Thursday, January 15, 2015

Our (unsuccessful) attempt to swim with the whale sharks in Donsol

I will forever categorize Swimming with the Whale Sharks together with Visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Been There. Not Done. But Done enough of That for a lifetime.

In 2012, I spent 8 hours on a plane attempting to visit the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns. You can read my post here on how unsuccessful we were, not for lack of trying. 

I feel the same way about our attempt to swim with the whale sharks in Donsol. Last December, we woke up in the middle of the night to take the red-eye flight to Legazpi so we would arrive early enough to swim with the whale sharks before our stay in Misibis Bay (which turned out quite unpleasant - you can read why I say so here). Photos from our GoPro wannabe SJ4000 cam which you can read about here.  
Photos from my Canon S95

Donsol is roughly around an hour away from Legazpi City. Unfortunately, we were almost in Donsol, when the tour operator called our driver (they also arranged our transfers) and told us that with the weather (or the current) it wasn't advisable for our safety to push through with swimming with the whale sharks so we had to turn back and head back to the city. It wasn't exactly raining hard, but there was a light rain every so often, but when someone says it's not safe to go out to sea, we didn't want to insist even if it means two hours wasted on the road.

It was quite frustrating though because we just wanted to cancel the tour and get out money back, unfortunately, the tour operator we chose required that we fully pay for our tour before hand - NOTE: In hindsight, I realized we should have never agreed to to this, and they refused to give us a refund. Something about the small print in the terms and conditions we signed saying that in case of bad weather, we can reschedule but they are not required to give us any refund at all. Such a hassle because our resort was another hour away from the city in the other direction so our only option was to reschedule the whale sharks, to the morning of the day that we were flying back.

In fairness to the tour operator, they kept us updated the night before to tell us that butandings (whale sharks) were sighted in the last two days, and the weather was good enough for us to push through. However, the main difference between Donsol and Oslob is that in Donsol, you really hunt for the butandings or wait for them to appear (if you're lucky), while in Oslob, they feed the butanding, so seeing them is more of a sure thing.

Leaving Misibis Bay at 5:45am to go swim with the
Catching some Zzzzz's on the shuttle.

The partner hotel of Misibis Bay in the city is Hotel Venezia. We arrived early enough to eat breakfast buffet.
Wow! A proper breakfast spread with an Egg Station included for only Php200.
Someone went crazy with the buffet. Pati toast hinoard.
That's how deprived we were in overpriced Misibis Bay.
Since we didn't join the group for the city tour, we just saw Mayon Volcano
en route.

When we got to Donsol, our first stop was the Dive Center (which I think is run by the tour operator you choose) because there were several places beside each other.

Then you get fitted for fins (kids not included), they said that the guide could pull her, which I also asked if the guide could do for me... they said yes, but I still needed to help a bit by kicking with fins.
This little girl was really excited.

Our package from Whaleshark Adventure and Tours was Php1,650 per person (kids also need to pay the same rate) and it included round-trip Legazpi transfers and the whale shark experience with your own boat for a maximum of 3 hours.

It does not include the P100 registration fee for Filipinos and P300 registration fee for foreigners which you need to pay at the visitor's center. I was quite impressed by how professional everything was run. In your registration form, you need to declare if you know how to swim or not, then before being allowed on the water, you need to watch a video which shows you what to do once you're swimming with the whale sharks because they are very protective of them and the environment (which addresses one of the complaints against Oslob where the whale sharks are treated like pets in a zoo).
Picture before going out on the water, had I known this was the only butanding
we'd see, I would have joined them!
You need to walk out to the boat in dirty water, so
as usual, little miss OC had her Ninong carry her.
Each boat or group that goes out has a BIO or
Butanding Interaction Officer with them. Kuya Jun was
explaining to us what to do once we see the butanding.
Sofia with the makeshift toilet and the Captain at the back.
The BIO stays in front.
The spotter stays on top.
Then the captain and the extra spotter (?) is at the rear.
We also had someone from the tour organizer join us,
who kindly volunteered to take our pics underwater.
Beautiful. I always love the sea.
These two were getting impatient and tried helping spot some whale sharks.
Thanks for my sunnies mommy Jackie!!!
Sofia and her favorite* ninong *on probation.
Are they there yet???

I think we finally went out on the water around 8:30am, but we said we needed to be back at the Visitor Center by 10:45am so we had enough time to catch our flight home to Manila. You really should plan to go to Donsol with no time limitation because we were told that last Saturday, the spotted whale sharks as soon as the boats when out around 7:00am, but the day before, they were spotted at 1:00pm, so it's not really predictable.

We could see other boats also hunting for whale sharks.
You have to be fast, because there's a rule that there should only be one boat at
a time beside the whale shark.
Towards the end of our time, it also started raining,
so we didn't mind heading back even without seeing the
whale sharks.
Picnic nalang on the sea.
Our tour operator even brought us towels and snacks.
Just before our time was up, there was a stressful moment
for a while, because one of the boats stopped, so all the
other boats including ours raced to get to that area.
I say stressful, given that I'm not really a strong swimmer, but I was having a serious debate with myself whether or not to jump in with a life vest and be safe, or jump in with no life vest and have nicer pics. So in a way, I'm glad I didn't have to make that decision.

The towels came in handy when it started raining harder.
Kuya Jun and our Captain was still trying to find us whale sharks to swim with,
but we told them it was ok to just call it a day.

They were nice enough not to charge us the Php300 rental per person for the snorkeling gear since we didn't get to use it anyway. They also offered to take us to a place where there have a lot of fish you can swim with if you don't see any whale sharks but we declined since we didn't want the hassle of swimming and having to shower after if there were no whale sharks anyway. 

The only "sharks" we saw were the shark-fins of the newer CebPac plane.
So for me, I am totally chalking up this experience to my Been There Done That Category. We had a fairly good experience with Donsol Whale Shark Adventure and Tours. I just won't pay them in full next time, so plans can be more flexible if the weather does not cooperate. just saying.

Donsol Whale Shark Adventure and Tours
They are also on Facebook

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