Swimming With The Gentle Giants

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Just a week ago, some of my friends from Cagayan de Oro came to visit Cebu and tagged me alongside their adventures, and it’s always a YES for me being an adrenaline junkie that I am.  One of the trips we made to do some fun touristy things was to head south down the eastern coast of Cebu to watch and swim with the gentle giants of the sea, the whale sharks, locally known as “butanding”.  Swimming with the largest fish in the sea is a once in a lifetime experience so I couldn’t miss the chance.

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Whale Sharks are slow-moving filter-feeding sharks (with a mouth like baleen whales) and the largest known species of fish in existence. They are gathered in a specific area by “bangkeros” (fishermen) that feed the gentle giants with krill (small saltwater shrimps) in the morning and noon. My friends and I had a 3AM call time to reach Oslob by 6 in the morning. I highly suggest you to do the same. Why? Because aside from saving yourself from the scorching heat, it’s also to prevent having photo bombers in your photos (and I’m sure you don’t want that, right? Lol) since most people go there late in the morning or in the afternoon. Plus, a pleasing sunrise is also worth to watch.
How to get there?

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Our destination was at Tan-awan, Oslob, Cebu, which is a 3-hour travel from the main city and it’s known for its whale shark adventure. If you plan of going backpacker style with your friends, take the bus at the South Bus Terminal along N. Bacalso Street, Cebu City. Take the Ceres Bus going to Oslob. Fare ranges from Php129 (SP) to Php149 (regular). Once you hop in, just inform the bus conductor to drop you off at your destination, which is the Whale Shark watching area. Once you reach Oslob, you can’t miss the whale watching tour signs on the main road.
There are tons of resorts you can choose to avail the whale shark watching package, but I suggest you head to AJ’s Place. Great place and they’re staff are friendly, too! It’s mandatory for all the resorts to let walk-in guests pay Php500/head (includes snorkeling gears) to swim with the whale sharks and an additional Php100 as an entrance fee to the resort you choose to stay in. However, prices are different for foreigners.

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After paying all those fees, we gathered to the briefing area alongside with other tourists/locals from different resorts to discuss the do’s and don’ts during the whale shark interaction. Important reminder: DO NOT APPLY ANY SUN BLOCK (or lotion) before and during the swim. These aren’t good for the whales because of certain chemicals in it that might contaminate the water. The briefing lasts for about less than 10 minutes and after that we headed straight on our “bangka” and the adventure begins from that point!

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For the photos, we used a GoPro Hero 3+ (black edition). I highly advice you bring your own underwater camera or let someone from your group bring theirs to prevent additional expenses because your last resort is to rent from the locals or the resort you stayed in at the cost of Php500 and an additional Php50 if you don’t have your own SD card.

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When I first saw the whale sharks, the first thing that came into my mind was my fear of deep and dark waters, and actually thought of getting eaten by one of the butanding haha! I was terrified they might knock me off, but I was wrong. They seem gentle, kind, and very calm. Yes, they do look like sharks, but the friendly version of it.
I took the courage of removing my life jacket so I could swim freely in the water despite the big waves. Don’t worry, the water is extremely salty and it helps to keep you floating at the surface.
Seeing the whale sharks glide few meters away from me was the most mesmerizing part of this adventure. Swimming alongside the largest fish in the sea was definitely one for the books. Glad I was able to do this!
Aguinid Falls is nearby this area. It’s also a good side trip for your Cebu adventure. Read all about it on my blogpost next week!

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Side note:  check out our video here https://vimeo.com/133336228/ 

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