Pacificklaus News January 2015

What’s new …..

Lots of good underwater photography from Dauin, check it out here!

Good times at Amontillado – our guests are really enjoying the top diving here. And in February we will have a 2 1/2 day photo workshop for all of those who don’t just want to look.

I am slowly but surely improving my Visayan! This is a fun place to live.

And, today seemed to be the right day for some crass parody.

Amontiphoto

Feminists Demand Hen Involvement in Cockfights

All over the Philippines every Sunday afternoon a spectacle takes place which at its core involves men and their cocks: cockfighting. Male chicken are pitted against each other, to the gaudium of the typically less and less sober crowd as the afternoon progresses. The loosing chicken ends up in someone’s pot, and the owner of the winning bird with a sizable cash prize. Most guys bet on the outcomes of the fights, and everyone has a great time. Anyone who objects but who also eats Western tiny-cage-industrially-raised chicken is a hypocrite.

The cockfights are so popular here that some of the best chickens fight live on TV and there are specialized magazines for the hobby. Every little town has specialty shops with vitamin powders to get the roosters in fighting shape.

by Pacificklaus

This chicken also ignores the gender equality problems in Filipino cockfighting.

One thing, however, is conspicuously missing at the Filipino cockfights: hens, female chickens. This will change in the near future according to German feminist activist Murtraud Whiter. During a recent visit to the Philippines Ms. Whiter observed a cockfight and immediately objected to the lack of gender equality in “sabong” (the Filipino word for cockfight). “How will young female combat athletes relate to these famous fighting chickens as role models if these are all male?” Ms. Whiter questioned in a serious, yet mostly calm voice when she addressed the press in Cebu City over the topic this Monday.
Preliminary efforts to square off two hens against each other in a fighting arena produced at best mixed outcomes – the birds mostly ignored each other and inflicted little, and then only psychological damage over the course of thirty minutes. “Naturally, that’s all a result of cultural imprinting. It’s the current anti-hen attitude in Filipino cockfighting which made these female birds poor fighters. They simply grew up with the image of females as non-fighting birds.”

The Filipino cockfighting association could not be reached for comment.

A Glance At Dauin Macro

So, here I am in my new diving home: Dauin, on the island of Negros in the Philippines. It’s pronounced N-E-gros, not N-ii-gros, like the plural of the outdated word for black people.

It’s a top macro spot, meaning that there are many small animals to observe and photograph. The area is really rich in gobies, my special interest. Also, there are many pipefish, anthias, wrasses, and buttereflyfish around. Above the “macro” size of underwater photo subjects are some emperors, angelfish, large pufferfish and an occasional ray in the sand. Also many back bone-less animals populate the dive sites in Dauin: a number of different shrimp, crabs and nudibranchs. It’s a macro wonderland.

The dive sites here are laid out on an even slope of dark volcanic sand, with either natural boulders or a variety of man-made structures like sunken dive boats or bamboo scaffolds serving as attachment points for sessile marine organisms. The dark sand gives a nice contrast in photographs.

What I like to observe very much, but what I have not yet photographed well are the large fields of garden eels, thin eels which never leave their home burrow, always keeping the posterior parts of their bodies in the sand. What a life! Not much travel for Mr. gardeneel.

Here are some of the shots I got in my first few dives after moving here:

 

A male anthias in mid water.

A stick pipefish coming at me.

A very translucent shrimp.

 

There is also macro on land! Click on the images to go to their Flickr page for more information.

 

Dumaguete!

So it’s my first 2 weeks in Dauin, just a bit south of Dumaguete, on the lovely island of Negros, Philippines!

As you know if you are reading my blog, I am now at a scuba diving resort right on the beach under palms! The first 2 weeks were intense, with the resort’s owner, Silke, showing me where to find everything and how to do this and that and get the dives organized and so on. Many thanks for the good introduction! The resort staff also has been great so far, friendly and fun to work with. The guests are really nice to chat with.

Dumaguete is a fun little city, on the coast of Negros facing the southern tip of Cebu. A nice boulevard runs along the ocean, with large trees giving shade and vendors selling roasted peanuts, balloons or souvenirs. A large “I heart Dumaguete” sign is constantly used as a portrait background in the evening.

There is a sizable expat community in the city, mostly retirees. They like to eat their homecountry’s food, and you can get really nice pastries and Swiss/German/Austrian food in some of the specialty stores along the boulevard. One place had Brezen and Weisswurst (pretzel and the traditional Bavarian white sausage) as well as Bavarian wheat beer on offer. When driving out of the city to the south, the volcanic chains of Negros’ interior tower over coastline – can you name another place where you can eat Weisswurst under a volcano?

The Philippines are such an alive place! The city life is buzzing with activity. It’s full of people on every corner. Old folks with long beards and their fighting chickens, schoolkids, pretty ladies, cool dudes in NBA jerseys. There are markets with toys or exotic fruit, and lots of tricycles and mopeds on the road, sometimes with riders seemingly relatively uninterested in remaining among the living. Hoking is standard practice; as a pedestrian no one will try to kill you but you also have to get out of the way sometimes!

The jeepneys, delivery vans changed into public buses, must be the most fun type of public transport to watch In the whole world. They get top paintjobs, but not according to some boring-ass corporate scheme, rather just like the owner feels about his vehicle and the world. Today I saw one which said “In God we trust” on the top and “Very Sexy” on the bottom of the back of the car. That kinda sums the Philippines up in a way.

This morning when I stumbled into the bathroom still half-asleep, a good sized gecko – about the size of a kitten – fell from the ceiling on top of my left shoulder. What a way to wake up. I love to be immersed in nature. It was a really pretty animal too, with orange spots all over. I was still too sleepy to take some pictures of it, unfortunately.

Right now we are waiting for the arrival of the powerful typhoon Ruby – which has slowed down on its approach to the Philippines. It’s amazingly calm right now, and the ocean is flat like a mirror. That might change in a few hours, but hopefully not too harshly!

Pacificklaus Island Review: Camiguin

On the north side of the large Philippine island of Mindanao lies much smaller Camiguin, a green spot in the Bohol sea, and almost the archetypical tropical island paradise. It has it all: several cloud-covered volcano peaks, stunning coral reefs and enigmatic historical sites. The people of Camiguin speak Visayan, as on the island to Camiguin’s northwest. As in all of the Philippines, folks also speak at least reasonable English and they are friendly and easy-going. A couple of people jokingly offered to hook me up with a new girlfriend, and one market lady laughed wile offering to get me in touch with a potential boyfriend. And all I really wanted was some pineapple!

I hiked up one of the volcanoes of Camiguin, mount Hibok Hibok. I think I am in reasonable shape: I usually train a few times a week, even if it is mostly strength training, and not cardio. And even cardio-wise, I walk a lot, and occasionally go for long ocean swims. Still, Hibok Hibok kicked my lobot (ass). My guide was a small dude in his 50s, one of these guys with veins running all across his legs. He was moving a bit faster than myself. The hike led us through tropical agricultural areas with coconuts and banana plants, then into a low-land rain forest, and then into some magnificent highland rain forest. The vegetation was so dense that we had to push it aside on some parts of the track. Mosses were hanging from the trees like the beards of old very old men. Birds were singing, but rarely seen in the dense forest. Just from the fog I was completely soaking wet.

After about 5 hours of hiking up through steep muddy narrow paths, we reached the caldera of the volcano, which was mostly filled with a lake. We rested and ate. One minute the sky was clear and sunny, only minutes later clouds dropped in from over the crater’s edge and filled the whole caldera. What a spectacle! When the skies were clear again, I could observe a young fishing eagle hunt for frogs in the volcanic lake.

After the hike I was about as exhausted as I had ever been. I had fallen about then times on the slippery way back. My legs felt like sour lead. In my 20s, the American Football team I was playing on had not enough linemen, so I played offensive and defensive line during one game held in the intense summer heat. In the third quarter I collapsed from overheating, took a few plays off, put my helmet back on and finished the game. I had two sacks in that game and allowed none myself. I was more exhausted after the Hibok Hibok hike than after that game.

There are public hot springs in Camiguin, in a wonderful open air setting with tropical tree giants on the slope of the volcanic mountains. The hot springs are a fun place to chill, even though they are not particularly hot.

Also definitely worth checking out: A church, destroyed by a volcanic eruption, now overgrown by tropical vegetation. It looks like right out of the Indiana Jones movie. There is also a via dolorosa, Jesus’ walk to his crucifixion, re-done with life-sized concrete models of Jesus, the Romans, Pontius Pilatus ect. All of that is set on the slopes of a walk up an older, lower volcano. A bit tacky, for my taste, some of the Roman Legionaries look stoned or on downers. But it’s certainly a unique thing to see, some Middle Eastern fable happening all over again on a Pacific volcano. These are the things which make the Philippines so charming: islands not only have pretty beaches and great reefs, but often unique bits of local history and natural history.

Dazed looking Roman.

The diving in Camiguin is quite superb: extensive, healthy hard coral reefs, populated by a large variety of fishes. I was especially taken by the diversity of the wrasses and damselfish playing between the abundant finger corals. The marine co-system is what could be called mildly disturbed: no masses of sharks like on completely pristine reefs (but that is rare on Planet Earth in the Anthropocene), but very diverse corals, diverse fish, and lots of medium-sized predators like snappers and emperors. Turtles, too.

There is a sunken cemetery, which slipped into the ocean during the 1871 volcanic eruption on Camiguin. It’s a top dive site, but none of the gravestones are visible anymore. A stone cross was sank at a later time, and the corals have also started to overgrow it. A large cross, above the water, on a small artificial island just off the coast commemorates the location of the cemetery.

I originally had planned to dive with Dive Special Camiguin, but the owner who was supposed to dive with me got sick and was so friendly to hook me up on short notice with Johnny’s. A good dive operation; we did long, relaxed dives, and they picked me up from my accommodation by boat.

I stayed with July’s Seaside Heaven, which is a very friendly budget place right by the sea. They own a Palawan Hill Mynah bird which would say “guapo” (handsome) when I walked by. Clever bird. There are also a number of up-market places available.

I was mainly spending time in the barangai (district) Yumbing, where my accommodation was located, and I didn’t find anything special dining-wise. That might be better in the main town of the island. The traditional little corner barbecues were just fine, though, if you like bbqued chicken, which I do.

Camiguin gets a Pacificklaus island rating of 4.26 out of 5 gobies.

If you would like to tag on a visit to Camiguin after a stay with us at Amotillado, we’ll be happy to make the arrangements for you. Since Cebu is both a convenient hub to reach Dumaguete and Camiguin, a visit towards the end or in the beginning of your vacation makes sense. The flight from Cebu City, with Cebu Pacific, is scheduled for 50 minutes, but curiously only takes about half that time. Happy diving!

Philippines!

Big Move! Big news! I’m off to another country again! I’m moving to Dauin/Dumaguete on the Philippine island of Negros, to the lovely Amontillado Resort. I’ll be taking care of the guests and teaching scuba courses. Dauin is one of the best diving locations I have been to, and I have been to many. Nearby Apo island has one of the healthiest and most diverse coral reefs I have seen. I found working in scuba tourism a positive experience during the last few years when I did it casually, it often really is like going for a dive with old and new friends. I also think that eco-tourism is a force for the good, since it creates economic chances for the local population and an incentive for them to protect the environment.

First shot since coming back to the Philippines.

University employment just isn’t a good deal anymore. I found that between the pressure to obtain external funding and an absurdly overblown bureaucracy, less and less time and energy were left for actual science. Add to that an absence of job security and very mediocre pay, and it was the highest time to leave. Reasoning about biology is not dependent on university employment, and it will be much more enjoyable to do that on a tropical island outside of the corrupt system of modern academia. I will have a new scientific affiliation, my mate Jay’s independent research institute Neurolinx. Good times!

See you in the Philippines, where it is more fun!

Pacificklaus reviews Cebu Pacific Airlines

Cebu Pacific, a low cost carrier, has recently started flying to Australia, which is great news, since that means that my Oz friends will be able to visit me for less, and I will once in a while be able to go back to Sydney for a reasonable price. A friend of mine got a return flight Sydney – Dumaguete for 350A$ in a sale!

The international flight had no in-flight entertainment on the seat backs, which is ok, since I rather have a cheap fare than a lot of Hollywood mass entertainment on my fingertips. The seats were basic, but there was enough space (even for the powerlifting Pacificklaus), and everyone in the plane and on the ground was friendly. The food cost extra (but not much, and I could have booked it), and was also basic: rice dishes, cup noodles and chips, but again, I’d rather get a cheap airfare than a pseudo gourmet meal! Nothing wrong with cup noodles, it brings back grad student days.

A bit funny: For the international flight I had to check in my camera bag, since only 7 kg of carry-on were allowed, and they were quite strict about that. For the domestic flight I had to rearrange again, since the rules for carry-on were relaxed this time, but I had not had the possibility on the webpage to book for more than 20 kg of check in when making the online-booking. Oh, well. Again, only a minor inconvenience for a really chap fare.

Flight attendants: 10.26/11 on the Pacificklaus scale for female hotness (which of course goes to 11). Little goddesses, especially on the domestic flight. The uniforms of Singapore Air are more elegant, though, that cost them a few fractions of a point. At the end of the flight they staged a quiz show where we passengers could win airline merchandise. The ladies really had a good time playing quiz mistresses. It’s more fun even on the way to the Philippines!

Image by Cebu Pacific.

Else: In the 5 years since I have been coming to the Philippines, the airports have come a long way. It used to be that international flights left & arrived at Ninoi Aquino International Airport, terminal 1, which is a noisy, unpleasant large hall with no coffee. From there one had to take a shuttle bus or taxi through the city to go to the domestic terminals. With Cebu Pacific, both international and domestic flights arrive & leave from the new and shiny terminal 3, with lots of quality gastronomy and places to sit down. The lack of need of a dash across Manila reduces the thrilla but makes traveling more comfortable.

Equally, the airport in Cebu City (Mactan) has improved from a somewhat filthy place with shady characters hawking taxis to a really nice & clean small airport. When I arrived this time, a group of teenagers did a welcome dance performance, and smiling employees of the airport handed out tasty chocolates with dried mango chunks. Nice!

Obituary to my 5 mm wetsuit

With great anguish and constipation do I have to announce that my 5 mm wetsuit today left the ranks of the diving. No longer does it submerge with me. It has ceased.

I bought the wetsuit in 2008, in Sydney, on a visit from my then place of residence in Japan, where the scuba retailers do not stock neoprene fashion for grown men. The friendly people at Plunge Diving sold this beauty to me: black, 5 mm thick neoprene, and at XXL wide enough to fit all my muscles and the occasional fat cell into it.

So many dives have we dived together: Many of them in Sydney, right after the 5 mm purchase in Clifton Gardens. Later, many more in Clifton Gardens. Also, I took it to the monument and the steps in Kurnell, to many night dives in Botany Bay, and to Ship Rock off the Hacking river. Nelson Bay saw a lot of me in this great 5mm.

Together we dived the kelp in La Jolla, Cahli-Fornia, Southwest Rocks in Northern NSW, and the Rapid Bay Jetty in South Australia. In the middle of the Sydney summer I would occasionally ditch it for a 3 mm, and in the coldest winter days for a dry suit. But none of these other suits fit my physique like this 5 mm. It was a special wetsuit for sure.

IMAG0955

But by late 2014 the neoprene had eroded, and many holes let the seawater flow onto my sensitive skin underneath. An especially big hole near the ass region provided an inflow of ocean water, and caused a never ending series of jokes at my cost. And in the Philippines I won’t need such a thick suit anyway, seriously! So the wetsuit had to go. After a brief ceremony it found its final resting place in a rubbish bin in Rockdale.

May my late 5 mm find a worthy warrior in Valhalla (a XXL sized dead dude) who wants to give scuba diving a try!

More Absurd Antiscientific Beliefs

We live in times of unprecedented scientific progress. The workings of distant planets, the most elementary particles, the DNA in our cells and the information processing in our brains are all understood to an astonishing level. Not every scientific question is answered of course, and answers often gave rise to more questions. Scientific theories sometimes get revised, but many of them have supreme predictive power in the 21st century. Science ain’t perfect, but what we know now and what we can do with this knowledge is utterly astonishing in comparison to humanity’s state of knowledge only 10 generations ago.

But unfortunately not all of humanity is participating in this enormous gain in knowledge. Many findings have become difficult to understand, and people want simple answers. Not everybody has the intelligence, education and leisure to acquire advanced knowledge about the workings of the world. And people often vehemently resist believing in facts which are counter to their religious beliefs or would force them to reconsider their life styles.

Denial of anthropogenic climate change, evolution, and the moon landing, and a belief that the condensation trails of airplanes are mind-control tools are well known examples of absurd anti-scientific beliefs. But let me introduce a few more, albeit lesser known anti-science conspiracy theories:

Whale Shark Denialism

Whale shark: whale or shark? Scientists agree that it’s a shark, but an increasingly vocal group of whale shark deniers, with ample support of the corporate media, claim that the issue is not settled and that it might as well be a whale. Whale sharks have gills like sharks, a cartilaginous skeleton like sharks, a shark nervous system and a shark skin. “But this is simply the opinion of the scientific establishment”, said Peter O. Daneben, spokesperson of the whale shark sceptic’s movement and prolific blogger & newspaper columnist. “I am keeping an open mind here” he added.

Whale or shark? Not everyone agrees.

Anti-Toilet Paper Movement

Everyone does it, almost every day: take a shit. Many people then clean their asses with some toilet paper. But: God does not want us to use toilet paper. Two thousand years ago, when god spoke to his people, there was no toilet paper, so it would be blasphemy to use it now. Anyone who uses it will surely go to hell (at least with a clean ass, I might add).

Railroad ESP Conspiracy

Almost every country in this day and age has a network of rail lines. But why? Everyone knows that it’s so much faster and convenient to get to places with your car than by train. The answer is that rail lines act as conductors for extra-sensory perception (ESP) by government specialists who in this way can exert mind-control power even into the most remote corners of a country. ESP power is usually limited to a few hundred meters, but the energy forms involved can travel almost infinitely far along metal rods.

A clear indication for this is also that many rail lines are not private property, but state owned. This almost automatically makes them a communist conspiracy, and hence a mind control tool. What more proof do you need for the rail’s function as ESP conductors?

Ion Channel Denialism

This is a rather sophisticated conspiracy theory: a type of ignorance contingent upon a lot of previous education. All of neuroscience agrees that ion channel proteins in the membranes of nerve cells are responsible for the fast electric activity these cells show. A few Nobel prizes were given for work on ion channel proteins. All of neuroscience agrees on their importance, but for one guy – this is not the most popular conspiracy theory yet. He claims steadily that proteins have nothing to do with nerve cells’ electrical potentials, and that it’s the movement of lipid molecules which does it.

Does one of these movements actually exist? Guess which one, and win a copy of my psychedelic political parody set in a globally warmed future, The Mindpost. The first two correct answers win.

Philippines Trip Report, William S. Boroughs Style

The airport: hungry flying centipedes swallowing innocent (?) travelers by the hundreds. Ultra hot air spewn from its jet engines for 8 hours straight to Singapore. So many status symbol smelly waters electronic gadgets leathery handbags for sale between the terminals: who needs that? Four more hours in the belly of the flying aluminum centipede, and then, Cebu City, pearl of the South, here I am. No diving yet but jiving about diving and Halo Halo and so many smiling tropical beauties.

Malapascua, home of the thresher sharks, getting up at 4 thirty ah-em, sleepwalking to Evolution, climbing on a banka dive boat, out to the famous Monad shoal. A big giant stride into the warm waters, and down to the top of the shoal in twenty five meters. The ocean is still a dark place just after sunrise, but oh-my, there are some big sharks swimming in circles down there: Alopias pelagicus, the thresher shark, enormously long fins, big eyes, elegance in swimming. Damn vertebrate evolution you master of animal complexity! How could you come up with something as amazing like that fish!

Filipino country festa, delicious spit roast pig, too much beer, too much rum, too much heat, too much of that heat in my head. Karaoke. Angie. Smoke on the Water. I can’t sing, even when I’m drunk.

So many things on top of other things in the ocean, every shrimp and fish and seastar plays a part in the life of its neighbor, fish jousting for territories, others feeding on little things in the sand, others doing nothing, yet other fish are mating like the underwater bunny rabbits.

Road trip down all the way along the island of Cebu, good talk, wise words, funny jokes. Country life, then city life, then country life along the road.

Unbelievable critter heaven on display in Dumaguete, flamboyant cuttlefish, legions of garden eels, shrimps, crabs, sea slugs, fish looking like sea weed, gobies symbiotic with shrimps, corals to warm my heart in the warm waters of Apo island, relaxation on the dive boats, really good cookies, fun times.

Oslob: signs saying whale watching and whale shark watching, no whales, but sharks the size of whales here, called whale sharks. The biggest fish which exist on this fantastic Planet Earth, an impressive experience for me who has seen a thousand different fish. My mate gets a shot of a whale shark with a hot bikini chick, I get a picture of the fish with a fat Korean dude. Male belly adipose tissue is almost the density of seawater and it floats like like a sack of spent saline in-between the shark giants of the ocean.

Flight home, good vibrations, crazy movies watched half-awake, back to Australia, but not for long.