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An occasionally belligerent mother of five and an autism parent / advocate who believes that traveling, good food and good company are vital to keep one sane. I've worked as a news writer/newscaster, a quality systems auditor, a ISO9001 consultant, an FM radio DJ, a Filipino tutor, TOEFL reviewer and have gone into the food industry both as an entrepreneur and as a mommy chef, giving a sponsored demo on healthy cooking in a mall and on local TV. My favorite job however, is being a mom and a wife.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Road To Oslob

the Butanding aka whale shark

3-4 hours away from Cebu City lays the coastal town of Oslob. What used to be a sleepy fishing barrio has come into International scrutiny after outsiders discovered its rare treasure: The Whale Shark.

Normally migratory creatures, the biggest fish in the world has made the pristine waters of Oslob their home year round. 
one big baby
While Donsol may be the breeding ground of these gentle giants, the big butandings tend to leave their relatively huge young in the Oslob area, enjoying its plankton rich waters.  As big as they are, they can only eat krill and plankton, as anything bigger than that just won’t go in.

Our mediocre adventure began when we rode the clean and comfortable Ceres bus that plies the Cebu-Santander route. At 169 pesos/adult, we headed out to Liloan, Santander where we had booked into Eden Resort. Santander is a 30 minute ride past Oslob, specifically the barangay of Tan-Awan.

on the edge of your seat driving. 40 kph? Really?!! I could've sworn we were running way faster than that
While the buses may be comfortable, one must brace one’s self against the recurring panic one may encounter from the Cebuano-driven vehicles that pass through the 2 way roads. Break neck speeds at blind curves and hair pin bends, not to mention an incoming bus or truck while all this is going on is enough for you to start mentally chanting a prayer to the heavens above.

Phil taking a picture from out in the open sea
Now back to the whale shark interaction:
Based on our experience, we hired a tricycle to bring us to and fro Oslob. The tricycle driver was to wait for us the whole time we had that interaction. This costs around 500 php.

circling the heard
He brought us to a resort that charged us 70 php registration fee/adult and a 500 php/adult interaction fee, which included the rental of snorkeling gear, a paddle boat and the assistance of boatmen. 

for good swimmers, you could take off the bulky life vests
We were also handed out life vests and given a 5 minute (ish) seminar on the proper interaction behavior (no touching the sharks, stay 4m away from the so you won’t impede their movements, no scuba diving to prevent excessive bubbles around them as they will chase you thinking you have food, and lastly, no flash photography). Speaking of cameras, underwater cameras are available for rent (200 php, or so I heard).

we and those few other boats were it as far as the whale shark crowd went

From the shore, you could actually see the dorsal fins of the fish. Oslob’s waters were teeming with whale sharks, unlike in Donsol, where a “hunt” for the big creatures must be done by a spotter. 

MAX freaking out as the big mouth came closer :P

According to the locals, the fish have been around Oslob for the longest time, so they were quite surprised with all the attention it was getting. They also said that the whale sharks stayed there year round often appearing in the early morning while the waters were cool.

feeding time all done :D
The boat used for this interaction was a small fisherman’s paddle boat (much like a canoe).  We went a few meters from the shore and met up with a lone fisherman on a boat who was throwing this fishy (putrid) smelling stuff in the water. Apparently, they were feeding the whale shark dried krill. The whale shark was following our boat around because of this. 

like gentle puppies, they follow the boat that has the food
One of the boatmen then anchored our boat and allowed us to go into the water and swim with the whale shark. Phil and MAX did that while I stayed and captured the whole thing for posterity’s sake. I wasn’t able to go into the water (though it was calm, not so deep that and pretty clear you can see the bottom of the sea from this point). I blame it on my Donsol experience where we were in deeper waters, stronger waves and bigger whale sharks…getting bumped by a whale shark as it surfaced and I was swimming on top of it).

"Durian" the whale shark as named by the local fishermen

BTW, we were given 30 minutes for the total experience. 

Oslob has come under fire from the scrutiny of environmentalist groups who have voiced out their concerns regarding the “unnatural” goings on in the area. 

For one, with the desire of the local fishermen to have a seemingly “closer” relationship with the whale sharks, they have taken to feeding the fish, krill. You have to understand that feeding animals in the wild may, according to the experts short circuit their natural instincts. That includes fending for themselves in the wild, and well, not treating man as your…er best friend.

There is of course, the occasional whale shark that gets treated like a surf board for photo ops by enthusiastic tourists.

At the time of our visit, I didn’t see anyone “abuse” the whale shark.  I saw man and beast live harmoniously in what seemed to be a beautiful symbiotic relationship. 

Maybe the folks in Oslob have learned a thing or two from the environmentalists, or not wanting to push the envelope and losing business, they decided to straighten their act. But whatever the case maybe, they’re pretty organized down there.

It’ a good thing we reserved judgment in heading off to Oslob amidst the controversy.  We’ll probably be back…real soon :D

From TMW, may all your wanderings be better than ours!

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