Saturday, February 27 2021


Swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines

Update: March, 10/2019 - 09:00
It was hard to believe that I was swimming among giant sharks.
Viet Nam News

By Daisy Tran

People tired of quick vacations trips with many pit stops or bored of walking on beaches and shopping for luxury goods should consider visiting Oslob in Cebu, the Philippines.

It offers some of the coolest experiences on the planet like jumping off waterfalls and swimming with whale sharks.

To each Oslob, you have to fly down to Cebu and make a four-hour road trip.

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is a slow-moving, filter-feeding carpet shark and the largest fish on earth. The largest confirmed individual measured 12.65 metres, or almost the size of a city bus, and weighed 21.5 tonnes.  

It is found in open waters in tropical oceans and rarely in waters below 21°C.

Oslob is one of several places in the world where locals have successfully seduced the gentle giants to come near shore for feeding.

But if you want to see and swim with them, you have to race against time because they have the habit of swimming into shore to feed in the mornings and by noon return to deep waters where they belong.

It means tourists must arrive in Oslob in the morning. Local authorities have limited the number of people who can swim with the creatures and so hundreds of people queue up at the wharf from early in the morning hoping to get a chance.

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the largest fish on earth.
Oslob residents have successfully seduced the gentle giants to come near shore for feeding.
Tourists were queuing up at the wharf from early in the morning.

Many tourists gather at the South Bus Terminal in Cebu from where buses leave very early for Oslob for the whale shark run.

A person can swim for 30 minutes for 1,000 pesos or around US$20.

But for double or triple that sum, you can have a vehicle pick you up at your hotel and take you to the front of the queue.

I chose the cheaper option.

The bus brought me to Oslob at 9am. The bus, which looked like old ones in the Mekong Delta several decades ago, had no undamaged seat.

I paid 1,000 pesos for diving and another 500 pesos to rent a water-resistant camera.

Before going down to the sea, all participants had to attend a 10-minute training session on safety.

We were given clear instructions: do not swim closer than 6m to a whale shark to ensure our safety and do not wear sun cream to ensure the sharks’ safety.

My turn came and it was once again a race against time since we had only 30 minutes from beginning to end.

I had to calm my nerves because the thought kept popping into my head: “After all they are sharks; will they attack me?”

I had to become familiar with the scuba gear and then began to visualise myself swimming close to the mighty creatures. Until I was on land I thought I would swim really close to them, but once in the water I was a bit scared though tremendously excited.

Looking at the whale sharks nearby, I realised how easily they could pull me in. I felt puny and insignificant beside their enormous size.

There were three of them.

But after five minutes I felt slightly braver and began to swim closer to them to see what they were doing.

The guides had warned us to keep at least a 6m distance, but I thought 6m was nothing if they wanted to attack. But looking at them from that close gave us some marvellous moments.

It was hard to believe that I was swimming among giant sharks, monsters of our scariest, most visceral nightmares.

By the time I had been swimming for 15 minutes I was very comfortable and my fears were more or less gone. 

But these 15 minutes made my long trip feel worthwhile.

Discovering gem waterfall

I was to be astonished in Alegria forest’s waterfalls cascading in jade green.

I used to feel sceptical every time I saw an image of a waterfall cascading in jade green, sure that the lovely sight owed more to computer software than nature.

But I was to be astonished in Alegria forest situated an hour’s drive away from Oslob.

After finishing the amazing dive with the whale sharks, I climbed into a motorcycle side car for a ride to Cambais Falls in Alegria. After I rode for a while and walked some distance a very beautiful waterfall appeared in front of me.

Actually, Cambais Falls is not as famous as Kawasan, one of the highest, biggest and most beautiful in the Philippines situated in Badian, a four-hour drive from Cebu.

But for those who have seen Cambais Falls with its clear green waters, Kawasan looks modest.

Besides, waterfalls like Cambais retain their pristine beauty and are not surrounded by restaurants and shops like Kawasan.

Because of its remote location and difficult terrain, Cambais is quiet and a great place to discover. But you can try daredevil stuff like sliding down or jumping off the waterfall. Or you can float in the jade waters, looking at the sun peeping through the foliage and listening to birds sing.

“You have to pay for happiness,” I told myself.

“If you want to travel and discover such a beautiful waterfall, you must spend money and time and effort doing things like climbing up mountains.”

But there was no question it had all been worth it as I left with unforgettable memories. – VNS

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