I was back on my 8th trip to Malapascua (and 8th stay with Exotic) over 4 years, this time with a group of 8 of us. For 6 out of the 8, this was their first dive trip in The Philippines. Everyone had a great time and left with nothing but great memories, smiles and praise for Exotic's dive ops. We checked off all that we wanted on our to-view-underwater list:
1) Thresher Sharks
2) Rays (Devil)
3) Hammerheads!!! (Though we didn't get to see the school, I'm not blaming it on anyone :))
4) More sharks at Gato
5) For 2 of us with cameras, plenty of weird, cool critters spotted by the eagle-eyed DMs.
We had the Uncle and Nephew team of Ervin and Ronel guiding our group and arranging our trips and were assigned a boat for our group's usage during our 5 days of diving. This rendered our setting off time very, very efficient and we were usually 1 of the first boats setting off from Exotic to Monad and Kemod :D Ervin and Ronel are good spotters, responsible, mature and with many years of experience behind them (though Ronel's youthful face would belie that). Important qualities to have when 6 out of the 8 are newly-certified AOWD or very infrequent divers.
We also had Local Instructor Renelo Rosales (cousin to Ronel and nephew of Ervin) conduct a refresher for one of our divers whose last dive was in 2009 during her AOWD course. After that session, no one could tell how long it had been since her last dive. Testimony to Rey's thorough refresher and mucho patience :)
The boats are well maintained, clean and equipped with fresh water for drinking and hot water with instant coffee mix if required. Fresh towels can be gotten at the Reception, issued on a 1/day/pax basis. If you're setting out for the dawn dive the next morning, you'd be well advised to get your towel the evening before, as the Reception, understandably, isn't open at 4am in the morning ;) If you're out on a day trip, packed lunches can be ordered the evening before, along with drinks. I love my Club Sandwich and the freshly sliced fruits on such days.
The boat captain and boys were very diligent in gearing up for us, changing tanks and assisting us into our set-up, right down to donning and fin removal for those that require! My group was thoroughly pampered! Decent, well maintained rental equipment was provided for those that required.
Joa and Becca who manage the dive shop always do so with utmost Swedish professionalism and are well liked by the local chaps that work under them. They do care for the environment and will enforce the guidelines when it comes to marine life, but do so reasonably and not overzealously (as I've encountered elsewhere diving in SEA). They're very approachable, take their work very seriously (but not inflexibly and without humour) and are always polite. Should you have problems, I'd suggest going to them straight away or during your trip to resolve the issue, rather than complaining about it after. That doesn't solve anything. As could be experienced at other dive resorts in SEA, some Caucasian owners/managers are wont to treat Asian divers with less professionalism, but we have never gotten that from J & B. Just smiles and great service all round from them and the locals.
Exotic is by no means the cheapest when it comes to dive prices, but for the efficiency, great maintenance of equipment (right down to the compressors and good air quality in the tanks) and number of people employed to see to that, it is not unreasonably priced. You could also avail yourself to the dive packages to get lower per dive rates. There's no compromising on safety for cheap for me.
Will we be back again? I've already made another group booking for April 2015 ;)
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