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Til next summer

It’s the first day of June. Time sure flies so fast. Summer vacation for most students ends today as classes open tomorrow. Summer, my most favorite time of the year, will soon be over. 😦

This year’s summer had been a very memorable one. I got to meet my adorable niece Emma for the first time! I made it a point to take some time off from work to spend quality time with my family, especially because my cousins from Canada came home for a vacation.

I love going home to the province, even on short vacations, because I get the chance to watch the sun go down everyday at the beach near our house. I could just sit there on the shore or take a dip in the inviting water to cool down the sweltering heat of the summer sun until it had finally set. But mostly, I love going home because I miss home cooked meals and the comfort of being with my family.

Even at work, the past two months had been quite busy. I was mostly out on fieldwork gathering stories, capturing photos, facilitating workshops, meeting people, organizing events. I rode motorbikes, walked in the sugarcane farms under the scorching heat of the sun, and traveled from one island to the next. I’m not complaining. I love my work, actually. Because at the end of the day, in the few hours before I head home to Manila, I get to see the beautiful sights in the area.

As I was browsing through my summer photos, trying to relish the fun memories, I realized I had on this one top in a lot of photos! Yikes, I need some serious wardrobe change! I badly need to buy some pretty beach dresses online. And new swim wear, too (maybe something that could hide my growing curves).  Besides, summer may be over but it’s always good to be ready with the outfit. There’s so much picture perfect places waiting to be explored all year round.

Anyway, check out these pictures to see what kept me busy this summer:

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Thank you, summer, for the great memories and the darkened skin! Til next year.

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Stop, Look and Listen

The quieter you become, the more you can hear.

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.

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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