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First Day High

My toes tingled as I dipped it into the chilly water. I hesitated for a bit but my excitement persisted. The sea was relatively calm that day compared to the previous days. I heard a splash a few meters away from where I stood and I saw my friend Jay already in the water. I waded forward slowly, resisting the urge to run back to the warm embrace of the white sand covering the shore. Behind me, my friend Rocky suggested I dive in the water just before he did so.

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The sun was a few minutes shy from kissing the horizon. I took a deep breath and plunged into the cold water. I swam and swam thinking I needed to produce energy to keep myself warm. After a couple of minutes, I was tired and breathless but I felt warm. I closed my eyes, laid on my back, spread my arms wide and floated. As soon as my heartbeat calmed down, I opened my eyes and saw the dark blue sky above. A faint orange glow decorated my peripheral vision and I knew that the sun has finally set. A star slowly came into view above the horizon where the sun had set. I swam towards the shore until I could stand upright and only my head was out of the water. I stood there silently, hypnotized by the sight before me. The sea gleamed of iridescence, an evidence left behind by fisher folks that have gone out to sea. Before the night claimed the sky, I got out of the water, took a few pictures of the last traces of the New Year’s Day sun and headed home.

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Sea Turtles

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to visit Cavite’s Marine Turtle Hatchery in Labac, Naic. I was thrilled when Mr. Antiojo, the project leader, told us that there was a batch of newly hatched sea turtles waiting to be released to the sea. Thoughts of Crush and Squirt, the super cool father-son sea turtle tandem from Finding Nemo, came to mind and got me excited some more.

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Check out these photos of our Sea Turtle releasing experience:

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It is said that in extreme cases, female sea turtles come back to the beach where they were hatched. I hope at least one of the hundreds of sea turtles released at the Labac Hatchery would come back one day and lay their eggs there. As I watched the little sea turtle crawl its way to sea, I prayed that it would live long and not get eaten by a marine predator or get caught one day by a fisherman only to be eaten or be butchered for its shell.

Crush: Okay. Squirt here will now give you a rundown of proper exiting technique. 
Squirt: Good afternoon. We’re gonna have a great jump today. Okay, first crank a hard cutback as you hit the wall. There’s a screaming bottom curve, so watch out. Remember: rip it, roll it, and punch it. 

Keep Calm and Take a Break

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Magalawa Island, Palauig, Zambales

The quiet sea always has that calming effect on me. I know that it isn’t always like that, that there are days when the wind is strong and the waves are raging. Yet, I know that each storm will eventually come to pass and the sea will become still again. Despite knowing that toxic days are ahead, I somehow feel at peace knowing that everything will be alright. Thank God for the short but wonderful break last weekend. It helped clear my mind and calm my anxious heart.

http://www.magalawaislandresort.com

One Sunny Day

Yesterday was a bright and sunny day. Before dusk, I took my dad’s bike and rode to the beach near our old family house. I wanted to sit on the sandy shore while I waited for the sun to set, just like I used to when I was younger. The sunset yesterday was worth the wait. It was really beautiful. Aside from that, I also got to see fishermen coming home from a long day at sea, with their families and relatives eager to see the day’s catch.

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Today, I woke up to the sound of the rain softly falling down on our roof. I look out my window and see dark gray clouds hovering over our town. I still hope I’d get to see the sun before I leave for the city tonight.

Thank God for Long Weekends

I don’t get to see sunsets that often. So, I’m glad for long weekends like this when I can come home and watch my favorite part of the day at the beach near our old family house.

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A Reminder

John 16:33
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

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Stop, Look and Listen

The quieter you become, the more you can hear.

I’m Lost

I feel like a lost soul, aimlessly wandering through life, eyes clouded by fear. But I am hopeful that I will soon see things in God’s perspective, as certain as the sun rising in the morrow.

Run to You

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I wish I was this little crab, so I could run to the sea anytime.

Sunrise

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Sunrise at Abra de Ilog port, on the way to Apo Reef, Occidental Mindoro

Welcome each day with gratefulness in your heart and love and blessings will flow abundantly.

Revisiting Anawangin

Almost 4 years ago, my friend Jessica and I, along with her two older siblings, decided to go on a weekend trip to Anawangin Cove, Zambales. It was not part of the trips that we planned but we got excited to go there ASAP when we saw the pictures of this hidden treasure on the internet. So,after a few days preparation, we set off to discover the place. And it turned out to be a great weekend getaway.

Some time in April, some of my office mates saw a deal from CASHCASHPINOY.COM for a group package tour to Anawangin and I got invited. It had been four years since I last went there, so I said yes. There were about 30 of us who went to Anawangin that weekend.

This blog post is not about how to get there or what to do or see in Anawangin. The place has been quite famous for the past few years and it has earned a great number of blog posts. My post, on the other hand, is about how different Anawangin has become after 4 long years.

These are some of the shots that Jes and I took in Capones and Camara Islands and in Anawangin Cove when I first went there in 2008:

Pundaquit – the gateway to Anawangin, Camara and Capones Islands

On the boat heading to Camara Island

Camara Island during low tide

Tide’s down at Camara Island

Capones Island (without the white sand shoreline that it has now)

Huge rocks at Capones Island

Behold, Anawangin Cove!

The clean, clear waters (Photo by Jes)

No stores, no fences, no trash (Photo by Jes)

A few campers spending the night at Anawangin (Photo by Jes)

The river, pine trees and mountains of Anawangin (Photo by Jes)

Cooling down at noontime

So, what’s different about Anawangin today?

1. Campers. Lots of them. Especially on weekends.

Hundreds of people flock the place on weekends, especially during summer. Since it’s just a few hours away from Manila, it means its cheaper to go there. I think the group deals on the internet also contributed to this increasing influx of local tourists, thanks to online marketing and selling.

I’ve always thought Anawangin to be a recluse to those who want to retreat from the busy life in the city. There’s no phone signal. No electricity. No hotels. No comfort rooms. It’s just you, the sea, the pine trees and the river – the perfect place for a retreat.

I’m not sure if you could still do that there, unless you go there on weekdays.

2. Garbage. Plastic. Everywhere.

The moment I stepped out of the boat in Anawangin, I wanted to dip in the water. I remembered the clear blue waters from four years ago. Sadly, I got disappointed when I saw plastic trash, along with oil coming from boats, floating on the water. The water at the center of the cove was murky and dirty and filled with trash. We tried to swim, but we ended up doing a clean-up drive instead. The waters were cleaner and clearer at the sides of the cove.

The comfort and bath rooms could clearly not accommodate all the campers. The queues were long, and some campers were insensitive with it as if they’re using their bathrooms at home. Shampoo sachets were all over the ground. Good luck with caring for the environment. 😦

On a lighter note, I love that Capones Island has “grown” a new white sandy shore where it was rocky before. It was there that I enjoyed swimming. The water was clear and there were corals and fish near the shore. I just hope that people and capitalism would not rob the place of its beauty.

Donsol Getaway Day 2: My Encounter with the Gentle Giant

After the lovely night with the fireflies of Ogod River during our Day 1 in Donsol, my travel buddies and I were all so excited to see the famous Butandings (Whale Sharks) of Donsol, Sorsogon. I was pretty hyped up because this day marked the fulfillment of one of my travel goals – swim with a Butanding.

We got up early since the staff at the Donsol Tourist Center told us to be there at 7am so we can join the first batch of boats heading out to sea. We arrived earlier than that but when we got there, the place was teeming with tourists – mostly foreigners – all waiting for that chance to get a glimpse of the Butandings (dubbed as the Gentle Giants). According to the locals, a lot of these foreigners keep coming back for days just to swim with these giant but gentle sharks. Good thing we already registered the day before so we didn’t have to go through the orientation anymore. When our BIO (Butanding Information Officer) arrived, we got our gears ready. Life jacket – check! Snorkeling gear – check! Flippers – check!

Boat used for Butanding interactions

Kuya Egong, our BIO, told us as we headed out to the Donsol bay that there’s a 50/50 chance of seeing and interacting with a Butanding. I know that when we heard him say that, we all prayed in our hearts that we would. I silently prayed to be given that special opportunity to see and swim with an awesome creation. Finally, Kuya Egong briefed us on what we needed to do once the Spotter signaled the presence of a Butanding.

It took a while for the SPOTTER to spot a Butanding. By that time, there were already a lot of boats filled with excited tourists. We had to race from one place to another just to get close to a Butanding. But when we got really close, they would dive deeper into the sea. I prayed, “Lord, just give us one chance to see your precious Butanding.” My prayers were immediately answered as our Spotter finally called the attention of the BIO.

Mr. Spotter

“Ready, set, jump!” shouted the BIO. The small area in between the boats was crowded with swimmers. I jumped and looked down in search of the Butanding. Lo and behold, before me was the biggest fish I have ever seen live making its way across the Donsol sea, its mouth wide open ready to take in its food. Sadly, it was my first time to use flippers and the one I rented was so big that I had a hard time catching up with the Butanding. Even so, I was happy that I was finally able to swim with a whale shark.

When we got back to the boat, I silently hoped for another chance to see another Butanding. And yes, my wish was granted! I got to swim with these sea creatures for two more times. During the 2nd time, I still tried to wear those huge flippers hoping I’d be better at it this time around. However, it only slowed me down. I watched as the Butanding swam past me, while I continued to struggle with the flippers. I didn’t even see where my friends were anymore. All I saw in front of me was a tangle of legs and bubbles. All of a sudden, an angel in yellow and black diving suit came to my rescue. He must have noticed that I was struggling so he grabbed my arm and pulled me forward. When I realized what was happening, I looked down and saw that the Butanding was right in front of us. The guy kept pulling me forward and guiding me where the Butanding was. That was the best 1 minute of my Donsol trip. Whoever he was, I never got the chance to thank him, but I’m pretty sure I will always remember him whenever I see a Butanding.

The BIO

Though tired, I was very grateful to God for allowing us to see and swim with the Butanding. Other tourists seemed to not  get tired as they went back into the water again and again just to see a whale shark. Once was enough for me. It was a bonus that I got to see it thrice. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to take a photo of it but it is enough that it will forever be etched in my memory.

The sunset that day was exceptionally beautiful – one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life. Again, I was reminded of the great love God has not just for me but for His entire creation. Thank you, Lord, for the wonderful life and world you’ve given me.

Tips before you go swimming with the butandings in Donsol:

1. Make sure it’s the season for whale sharks in the area.

2. Don’t use flippers if you’re not used to it. Or better yet, practice first.

3. Check that your snorkeling gear is in great condition. Make sure it doesn’t have leaks or anything, especially if you’re just renting one from the resort or tourist center.

4. If you’re not a good swimmer or if you don’t know how to swim at all, stay close to the BIO or ask him to hold you.

5. Always be ready once you’re on the boat. When the BIO says JUMP, don’t hesitate and just jump!

6. Don’t be too greedy. Let others have their chance, especially if there are a lot of tourists wanting to see the Butandings, too.

7. Please, please, please follow the guidelines and code of conduct when swimming with the Butanding..

There you go! If you’re planning on heading to Donsol or any other place with Butanding sightings, I hope you will have a great time interacting with them. Have fun!

Donsol Getaway Day 1 – The Arrival

Summer is here! At least for me and my travel mates. And what better way to kick-off this summer than with a trip to Donsol, Sorsogon to swim with the Butandings (Whale Sharks)!

Donsol Bay is one of the few areas here in the Philippines where Butandings are regularly seen (There are also sightings in Bohol, Palawan, Batangas, Leyte and Mindanao). Accordingly, the peak season for Butanding sightings is February to April. Our scheduled trip was just in time!

Armed with a backpack full of summer clothes for our 5-day trip, I was ready to forget about work and school and just enjoy the sun and the beach!

Day 1. The Arrival

To get to Donsol, you can either: a) take a plane to Legazpi City, then ride a van to Donsol; or b) take a bus straight to Donsol. Good thing we got a Cebu Pacific promo fare from Manila to Legazpi about a month ago so we didn’t have to endure to grueling 12-hour bus ride. We took the first flight at 6:05 am since we wanted to maximize our first day. It was a bit difficult to wake up that early considering I barely slept that night ( barely, meaning 30 minutes). I made it a point to finish my paper for school because I didn’t want to have to think about it or do it while I was on vacation.

Thankfully, our flight didn’t get delayed so we arrived there before 7 am. Sleep deprived that I was the night before, I slept throughout the flight and missed seeing Mt. Mayon from above (which I also missed in my previous travels to Legazpi). But, as I stepped out of the plane, I was refreshed just seeing the majestic Mayon volcano.

One of our travel companions booked for the next flight at 7:55 am so we decided to have breakfast first while waiting for her. The tricycle driver took us to Kim’s Bowl where we had breakfast and coffee.

My first Tocilog during this trip

Sadly, the next flight got delayed by an hour. Finally, after three hours of waiting, we were all set for the 1.5-hour travel to Donsol, Sorsogon. You can take a taxi to Donsol but it’ll cost you a few thousand pesos so best take a van since it only costs P75 each. At about 1pm, we arrived in Donsol. The van even brought the six of us to our resort for only P100. I was so exhausted from the trip that I decided to take a short nap before we started our 1st day activities.

At 3pm, we went to the Donsol Tourism Center to register for our Whaleshark Interaction the next day. A BIO (Butanding Interaction Officer) showed us a video orientation about Butandings and the rules in interacting with them.

At the Donsol Tourism Office

As always, I find it super awesome to watch the sun go down by the sea. So, here are some of my sunset shots at Donsol.

We stayed at AGM Beachfront Resort. They have really nice and attentive staff and clean rooms. If you’re looking for a quiet place to stay, this is the right place for you. There’s no TV, no WIFI, no videokes. It’s just you and the beach. Plus, they also organize tours for their guests. I give a thumbs up for Ate Mae and all the staff of AGM.

By 6pm, we headed to the Firefly Watching Tourism Center in Ogod River for our date with the fireflies. Check out my next post to know more about firefly watching in Donsol.

Overall, our first day in Donsol was great! That night, I went to bed looking forward to swimming with the Butandings.

Of March Travels and Sunsets

I haven’t had the time to write about my travels, photos and experiences this month. School requirements has taken its toll on me. Thankfully, next week is already finals week so I’m excited to get back to blogging. For the mean time, let me give you a glimpse of my Donsol-Legazpi trip last weekend.

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Exploring Pangasinan!

I’ve always wanted to go to the famous Hundred Islands of Pangasinan. Last year, my officemates and I visited not only Hundred Islands, but Bolinao as well. I was super excited for this trip, not just because it was my first time to go to these two destinations, but also because they are part of my travel bucket list here in the Philippines. Much thanks to Ate Che for organizing the trip and for being the best itinerary planner ever!

Saturday 12mn – travel to Alaminos, Pangasinan (jump-off point to the Hundred Islands)

Total travel time: 5-6 hours via Victory Liner

We took the midnight trip to Alaminos so we won’t need to check-in to a hotel. We arrived in Alaminos around 5am. It was still dark so we looked around for someplace to stay while waiting for the sun to rise. However, all the fast food stores were still closed so we ended up eating lugaw and drinking 3-in-1 coffee in a store by the roadside. At twilight, we decided to look around.

By 6am, we decided to head to the Lucap Wharf. It took us about 15 minutes to get there via tricycle. When we got there, we registered at the Hundred Islands National Park Center and arranged for a boat for our day tour. Our boatman was so kind to help us buy fish at the market and have rice cooked for our lunch.

After a couple of minutes, everything was ready. Swimming gears – check! Food – check! Cameras – check! We eagerly stepped inside the boat, excited to see what the islands had to offer.

Trivia: Did you know that the Hundred Islands National Park is composed of 123 islands and islets?

Here are some of my shots:

What we did in Hundred Islands:

1. Snorkeling

Although we did not find a lot of corals and fish in the area where we snorkled, the giant clams were really amazing! If you have the guts to dive and touch them, you’ll get to see them snap shut. Just make sure your hand won’t get caught. You may want to bring your own snorkling gear and life jacket (if you’re not a good swimmer) since the ones that are rented out are already worn out.

2. Spelunking

The boatman took us to a small island with a cave. He told us that we’ll exit at the other side of the island. I was so excited to see the inside of the cave so I took on the challenge. Two of our companions didn’t come with us. The inside of the cave was so beautiful with the light coming through a small opening at the top of the cave. It was so surreal that I forgot I have a fear of closed spaces. After a few minutes, the boatman told us it was time to go. When I saw that the exit was a small opening at the other end of the cave and that we had to go through a 10-meter passage, I got really scared. But I couldn’t go back anymore so I told myself that I could do it. The boatman patiently instructed us on what to do. Eventually, we all got out alive! Thank God!

Billie coming out of the hole

3. Cliff diving

I also have a fear of heights and cliff diving at Marcos Island proved to be another challenge which I intended to overcome. It was pretty low but it still took me a few minutes to convince myself to jump. I’m glad I did! It was so much fun!

That’s me, getting ready to jump!

While we enjoyed swimming and snorkeling, our boatman and his assistant prepared our lunch! They docked our boat in one of the islands and we feasted in the delicious grilled fish. After lunch, we visited other islands and swam some more until we got tired. Finally, at around mid-afternoon, we bid goodbye to Hundred Islands to go to our next destination – Bolinao.

Overall, I enjoyed Hundred Islands! I’d definitely go there again. I want to try staying overnight in one of the islands.

Catch Part 2 of Exploring Pangasinan! soon to find out about my trip to Bolinao, Pangasinan.

For more information about the Hundred Islands National Park, check out:

 http://hundredislands.ph/

http://www.alaminoscity.gov.ph/index.aspx

Sunset

The sun is about to set. I, too, am ready to leave. I have been sitting on this beach since three in the afternoon. The soft swell of the waves as they come crashing on the shore has calmed my troubled mind and heart. I feel my breathing come to a slow pace. Though my back hurts for sitting too long, I cannot take away my eyes from the beauty of the unending sky before me. I can feel the darkness slowly enveloping the mountains behind me. In a short while, the sun will bid my part of the world goodbye. I continue to revel at the fading breath- taking sight infront of me. The darkness slowly takes over as the sea engulfs the last glimpse of the sun’s rays. And I stand up to go home.

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