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Published: March 4th 2011
It was time to leave Manila to head east to the small town of Donsol. Since booking the Philippines we’d heard amazing reviews about Donsol and how it’s the only place where you can swim with whale sharks. So we thought why not?!!
Donsol is basically a small rural coastal town that survives mainly on tourists coming to experience the ‘experience of a lifetime’ swimming with the huge elephants of the sea! We both kept this pretty tight-lipped from our families back home just to save any unnecessary worrying!!
So here’s how it works… we registered with the tourist company the day before and during this time we were shown a 10 minute observation video to prepare us for our 3 hours interaction – the do’s and don’t!! The do’s – listen and follow your instructors instructions at all times! The dont’s - DON’T try to get toooo close to the whale sharks!!
For the rest of the day you are left pondering what you have just signed up for! For Tina it meant a really sleepless night ahead!! Let the butanding begin!!
The next morning we were up at the crack of dawn and ready
to start our butanding adventure (Filipino word for whale sharks!) – what a way to wake up on a Monday morning! On arrival you are grouped up into 6 brave souls for each boat – we joined up with a Dutch and English couple who were as nervous as us! We were the introduced to our boat crew which was consisted of 1 BIO (Butanding Instruction Officer), 2 spotters and our driver. Our BIO gave us another brief set of instructions and warned us that there is no guarantee that we will see any whale sharks. So off we went with our snorkeling equipment at the ready, hoping for the best!
For most of the boat ride into the middle of the ocean we spent looking at each other terrified, thinking WHAT THE HELL HAVE WE DONE?!!! Maybe a step too far this time 😉
Before we had time to dwell on this thought too much our BIO was yelling at us to get our gear on because there was a sighting of a whale shark nearby! One at a time we took the plunge into the sea and followed our BIO further in, when we all reached
a certain point he kept shouting ‘look down, look down’ but no matter where we looked we couldn’t see anything. The sea was pretty cloudy underneath, we had missed the whale shark so it was time to get back on the boat disappointed!!
We spent the next hour freezing on the boat, it was just our luck that it started to rain as well. Just as we were starting to believe we wouldn’t see anything the shout came again – ‘get ready’! We dived in for the second time, both lost each other in among the other divers but this time when we looked down it couldn’t have been more different!! There are no words to describe how amazing it is to see a 20 metre whale shark gliding below and along side you. It was breathtaking!!!
At first we had to re-adjust our eyes because we weren’t sure if we were looking at the sea or a whale shark because it was so enormous!! It has a skin covered in white spots, it’s such a beautiful creature!! Paul had the moment where he thought his time on this planet was over, when he first tried to see
it he’d somehow managed to place himself directly in front of the whale shark and turned round to see this huge mouth coming towards him!! Que a lot of splashing and quick swimming!! Tina ended up 20 metres away at the tail of the whale shark, she was convinced at one point she was so close to it that she was going to hit it!
When we first went back to the boat, we were sat in silence in awe of what we had just seen. We were so lucky to have another 2 dives to see other whale sharks and the third time round we managed to swim together as the entire whale shark passed along beside us! It was brilliant!!
When our three hours were up it was time to head back to the port, we couldn’t stop talking about what we had just seen. We had high expectations but the actual experience itself topped even that. We were both so glad that we experienced this and got to spend some time with these gentle giants!! We have to say though at no point did we feel threatened or in danger, they only eat plankton so
it was a completely safe activity to take part in. It was almost as if the whale sharks weren’t aware we were even next to them, we were so minute compared to them!
We could both go on talking about this all day, it’s safe to say it’s an experience we will never forget. We did have an under water camera but we were always too close to the whale sharks to get a full photo of them but the ones we’ve got give you a small taste of what the beauties look like!!
We’re still on a major high from our time in Donsol (reckon we will be for ages) but just a quick word about the actual town itself. The people are all really friendly, in particular the children, you can’t walk up one street without a kid shouting hello or waving. We had so many conversations with the kids asking us our names and that they were pleased to meet us, so polite!
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