Friday, 20 January 2012


In which we are featured in a television snippet
Starring Cassandra whose prophecies of doom were unheeded.

When you think about it, going to see the whale sharks in Donsol is a rather terrifying experience.  As soon as whale shark is spotted (big, dark shadow moving slowly beneath the surface), in a great rush you don your cheap rental mask, snorkel and flippers and leap from a moving boat into fairly rough water where the visibility is about 3-5m and somewhere, not far from you, a huge beast of a fish is cruising ominously through the water.  If you aren’t hyperventilating slightly as you go, you most certainly are when the whale shark appears suddenly out of the gloom.   Despite all my years of snorkelling and diving I could barely get enough breath together to dive even a metre below the surface.   Overall, it’s better not to think about it.  And if that fails to console yourself with the fact that unlike one of the other passengers on the boat, you can at least swim.   

The weather on the first day was grim – low clouds, scattered rain – and so the sea was an inky grey.   Each boat has several staff on it – a driver, a spotter (who stands on the roof of the boat looking for shadows) and the Buntanding (Filipino for whale shark) Interaction Office who is there to make sure we behave ourselves – not going too close and not touching.   There were five of us on the boat – all very over excited – including Cassandra from Shanghai who warned us that she couldn’t swim and was likely to cause chaos but we all ignored her.  It took about an hour and half to find the first whale shark by which time we were mostly all asleep when the call went out to: “Get Ready! Get Ready!”.  We leapt in and swam out following the BIO for quite a while before I eventually said - “Where is it?”  “Look down” he shouted back.    The whale shark was right underneath me moving slowly through the water.  At least nine metres long.  Think my heart might have momentarily stopped.

Our spotter standing on the roof of the boat

Donsol has the densest population of whale sharks in the world and in the high season there are so many that they you can spot them just 50m off the shore.  At this time of year they’re further apart – the spotters only scan the water in a 100m arc along the front of the boat so it’s almost pure luck if one happens to surface as you’re passing.  Our BIO told us that in December alone he had seen over 1000.  That said, despite a few close calls we didn’t see any more that day – though entertainment was provided by Cassandra who dropped her mask overboard and then, very nearly her sunblock. 

This is probably the best video I managed to get:

This bit of the peninsular is gorgeous – no white sandy beaches – but spectacular sunsets, pretty little wooden houses,  friendly people and great little shops beneath thatched eaves where you can buy anything from sachets of shampoo to a pig.  Took lots of strolls along the main road (actually just a single tarred track) and came upon all sorts of curiosities including a few species of new spiders and a cockfight with two men lining up their birds, fluffing and stroking their feathers, and a whole crowd standing around waiting for it to begin.  Towering above it all are the emerald slopes of Mount Mayon, reputedly the world’s most attractive volcano thanks to its near perfect cone.

The next day was bright and sunny and I met up with a group that was mostly the people from the first day’s boat and another girl I’d met on the bus.  Because there’s only one road along the coast and everyone is pretty much going in the same direction, the tricycles (50cc motorbikes with little sidecars on them) operate a bit like minivans loading up as many passengers as they can and stopping for anyone who waves them down.  All five of us piled into one – Yolande and another guy on the back of the motorbike behind the driver, Andre inside the little sidecar, William on the roof, and me standing on the back – and set off bounding past the rice paddies, along the palm lined road waving at school kids.

It was another great day – we saw two different whale sharks several times and both of them weren’t in as much of a hurry to dive as the one we saw yesterday, hanging around on the surface for ages and the second one dived and resurfaced several times.  They swim at quite a pace so keeping up is a bit of challenge.   Absolutely unforgettable.  We were all exhausted and grinning from ear to ear by the time the boat finally picked us up.    

As we arrived at the centre in the morning a TV crew had been filming a snippet for what we think was the local evening news.  We gathered to watch it at 5pm in Yolanda’s guest house armed with beer and shrimp flavoured crisps but sadly it never aired  - we landed up watching 30 minutes of big brother and all of the news before giving up and heading out for dinner. 

1 comment:

  1. Hey Foote. Did I ever tell you how much you rock?