• MALAPASCUA

    Beyond the thresher sharks

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    “It is the only place in the world where you can dive with the magnificent sharks every day.”

    A sunken island at 16 to 32 meters (whose sides drop off to 230 meters) called Monad Shoal is where these thresher sharks come every day in the early morning before it gets very bright. These sharks are nocturnal creatures, and they feed on squids, mackerels and herrings. The shoal is their cleaning station. Here they interact with the small fish called cleaning wrasse (nope, the sharks would never take them as their morning snack) that eat dead skin and bacteria from the shark’s body, gills and even inside its mouth.

    Divers who usually wish to see thresher sharks would usually dive before sunrise. Here, when the morning light comes in, the lucky divers would see these gentle giants as they swim and play with the cleaning wrasse.

    Until two decades ago, no one outside Cebu knew about Malapascua. According to local history, a Spanish boat landed on the island during a stormy Easter Sunday in the 16th century and called it Mala-Pascua or bad Easter. For many years, the few families who live on the island survived on fishing. The fish they catch are dried up in the sun, and then sent to the markets of Cebu.

    In the mid-1990s, European divers Dik de Boer and Michael Persson discovered thresher sharks in Malapascua. During their dive expeditions in Monad Shoal, they witnessed that the thresher sharks are always at the deep water around Malapascua and like clockwork, return to Monad Shoal every morning to have its body parasites cleaned by a colony of cleaner fish. Subsequent publication of this discovery in international diving magazine brought diving enthusiasts around the world to this remote island. Dik de Boer built the first diving resort, Exotic, in Malapascua.

    Nowadays, the 1-kilometer white sand Bounty Beach on the southern portion is where most of the dive resorts are located.

    Despite the recent developments in Malapascua, the island remains pretty laid back. Divers pretty much stay under water, while the rest of the tourists just take advantage of the cool clear water or work on their tan. People often describe Malapascua as “Boracay without the commercialism.” There are a few vendors on the beach, but they never pester you to buy anything.

    It is always easy to find a quiet place along the beach and watch the sunset.

    How to get there
    From Manila, take any flights going directly to Cebu. However, for those who wish to catch the first boat from Maya to Malapascua, it is best to take an evening flight to Cebu.

    From the airport, take a taxi to Cebu’s North Terminal. Look for a bus (mostly Ceres) heading straight to Maya Port in Daangbantayan. Travel time to Maya takes 3-4 hours. It is also the best time to catch up on sleep.

    Upon arrival in Maya, take the boat going to Malapascua. First trip is at 6:30 a.m. and crossing time is about half an hour.

    What to see, what to do
    Diving for thresher sharks is what’s bringing the tourists in to this small island. But if you are a non-diver, there are plenty of things that you can do in Malapascua.

    First, it has a nice, white sand beach that never gets crowded. With most visitors below water looking for sharks, you can have the beach all for yourself to swim, sun bathe and complete your portfolio of photos in bikinis taken while on this tropical paradise.

    It is also possible to rent a small boat that will take you “island hopping.” Actually, it is just a term that the locals use to explore the hidden beaches and coves around the island.

    It is also possible to explore the island on foot. There are many well-established trails that connect the tourist area in the south to the old fishing village in the northern park. It is also possible to climb to the highest point of the island where the lighthouse is located. Here, one can have a 360-degree view of the whole island. The ruins of the old lighthouse and keeper’s house are still standing at the lighthouse ground.

    Where to stay, what to eat
    Most of the resorts in Malapascua are located on the southside, facing the beach. The more popular ones require advanced bookings, especially during peak seasons. At the middle of the beach is Cocobana Resort, one of the original resorts and is probably the biggest. They have all types of rooms from the older fan bungalows to the newer super deluxe rooms. There is the Blue Coral, built on a rock high up on the end of the main beach. Another popular resort is Tepanee, which is located high up overlooking the sea.

    Those looking for affordable backpacker’s rooms will not be disappointed as the island is backpacker-friendly. As soon you land in Malapascua, just walk around the beach and go and ask around for “vacant” fan rooms. If you see what you like, agree on a price and then check in.

    Dining choices in Malapascua are very limited. Oscar’s is considered as the “in” dining place because it offers flexible menu that changes every day depending on available fresh ingredients on the island. There’s also Angelina’s Italian Restaurant owned by an Italian couple. Their menu includes homemade pizza and pasta. At the back of the resorts are many local carinderias like Ging-Ging’s that offer affordable home-cooked meals. Many of these carinderias offer fresh fish tinola or sugba with local rice made from white corn (also called bugas).

    As a souvenir item, try to buy the Cebu-made guitars being sold on the beach of Malapascua. Play some soft guitar music as you watch the sunset from this beautiful island north of Cebu.

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