OR, SNORKELLING PAR EXCELLENCE IN THE PHILIPPINES
ALERT: This is a revamped version of an older post to update and put it chronologically in order. I was a baby to blogging when I published this previously so this is a shiny new version. My love for animals has no bounds so you’ll have to read the link above to understand my reasoning for swimming with them in Oslob without starting out judgmentally. Now that so much has happened in the world I’m not even sure if these type of things will resume. Anyhoo, come with me on my long journey to finally swim with whale sharks.
Manila to Cebu ….
Approve or disapprove I went. I flew from ghastly Manila to Cebu, stayed at a little hotel right by the bus station, and took the first bus to Oslob.
I made that sound easy but it really wasn’t and meeting up with two fellow tourists and sharing a cab didn’t mean finding the hotel was easy. The taxi driver went round in circles despite the fellow travellers sat nav and him shouting “no mate it’s up here“. The driver, as all cab drivers in the world, would not have it so three circuits of the bus station later (the hotel was behind it ffs) we got there.
During the cab ride they told me about Bali, “filthy place” they spat “plastic bottles all over the beach” they fumed. Now I had planned on hitting Bali so I listened in amazed horror but if these two very zen travellers were getting like rabid dogs just mentioning the place then obviously I should swerve it. The two of them had spent most of their time clearing detritus off the beach, they were still very upset by the whole situation saying it was like paradise there from a distance but up close? This would be a recurring theme throughout Asia. The hotel was clean and very pleasant and we were all relieved, however I had work to do so said my goodbyes to the still muttering couple and trotted off to the ubiquitous mall for the ATM.
Alert: Now I had been stressing about this for hours. Me and foreign cash machines have history. They take one look at me and say ‘I’m going to fuck you over’ (but in computer language voice obviously). And they do. Either the screen is impossible to see due to bright sunlight on it or finding the English language button suddenly cancels the whole transaction. There are times when ‘computer says no’ and other times you manage to withdraw the equivalent of ten pence in currencies of of huge denominations. I don’t think I’m the only person who has the cash cow dread. Cards are cancelled for no apparent reason or gobbled up by wayward machines. Then there are places which just don’t take either card (I travel with Visa and MasterCard so you wouldn’t think that would be a problem?) It was in India where only the Bank of India seems to accept foreign cards at all.
Alert: My pal Andreas had this problem in the Philippines in Panglao. I had to drive with him on the back of a motorbike for over an hour to Bohol after an island machine stole his money. Now when I say stole I mean it. It said for him to wait for his cash and when it wasn’t forthcoming he checked on his phone and saw it had withdrawn it from his account. This shit thing wasted hours at a mainland bank and caused stress to both my mate and me. (he refused to snorkel til I helped him, what an arsehole!) I wonder how much money is ripped off by banks in this way?
Now Cebu is fine on the main road by the bus station but I must confess a little stressful. No pavement, electrical lines slopping down everywhere, shouting, honking and general mayhem (in other words the same as the rest of Asia) The mall was a revelation. The stressful part of getting money from the machine god was fine and the supermarket superb. I purchased snacks and weird stuff for the bus and the night at the hotel and icy cold beers. Then I smelled a very delicious porky aroma and zoned into a fabulous roast pig stall. Now then, dear reader, I still ate Mr Piggy in all forms, (now my shame is too deep and I am porkless!) but then, without shame I darted over and had a very fine crispy roast pig fing. It’s a specialty of Cebu and called “Lechon” so I feel it’s worth a mention and it’s bloody delicious. Replete and belching slightly I now waddled back to the hotel.
After a shocking nights sleep (ridiculous window onto main corridor with paper thin curtains, hugely anxious making like being in a peep show) I groggily showered and repacked then walked round to the land of ghost buses and got my ticket at a bleak and horror story bus station. It was silly o’clock and after much lurking in that ill lit and spooky place and many ‘last’ wees later I finally boarded said bus. It was still dark so I snuggled down in my seat for the first part of the ride in the dark. After half an hour we were treated to a beautiful sunrise and I relaxed sufficiently to I tell the driver the name of my hotel so I could relax a bit. I then started on my snacks and a vile little coffee (soooo bloody sweet, sweet, sweet like all their foodstuff over there) that I had bought at the supermarket the previous day. Now finally I was content to just chill.The exit from the city was nasty and polluted sadly with hundreds of plastic bags of litter on the sides of the road and in ditches. It’s truly a nightmare with rubbish there, however as we escaped the city the rest of the coastal road was lovely. My snacks of awfulness sustained me as I gazed with wonder at the turquoise sea now in it’s full glory as the sun rose
Finally I was here! The chill-ax part of the trip now for a bit. I had really enjoyed my Indian forts and palaces, huge astrological strange sculptural sites, my museums and art galleries, my academic nerdy anorak planning for the best-to-visit-preferably-without-too-many-tourists. Also my hair raising logistics for travel and hotels, my downloading all the bookings and travel movies. My chargers devices and battery chargers. My economic packing of my paltry few garments (to avoid having to check in luggage) MY NEVER STOPPING DOING STUFF. Now it was my time to swim and see nature in its glory, eat fish and swim with them!
Arriving at my hotel I couldn’t believe my luck. So beautiful and well managed even with a little pool. It was the colour of the sea that soothed my gritty eyes along with a swim in those turquoise waters. I booked my man for the next days swim with the whale sharks. I then waited for my room to be ready whilst supping an icy beer and sitting in a hanging egg chair that rocked me gently in the salty gentle breeze. I wallowed in just being for the first time in over three weeks. My room when I entered was sea view and on columns over the sea. Bliss.
Swimming with the Gentle Giants.
Hooray! In London I was told that while I was in Philppines was a great time of year for the migration time of the whale sharks So after this huge effort to get to Oslob I was a little nervous that it would be an anticlimax. My expectations were so high and I had spent a lot of cash to be here so please let it be wonderful.
I was not disappointed at all and after my motorbike ride to the location we had a lecture on the policies and the respect everyone should show these magnificent creatures and NO BLOODY TOUCHING. People with sun tan lotion on had to shower and then we ushered down the beach with our dodgy snorkel and mask sets to very rickety boats with stablizers (more nervous people stayed within these confines or indeed chickened out and stayed on the boat. That was the majority surprisingly)
I was in like a flash as we only had half an hour and there were eight around our boat with babies. Reprimands were shouted at the idiots who touched them as the men in the water guarded them and watched over them, tourists are generally foul. A rather clumsy splashing and turning around in circles as the guides prodded you and pointed at mummy and babies and the larger males.
They swam all around and under me their huge white speckled bodies and massive fins, tails and rippling gills sometimes only a foot from my face. At one point I had to float motionlessly on the water as one swam directly beneath me and so closely as to graze my belly. It was amazing and I actually cried in my goggles which sounds ridiculous but is true.
The infants and the “cleaner wrasse” (blue-streak cleaner wrasse and moon wrasse) were also very close and in view. Little fish cleaning other big fish is apparently called a “mutualist” relationship.
One guide impressed by my having an underwater camera with me took the video and some photos too for which I’m eternally grateful (even if there seems to be a more shots of my bum than the sharks!!)
Their saucer sized eyes looked dispassionately on and in an effort the keep down in the very salty water I adopted a weird Buddhist like pose which I still remember doing very clearly. Things went very still and all I could hear was the watery echoes of creatures moving around. All was very blue and clear as was my mind. All was pure just for those long dream like extended couple of seconds where accidentally I was in my lotus like position. Everything made sense, I really felt at peace.
Whale Shark Facts.
- average weight: 19,000 kgs or 21.5 tonnes
- life span: around 70 years
- habitat: tropical oceans
- mouth size: 1.5 metres
- average length 9.8 metres or 59 feet
- skin thickness: 10 cm or 3.9 inches
- largest found 69 feet
- slow moving filter feeding carpet shark and the largest known extant fish
To be continued…….