Visiting the gentle giants: Legaspi & Donsol

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May 24th 2011
Published: May 24th 2011
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Our trip to Donsol began with a 25 hour bus ride! We took another freezing cold night bus from Banaue to Manila (10hours) which arrived at 6am. We originally planned on spending the day in Manila and then taking another long bus ride to Legaspi (the main town near Donsol) the following day. However, because we were so tired from our first journey we didn't feel up to exploring the chaos of Manila and so decided to power through and take a local bus to Legaspi (13hours). The bus journey was great but VERY long, we left at 8am and got to Legaspi at 9.30pm so if you add that to our night bus we were traveling for over 25 hours! On the bus we were crammed into our seats (with 7 people squashed across one row), had chickens in boxes beneath our feet and again had children throwing up around us! It was really nice though to travel by day and see the country and it's people, the landscape is stunning and so underdeveloped, mountains and jungle are still the norm with tiny rural villages in between. Another great part of local bus rides is the sellers that jump on with all sorts of yummy (and not so yummy) treats to try! Although we won't be traveling 25 hours again in a hurry, the experience was good fun! 

Legaspi itself isn't the greatest of places and our experience was worsened by our hotel; as we arrived late, everywhere was full apart from our very shabby, cockroach ridden and smelly hotel so we had no choice but to stay in it (or pay a lot of money for an upmarket one)! The only good thing (and it's a pretty awesome thing) about Legaspi was Mount Mayon- an active volcano. It really is impressive- perfectly formed and absolutely huge! We could have sat and watched it's smoke plumes for ever, we were really mesmerized by it! Really amazing! 

After a good look at Mt Mayon we caught a bus to Donsol pretty promptly and had 4 of the best days of the whole trip, we absolutely fell in love with the place, it's people, and it's "Butanding!" 

We were really lucky as we were there for the towns fiesta period so every night the town was alive and everyone was in a festive mood! Our first day was jam packed: we went swimming with whale sharks in the morning, went to a local cockerel fight in the afternoon, and then spent the evening at the local basketball tournament! 

The whale sharks (known here as 'butanding'😉 where incredible, words can't describe the feeling you get as you jump off the boat and look down to find yourself right above the head of a 10 metre giant! They are so beautiful, so graceful and so chilled out, just swimming below or next to you as if we wern't even there. We were extremely lucky as it is coming to the end of their season but we managed to see 4 different individuals and swam with them 8 times. The first 2 swims however were slightly crazy, way too many people around one shark, most of which couldn't swim, and we spent most of our time trying to get them off our shoulders as they held on to us to stay afloat, we couldn't believe it! Why the hell would you go swimming with sharks if you can't blooming swim, and why let so many people around one shark (we complained to the office after in great detail about how they wern't keeping to the guidelines)! After that however we had 4 brilliant swims with just a few of us around the sharks. We swam for ages with one, admiring every detail from it's head to it's tail, all the way along it's spotted back. And then our last swim was just mind blowing, we jumped in to find ourselves just inches away from it's face as it just calmly swam right past us, looking us straight in the eye! Just amazing! We will definitely be returning to do this again and would recommend it to everyone (as long as you can swim of course).

That afternoon our tricycle driver offered to take us to a local cockerel fight as we'd been asking a bit about it. It was mental. Just crazy! A big arena especially for it, full of men going absolutely bonkers, bets being thrown around everywhere and everyone just shouting and screaming at the cocks! It is one of the main traditions in the Philippines and really popular with the locals, they take huge pride in looking after and raising a good strong cockerel! 

The fights however were savage, it was brilliant to see such an event as it's a massive part of their culture but at parts Lucy couldn't watch. They strap huge blades onto the cocks ankles and get them really fired up and then the fight begins and it doesn't end until one of them is dead. The worst part however is that towards the end one of the cocks is pretty much dead but until they are completely dead they are still left in the ring, wings broken unable to move. The poor thing just lays there defenseless as all the men in the ring are jumping around it screaming! It was worth going to though as we've never seen anything like it before and it was definitely an insight into Filipino culture. 

Later that evening we then went to the towns provincial basketball tournament. It was part of the build up to their fiesta and the local governers and Mayors had put together a team to play the locals! It was great fun
and there was such a huge community spirit, the whole town was there to watch! We were the only westerners there which was brilliant as we felt privileged to be a part of something so local! Then the mayor asked Lucy to go up for a photo at the tip off and let us sit near to the commentator who was hilarious! The governers were all very
keen to speak to us which was great,
they made us feel so welcome! 

The next day we decided to go diving! We had been deliberating for ages as to whether or not we could afford it but after seeing a video at the dive shop of a 5m manta ray from the day before there was no stopping us! We wanted to dive the manta bowl- an area known for it's large abundance of mantas as they come here to be cleaned by smaller fish species, the shop however made us dive a macro sight first as the manta bowl is meant to be a hard dive with strong currents so they wanted to make sure we were competent. The macro dive, off st. Miguel island was really stunning, one of our favourite dives so far. The
coral was just beautiful, and so diverse and colourful. And the macro life was gorgeous too- lots of tiny puffer fish and box fish, nudibranches, tiny fish, morey eels, star fish and much more. We also went into a cave which was pretty cool! The manta bowl however was a huge disappointment, the visibility was really bad and we couldn't see anything! The only thing we did see were stingrays which were cool but they wern't mantas! It was a shame but we can't expect perfect dives every time and it's now given us something to search for, our main goal for the rest of the trip is to see one! 

That evening it was the class of 2011s graduation and every year on graduation night, all of the past school years have reunions and congregate at the local 'beer plaza' for a big party! People travel from all over the place to come back for the reunion and the town is just buzzing! Our guest house owner was part of the class of 1987 and she was hosting their reunion party and invited us along! It was
brilliant, we ate with them all (trying
out some great local dishes) and then
went with them to the plaza to party! It was such great fun, we met a group of Filipinos from the class of 2003 (closer to our age) and spent the night
drinking and dancing with them! We even had the mayors grandson buying us beer! Haha! 

Our time in Donsol has been one that we will never forget, such a great place, such great people and such amazingly great memories that will be with us forever! 

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