Bagong Salta Sa Bicol

I can’t believe I took so long to travel to Bicol. The trip I made a week before Holy Week was a first for me. There had been plans but all fell through. The province was just never on my radar.

This changed when I saw this manta rescue clip about a year ago.

It was at Manta Bowl, which was near Ticao Island, Masbate. You see, I didn’t know that and wouldn’t have looked had it not been for the manta. I’ve been diving for a decade and haven’t seen one. The place made it on my list.

My Manta Fascination
Yes, I love big fish. There are those who prefer macro dives and critters. Me, I prefer to visit huge ones.

I suppose it’s just a matter of access. My closest dive site is Anilao, Batangas and the place is teeming with curious small fish. I’d be lucky to see a turtle. And, when I want to see a swirling school of jacks, I just head to Twin Rocks (Anilao).

So, it was only a matter of time that I seek out a place with mantas. That got me on a bus to Bicol.

Bicol By Bus
To me, Bicol by bus was the only way to go. I don’t see the point of hanging around the airport, sitting and waiting for a delayed flight when you can sit on a bus, enjoying the view or sleeping.

A piece of advice: when it’s a week before Holy Week, book your bus.

Naga City Non-Aircon Bus
Naga City-bound non-aircon bus

I left on a Monday – no booking, no ticket, and no seat. I wanted a place in one of those buses that offered LazyBoy seats. Nah. My trip to Naga, en route to Caramoan (1st stop), was on a crowded non-aircon bus – the last available trip that night.

For the whole night, I was sandwiched between a petite girl who had no qualms about using me as a pillow and a hairy guy wearing shorts. I liked the guy in shorts. He’s an OFW who loved to travel and had a lot of stories.

I made up for this mistake on the way back to Manila from Legazpi City. I booked my LazyBoy first (Php1,100, one-way); then had lunch and got a massage. I even had enough time to meet up with the co-managers of Ticao Island Resort, Rico and Jessica. Rico is a legend, of sorts. He made Manta Bowl into Bicol’s foremost dive destination.

Wild Ride at the Manta Bowl
Manta Bowl is a wild ride — that’s the most I can say about it as a dive site. It is by no means “pretty,” unlike the coral reefs of Anilao. It is not teeming with fish, at least not while I was there. But, when you want a thrilling drift dive — where you surrender all control to the current — this is the place to go. And of course, there are the mantas.

Manta at Manta Bowl, Ticao Island, Masbate
Manta at Manta Bowl, Ticao Island, Masbate

How much of a ride was it? Imagine riding a motorcycle on a freeway with no cars on it. Just you and the wind. It’s like that, only underwater.

Manta Bowl was established as a dive site in 2002 by Rico, Jessica and friends. Before that, it was known only to fishermen as a place frequented by mantas.

Since then, it’s been visited by avid divers, mostly foreign, and a few manta experts. It’s a cleaning station most active from May to October.

My encounter with mantas was on my last day of diving. I felt lucky and blessed.

Yummy Spicy Food
From Ticao Island, I headed to Legazpi City, my take-off point back to Manila. Of course, I made sure I had time to eat while there.

My favorites are the sili ice cream and tinapa rice at 1st Colonial Grill, and the Bicol Express Pasta at Small Talk Cafe.

And I still have the classics — Pinangat, Bicol Express and Laing — to sample. The mind is willing but the tummy complains. I just have to go back!

Stunning Beauty
I left Bicol with such awe of how beautiful it is. My boat trip around the Caramoan islands was particularly memorable. It was one of those places where I can just sit and stare out into the sea. My heart fills up with all that’s raw and real and beautiful — and taken for granted. Ay, but that’s another blog coming your way.

For now, I’ll remember the good stuff. A big big thank you to everyone who made this possible: Allan and Rose of Al Del Rio homestay resort, as well as Rico, Jessica and the staff of Ticao Island Resort. Thank you Stephen, my British dive buddy, who forfeited a couple of his dives so we can go back to Manta Bowl for another day’s worth of dives. Salamat Abel, DM at Ticao Island, for ensuring our safety.  And to the elderly passengers of my Sorsogon to Bulan jeep, thank you for getting together and making sure I get off at the right stop! 🙂

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Post Author: Roda Novenario