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Published: April 25th 2011
Dave and I are actually getting quite good at this traveling around business, it's a shame it's right at the end of our trip! After a short flight from Cebu to Legazpi, we managed to navigate our way to the local bus terminal by thriftily sharing a tricycle with another traveler. As with most places in Asia, there is no real timetable, buses just leave when they're full... Usually very full! We therefore squeezed us and our backpacks onto a (supposedly) aircon mini bus for the one hour drive to Donsol. Our hotel provided an airport transfer for 2000PP (£28), but we managed to do it for 170PP (£2.50) for both of us. It was sweaty, it was erratic, but it was a bargain! Paul would be proud.
Our home for the next three nights is Donsol, a sleepy fishing port that provides an authentic insight into Filipino life. Not much is open in the evenings, but the locals entertain themselves with basketball tournaments amongst other things. It's actually a very popular sport out here?! There are only a couple of hotels, none of which are big, and the rest are guesthouses and home stays. We didn't realise but our
The big guy himself
It was bad visibility but this was the best we could do.
visit coincided with Holy Week, which is an important time for most Filipinos. We were able to witness some of the celebrations and customs which was interesting and, of course, always at top volume!
Anyway, for those of you that aren't aware, the primary reason to visit Donsol is to snorkel with the Whale Sharks. These creatures usually live in the deepest depths of the ocean and grow to around 8-12m in length, although our guide said he used to see a very old one each year that was around 15m. It was 'discovered' that the Whale Sharks migrated here annually in the late 1990's, and ever since visitors have flocked to Donsol for the opportunity to swim with these gentle giants. No one knows exactly why they return each year. Some think it's to reproduce, as the shallow coastal sea around Donsol is rich in plankton and provides plentiful food.
The Philippine Authorities have put laws in place to protect the Whale Sharks, such as a limit on boat numbers, limits on the number of people per boat and they've set a code of conduct for 'Interaction'. Whether these are always followed to the letter is debateable, but for the most part they look like they're trying to regulate tourists. Something that always amazes me, is that when people are told 'Do not touch', they smile and nod and then try to do it anyway? I saw a guide have to pull a girl away as her hand went out to stroke the Whale Shark. If something that size panicked or flinched everyone nearby would be in big, big trouble. Either that or it would swim off back into the deep and then might stop visiting the area altogether. We came across people with wandering hands a lot whilst diving, especially when it came to the sea turtles. DO NOT TOUCH!!! Get it? Not hard is it.
We decided to opt for the early morning viewing which starts at 7:30am. When we arrived at the Interaction Centre, we were confronted with what can only be described as absolute chaos. There were forms to fill in, registration fees to pay, and then you had to try and find people to share a boat with. Plus no one queues and everyone pushes in, so you don't know what's going on. Dave almost had a moment of rage but managed to control himself! By some sort of miracle (I'm still not sure how it happened), we managed to get enough people to fill the last 7:30am boat out of the port. Your trip then lasts a maximum of three hours, so your boat crew aim to get you in the sea as many times as possible. Let the race commence!
When the guide finds a good spot he hells, 'Get ready', and then you have about 30 seconds to throw on your mask and fins and perch on the end of the boat. You then leap in and the guide points into the murky blue... Within seconds you realise you've been dumped into the path of a ma-hoo-sive Whale Shark. Then... You swim!! They don't actually swim that fast, but due to the shear size of them, you end up covering ground quite quickly. One came up straight underneath Dave and almost knocked him out the way, so he had to do a bit of impressive water acrobatics to avoid a full on collision! Oh, how he screamed... The guides are strong and practically drag you along and throw you right at the front of them. They're keen to make sure you have a good experience. As I'm not too bad at swimming I ended up being at the front of the pack each time, and just overtook anyone who was in my way! After a minute or two people would drop off but I'd still be up there. We swam with about five, and as the visibility was a max of five metres, if you're at the head end you can't see it's tail. Now that is a big fish.
We've also noticed that a lot of Asian people can't swim or at least aren't confident in the water, so they call wear lifejackets in the sea. As it was Holy Week there were boat loads of Filipinos there too. When they were dropped in the water many just shrieked, splashed and looked down, then got back on the boat. This worked out quite well as even though it was busy you didn't get too many people in the water at one time. When we got in the last time I felt like I was swimming for ages. When I turned around our boat was slowly chugging behind me with Dave and the others back on board. Even the guide had given up!
Swimming with the Whale Sharks was without a doubt the highlight of our trip (we have made a top five). Even though it was a bit hectic on the surface, just being so close to a creature that size in the wild is just amazing. They are so graceful and it really was a privilege to be allowed to swim along side them for so long.
Love Emma & Dave xx
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