Searching for the Whale Sharks

Besides my flight in, and flight out three weeks later, I had nothing planned for my trip to the Philippines. I was free to roam and left to go whichever way felt right. One item I wished to check off my bucket list was to swim side by side the massive whale sharks known to cruise through the seas off The Philippines. I was told while in the mountains of Northern Luzon that Donsol Bay would give me a good shot of fulfilling this daydreamed event.

I spent a few nights with a family from Irosin before I made my way further south to the underwater giants. My time in Irosin really showed me how hospitable one family can really be, for being a stranger I have never felt so welcomed and cared for.  

So after saying my goodbyes I hopped on a bus towards Donsol Bay. The journey to the bay would take just about three or four hours, the majority by bus and the last hour stretch in a jeepney. We got to the junction, where the jeepney would transfer us, and after riding in these cramped, sweaty, metal jeeps for the better part of two weeks I decided to sit on the roof. Amazing! No lie, this is the only way to travel outside of the cities in the Philippines. I wasn’t alone in this, as up top I was joined with the Oklahoma City Thunder playing trio and friends. Kevin, Russel and James, all young basketball fans, were telling me all about their hometown on the water as we watch the sky light up with pinks and oranges while the sun sets over the perfectly conic shaped Mayon volcano. My new friends tell me this was once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and as I pass I’m wondering why it fell off the list. I’m a sucker for beautiful sunsets, and the scenery coupled with the cooling breeze engulfing my body as I sail by puts this in my top five (of my incredibly fluid list). 

The beauty helps me forget the increasing numbing feeling taking over my ass from sitting on metal racks for over an hour, and as the sun settles in for the night, we arrive in Donsol Bay.  I meet a tricycle driver named Randall, who hooks me up with a ride to my hostel after dropping off James. He offers up his phone number to be my on call trike driver in town, seeing as I am at least a 20 minute ride from the main town I happily accept. Oh man, little did I know how hungover I’d get due to this move.

At the hostel, which is definitely a beach side resort with a separate dorm accommodation, I start getting anxious for the morning. I’m feeling so close to finally swimming with these giants of the sea.  But hey, the night is young, so I go down and grab a bite to eat, and take advantage of the free rum shot that comes with each beer. Looking around its just myself and a solo traveling German girl. I happily take every opportunity to practice my Deutsch, so I sit with her and enjoy a salad. The salad was a nice break from the pork diet of the Philippines, but not a great base for the insane amount of Red Horse I’d find accompanying us…

We decided to get out and walk around the town, and quickly found out that the real partiers of Donsol Bay are the geriatric. We passed a super cute dance party for the older generation in the town square. After stopping to study the forgotten fox trot and two steps, we kept moving towards a house that had a shop window with the local legend Red Horse. We chatted with the family for a bit, then I get a text from Randall… “Want to come to concert right now?”

Yea for sure! We didn’t know what to expect, but Randall picked us up in his tricycle and scooted us to the town’s high school. As we are pulling up there is this live band playing what should be deemed the Philippine’s National Anthem, but I’m pretty sure its just called “Let Me Take a Selfie.” Quickly we realize this is not so much a concert than a high school reunion. A 40-year high school reunion. Bring on the Red Horse.

We were greeted by the kids still in high school who helped organize the whole party, and were treated like guests of honor. I think I was only halfway through the first beer before an eclectic veteran of the school pulled me up on to the dance floor. It was time to show off my moves to the whole 50 year old plus Donsol Bay community. What made it even better was we were dancing traditional dances, similar to salsa in the way we posed every time the music stopped. So as the Red Horse beers increased, so did the dancing, and we had a long, unbelievably fun night with the old women and men of Donsol Bay.

8:00 am. We are getting up at 8:00 am to go find these whale sharks. No matter what.

10:00 am, we wake up and make it to the launching point. No headache is going to suppress the stoke I have for the day, just delay the start time.  We purchase the boat ride, which fills up quickly (only 6 people), rent the snorkel gear, and head out.  For 4 hours we motor through the crystal blue sea, searching for our whales. I fell asleep a couple of times, quick power naps to conserve the energy for when we finally spot one. But as the hours pile up, and our boat guides take turns napping as well, frustration starts to set in.  We had one moment of hope, but only because every single boat on the water started b lining it towards a single location. Sure enough, a false sighting. I’m not sure it helps if 10 boats are racing to the same spot, and I’m not sure the experience would have been that amazing if I had to share it with 30 plus people.

We failed to spot any sort of sea life, which ultimately left me pretty upset. Easily the most money I had spent on my three week stay in the Philippines was this one night and day activity, but it wasn’t a problem because I was so excited to cross this off the list. I hopped on a bus and made my way back to Legaspi, to catch a flight to the next location.

On the bus ride I started thinking about my time in Donsol, and I honestly couldn’t stay upset for longer than a few minutes. The night before engrained memories of dancing, drinking, and feeling a part of the community. There is no way I can look back at my time there and not smile at the experience I had dancing with the old ladies for the 4 generations of local high schoolers to laugh at.

So I didn’t get to swim with whale sharks in the famed location for them. I’m okay with that, because I still get to search for the moment that for this time eluded me. Just one of many excuses to return to the Philippines in the near future. 


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