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 ...

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