embarcadero shopping mall, called Sleeping Lion Hill. Its from this hill I've taken the picture above. I first took a tricycle from Old Albay where my hotel was to the foot of Sleeping Lion Hill, then a girl offered to "guide" me up the hill, and I accepted since the path is muddy, slippery and not obvious, but also with safety in mind. She did of course get a tip for her troubles.

My third photo is from December 17, showing the beaches of Malapascua. I had a hard time getting there due to cancellation of my flight from Legazpi to Manila, where I would catch a second flight to Cebu City and from there make my way to Maya on the nothmost tip of Cebu Island, hop on a boat bound for Malapascua. My flight was cancelled due to bad weather, and in Legazpi the rain was pouring down all night and all day! Finally I managed to rebook my ticket to a rerouted flight to Cebu City, arriving there quite late, tired and hungry, after having spent all day sorting things out in Legazpi.

On the evening of December 18, I had a night dive west of the Lighthouse on Malapascua. On my first dive that day, I did see a smaller sea snake of the spieces Blue-lipped Sea Krait (Laticauda laticaudata). On my night dive, the second dive of the day, I saw a real big one, surely one meter long, indicating it must have been an adult Blue-Lipped Sea Krait. This is a venomous sea snake that I have great respect for even if they are known not to attack humans, if not provoked. This photo is actually from the film footage from that night dive.

Last but not least, my photo of a Thresher Shark from yesterday, December 19. This spieces of shark is an odd looking one, with large eyes and an extremely long tail fin. In fact, half of the shark's total length is made up by this long tail fin! The Thresher Shark is famous for special jumping techniques and behavior called "breaching" where they jump out of the water and into the air. One did exectly this when my dive boat had stopped and I was gearing up for the plunge. I would have loved to have that on photo or film..

- I'm going to Panglao Island and Bohol tomorrow, stay tuned!

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The Philippines & Micronesia (23)

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Tue, December 06, 2016 23:08:21

Full itinerary of my Philippines & Micronesia project

My previous posts have more or less covered all the locations I will experience in my forthcoming six-week long solo trip to the Philippines & Micronesia. My girlfriend Paula will not be joining me on this trip, which made me put together the longest itinerary to date!

This is really just a rough blue print and all the details have been spared, there is a lot more to this trip than can be read here!

11-13 Dec: Stockholm – Beijing – Manila

13 Dec: Manila – Legazpi: Mount Mayon, Sleeping Lion Hill, Lignon Hill

14 Dec: Daraga Church and Cagsawa Church Ruins

15 Dec: Donsol: Whaleshark interaction

16 Dec: Legazpi – Manila – Cebu City: Restaurants and museum

17 Dec: Cebu City – Malapascua: travel by bus and boat.

18-19 Dec: Scuba diving including Threasher Shark dive, night-dive and more

20 Dec: Malapascua – Cebu City: Travel by boat and bus, restaurants, museum

21 Dec: Cebu City – Panglao Island, Bohol: Restaurant, arrange scuba diving

22-25 Dec: Scuba diving, adventure sports, Tarsiers, Chocolate Hills, landscapes

26 Dec: Panglao Island, Bohol – Cebu City. Restaurants/museum

27 Dec: Cebu City – Manila – Palau: Arrange scuba diving

28-31 Dec: Scuba diving/ freediving/land or jungle tour/culture/history

1-4 Jan: Palau – Yap: Scuba diving/island tour/culture/history

4-7 Jan: Yap – Guam: Scuba diving/island tour/culture/history

7-11 Jan: Guam – Saipan: Freediving/scuba diving/island tour/culture/history

11-15 Jan: Saipan – Guam – Chuuk: Wreck-diving/freediving/land tour/culture/history

16-19 Jan: Chuuk – Guam – Manila: Taal volcano/museums/shopping/culture/history

20 Jan: Manila – Beijing – Stockholm

The very last location on this trip will be Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. Taal volcano can be reached from here on a day trip, and so can a lot of other interesting places in the greater Manila region.

All domestic flight reservations for the Philippines are now made, and in total 16 separate flights will link together all the various parts of this travel project. Only accomodation in Cebu City and Manila remain and will be sorted out before this weekend.

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The Philippines & Micronesia (22)

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Sat, December 03, 2016 00:30:49

The Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon

During World War II, the Truk atoll was host to Japan's Imperial Fleet, which was left destroyed in the wake of Operation Hailstone 16-18 February 1944, often referred to as Japan's Pearl Harbor. Today, hundreds of Japanese aircraft and other military machines remain at the bottom of the lagoon, making it one of the world's best wreck dive sites.

In February 16-18, 1944, five fleet carriers and four light carriers, along with support ships and some 500 aircraft, descended on the islands in a surprise attack. Just a week before the attack, the Japanese military had moved additional ships to the area, and, as a result, approximately 250 Japanese aircraft were destroyed and more than 50 ships sunk.

An estimated 400 Japanese soldiers were killed in one ship alone, trapped in the cargo hold. Most of the fleet remains in exactly the same spot it was left, largely forgotten by the world until the end of the 1960's.

Jacques Cousteau's 1969 film Lagoon of Lost Ships (see previous post here at Ad Astra) explored the wreck-littered lagoon, and many of the sunken ships were then still full of bodies. As wreck divers brought attention to the site, Japan began recovery efforts, and many bodies have been removed and returned to Japan for burial. A few, however, remain.

Many of the wrecks are visible through the shallow, clear water, making it an accessible dive. The wrecks themselves can be very dangerous, not only because of ragged edges and tangles of cables but because of half-century old oil and fuel leaking into the water, creating a potentially dangerous situation.

Up until the 1990's, the lagoon was known at Truk, but it is now called Chuuk. Many maps still show both names. Needless to say that this location will be an excellent ending to my Micronesian leg of my Philippines & Micronesia project.

- The full itinerary of my Philippines & Micronesia project will be posted here next week!

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TravelPosted by Jean Dar Sun, November 27, 2016 19:38:10

Two weeks to go!

After having covered Palau, Yap, Guam, Saipan and perhaps even Tinian in Micronesia, my travel project will take me to Chuuk Islands, also known as Truk Lagoon. This location was the scene of a major battle in 1944 during World War II.

Chuuk is the best wreck diving location on the planet, as this lagoon is scattered with Japanese shipwrecks, submarines and airplanes that went down in Operation Hailstone on February 16-18, 1944. Operation Hailstone was a massive naval air and surface attack during World War II by the United States Navy against the Japanese naval and air base on Chuuk Islands.

For more that two decades this Pacific atoll was more or less forgotten, and so were the sunken Japanese ships, airplanes and submarines in it. Then came Jacques Cousteau along in 1969, exactly 25 years after those thunderous days in February 1944 and captured it all in his film. Today Chuuk is known as the best wreck diving site on the planet!

Featured here in its entirety, Jacques Cousteau's 1969 documentary "Lagoon of Lost Ships" is about the shipwrecks of Truk Lagoon. When it was first released, this documentary reveled new discoveries and to this day still inspires awe. Many contemporary divers cite this film as one of the reasons they became interested in wreck diving.

A number of factors made this documentary so successful. Only twenty five years had past since Operation Hailstone, when the ships and airplanes of Truk were sunk. Breathtakingly preserved in this film and untouched by divers and souvenir hunters. Second was the technology employed, a scanning radar device with a chart recorder, and maps from the 1968-1969 USS Tanner hydrographic survey.

Diving in Chuuk Islands will of course be something very special, as this is not only a war graveyard, but also a location of historical value. For practical reasons this will be a solo trip without Paula, so I have just tried to fit in all the best into this fast moving island-hopping project.

- More about Chuuk Islands will follow.

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TravelPosted by Jean Dar Mon, November 14, 2016 23:09:01

The World War II Maritime Heritage Trail: The Shoan Maru wreck

The Japanese Freighter (presumably) Shoan Maru is included in Saipan's Maritime Heritage Trail, and I hope to freedive this wreck too in Tanapag Lagoon with some other World War II wrecks.

The wreck is locally referred to as the Chinsen, or simply as "the shipwreck", this wreck is a Japanese merchant vessel tentatively identified in 1990 as Shoan Maru. Nearly two dozen merchant vessels, including Shoan Maru, were sunk in Tanapag Lagoon or in deep waters surrounding Saipan during World War II. Commissioned during the war years, they served as auxiliary submarine chasers, guard boats, and transports. Many ships were used as transports during the inter-war years and later requisitioned for use were either purchased from foreign builders or seized during World War I.

The list of typical transports provided in warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1869-1945 includes ships built in Scotland, Germany, and England. These ships were generally fitted with vertical tripleexpansion steam engines and water tube boilers, a good time-marker for pre-war build. Very Little information ha come to light regarding the story of Shoan Maru. It is referenced only as a standard steamer transport of 5,624 gross registered tons built in 1937 and requisitioned for use during the war years. As such, it was pupose-built for wartime use.

According to records of U.S. submarine attacks, Shoan Maru was torpedoed on 27 January 1943 west of Rota. It was damaged but, due to defective torpedoes, the ship did not sink and was later towed to Saipan for repair or salvage. At the time of the submarine attack it was reportedly carrying conscripted Korean soldiers which have since been commemorated on the shipwreck site with a monument. The ship was still grounded in Tanapag Lagoon more than a year later, when it was damaged beyond repair during airborne raids from the Task Force 58 carriers Essex and Yorktown.

During the post-war cleanup of the harbor, the ship was cut down to the waterline because it was considered a navigation hazard. Between 1949-1962, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had control over much of the northern half of Saipan. Under the cover of the U.S. Navy, a facility known as the Naval Technical Training Unit (NTTU) provided training in intelligence tradecraft, communications, counter-intelligence, psychological warfare techniques and sabotage. The remains of Shoan Maru were reportedly used for explosives training by the NTTU.

The disarticulated remains of this Japanese freighter lie in 10m of water on a sandy bottom. The ship lies on its starboard side and little remains intact, except for a section of the bow. Although most of the ship has been damaged due to the effects of explosives and salvage efforts, the major elements such as the engines, boilers, steering gear, and superstructure are located in the general area of their original positions. At one time, a few bicycles were still visible in the cargo areas, however, these have not been seen for years. The overall length of Shoan Maru was approximately 125m, but the wreck as it appears on the seabed is scattered over an area of approximately 274m. This is likely due to salvage and explosion efforts.

Marine life on the wreck is abundant and changes from season to season. The sheer size of the surviving structure attracts greater numbers of larger fish species. Predatory red bass patrol the edge of the wreck, and also school at the bow in heavier currents. Shoals of daisy parrotfish scour the hull for algae. Schools of yellowfin goatfish shelter on the leeward side, often associating with bluestripe snapper, whose colouring they resemble. Solitary Chinese trumpetfish can also be found on the on the leeward side of the wreck.

- I'm making the last reservations for the Philippines & Micronesia project at the moment.

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TravelPosted by Jean Dar Wed, November 09, 2016 22:40:37

The World War II Maritime Heritage Trail: The Kawanishi H8K wreck

Tanapag Lagoon, or Puetton Tanapag in Chamorro, has been Saipan's primary harbor from prehistoric times through to the present day. Mostly due to its deep waters and natural barriers against the forces of the ocean, the lagoon has been an important maritime resource since prehistoric times. Mañagaha Island in the lagoon, and the surrounding barrier reef form a natural breakwater making Tanapag Lagoon an ideal haven for watercraft of all shapes and sizes.

It was significant to the invasion of World War II. The Japanese Imperial Navy had a base here and launched decisive attacks against the Allied forces from this strategic position. After seizing the island, the United States Navy took possession of the lagoon and expanded its harbor facilities substantially. Today it is home to 9 of the 12 sites that were chosen to be part of the maritime heritage trail.

The World War II Maritime Heritage Trail includes the large Japanese flying boat Kawanishi H8K (Allied named "Emily") pictured in this video. My intention is to freedive this wreck just as Freediver HD does in the video. However, I must mention that the World War II footage in this video is most certainly not of this patricular airplane.

Info on the Maritime Heritage Trail of Saipan: Located in Saipan, Northern Marianas Islands, United States. Maximum depth of Tanapag Lagoon is 14m, with an avarage of 3m through to Garapan Lagoon. Chalan Kanoa Lagoon is very shallow with depths constantly changing with the tide. Scuba diving, freediving, snorkeling, swimming and kayaking the Maritime Heritage Trail of Saipan is suitable for all levels and ages and is accessible all year round.

- See the previous video from Tanapag Lagoon here:

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The Philippines & Micronesia (18)

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Sat, November 05, 2016 12:08:46

Saipan - the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands

The next stop after Guam in my itinerary for the Philippines & Micronesian travel project is Saipan, the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands and the capital. Saipan is the principal island and major commercial center of the archipelago. The Island is formed by a rising coral reef, and offers beautiful white sand beaches with crystal clear water and plenty of Pacific World War II history and also good scuba/freediving opportunities.

On Saipan, I also expect to find a well balanced mixture of beautiful nature with modern amenities, nightlife, and shopping venues. The island's turquoise lagoon hides wrecks and remnants of the Pacific War that are today protected by law. Towering cliffs and a pristine jungle lures hikers with caves still filled with the detritus of a war now remembered by ceremonies held at inspiring peace memorials built by many nations.

Alongside all of Saipan's highly interesting history and prehistory going back 4,000 years resides a fringe of new, modern resort hotels, restaurants and shopping venues of high stardard. Considered the downtown district, Garapan is where most of the restaurants, bars, and shopping centers are located.

One of the most well-known dive sites on Saipan is the Grotto, featured in the video above. It is by many listed as one of the absolute top diving spots in Micronesia, and even in the world! It surely looks wonderful, and even more so in this freediving video, but the Grotto has also claimed the lifes of divers of all levels. The recommendation is to stay in the Grotto, not to swim outside of it.

As Freediver HD wrote in this YouTube video:


The Grotto has claimed the lives of at least 6 to 10 divers since 2001, with deaths in 2005, 2006, 2008, including the deaths of students, advanced divers, instructors and dive masters.

I don't want to be responsible for a case of "monkey see monkey do". If you are planning to dive here - DO NOT SWIM OUTSIDE like I did. It's not about the distance or breath hold, its about the conditions outside. I swam out once, and I will never swim outside again. This video is edited to make it look like I was outside for a few seconds - the reality is I was stuck outside for around 10 minutes, with big waves pounding the cliff wall making it impossible to 'breath up' on the surface before going back in. Once you surface on the outside, its impossible to see the entrance to the grotto without first swimming down to about 6 or 7 meters. If the waves and current move you out of position just a few meters , you may never find your way back in. If you are stuck on the outside of the cliff, you'll have to make a 1.5km swim in fierce currents and pounding waves to make it to shore.

Also be aware that the exceptionally clear water gives you a false perception, and you may find you are way deeper and further into the cave than it looks.

I don't want anyone to kill themselves because of what they saw somebody do on youtube."

- More about Saipan will follow, stay tuned!

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TravelPosted by Jean Dar Sun, October 30, 2016 21:38:54

The Second Battle of Guam

The Second Battle of Guam, 21 July–10 August 1944, was the American recapture of the Japanese held island of Guam in the Mariana Islands during the Pacific campaign of World War II. It was captured by the Japanese on 10 December 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was not as heavily fortified as the other Mariana Islands such as Saipan that had been Japanese possessions since the end of World War I, but by 1944 it had a large Japanese garrison.

The Allied plan for the invasion

The Allied plan for the invasion of the Marianas, Operation Forager, called for heavy preliminary bombardment, first by carrier aircraft and planes based in the Marshall Islands to the east, then once air superiority was gained, close bombardment by battleships. Saipan, Tinian, and Guam were chosen as targets due to their size, their suitability as a base for supporting the next stage of operations toward the Philippines, Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands. The deep water harbour at Apra was suitable for the largest ships, and airfields for Boeing B-29 Superfortresses could be built from which to bomb Japan.

Guam, ringed by reefs, cliffs, and heavy surf, presents a formidable challenge for an attacker. Underwater demolition teams reconnoitered the beaches and removed obstacles from 14–17 July. Despite the obstacles, on 21 July, the Americans landed on both sides of the Orote Peninsula on the western side of Guam after daybreak, planning to secure Apra Harbor. The 3rd Marine Division landed near Agana to the north of Orote, and the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade landed near Agat to the south. Japanese artillery sank 20 LVTs, and inflicted heavy casualties on the US forces, especially on the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, but men and tanks were ashore at both beaches.

Japanese counterattacks

By nightfall, the US forces had established beachheads about 2,000m deep. Japanese counterattacks were made throughout the first few days of the battle, mostly at night, using infiltration tactics. Several times they penetrated the defenses of US forces and were driven back with heavy losses of men and equipment.

The 77th Infantry Division had a more difficult landing on 23–24 July. Lacking amphibious vehicles, they had to wade ashore from the edge of the reef where they were dropped by their landing craft. The men stationed in the two beachheads were pinned down by heavy Japanese fire, making initial progress inland quite slow. Supply was very difficult for the US forces in the first days of the battle. Landing ships could not come closer than the reef, several hundred yards from the beach, and amphibious vehicles were scarce.

The 1st Provisional blocked off the Orote Peninsula on 25 July, and that same night Lt. General Takeshi counterattacked, coordinated with a similar attack against the 3rd Division to the north. The next day, General Obata reported, "our forces failed to achieve the desired objectives." Lieutenant General Takeshi Takashina was killed on 28 July, and Lieutenant General Hideyoshi Obata took over the command of the defenders. On 28 July, the two beachheads were linked, and by 29 July, the peninsula was secure.

Japanese delaying action in northern Guam

The counterattacks against the beachheads held by US forces, as well as the fierce fighting, had exhausted the Japanese. At the start of August, they were running out of food and ammunition and had only a handful of tanks left. Obata withdrew his troops from the south of Guam, planning to make a stand in the mountainous central and northern part of the island, to engage in delaying action in the jungle in northern Guam to hold the island as long as possible.

After ensuring no significant Japanese forces operated in the southern portion of Guam, Major General Geiger started an offensive north with the 3rd Marine Division on the left flank, and the 77th Infantry Division on the right, liberating Agana on the same day. The Tiyan Airfield was captured on 1 Aug.

Rain and thick jungle made conditions difficult for the US forces, but after an engagement with the main Japanese line of defense around Mount Barrigada from 2–4 August, the Japanese line collapsed. The 1st Provisional formed up on the left flank of the 3rd Marine on 7 August, due to the widening front and continued casualties, in an effort to prevent the Japanese from slipping through the American gaps. The Japanese had another stronghold at Mount Santa Rosa, which was secured on 8 Aug.

Guam declared secure

On 10 August, organized Japanese resistance ended, and Guam was declared secure, though an estimated 7,500 Japanese soldiers were estimated to be at large. The next day, Obata committed ritual suicide at his headquarters on Mount Mataguac, after sending a farewell message to Japan.

A few Japanese soldiers held out in the jungle. On 24 January 1972, Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi was discovered by hunters. He had lived alone in a cave for 28 years near Talofofo Falls.

- Guam will be followed by Saipan during my Philippines & Micronesia travel project.

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TravelPosted by Jean Dar Thu, October 27, 2016 22:21:10

Apra Harbor, Guam

Chuuk Islands (Truk Lagoon) has stolen almost all of Micronesia's wreck diving headlines, but don't overlook Guam. Fate has created a coincidental war museum on the bottom of Guam's Apra Harbor: the only place on earth where you can dive wrecks from both World Wars on a single tank, or freedive if that's your passion.

The German built, Russian-operated SMS Cormoran (formerly the Rjasan) and the Japanese Tokai Maru both passenger and cargo freighters, lie atop one another in the bay. To dive them both, the typical profile is to descend past the Tokai Maru's midsection until the Cormoran is reached. One obviously don't have to go past 30m to take in the infrastructure.

Visibility can be limited due to weather and ship traffic in the Harbor, and you might get 15m of visibility if you are lucky. Other Guam wrecks include a Japanese Val bomber sitting in 26m of water on a sloping wall, and a concrete barge of more than 90m called the American Tanker, sunk to provide a breakwater at the mouth of Apra Harbor. The American Tanker is featured in the video above.

The American Tanker lays at 8-34m in Apra Harbor, next to the breakwater and is typically a boat dive. It is a a huge concrete barge located right beside a shallow reef, and is popular as a beginning wreck dive and should be a very easy dive. So having a few days in Guam on my trip to the Philippines and Micronesia, diving the American Tanker might be included in my itinerary!

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TravelPosted by Jean Dar Wed, October 19, 2016 21:50:47

Guam - Where America's day begins

I am going to visit Guam for a few Days after Yap during the Micronesian leg of my trip to the Philippines and Micronesia, and might not go diving all that much over there. But that could easily be changed since nothing more than accomodation is arranged at this point in Guam.

Today Guam is an island territory of the United States with a significant military presence, but it has not always been that way. During World War II, its location about 900 miles north of the equator in the Western Pacific Ocean made Guam immeasurably valuable to both the Axis and Allied Powers. Guam played a pivotal role in the war and remains a great place to explore history firsthand.

The island has been a possession of the United States since 1898, except for a brief period beginning when the Japanese took control in December 1941. In July 1944, U.S. Marines landed on both sides of Guam, and by early August their counterattacks had taken a serious toll on Japanese troops, securing the U.S. force's trek to victory. Guam is home to more than a dozen World War II sites, each one of them offering a unique perspective on the war.

For years Guam's waters were one of the world's best kept secrets when it came to freediving and scuba diving. Guam's reefs are colorful, gorgeous and teeming with life, from the colorful coral heads to the multitudes of sea creatures that live there. Guam has several companies that specialise in beginner lessons for the curious, and they can also certify you all the way to mastery.

Many of Guam's beautiful blue sights are just off its shores, while others are only a quick boat ride away. Scuba diving is a booming business on Guam, and one should find competitive rates, quality equipment and experienced instructors that should make a visit memorable. However, I can't see that diving in Guam could offer quite the same world class diving, coral reefs and sea life as in Palau, Yap or some locations in the Philippines.

In Guam its possible both to explore underwater shipwrecks, or walk a grassy hillside to discover intact weapons shelters from World War II. One can also visit solemn memorials to Japanese and U.S. soldiers, or the sites of the Tinta and Faha massacre that claimed the lives of nearly fifty Chamorro men and women.

- More about my forthcoming visit to Guam will follow here at Ad Astra!

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TravelPosted by Jean Dar Fri, October 14, 2016 21:42:30

Yap - Island of the stone Money

Yap is going to be the second Island I will be visiting in Micronesia, and having a direct flight from Palau, I will save a lot of time that will be spent mostly in the Pacific Ocean. To me Yap seems to be the perfect stepping stone towards Guam and Saipan from Palau, and probably one of the least visited islands in western Micronesia.

Just as is the case with Palau, the reefs surrounding the islands of Yap are home to a rich diversity of tropical marine life. The most popular natural resource is their resident population of manta rays, which divers and snorkelers have a good chance of seeing on an almost daily basis.

Usually found inside the lagoons, the dive guides in Yap are expert at finding the mantas, plus a host of other animals to keep visiting divers and snorkelers entertained. Yap also boasts lively colorful coral reefs and walls teeming with sharks, trevallys, nudibranchs and another favorite, mandarinfish. Most of the operators offer dive classes from introductory snorkeling and scuba lessons through advanced levels of instruction.

The last of my free diving gear has arrived from Spain, and I will be picking it up toworrow. Got myself a new Aqualung i300 dive computer, Cressi Metallite 3mm socks to go with my freediving fins, and a Sporasub Piranha freediving mask as a back-up to my Aqualung Micromask.

- Its now less than two months before the Philippines & Micronesia project sets sail!

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TravelPosted by Jean Dar Sat, October 08, 2016 14:37:21

The Battle of Peleliu 1944, Palau Islands

Through all parts of my forthcoming travel project to the Philippines & Micronesia, the underlying theme will be the World War II wrecks, relics and fortifications that still remains there. The Philippines got its fare share of World War II history, but going to Micronesia, I'm sure the concentration of those remainders of the violent past will be much more present.

A Controversial Attack

By the end of February 1944, Allied forces had gained control of the Marshall Islands in the western Pacific Ocean and moved on to the Marianas, where 20,000 U.S. troop – by far the largest force used in a Pacific operation thus far put ashore on Saipan on June 15. After fierce resistance by the Japanese, Saipan was declared secure on July 9 and the neighboring islands of Tinian and Guam were under American control by late August. The next objective for Admiral Chester Nimitz's Pacific Fleet was the Palau Islands in the western Carolines, 500 miles east of the Philippines.

Peleliu, a volcanic island just six miles long and two miles wide, was held by a garrison of more than 10,000 Japanese troops. The island's airfield would allow Japanese planes to threaten any Allied operation in the Philippines, and General Douglas MacArthur pushed for an amphibious attack in order to neutralise this threat. Admiral William Halsey reported that enemy resistance in the region was far less than expected, and he recommended that the landings in the Palaus be canceled entirely and MacArthur's invasion of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, be moved up to October. MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz followed Halsey's advice about Leyte, but chose to go ahead with the attack on Peleliu.

On the morning of September 15, the 1st Marine Division landed on the southwest corner of Peleliu. U.S. forces had refined their amphibious strategy over a year of hard fighting, and by this time had it down to a science: Massive naval bombardment of land based targets preceded troop landings, which were supported by strafing and bombing runs by carrier based aircraft. The troops arrived on shore in waves, gathering on an island's beaches until they had sufficient numbers to push inland. These methods had worked in earlier landings and were expected to work again on Peleliu.

Bloody Nose Ridge

The Japanese had learned from past attacks, however, and they took a new strategy, aimed at bogging the enemy invaders down for days and inflicting massive casualties in hopes of pushing the Allies into a negotiated peace. Peleliu's many caves, connected by networks of tunnels, allowed the Japanese to hunker down and emerge mostly unscathed from the Allied bombardment. They held out for four days before U.S. forces were even able to secure the southwest area of Peleliu, including a key airstrip. When the Marines turned north to begin their advance, they were targeted along the way by heavy artillery fire and a fusillade of small arms from Japanese forces installed in caves dug into the rocky surface of Umurbrogol Mountain, which the Marines dubbed "Bloody Nose Ridge". Over the next eight days, U.S. troops sustained about 50% casualties in some of the most vicious and costly fighting of the Pacific campaign.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army's 81st Infantry Division had secured Angaur and Ulithi, also in the Palaus, relatively quickly. Members of the 321st Regiment (and later the 323rd) were sent to aid the 1st Marine Division, arriving in time to make a renewed attack on Bloody Nose Ridge from the west on September 24. While the combined Army and Marine forces were able to envelop Japanese positions on the mountain, the Japanese still held out, and would only be dislodged after much bloodshed throughout October. More U.S. reinforcements arrived, and the ridge was finally neutralised on November 25. Characteristically, the Japanese defenders refused to surrender, and virtually all of them were killed.

Lessons of Peleliu

The Battle of Peleliu resulted in the highest casualty rate of any amphibious assault in American military history: Of the approximately 28,000 Marines and infantry troops involved, a full 40% of the Marines and soldiers that fought for the island died or were wounded, for a total of some 9,800 men (1,800 killed in action and 8,000 wounded). The high cost of the battle was later attributed to several factors, including typical Allied overconfidence in the efficacy of the pre-landing naval bombardment, a poor understanding of Peleliu’s unique terrain, and overconfidence on the part of Marine commanders, who refused to admit their need for support earlier on at Bloody Nose Ridge.

On the other hand, the capture of Peleliu served as a means to MacArthur's much desired end to the recapture of the Philippines, and the drive towards Japan's home islands. The lessons learned at Peleliu also gave U.S. commanders and forces insight into the new Japanese strategy of attrition, which they would use to their advantage in later struggles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

- Next stop after Palau will be Yap, northeast of Palau and on my way to Guam.

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The Philippines & Micronesia (12)

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Wed, October 05, 2016 18:03:44

Palau's diving extravaganza

After two full weeks in Albay, Sorsogon, Cebu, Malapascua and Bohol in the Philippines, the plan is to head for Palau for five days. As one if the planets absolutely best dive locations, I highly recommend making hotel reservations at least six months in advance, preferably more, and expect it to be costly too.

Palau will be my first stop in the Micronesia leg of this trip, and this is where the real diving extravaganza begins. As one can see in the video below, there is really not much that will be excluded when speaking if tropical Pacific sealife and scenery. Chances are I might even interact with dolphins while freediving if I'm lucky.

In total, three full weeks of mainly diving and freediving in Micronesia is in my itinerary for this travel project, but I also intend to take in culture, history, flora and fauna on land while being in Palau. If you are interested in diving or freediving, Palau should definitely be on your list!

The Republic of Palau is scenically magical. For such a tiny area of land, it packs a big punch. It's hard not to be overwhelmed by its extraordinary array of natural wonders: this is an archipelago of about 200 largely pristine limestone and volcanic islands, blanketed in emerald forest, surrounded by a shimmering turquoise lagoon.

Unsurprisingly, diving is the number one activity here, with truly world class dive sites. Divers swear by Palau's exciting seascape, fascinating wrecks and stunningly diverse marine life - it's not dubbed "the underwater Serengeti" for nothing!

When the underwater wonders have finished working their magic on you, there are other adventure options. Kayaking, snorkeling and off-road driving are said to be fabulous, with the added appeal of fantastic settings. And for history buffs there are plenty of World War II relics scattered in the jungle, as well as a handful of well organised museums in Koror, Palau's largest Town.

- Next post will include footage from Palau's bloody World War II history.

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The Philippines & Micronesia (11)

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Thu, September 29, 2016 21:03:12

Tarsiers and adventure sports in Bohol

Having completed my stay in Cebu and Malapascua, Bohol will be next stop during my Philippines leg of this project. Just a quick ferry journey from Cebu, Bohol offers independent travellers a wealth of options both on and off the beaten track in the heart of the Visayas, and is one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the Philippines.

The island province is promoted almost exclusively through images of cute bug-eyed tarsiers and the majestic Chocolate Hills, and while both are fantastic highlights, in reality it's the diving on Panglao Island that brings in the crowds. Add a jungle interior, an adventure sport paradise, rice terraces and pristine white beaches, and you get a more rounded picture of what Bohol really is about.

Boholanos still affectionately call their province the "Republic of Bohol", in reference to the island's short-lived independence at the turn of the 19th century. It's an appropriate appellation, and today's successors of the republic are fierce protectors of Bohol's distinctive cultural heritage.

The 7.2 magnitude 2013 earthquake killed more than 200 people and destroyed several of the island's majestic Spanish-era churches. Still many of the churches are not rebuilt, but few additional outward effects of the catastrophe are visible.

Maybe I should also mention that my new freediving fins and mask did arrive some two weeks ago from Spain. The mask is an Aqualung Micromask and the fins are Beuchat Mundial Competition and will be put to the test first in the Philippines and later in Micronesia.

- This six week project will then continue in Micronesia and end in Manila and Batangas.

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The Philippines & Micronesia (10)

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Sun, September 25, 2016 17:10:47

Thresher sharks & Manta rays at Monad Shoal, Malapascua

Malapascua Island is basically just a heap of sand and rocks in the middle of the Visayan Sea, just north of Cebu island. It is said to be a charming location where foreigners mix seamlessly with the locals and you can get a real slice of Filipino life if you venture outside your resort.

The island has been called the "Next Borocay" but one has to wait and see if that will ever happen. Even during busy season the pace of life should be unhurried and you are sure to have good possibilities of relaxing.

Most people come to Malapascua Island for the diving. Malapascua is beginning to get a worldwide reputation for incredible diving which means now is a great time to go, before it gets too famous. It is the only place in the world you can reliably see thresher sharks and is possible the best place in the Philippines for big fish encounters.

The weather on Malapascua is usually excellent. Typhoon season in the Philippines is from May to December, but Malapascua is rarely affected. The typhoons usually pass to the north and because there are no mountains nearby, it avoids a lot of the rain that tends to fall on Leyte or Cebu.

Outside of diving and snorkeling there is obviously not much to do. However, it is a great place to chill out, and I'll be doing both diving and chilling during three days here before returning to Cebu City.

There are some great snorkeling and freediving spots around the Island too, and near the lighthouse in the North of the Island, there is a shallow wreck where I might go freediving and exploring. One can easily walk round the island in two hours or hire a driver to take you to all the best places on the island.

- The last reservations of my Philippines & Microneasian trip will be made shortly.

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