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June 2022    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 48, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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El Galleon Resort, The Philippines

testing positive in Puerto Galera

from the June, 2022 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

After lengthy planning, my dive club was scheduled to dive at El Galleon Resort in Puerto Galera, Philippines, in May 2020. But, the Philippines government locked down the country in March 2020 and it stayed shut for two years. In early May 2022, I was finally excited to be on my way, though only seven of us had decided to continue.

El Galleon Resort and DockThree days before my departure, the Philippines changed their entry rules, requiring a negative COVID test 24 hours before departure in addition to vaccination cards. I got my negative result (and a QR code at the last minter for expedited entry) and headed out. (They had also required written proof of Covid insurance, but no one along the way asked to see it -- or to see my pre COVID registration or QR code.)

After carefully keeping myself masked at the airports and aboard Nippon airlines, I met my fellow travelers at the comfortable Belmont hotel in Manila, five minutes from the international terminal via moving walkways. Now among friends, off came the masks. The next day we traveled unmasked in two vans to Batangas, windows up so the air conditioner would keep us cool. One of my friends had an occasional dry cough, but I shrugged it off.

At dinner, he coughed a couple of times, and we discussed testing. One of our group - the only one who had been smart enough to bring his own testing kit -- offered it to him. Sure enough, he tested positive. After consultation with Alli, the Galleon Resort Manager, he went into room isolation. But, the remaining six travelers, friends, and all well vaxxed, continued to socialize maskless, which is not a wise thing to do.

El Galleon Resort - RatingCovid had made it a tough two years for the Galleon Hotel and all of Puerto Galera, which had gone from a sleepy village to a bustling tourist community in the last three decades. The government declared a lockdown, so it was illegal to go outside one's home for any reason other than to shop for food. Most people lived week to week and with no income, and many were going hungry. The government supplied food rations and some assistance for a while, but Alli said times were very tough for everyone since the entire community depended on tourism. Some loyal clients sent donations to help, but these were fearful times.

In April 2021, the government started to ease restrictions, and El Galleon resort opened to residents of the Philippines. They had few clients, but it produced some income for their hard-pressed staff, who rotated shifts to allow each to a make a few dollars. Like the popular Atlantis, some didn't until this past March, when the Philippines opened to foreign travelers. Still, many resorts haven't opened, and some never will. Puerto Galera remains very quiet because its primary clientele, Chinese divers, has yet to return.

Our six divers had a boat to ourselves, and on my third day of diving, I felt tired and decided to skip the third dive. My buddy looked aghast, but the following morning before our trip to the signature dive, Verde Island, I was asked to test. Although I had my shots and two boosters, I was positive.

Now I was in isolation, watching from my bay view room as the dive boats came and went. I had a room with a view, and a TV that got the Warriors playoffs, and Alli, the resort manager, organized my isolation and frequently checked in with me to see that I was OK. They delivered meals to my door and, as a veggie guy, I had had great pastas, curries, and salads which I enjoyed thoroughly, not to mention fruit juices and shakes.

Philippines MapAll I needed was patience, but for how long? While I had no symptoms, I had heard people can test positive for a week, some for two weeks, maybe more. And what about Long Covid? Would symptoms show up in six months? It was nothing to take lightly.

I did not need to get home quickly, but I worried about the uncertainty. And I had to change my flight home. To avoid costly penalties, airlines require at least a 24 hr. advanced notice. And, to board a flight (USA requirements), one must have a negative test WITHIN 24 hours of departure.

I had tested positive two days before my scheduled departure, so I extended my departure date by five days, with no fee, but fares had changed, and I had to pay $500 more. Two days later, the local lab came to the hotel to test us for departure. I tested NEGATIVE. I headed straight for the dive boat.

The following day, my Covid dive friend tested negative, so we got in five good days of diving. El Galleon credited us for the diving we missed, so we just had to pay for the extra room and board. Regardless, it's no way to spend a dive vacation.

The diving, the resort, and the dive operation are excellent. It's not at all a big fish destination, but I saw ghost pipefish, purple octopus, walls of robust sea cucumbers, a variety of nudibranchs, mantis shrimp, cleaner shrimp, pygmy sea horses, electric clams, sea spiders, giant clams, frogfish, and a banded sea snake. The signature dive at Verde island produced dense schools of fish, eagle rays, and green turtles. In fact, the May 12, 2022, National Geographic foldout indicates it is one of the healthiest parts of the Philippines marine ecosystem.

Typical Guest Room at El Galleon ResortOriginally, I intended to provide a full resort review, but I think my COVID experience is a cautionary tale for all divers. So, let me just refer you to the Undercurrent review from June 2019, which remains spot on with just a couple of exceptions: May water temperature was 80F, as opposed to 78F in December; visibility was not great, about 50 feet, but better than the 30 feet in the article; nitrox was $60 for the week; for now, only Mastercard is accepted. And, of course, there are no crowds. For comfort, excellent dive facilities, and fishy waters, El Galleon is high on the worldwide list.

PS: Today, every traveling diver should carry COVID test packs. While I could buy one at the resort, they were in short supply and I'm sure many resorts don't have them. A test pack should be as crucial to your travel kit as your passport.


Our Undercover Diver's Bio: "I've been diving for more than three decades, logging over 1,000 dives, starting in the Caribbean, California and the Pacific Northwest before switching over to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. I'm a published amateur underwater photographer, but I still have a long bucket list to check off, and at this point I'm thinking what many of us may feel: So many great dive sites, so little time!"

Divers CompassDivers Compass: El Galleon's 7 day package rate, with diving, begins at $1333 . . . Contact Island Dreams at . . . tips came to about 10 percent of the total bill, and were put in a shared envelope . . . current was 220-volt in near-universal outlets that accepted US-type plugs . . . I recommend the Belmont Hotel in Manila and the Grand Hyatt in Seoul, and both were close to the airports . . . U.S. dollars and credit cards were accepted . .. Websites: El Galleon and Asia Divers:

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