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Butanding, Take Three

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large_5550_13621481781320.jpgPhoto of a photo that looks like what we saw.
Finally, the big and up-close encounter with the whale-shark

I had been of two minds as to whether to do the whale-sharks for a third time in Donsol [Donsol-travel-guide-1311436] today. On one hand, chances of a sighting are pretty slim. But on the other hand, I do have the time and it isn’t very much money for something that I could possibly never do again.

So I decided on the latter. We had the same group as yesterday, except we lost the French hanger-on and gained my English neighbour from the Shoreline.

We set off at 0730 again. Within 15 minutes, we had a sighting. I was better prepared this time and jumped into the water more quickly to be rewarded with a good view of a 7 metre whale-shark swimming past.large_5550_13621483831029.jpgMt Mayon from the Embarcadero waterfront.It was brief but satisfying.

Cruising around, it was easy to know who had seen a whale-shark today and who hadn’t. You couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces, and there were none on the other boats. I didn’t really expect to see any more for the day.

But around 0945, we cruised towards a flotilla with some people in the water. Knowing how quickly the big fish go back down, I thought it would be fruitless. But I was proved wrong.

I jumped into the water and swam forward. I couldn’t see any whale-shark. Then suddenly I was in front of its gaping mouth; I realised that snorkelling, one gets a view downwards and slightly forwards so I didn’t realise that we were on a collision course.

I tried to veer to my left and brushed against its side. I then swam to its tail and looked forward, then followed it as it kept moving. Then the crowds from the other boats turned up. All I could see were fins. As I’ve had such a close encounter, I felt no need to jostle with the crowd (and besides, I had some salt water down my throat).

There were so many boats and people all around I had trouble finding my boat “Ivan”. Eventually I saw it and swam towards it, dodging the outriggers from various other boats.

Back on board, there were high-fives and hugs. The guide estimated that it was 12 metres long. It was truly an amazing experience for all of us and we will all leave Donsol happy. Some of the others who were better snorkelers, dived underwater to get a better view unobstructed by all the others that crowded around the whale-shark.

I thought that the experience can’t have been that great for the shark. There were far too many people and the rules laid down by the authorities had been ignored. Their numbers may decline if they continue to be disturbed in this manner. But then eco-tourism (if you can call it that), is actually saving them. Without this industry, the locals would be hunting them.

It has taken three attempts for me to get a sighting this good; four days for all the others except the lucky Brit (it's his first day). It just goes to show that it is very much a luck game and one should keep trying if time and funds allow.

Moving on to Legazpi

After a wash, I took a tricycle, van and another tricycle to the Ellis Ecotel in Legaspi [Legaspi-travel-guide-1314407] for my last night in the Philippines. It was intended to be a change in scenery, located next to a mall. The mall turned out to be less bustling that I would have liked but it is part of the Embarcadero waterfront complex for the city of Legazpi. So, it was quite a nice setting.

At night, I felt a pain in my upper right jaw and right eye socket. I pressed the right side on my face it was sore to pressure. It felt like a sinus issue. I wonder if some water had got in during my snorkel. I've had quite a few problems with bronchial and sinus this trip, only to have it all disappear in the last two weeks. Not impressed that it's come back.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Butanding, Take Two

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large_5550_13621452425696.jpgMt Mayon from the sea in the early morning before the clouds gather.
Today I had my second attempt at Donsol [Donsol-travel-guide-1311436] for the whale-sharks. Our group comprised of John and Yvon from Netherlands, plus David and Jane from Singapore. We found a French man to make up the maximum party of six.

We departed at 0730 and cruised around for about an hour when one the spotters called out “Butanding”. The guide kept shouting “Faster, faster, faster” to both the Captain (or was it to us to get donned up). The boat sped in the direction the spotter indicated and were donned our masks and fins, and hopped in pretty promptly.

I was the last in the water by seconds. As we had all jumped off the moving boat, I was a few metres further away. I caught a glimpse of the big fish whereas others had a closer encounter. Regardless, the encounter was extremely brief.

We cruised around for another two hours without success. Judging from how quick the surface time was for the whale-shark, it seems unlikely that if someone else had a sighting, we could make it over in time to see it.

Of all the boats out today, only three had a sighting. We considered ourselves lucky for the brief encounter. Locals tell us that sightings have been declining over the years. Perhaps the industry is driving the whale-sharks away.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Diving the Manta Bowl

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large_5550_1362144724595.jpgPhoto of a photo of what we should have seen. Mantas spanning about 5 metres.
I had a day off from travel activities yesterday. I heard this theory that with rainfall, plankton sinks down and whale-sharks don’t surface. With the recent heavy rain I didn’t expect the plankton to have risen yet. So, just as well I didn’t go out looking for them as those people who did go came back disappointed. Instead I attended to business at home over 2G mobile internet which was rather slow.

But today with the good weather (finally), the day seemed full of promise. I had arranged to go diving, hopefully to see some manta rays.

We met at the dive shop at 0630 and left around 0700 on board the boat Noah. I asked if I was the giraffe; and the divemaster said “Two-by-two, please”.

The day comprised of three dives, one at San Miguel and two at Manta Bowl. San Miguel was great with a wall-full of light pink soft coral plus some hard green ones on the seabed. But disappointingly, the mantas did not show up at the Manta Bowl.

The current was strong at the Manta Bowl and we were issued with a hook each so that we could park ourselves on to a rock in the current. A visiting Pekinese dive master from Puerto Galera [Puerto-Galera-travel-guide-889387] was amazing; he was rock-steady at maintaining his depth despite the conditions. It is as if he doesn’t breathe or use his hands and feet; he floats in a somewhat kneeling position and maintains it when the rest of us were parked up and hooked in.

The Manta Bowl dives were not completely a waste of time as it gave me a new skill and improved my confidence in strong currents. And we did see a couple of white-tip reef sharks.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Butanding and so many beautiful cocks

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large_5550_13617984137894.jpgWhale-shark spotter at work; try going to the end of the rainbow, perhaps. Both ends ...
Swim with whale-sharks, not!

I set the alarm for 0600 and forced some pancakes down before walking to the whale-shark (known locally as butanding) centre as it opened at 0700. It had rained heavily last night. The weather didn’t look promising.

The Dutch couple I had met on the plane got together with me and an American couple to form a party of five for our boat. After a video briefing, we left around 0730.

We went quite far up the coast northwards. The sea was calm but it rained for most of the time. There were small patches of brightness that wasn’t even blue. We eventually turned back closer to home where the skies were blue.

We had absolutely no luck with the butanding today. I've heard before that wint rainfall, the plankton sinks and the whale-sharks don't surface.large_5550_1361798413560.jpgBetting game; red or white. Two balls come out from the funnel and settle on the check-board.We were wet and cold for most of the time. Fortunately it wasn’t too expensive a day; we had paid PHP1000 per person for the permit and boat plus PHP250 for snorkel gear.

The guide (known as the butanding interaction officer) gave up at 1100 and we were back on land shortly after.


After a wash and rest, I was heading out for lunch when my next door neighbour asked if I’d like to join him to go to a cockfight. His tricycle driver had offered to take him. The site was a little further out of town, which surprised me as I had seen a concrete cockpit (stadium) yesterday dedicated to the sport.

I had never seen so many big beautiful cocks all in one place. Their proud owners, men of various ages and some boys, stroked them with pride and held them-side-by-side to compare their sizes.large_5550_13617984139276.jpgIt is important to hold one’s cock pointing towards one-self. Otherwise, the cock goes beserk when it sees another one. Long razor-sharp blades were then tied to their spurs before they were set on each other two-by-two. The betting is absolutely raucous.

Surprisingly each fight only lasted seconds. In my ignorance, I expected the fights to be long and gory. With such sharp attachments, it is easy for one cock to disable the other pretty quickly with a gash or two. In fact, it seemed faster than home-kill chickens.

I noticed wood-fired pots in the background which I presume are for cooking the losing fowl. I bet cock-meat is touch meat.

A few things I learnt today:

1. It is important to hold one’s cock pointing towards one-self. Otherwise, the cock goes beserk when it sees another one.
2. Not all cocks have combs. I mistook some cocks as hens.large_5550_13617984147224.jpgThe pre-fight waiting area with a bit of cock-teasing.I thought the male audience might have got additional thrill from watching two hens fighting, in the same way as female mud wrestling, perhaps.
3. There are cock doctors on standby to stitch up any gashed-up cocks.

I know in these modern times, cockfighting is no longer politically correct. But it ain’t modern times right here and right now in rural Philippines. It is a traditional past-time or sport in the region, eg. Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. It appears cock-fighting (a form of gambling) along with dog-eating was stamped out in many areas of the region with the arrival of Islam. It still continues in Christian areas as there are no strong prohibitions along these lines.

Animal ethics aside, I actually enjoyed being part of Filipino life today. It gave me a glimpse that foreigners don’t always get to see. It is something that is very underground in Malaysia as gambling is illegal; only bad eggs go to cockfights!


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

To my rendezvous with whale-sharks and mantas (hopefully)

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large_5550_13617864034387.jpgRolling hills as we approach Legazpi; the perfect cone of Mt Mayon was shrouded in cloud and wasn't worth the shot.
I walked to the ATM after breakfast. There were still people sleeping on the streets. In the taxi to the airport, street kids (about 10 years old) peered into the vehicle; I put my hand on my bag handle and locked the door. The taxi driver told me off for not locking it earlier.

Departing from Manila [Manila-travel-guide-885524], the flight was delayed due to air traffic congestion but we go to Legazpi [Legazpi-travel-guide-1311296] on time. It appears the airline build in ground delays in their schedule.

I took a tricycle from the airport to the bus terminal where I managed to get on a van to Donsol’s town centre. I then needed another tricycle to get to my hotel, the Shoreline, further out. The scenery along the way was very idyllic with many coconut groves. It seemed like a paradise until we saw the aftermath of an accident with a bloodied elderly man lying dead on the roadside.

The hotel and its compounds looked terrible compared to the others. I had booked it online and the price was very good. The room itself was good and clean and it had air-conditioning for a little more than fan rooms at other establishments.

I then made arrangements for snorkelling with the whales-sharks for tomorrow. Then I enquired about diving at Manta Bowl; the instructor manning the desk was really good and told me to leave it for a few days as the weather hadn’t been the best.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

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