The Islander Girl goes to the DRT Expo Philippines 2016

Despite waking up at 5:30am (after falling asleep at 2am after a pool party), I managed to keep my mind in a coherent state and drag myself to the Diving Resort Travel (DRT) Expo PhilippinesΒ held in SM Megamall last September 9 to 11 (I went on September 11). I couldn’t miss it as my friends scored great deals on dive gear last year and I really wanted to get a bigger mesh bag for my stuff. I’d also like to thank Jem and Bryan for dropping me off at Megamall and Starbucks for being my workplace from 8 to 11:30am as I waited for the mall to open.

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Entrance was originally pegged at Php 200 PER DAY but was lowered to Php 50 during the event itself. I have no idea what possessed them to think that Php 200 entrance was acceptable.

I was only supposed to stay for an hour – look around, buy my bag, and get out – but ended up staying for almost four hours because there were a lot of things to see and do. Which, according to my friends, was quite a departure from last year’s event.

The Philippine Department of Tourism had a pretty swanky booth to promote diving in the Philippines. Their canvas swag bag included a magazine featuring the country’s best dive spots, a bag tag (mine featured Siargao, which I hope to visit during the off-season), and a lanyard. There were also a lot of resorts offering special rate for those who booked onsite.

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There were talks on marine conservation. The one I managed to attend was on the promotion of shark tourism as a means to get fishers to stop hunting them, given by Steven Surina of Shark Education. Shark Education is a company that specializes in shark diving tours. The marine biologist in me couldn’t help but speak out at the end of his talk, reminding him (and everyone in the audience) that while tourist dollars are good, the tourism development has to be done in partnership with the local community so that they can benefit from the tourist dollars as well. It’s not uncommon in the Philippines for the local community to resent tourism because the developers and the tourists are foreigners and the locals themselves don’t earn that much from the industry. Steven talked to me afterwards (me speaking was a last-minute decision and so I wasn’t prepared and my brain and remarks were all over the place) so I had to clarify that I wasn’t attacking him or anything and was just saying that shark tourism (or any tourism) has to be developed properly. I also met Polly, Su, andΒ Lynn: really nice guys from Taiwan who shared with me that they had the same issues in Taiwan.

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Video of the talk by Lynn (my comments are at the very end):

Talks on underwater photography that were useful. I was only able to attend the talk by Penn de los Santos entitled From Ordinary to ExtraordinaryΒ but I really enjoyed it. He focused on the basics: know your equipment before you dive, there’s always something nice to photograph, and look for that angle that will turn the ordinary shot into an extraordinary one. Great reminders for a newbie like me. His suggested cameras for beginners were the Olympus TG-4 and the Canon S series (I own an S95 that still holds up after 6 years).

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There were NGOs promoting the environmental conservation and responsible tourism. I only spent a significant amount of time at the Green FinsΒ booth – one of the staff chatted me up and I told her that I used to work for El Nido Resorts. Other NGOs were WWF, Greenpeace, Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, and Dolphins Love Freedom.

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And lastly: So. Many. Things. To. Buy. GYAHHHH! I was really only there to buy a new dive bag but UGH! Even if you gave me Php 50,000, it wouldn’t have been enough to buy everything that I wanted to buy. I finally got my bag from Aquaventure Whitetip, which had an Aqualung 80 liter mesh bag (it’s big enough to fit the standard plastic dive crate) for only Php 1,215 (40% off!).

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Yes, I stuffed a Superman pillow in the bag for this photo.

Another company I liked was Scuba System: a Hong-Kong based company who had cute AF dive gear under their Oceanarium brand. The whale shark and mola are regulator bags (!!!) and those gorgeous animal prints are on quick-dry microfiber towels. They also had nudibranch tissue holders (the tissues come out among the gills!) and mask straps. I was thisclose to buying the whale and dolphin-print towel but it was sold out by the time I went back to the booth to buy it (my wallet rejoiced). Fortunately or unfortunately Scuba System found a Philippine distributor at the DRT so it should be available locally in about two months (my wallet is bracing itself). Mares also had their Puck Pro dive computer on sale for around Php 12,000, which I would have bought if I had the money. Then there was Scubapro selling a mask and snorkel combo for Php 1,200, when a mask alone would have been around Php 2k. Gah.

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Bonus: I saw some friends there! Shoutout to Mavic and Gage, and a big HUHU to Jamie who went on Friday and didn’t tell me.

All in all, I had a great time. The DRT was a great place to be that afternoon πŸ™‚

What’s in my summer bag

It’s summer! Summer! My favorite time of the year! A time to dream of the beach, get to the beach, swim in the ocean, and everything else that comes after πŸ˜€ As a proud veteran of 6+ years of island living, I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the art of packing for the beach πŸ™‚ So here goes: what’s in my (waterproof) gear bag for Summer 2014!

Clockwise from top left:

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Dry Pak waterproof pouch – essential for all electronics. The pouch is padded so it floats when dropped in the water (awesome!). The yellow sealing clip makes it easy to spot too. Comes with a lanyard and a carabiner. You can still use your phone through the pouch (only a very slight muffling of the sound) though using a touchscreen takes some practice. Good thing I use a Blackberry Q10 then πŸ˜›

Aquazorb travel towel – superior water-absorbing capabilities at the fraction of the weight of a regular terrycloth towel

Panasonic Lumix TS4 camera – 12 megapixels, waterproof up to 12 meters, shockproof up to 5 feet, and dustproof. Easy to use too. The default “Underwater” white balance setting is excellent in shallow water though it does lose something as you go deeper. But since I use this mainly for beach and snorkeling photos versus a Canon S95 with Ikelite underwater housing for diving photos, it’s all good. This camera has seen action in Orlando, El Nido, Leyte, and La Union. And remember the #1 rule of traveling: take only pictures! πŸ˜€

VMV Hypoallergenics Armada Sport 70 sunblock – the best sunscreen you’ll ever use. Excellent protection from UVA and UVB rays, easy to apply, absorbs easily into the skin, no greasy feeling afterwards, and no smell so you can also apply it to your face. I’ve used this for the past 5 years and have no regrets.

VMV Hypoallergenics Essence Skin-Saving Milk Conditioner – something for after the beach. I have sensitive skin so I can’t use just any shampoo or conditioner since whatever I apply to my hair will eventually end up on my face as it washes off when I shower. I love this conditioner because it makes my hair all smooth and shiny and doesn’t cause my face to break out.

O’Neill Superkini – my favorite bikini ever. I have this one plus another Superkini in teal. It’s made of Nanofront fabric that develops 200% more grip between the suit and your skin when wet. Read my full review.

Rusty boardshorts – top tip: shop for boardshorts in SM’s Surplus Shop. They stock brands like Roxy, Volcom, O’Neill, and Rusty but selling at much lower prices compared to other retailers.

Not included in the photo are my Fluidsurf rashguards (Filipino brand, great quality, good price compared to rashguards from Billabong and Roxy) and Flopeds filpflops (the best flipflops ever IMHO).

I brought all the gear described to San Juan, La Union last April and they worked perfectly. I’ll also be bringing the same gear to El Nido and Sagay, Negros Oriental in June when I help MSI in the training of DENR personnel. Yay for thorough field testing πŸ˜€