Travelblog#42: Donsol – the Philippines

9th-12th February, 2015

Leaving Sibuyan Island behind marked the end of our journey through the Visayas. Pedro, James, Chloe and I returned to Romblon Island for a day, so that we could catch the ferry cruising towards Masbate the next morning.

With a free afternoon to spare, on an island I was already familiar with and fond of, I decided to return to Fort San Andres – which had a great view of Romblon Town – and watch local life trickle by, while I wrote some ideas for a novel I am currently working on and drank a bottle of San Miguel.

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The ferry we caught the following morning was comfortable (we each had our own bunk bed), which was a huge blessing as the journey to Masbate was eight hours. When we arrived we discovered we had missed the last boat to Pilar, so it seemed we were destined to spend one more night in the Visayas before we reached the mainland.

Masbate wasn’t without its charms, but it was busy, a little grimy, and, judging by the warnings some of the locals gave us, prolific for crime. There were some nearby attractions just outside of the town, but we had arrived there way too late to go out on a day trip, so we just claimed a room in the hotel near the pier and spent most of the afternoon relaxing in the lobby.

We reached our destination – Donsol – the following morning and made our way over to the Visitor Center to book an activity which would prove to be one of our highlights from our entire time in the Philippines.

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Donsol, due to the abundance of plankton and krill which are carried into its seas by the tropical currents, is a hotspot for whale shark spotting. The locals have known about the prescience of the creatures – which they call butanding – for hundreds of years, but they always kept a wary distance from them, thinking them dangerous. In 1988 a team of scuba divers ‘discovered’ them and, shortly after that, Donsol became a world famous tourist destination.

Because whale sharks are an endangered species all activities around Donsol’s coast are regulated by the local government. Only 25 boats are allowed out at a time, and each one is attended by a trained ‘BIO’ (Butanding Interaction Officer). Before we were allowed in we first had to watch an introductory video and be instructed upon many rules – such as to not to touch the whale sharks and always maintain a distance of at least three meters from them, etc – and, once that was over, we were fitted for masks and fins. The following morning, we were taken out on a boat with our BIO, Jerry, and his crew of three.

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We didn’t have to wait for very long until one of the crew yelled something and Jerry told us to jump in so we could see our first whale shark. I plunged into the water and, as soon as I opened my eyes, saw one of them swimming straight towards me and had to twist out of its way.

We followed it for about fifteen minutes, and then its path crossed with another – even bigger – whale shark, and we then followed that one for a while. In the space of three hours Jerry’s crew spotted six, in all, the biggest being ten meters long.

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After it was over we went back to our guest house to shower and collect our bags. We were heading to the nearest city – Legazpi – so we could catch a night bus to Manila.

 

Photos from this blog were donated to me by James, whose website can be found here.

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