Freediving, Travel Tales
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The Underwater Sto. Niño of Bien Unido Bohol

There were some videos of scuba divers and a priest that showed a giant statue of the Holy Child and also a statue of the Blessed Mother, being installed underwater. With a lot of gullible people believing these to be miraculous and defying rules of nature, I knew better because I have been to the site myself and know the real story behind it.

An hour or more away from the shores of Bien Unido, is a portion of the Danajon Bank, one of the six only double barrier reefs in the world. Sad to say this area of Bohol used to be plagued with Dynamite fishing and so the mayor then decided that in order to discourage fishermen from destroying the reef, a placement of  religious symbols was to be done. This was back in 2010.

Sad to say in the time I was able to go there around 2016 the local boatmen shared: though dynamite fishermen did avoid the areas where Sto. Niño and Mother Mary, these destructive fishermen still pursued nearby reefs with their destructive equipment.

An Underwater Pilgrimage

The Dive ta Bai – Bohol Chapter, led by Ian Uy back then, organised a pilgrimage dive to venerate the holy images.Truth be told going to Bien Unido requires a day dedicated to the dive. Early morning we take a hired coaster to take the group to Bien Unido, which approximately 3 hours from Tagbilaran City. When we got to the spot we have a briefing to prepare everyone for the dive. We were around 18 freedivers that time.

We took a motor boat that ran for a little over an hour to finally get to the spot. What amazes me is how the boatmen were even able to identify the dive spot.  Honestly I’m used to boat trips where I see distinct landmarks like islands, shifts in depth or other visually obvious markers. When we got to the dive site, I looked around and it almost seemed like there were just stretches of seawater and no land in sight save for one small island.

Diving In

Though there are two images: Sto. Niño and Mama Mary, only the Holy Child could easily be reached while the Blessed Mother’s grotto proving more difficult to reach. The Holy Child was only within 18feet of depth (estimate) while the Blessed Mother was around 90-100feet. Not to mention that there was a strong current that made it difficult to swim to the Blessed Mother’s statue.

Slowly the group took turns diving down to the Sto. Niño statue while safety divers/buddies were looking from the surface. Visibility wasn’t at its best but still clear enough that we could see and take photos of the Holy Child’s image. It wasn’t too difficult to dive this at all and we spent a good 2 hours just swimming in this spot and enjoying the reef. Sad to say I cannot say the reef is in its healthiest conditions. Though you could seee the diversity of corals and some invertebrates that thrived, I could not see too many fish that would make me feel that the reef is healthy. Thankfully I did not witness any bleaching as well but I could see some broken corals which I’m afraid might be from invasive visitors/divers/fishermen.

Just a few more minutes away from the Sto. Niño is the Blessed Mother’s statue which some of us tried to dive down to. AJ,one of our more talented Freedivers, easily reached Her statue. I had the chance to dive down and fight the current but I only had the short moment to see Her face, make  a simple bow as a gesture, then swim quickly back up to surface. Though short a moment, it truly was unforgettable.

Struck a pose over the very flat waters of Bien Unido!

On The Way Home

The fun did not stop for  the Dive ta Bai freedivers despite the boat failing mid-way through the trip going home. They took the opportunity to jump into the water and continue swimming while the sun set across the horizon. That’s just the thing with our freedivers, they just can’t get enough of the water. There was a time when the sight of water so deep it looked black, actually scared us but now it has become a site for fun and exploration. Some even did a few jumps in the eerily calm water.

When the sun finally set, darkness slowly crept over the sea and mist crawled around us. It actually looked like something from a horror movie! It did not help that the boatmen were no speaking in whispers and urged us not to disturb the water now that the sun has set.

After almost 2 hours of being stranded, our rescue boat finally arrives and tugs our boat until we arrive at the shore!

 

Truly a pilgrimage dive to remember, I definitely will try to head back there someday. Summer is the best time to go there.

 

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