Sorry I was soooo slow about this story. I mentioned in one of my later posts I was going to take some time off. Well, I’m back. Over a year later. Finally getting the urge to write again. Getting a bit interested because in 7 months…
we are returning to the Philippines. Our new house has been completed and we are going over to turn the house into a home. Or at least a vacation house. Plus, we are turning the front room of our little house into the local library in Asgad. We’ve been getting donated books from a wonderful little shop in Clarkston, WA, And Books Too. Mostly novels and such. This whole idea started for the kids, but I’ve unable to locate children’s books. It hit me last week as to why. Kids love their books to death; reading, coloring, tearing, writing, creasing, spilling food on, etc. until the books are not really fit for the used book market. So my plan is to hit the local dollar stores and load up. A hundred bucks or so will be a good start. I need some young adult stuff as well. Don’t know where that will come from.
Time to get on it.
Ever heard of a whale shark? Many people have not. Whale sharks are a tropical creature of the remote areas of the globe. During their never ending search for food, they come into some contact with humans. They can grow to a tremendous size; the largest fish on the planet. One shark was over 40 feet long and had an estimated weight of 47,000 lbs.
For all that scary name and size, they are harmless. Like many whales, they are filter feeders, their diet consists of plankton, fish spawn, and schools of small fish. The only danger from a whale shark to a human is the chance of being bumped into.
Praxy was still very concerned about her loved ones in Asgad. Everyone knew that the village was nearly destroyed and supplied food, water, and medicines for the recovery effort. But, there is one thing that no one seems to think much about. Cleanup.
Every coconut tree in the area was dead. Few were standing. So, they are tangled in a mat.The whole surrounding area has piles like this. In the towns, on the farms, and across the roads. The locals have to use machetes to hack them out. Very time consuming. Unless someone like my dear little wife comes to the rescue.
One morning, shortly after she’d returned to Cebu, she made the announcement. “Asgad needs more help, I’m going to buy a chainsaw”.
My reply; “What? How will it get there?”
The confident answer, “I’m going to take it myself”
Another reply; “What, you just got away from that mess. Are you sure?”
We had money from donations. A lot. So she and Lyndon canvassed the cities of Cebu and Mactan for a day. And finally found a new one. It was over a $1000 USD, a very nice 440 Stihl with a 24 inch bar. Plenty big enough to cut most coconut trees. The price was similar to what it would cost in the US, it was imported from Germany.
She bought it on the spot. I suggested an extra bar and chain, but those weren’t in stock or available anywhere in town.
Now, to get it there. She booked tickets for herself and Lyndon on the fast catamaran from Cebu to Ormoc and retraced Paul and Presco’s steps to Asgad. Lyndon was going along to carry the saw and provide personal protection. There was no question about whether or not I would go. Not a chance. Prices, again, would double or triple when I showed my face in the storm ravaged land. I would only complicate things.
So I taxied them to the ferry terminal and sent them on their way.
Next morning…sigh. Nothing to do, no one much to talk to. But something had been rolling around in my head. The whale sharks in Oslob. So, I sat at my computer and got to work.
In less than 20 minutes, I had a plan formed. 10 minutes later, a room reserved in Oslob. 30 minutes after that, I was walking down Radar road looking for a taxi. After a 15 minute wait on the main road, I was heading for the south bus terminal in Cebu.
Jean was very concerned about me taking off on my own. So to calm her, I set up a plan. I would text her the cab numbers, bus numbers, and arrivals for every step of the trip. That seemed to satisfy her about my safety. Obviously, I never had any trouble. The Philippines is a very safe country for foreigners.
It must be coincidence, but I never seem to have any problem or wait catching an air conditioned Ceres Liner from the south bus terminal. I was literally in the station for 2 minutes before I was lined out. I asked them to hold the bus long enough for a quick restroom break, and I swear we were on the road less than 10 minutes after I paid the cab driver.
I haunt Philippine forums off-and-on, and it seems that Americans are always fearful about traveling in foreign countries. In the Philippines, it is positively easy to get transportation to almost ANYWHERE. You need a map, money, and confidence. Sometimes a little creativity helps. Most everyone understands English. Any educated person is fluent as all schools are taught in English. So, get going!
Traffic is much more congested in the areas south of Cebu than it was in 2004. I had a little over 3 hours on the bus from Cebu to Oslob. It was a comfortable and scenic ride. I bought a few snacks from the vendors after I realized I wasn’t going to get carsick. Chips, water, and some sweet pastries.
Ceres Liner buses REALLY scoot right along. There are only brief stops and no opportunity to take decent photos. So I hunkered down on the shady side of the bus (I’m learning) and watched Cebu island go by.
As you near Oslob, it becomes obvious. Every motel and resort announces “whale shark” encounters on billboards or placards in front of their establishments. Miles and miles of them. Many are right on the beautiful blue ocean. Then, finally, Oslob.
The bus stops at the only large intersection in town. I was heading directly to Oslob, so I left the bus there. It is a 5 minute walk from that intersection to my choice of motel, the Malonzo Pension house. Malonzo had a great reputation among my fellow travelers on Trip Advisor, so it seemed like a good place to stay. I figured there would be restaurants nearby (yes) and perhaps an interesting attraction or two for something to occupy my time that afternoon (yes again).
The owner was very accommodating, telling me there was WIFI available and a small store near the office. He also directed me to the church and old fortress that sat on the ocean nearby. ( I regret that I have lost the pictures I took of Oslob. They are on my old netbook computer that will have to have Windows reloaded in order to recover them. If they are there. Praxy and I might return this winter, but I don’t know if she is truly interested in swimming with a 30 foot fish! Of course she can stay on the boat if she wishes.)
I spent a peaceful afternoon touring Oslob by foot. There is an interesting Catholic church near the park and an old Spanish fort near the beach. There are signs walking you through where the garrison ate and slept. 15 miles away, the island of Bohol is visible. When I was in town, there were preparations for a fiesta, with many food booths and souvenirs. However, they were setting up for the following day and nothing was out. So I wandered downtown and found a restaurant and sat down for a chicken dinner. It was easy to stop by the local store on the way back to my room where I purchased goodies for breakfast the following morning.
Next morning, up bright and early. The owner of the motel had arranged a rid, two locals heading to Tan-awan to purchase fish for the market in downtown Oslob. They also rented me a camera for $10 USD. A little high, but I wasn’t about to take my $500 Canon out on a pump boat! (I now have a waterproof camera for ocean use). A ten minute ride and we were there, Sumilon island behind my head.
OK, a few dos and don’ts.
Dos…bring a waterproof camera, bring cash, (no one takes credit cards), bring a towel, come early in the morning as there aren’t many people there at that time.
Dont’s…wear sunscreen, worry about snorkeling gear as it is supplied, worry about getting eaten, forget to bring money for a tip, touch the sharks.
I arrived, paid, and was assigned a boat with a crew of two. One stays on the boat, the other goes in the water with you. We paddled out in the gentle surf to four boats sitting quietly as people swam with the sharks. It was amazing. There was a family of four and two other tourists. After about 10 minutes they left and I had the sharks to myself. If I could find them. I didn’t realize they were right under my feet!
I estimated there were 12-15 sharks cruising around all in the 15-25 foot long size range. They are “chummed” in with krill, their natural food. The shark that is being fed swims very very slowly with its tail down, just enough fin swipes to stay stationary (sharks have to swim or die all the time). A man in a boat shovels out food to keep one around and it vacuums down the shrimp dinner. They are free to leave, but what animal doesn’t appreciate a free meal. So, they hang around, taking turns being fed. Much to the delight of tourists from every corner of the globe.
I never saw a real big one, those can be over 50 feet long!
Now, there are many people that think the sharks are being exploited. I suppose they are as this encounter is not “wild” in the sense that the setting is “natural”. But, I am highly supportive of this operation at Oslob. As a salmon researcher, I am very in tune with marine fish. I watched very closely and objectively to see how the sharks were reacting. If I thought there was a problem, my conscience would require me saying something. But…
They seemed like happy cows, grazing on their krill. They were relaxed and taking no injury. People came and went, and the sharks were completely at ease, one even glanced off of my foot as I paddled in the water (They feel like a dolphin, no skin “teeth” as many sharks wear on their skin surface).
My take-this encounter does way more good than harm. “Shark watching” is a huge cash cow, so the Philippine people are now interested in shark tourism rather than shark fin soup. Shark centers are springing up around the Philippines. Aside from a very famous wild encounter in Legaspi (which is hit or miss on seeing sharks on a given day), whale shark sites are now in southern Leyte, and thresher sharks are visited in Malapascua. More are sure to spring up, the trip is worth it.