Whale fish whale fish!
13.03.2008 - 20.03.2008 31 °C
So, from KL, we flew with Air Asia to Manila in the Philippines. Another busy Asian city, yet with its own Filipino character. The gap between rich and poor here is enormous, and so apparent everywhere. Also, the presence and visibility of guns is different to elsewhere - there are security guards posted at everything from banks to Starbucks, and they all carry guns. Anything from hand guns to huge automatic weapons ( I know nothing of guns, but some of them look like something out of a gangster movie). Quite unnerving. And Manila lacks the otherwise ubiquitous food stalls that are so great about Asia - here you either eat in restaurants, and pay the price, or in American fast food chains, of which they have more kinds that I have seen anywhere else! (Burger King, MacDonald’s, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, Dominos, Sbarro. Shakey’s, Dunkin Donuts, Pop Eye’s, KFC, Krispy Kreme Donuts to name a few). Another, worse, eyesore here is the obvious sex tourism, with girlie bars on every corner, and old Western men with their young ‘girlfriends’ walking the streets or frequenting bars and restaurants. Horrible, nasty to even look at!
Apart from that, I like Manila - its got a kind of wild edge to it, a feeling that anything could happen, and does. I mean, where else could you imagine there being a bar called the Hobbit House, staffed exclusively by little people - from bartender and waitresses to doorman. And they somehow manage to do it with dignity. Great place. And also, most of the people here are just so nice, polite and helpful.
From Manila, we caught a hellish bus ride down to Donsol. 12 hours on a bus where the seats were so narrow you could barely sit in them, and there was no leg room at all. Donsol is nothing much in itself - a small Filipino village, that used to survive mainly on fishing. But it has one unique feature - from around November to May give or take a month or two, there is a huge gathering of whale sharks off the coast here. You can go out on a boat for the day, and spot them, and then jump in a snorkel with them. We did this last time we were in the Philippines, and we had to come back again. I have never heard of anything like this anywhere else in the world.
Our first day of snorkelling here did not quite live up to our expectations - it had rained for two days straight, and the visibility was so low that the spotters could not see through the water. Besides, it was still raining when we went out, which meant there was no sun to penetrate the surface and show the shadows of the massive creatures. In the end, after spending three hours just sitting on the boat, they did manage to find one, and we had a decent look at him before he decided to take off - but still, with the viz so low, it was hard to see him until you were literally right next to him. Milena was so disappointed she was grumbling the whole evening, and I have to say that I too was a bit down.
After the snorkelling, we went diving one day, in the manta bowl as they call it here. They say there’s a decent chance of seeing manta rays here, and even hammerheads and thresher sharks. We did not see an of these things - except for the threshers, of which we saw lots of heads, all in the fish market in Donsol - so they are obviously here, but for how much longer? Also, in the whale shark season, it is apparently common to spot one of these giant fish on your safety stop. However, we were not so lucky with the diving, we spent three dives merely sitting on the bottom, holding on in the current and seeing little at all. Only on the third dive of the day, and the last, did we get a quick look at a whale shark as we were descending. Not too bad for three dives I guess - whale sharks are quite a treat, no doubt about it - but still, we were not ecstatic with the rest of the dives, and decided to try our luck with the snorkelling rather than dive again the next day. In the meantime, it had cleared up a bit, and we were hoping that a couple of days without rain would mean a better chance of finding the whale sharks.
And we were right, as it turned out. The next two days, we went out on boats snorkelling with the whale sharks. And even though Easter meant that the Donsol whale shark office had cut the trips from the usual six hours to three hours (at the same price), we managed to get some amazing encounters with the beautiful whale sharks. We saw altogether maybe 12 sharks in two days (not a record by far, some people get that in one day), but the encounters were so great, we were blown away! It was better than when we were here three years ago - we got to swim with several of the sharks for many minutes at a time, they were swimming slowly right below the surface, feeding I guess. We could overtake them, swim next to their huge heads, look them in the eye, and even get a good look at their wide, almost smiling mouths. Aaah, amazing nature. The feeling of being next to one of these enormous fishes is so humbling and exhilarating at once. One of them even decided to stick his nose all the way out of the water, and then almost suck on the camera in Alan’s hands, making for a great movie! (Sadly, our guide on the swim decided to mess around, and push the mouth of the shark closed - you see his hand in the movie - not very nice of him!). All in all, Donsol was a great success, what an amazing place!
Unfortunately for this blog, we were way too close to the whale sharks, and the viz was way too shit, to take any pictures - they simply do not come out. Instead, we shot some videos, I have entered a little compilation of the best clips below - check it out!