Friday, 4 October 2013

Oslob and Whale Sharks

After leaving Malapascua I headed south to a town called Oslob. Oslob is a fairly small town in a sense but straddles the southwestern coast of Cebu for some kilometres. It took quite a while to get there and involved taking two buses, one from Maya to Cebu City and another from there to Oslob itself. Oslob is famous for having a local population of whale sharks. Rumour has it that the local population in the Barangay where the sharks are fed dried shrimp and in turn they stay affecting their traditional migration pattern with an unknown impact on how this affects the concentration of sharks at their breeding grounds etc. If you ask the local people they will tell you that Jesus sent the sharks to help them boost their local economy and that in turn these creatures are revered for the improvement they have brought to the lives of the locals in the community through the trickle of tourism that has resulted from their presence in the area. Personally I’m not sure what to think. The Lonely Planet and Rough Guide do not seem to have discovered the area yet and I’m not sure if it’s a good idea if they do. What’s happening there doesn't by any means sound ethical but at the same time I don’t feel in a position to judge what is happening there as I have never endured the economic hardships of the local populace.
I arrived in Oslob in the evening just as the sun had slipped under the horizon and was informed that all the accommodation was sold out due to families coming to spend their time here together for the holy weekend. I had mistimed my trip as it turned out and arrived in the village on Holy Friday (Good Friday). This meant that the fisherman who deal with the complications of tourists visiting the sharks wouldn't be working the following day. In any case I was famished after spending all day on public transport I really just wanted to eat and rest to as much of an extent as possible. I went in the first restaurant I saw and ordered a barbecued pork chop and a squid with some rice and calamansi. While waiting for my food to arrive the old man that ran the restaurant approached me and said that he had a room available and it was only 300 pesos per night which seemed significantly cheaper than the room in a hotel that someone at the bus stop was trying to peddle to me so I agreed to take it. I basically slept on a mattress on the floor in a room on the side of the restaurant but in all relativity after a long day of bus travel I didn’t care, it wasn’t uncomfortable and it fit in with my budget. Perhaps the only downside was having to listen to the snoring of the owner and his waiter who slept on camp beds in the restaurant when I needed to squeeze past their beds to get to the bathroom.
After a decent breakfast of corned beef fried with garlic and some steamed rice I decided I’d go and have a look at the town. I walked outside the restaurant and eventually a trike stopped and asked me if I needed his services. I’m pretty sure the driver’s name was Freddie – and so I’ll stick with that – and he showed me some of the local sites. There isn’t really a beach in Oslob but the colour of the water is an azure shade of blue and the church is situated right on the coast with the sea as a backdrop and it really made for a nice hour or so chatting and looking at the fine old structure. After spending a while at the church Freddie took me back to the restaurant and I grabbed some lunch. I napped for an hour or so but luckily there was plenty of time left in the day to see the local waterfall. Sinulog Falls is a behemoth of a waterfall and very easily accessible by car and a short walk. It is quite a popular local attraction but retains its majesty nonetheless. It cascades down a sheer drop and at a mere guess is somewhere around fifty metres in height but I have no real idea. The cooling spray from the waterfall is a welcoming distraction from the humidity and heat of the equatorial mid-summer sun.

The next day I headed to the shark viewing area and paid my ecotourism fee. A snorkel and mask were thrust into my hand and after an interesting but not particularly informative chat had been delivered to me and a few other mainly Filipino tourists we were thrust into canoes and given life jackets. Comfortably I was afforded my own canoe and had plenty of space to sit. Within minutes we were in the presence of a whale shark and I was allowed to get in and swim with it. The mask wasn’t amazing and kept allowing salt water to get in but in any case there were two big whale sharks swimming around us in different places. These guys were apparently adolescent sharks and not humongous by whale shark standards but in any case as far as I was concerned they were big fellas. The shark I got closest to was around 20 feet in length and I was pretty happy to have been given the opportunity to swim with a fish of this size. A lot of the Filipino tourists seemed reluctant to swim and so I had been able to really enjoy my time in the water with the sharks without people climbing over me or getting in my way to see the fish. It was a bit busy though and I had had the sense to go as early as possible to avoid the majority of the crowd. By the end of my swim there was a canoe full of a pretty loud local family that were getting quite close and the girls were squealing every time a droplet of water splashed in their general vicinity but I had seen what was fair for me to see by this point and so I headed back to the restaurant to read, nap and eat squid with calamansi again :D ...







Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Malapascua

After leaving Taiwan the first place I headed was The Philippines. I had previously been there before a few times and felt that it was right to spend a few weeks there before heading closer to the location of my next job. Ninoy Aquino International Airport isn't my favourite place in the world and I have spent the start and end of a few trips there so avoiding it completely was a welcome option when I managed to buy flights with Air Asia along a new route to Clark Airport just north of Manila. Upon arrival however I just wanted to hit the beach and had no intention of spending time in and amongst Angeles and it's extra-curricular entertainment, instead I immediately headed south and within an hour of landing in Luzon I was on a bus to Manila and my old friend NAIA. I managed to purchase a ticket to Cebu almost instantly and the next day I flew there but only after holing up in a Filipino cafe for 8 hours drinking 3-in-1 Nescafe in the hope that it would have enough caffeine and sugar in it to keep me awake. Part of the reason I headed straight to the airport was that I had a limited amount of Pisos and wanted to exchange them at a BNP counter at the airport due to the simple fact that the exchange rate is higher and more competitive than any other I've seen in the PI - particularly the muppets in places like Boracay that offer laughably low rates.

After landing in Cebu the first thing I did was take a taxi to the northern bus terminal and head straight to the port town of Maya. By this point I was knackered and completely bored of my Ipod and my own company but fortunately during the ride - not all the way to Maya, but most of it - I was sat next to a little girl and presumably her grandfather who had possession of a hen in a box covered with a tea towel in the hope that it wouldn't realise that daylight had sprung upon us and that it should be clucking and scratching and doing whatever it is that chickens usually do during the course of the day. Upon arriving in Maya I was delighted or rather not so delighted to hear that the boat to Malapascua wouldn't be leaving for a while. By this point it was approaching midday and my grumpy meter was about to hit boiling point with the afternoon heat. I remember talking to a couple of girls and a man from Israel and a Spanish lad with pretty good English. I was back in the world of backpackers and chatting to positive or semi-positive people again... well grunting but it was a start. I gave my copy of the Lonely Planet to one of the girls and let her browse the options of places to stay on the island. Finally arriving on the island after an extremely long plane-bus-taxi-plane-taxi-bus-boat trip was somewhat relieving and no better place to relax than a quiet diving retreat with decent snorkelling and a sleepy vibe that I was understandably keen to embrace.

Upon browsing the 'budget' options on offer it was decided that I'd share a room with the Spanish guy I'd met on the boat. His name was Carlos and he would only be staying for a couple of days. After a nice meal on the beach and watching sunset among the locals I decided that I was going to be dead to the world for quite a while and sleep as long as I needed to. I woke up the next day and after breakfast found myself with an invitation to join some Spanish people to snorkel off of one of the northern beaches on the island. Apparently there was a shipwreck to be seen and the Spanish guys made straight for it as soon as they had put on their flippers. These guys were obviously experienced divers and were snorkelling as somewhat of a climax to their morning dive where as this was to be the highlight of my day. They possessed things such as common sense perfectly exemplified by the knowledge that it is a lot easier to walk into the sea wearing flippers if you walk backwards... I lack such common sense and roared into the sea with the grace of Andy Fordham dropping a hot meat pie and consequently chasing it before it got too soggy to salvage. I was also wearing a t-shirt that was too small for me and that resulted in sunburn. Pluses for the day were that I managed to see a few anemone fish of Finding Nemo fame and try out my new cheap but waterproof camera. After a lunch of steamed stuff with rice I again took a nap and read my book by the sea watching the sunset over Northern Cebu. Malapascua is a really nice spot and after two years of not so much holiday time it was the perfect place to start a trip in the Philippine Islands :) ... After Carlos and the Spanish guys had headed to Negros to seek further diving opportunities I basically spent the rest of my time between an all-you-can-eat fish buffet, the nearest beach and my beach hut. After a few days on the island I felt perfectly at ease with myself and the gentle calmness that comes with a tropical white sand beach and its azure blue waters and decided that I'd wobble south to the town of Oslob in Southern Cebu to try and catch myself a glimpse of a whale shark...