Thursday, March 10, 2011

donsol's gentle giants, the butanding!

during the days when we all get bored or way too stressed at work, we usually talk about the things we want to do, what comfort food we want to eat, and what places we all wish we could go! then one ordinary day, my officemate talked about on how she had experienced swimming with the whale sharks in donsol and all of us listening were like, say what?!

it's sad that when your work sucks the entire life out of you, you tend to forget how beautiful the world is and you soon realize the many wonderful things you're missing...

meeting with the whale sharks was then included in my imaginary list of to do's. so brave in thought even if i can't swim! LOL almost a year after i added that to my list, i was finally able to cross it out in this narrative.

How to get to Donsol from Legazpi?

Legazpi Central Terminal

legazpi is in albay while donsol is in sorsogon. map here. however, travel time to donsol from legazpi takes only about an hour by a v-hire (van for hire) so most tourists who only want to experience swimming with the whale sharks half of the day, opt to just stay in legazpi where there are more accommodations to choose from.

anyway, our experience was:
- at 6:30am, we went to the legazpi central terminal hoping that we could catch an early van for donsol.

- but we had to wait until the van could have its maximum capacity. we ended up paying extra for the 2 lacking passengers so that we could still make it to donsol on time.

- we were supposed to pay only Php65/person but had to pay additional Php15 for the 2 passengers whom we couldn't wait.

And finally, Donsol

Donsol Tourism Center

the van is only up to donsol's town center and you need to take a tricycle in order to get to the tourism center which is in brgy. dancalan. the fare is i think fixed at Php20/person but the french traveler who was with us in our van tried to haggle betwen the van driver and a tricycle driver, whoever could offer a Php15 ride for him. LOL and he gave in to the tricycle driver and Php20 eventually. as for my brother and i, we only had it for Php35. haha! all hail to Php5!

in donsol tourism center:
- we registered with a fee of Php100 for filipinos (yey!) and i didn't get how much is for the foreigners. that's why, there's a color scheme in the registration forms. filipinos get the white paper and the green paper for the foreigners.

- the tourism people grouped us into 6, the maximum persons allowed in the boat. we were supposed to be in the same group with the foreigners who were in the same van with us, initially thinking that the maximum was 7. again, this persistent french guy tried to sway the tourism people so that we could have an exact payment of Php500 each. the boat by the way is priced at Php3500, good for 3 hours.

- during the heat of the french guy's negotiation, this lady in the tourism slyly advised us to join in another group that needed 2 more people so that we could then be next in line. :D

- when we arrived at past 9, there were already 30 boats (the maximum) that went out to the sea and we had to wait until 10:30am for our turn. :-/

- on top of that, the tourism people could not assure us that we would have whale shark encounters. :-/ :-/

- anyway, there's a short video in the tourism office about the whale sharks and the do's and don'ts while swimming. don't ever touch the whale shark and don't block its path, in other words don't disturb its peace.

Chasing the Butanding

at last after an hour of waiting for our turn, we set out to the sea to try our luck with the whale sharks. together with us in our boat was a couple from mindoro with their daughter, a korean couple, my brother, me! and 4 locals with one of them as our butanding interaction officer (bio) named bong. i regarded bong as captain of our boat who managed to explain nifty details in perfect english! and i don't mean with a twang of an american accent which a lot of people try to muster. :P

i kinda freaked out inside, when we were finally in the middle of the sea. the water was deep dark because of the abundance of planktons, the reason why the whale sharks come to donsol in the first place. whale sharks are not here all year round and they only come to visit donsol starting january until may. it was an ideal time for us since february is considered as a peak month.

Ready, Set, Jump!

the bio is basically the one who leads the group. if he tells you to jump, don't ever hesitate to jump or you would surely be left befind.
Swimming with the Butanding

we never had an underwater shot since i came too prepared that i left my waterproof pack. T_T i was too shy to ask some pics from the koreans who i think, had incredible underwater shots and vids.
my brother and i took turns using the normal goggles which i don't recommend unless you can hold your breath for like 10 minutes.

Butanding/Whale Shark, The Gentle Giant

most of the time we were only seeing this huge black patch in the water but we were ecstatic nonetheless! the closest encounter i had with a butanding was when i braved to swim or struggle rather, hand in hand with the bio. the bio alternately guided one of us, so that we could swim well above the butanding. damn i was so envious, our bio swam like he's in sync with the butanding.

here's another futile attempt in a video. =))

and i really wish i could do something like this.

i was happy with what the local had said in the short video shown in the tourism center. not the exact words though. "we can benefit more, with whale sharks that are alive than the dead ones." yes sadly before, these gentle giants were being hunted and sold. ;(


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