MY SURREAL ENCOUNTER WITH THE WHALE SHARKS OF OSLOB

I had two main reasons why I took a 3-day weekend journey to the Southern part of the Province of Cebu. One was to climb Osmena Peak, the highest point in the whole Cebu located in Dalaguete, and the other was to dive with the whale shark of Oslob. Of these two, it is the latter that I considered most surreal and incredibly heart stopping. Here’s the story.

On the night we arrived at Oslob, instead of going around the town, we opted to rest early at Garden Stay Resort to fully recover for the next day’s most anticipated adventure. As I retired to bed, my eyes blankly wandered at the unadorned ceiling thinking for that quest. Yes, I travelled far from Davao City to Cebu for this quest – to meet the gentle giants of Oslob they locally called Tuki. I was fully absorbed with that thought I slept just thinking of those whale sharks that put Oslob to the tourism map of the Philippines.

Prior to becoming a popular destination, Oslob was once a sleepy town. The presence of the whale sharks spotted not so long ago near the shore of Barangay Tan-awan made the town the most visited municipality now in the South Cebu. Locally called Tuki in Bisaya and Butanding in Tagalog, these whale sharks have long been visiting the waters of Oslob. When the news about it spread among diving enthusiasts, it has become the most sought after diving destination in the whole Cebu. And when it made to mainstream and social media, tourism influx become unstoppable. Many are lured to come to this part of the province and experience a dreamlike encounter with the whale sharks. I, for one, was among those who journeyed far to say hello to these friendly gigantic creatures.

As agreed, we woke up early the next day for this adventure. We were told to be at the site as early as 8:00 o’clock in morning in time for the whale shark feeding. And so from the Garden Stay Resort, we headed straight to Barangay Tan-awan. It is about 15-minute habal-habal ride from the town center. As soon as we arrived there, we headed right to the Whaleshark Briefing and Orientation Area to pay and get oriented with the dos and don’ts during the actual encounter.

The whale shark watching cost us Php 500.00 inclusive of boat, guide and some of the top snorkeling gear available.  Less the snorkel, it is Php 300.00. During the briefing, we were told to never ever touch a whale shark; otherwise, a fine of Php 2,000.00 will be charged. We were also advised to keep a distance of about 5 meters to allow them to swim freely and maintain minimal movements to avoid bubbles as Tuki would think we are feeding them. When taking pictures, flash is not allowed and the use of lotion and sunblock is also prohibited. These are among the measures the locals implemented following a national clamour to protect and preserve these whale sharks when a photo a girl standing at the back of a Tuki flooded the internet. It gained negative criticisms in and outside of the country paving way to authorities to set proper guidelines in handling whale shark watching.

Just few minutes after the briefing, we found ourselves aboard a small boat going to the area where whale sharks are spotted, just few meters away from the shore. When we get to the area, our boatman pointed down a giant silhouette slowly swimming visibly below our boat. And he said, “That is our Tuki”. Seeing it for the first time, I was totally blown away by surprise! It was so gigantic, so huge, way bigger than our boat. My eyes were chasing at it as it swam down the waters and then it headed to one boat called Whale Shark Feeder. Here, Tuki are being fed with specie of planktons locally called Oyap. Whale sharks are used to it they come here every day to be fed. The Whale Shark Feeder interacts with the Tuki feeding it with utmost love and care as if it is his most loved pet. It was a heart warming scene for me.

When time for snorkelling, I went down the water carefully as to not make some bubbles. Equipped with goggle and snorkel, I was floating on the waters trying to search for the first whale shark I will see underwater. Just a moment later, my eyes were laid to a gigantic sea creature trying to get its meal from the boat above. I dove down under trying to get the full view of my first whale shark, and, really it was incredibly huge. I was underwater but I can’t help but burst in much awe seeing such scene. At the back of mind, everything was just a dream! But this was real! The giant whale shark in front of me was real.

I went back floating again trying to find other whale sharks. From one, they grew into a big number. Eight whale sharks we had that day. I was filled with much excitement when the three gentle giants swam together aiming at a boat with the feeder. I felt I was in huge aquarium swimming with the Tukis. It was a crazy experience! I was diving with the largest fish on earth!

Maintaining the 5 meters distance from the Tuki, I followed the biggest of the eight. Just as I thought 5 meters is enough for them to swim freely, this biggest Tuki slowly inched its way towards me. Seeing its gigantic mouth triply bigger than my head, I froze in fear I could hardly breathe. I could die in any second as an oversized Tuki about nine meters in length was coming straight at me. But then I came to mind what the boat man told me, “Whale sharks are the among the friendliest giant water creatures”. And so I stayed calm, didn’t panicked and just enjoyed the once-in-a-lifetime experience encountering the largest fish in the world! Pointing my camera at it, about a meter away from me, it veered to its right leaving me stunned and bedazzled! After that, I concluded, these whale sharks are truly cordial.

Because guests are only allowed to snorkel for thirty minutes, we did not stay long swimming with the whale sharks. As stated during the briefing, visitors are only allowed to snorkel for only thirty minutes to give way to others and to minimize tourist congestion in the area. Thirty minutes was just too short to commune with these gentle giants but that thirty minutes is enough to experience firsthand the kind of adventure, thrill and excitement truly so incomparable brought by these gigantic sea creatures.

This encounter I had with the friendly Tuki of Oslob marks as one of the highlights of my local travels in my beloved Islands of the Philippines. It is a kind of experience I will truly be proud of and would cherish forever. These whale sharks are not just blessings to the people of Oslob but they are proof that the country is such a beautiful place blessed with so many marvellous things to behold and relish.

I just pray that the locals of Oslob will continue to strictly implement proper guidelines to balance tourism and care for the whale sharks. After all, these Tukis are giant blessings to them. Tourists, on the other hand, should follow and respect these guidelines and observe proper decorum to protect and conserve these gentle giants of Cebu!

WHALE SHARKS AROUND THE WORLD: Aside from the Philippines, there other parts of the globe where sighting of whale sharks are recorded. These are also best dive sites to see and encounter the largest fish on earth. If you’re in Europe, you can travel to the beautiful country of Portugal and there you can find school of whale sharks dwelling at the waters of Santa Maria Island in the Autonomous Region of the Azores.

MORESO, diving with the whale sharks in real tropical waters like the Philippines is an experience to remember. The sea is warm, the sun is great and the waters are clear. Aside from Oslob, another famous site for swimming or diving with the whale sharks is in Donsol, Sorsogon. Long before the Oslob came to fame, Donsol is already known as the “Whale Shark Capital of the Country”. So now, you get two paradises to choose from to encounter the gentle water giants of the country!

With these amazing whale sharks, truly, IT’S MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES!

SPECIAL shout-out to GRACE BONITA-KINOSHITA for lending me her PENTAX UNDERWATER CAMERA, the one I used for this entire Whale Shark encounter!

OSLOB, CEBU: An Ultimate South Cebu Escape

Thursday. 7:45 PM. It was drizzling when we flew from Davao City to Cebu. I was a bit worried a low pressure area that day would ruin my most anticipated South Cebu journey. Luckily, it was a fine weather that welcomed us as we landed Mactan International Airport. As I gotten out of the plane, the humid evening breeze was the first thing that I sensed. “Alas, I’m back at Sugbu again!” I mumbled to myself. As soon as we gotten out of the airport, we hurried to a cab to bring us to Cebu South Bus Terminal. Twenty minutes later, we found ourselves sitting at the comfortable seats of Ceres Liner heading to our first destination in South Cebu – the Municipality of OSLOB.

I was mixed emotions while traveling down south of Cebu. I have been to the Island Province for quite a few times now but exploring its southern countryside would be my first. Among the many enticing stories I heard about South Cebu, it is the coastal town of Oslob that convinces me to travel and explore this part of the province. From my research, Oslob teems with different destinations a travel enthusiast like me would love to go. Knowing that, there was a kind of unfathomable excitement that consumed me. In fact, I was wide awake during the course of the 2½-hour travel trying to figure out what was there hidden in the darkness.

It was almost midnight when we arrived at Oslob. We dropped off right at the very gate of the resort we will be staying for the night, the quaint Garden Stay Resort just situated along the highway of the town. It is a very charming little resort with a fresh and tranquil ambiance that pervades an intimate atmosphere of serenity and comfort. The rooms are complemented by fabulous finish and stylish furniture. If the main entrance of Garden Stay Resort faces the highway, I was amazed to find out its backyard faces a charming white sand beach. While inside, I can hear the waves splashing on the shores. I slept the night away with those soothing sounds of the waves tickling my ears. Ahhhh, beach life it is in Oslob!

We woke up early the next day to prepare ourselves for the most anticipated activity one can do these days in Oslob – the whale shark watching. From the Garden Stay Resort, we headed straight to the Whaleshark Briefing and Orientation Center located in Barangay Tan-awan about 15 minutes ride from the town proper. Briefing and orientation is a requisite before diving or snorkeling with the whale sharks they locally called Tuki. With only Php 500.00 fee, we got to encounter face to face with gentle giants of Oslob. (My encounter with the whale sharks of Oslob will be tackled in full account on my next post.)

From our tiring yet breathtaking encounter with the Tukis, we headed off Tumalog Falls about 15 minutes away from Barangay Tan-awan. Also called by the locals as Toslob Falls, it is a beautiful waterfalls nestled in the mountains of Barangay Tumalog. It has different waterfalls features so picturesque to behold. At one side, the waters dropping from a towering height fall directly to the natural pool while on the other side the waters cascade from mini-multi-tiered levels – such a marvelous God’s creation! Seeing it, I became so excited. I ran to the pool and dipped into its cold refreshing waters.

The moment I soaked myself into the cold waters of Tumalog Falls, I instantly felt refreshed. I was like a child enjoying the pouring rain showers from heavens. More than these refreshing waters, Tumalog Falls retains its natural beauty. Though it is slowly eyed to become one of the main tourist attractions of Oslob, it is aptly developed as an eco-tourism site without hurting its natural allure.

From Tumalog Falls, we headed back to the town center to visit the Heritage Sites of Oslob. Not known to many, this southern coastal town of Cebu shared a very colorful historical past during the Spanish occupation in the Philippines. Proofs to that are those heritage sites admirably preserved around the town center.

THE OSLOB HERITAGE TRAIL
(inscribed on the stones are as follows)

CUARTEL. This unique structure was built through the effort of El Gran Maestro Don Marcos Sabandal to serve as barracks for Spanish Armies but was halted during the arrivals of American in 1899. The coral stones used for its constructions came from remnants of the collapsed floor of the Church Bell Tower. The walls of the structure which measures 19 centimeter thick still stand. The façade built of coral stones features a double row of arches.

IMMACULATE CONCEPTION PARISH CHURCH. The foundation of the Church was laid on May 4, 1830. The church plan was drawn by Bishop Santos Gomes Marañon, the same prelate who had the kiosk of Magellan Cross in Cebu City constructed. The site was chosen by Fr. Julian Bermejo since it has a bigger size for settlement and at the same time to replace the destroyed church of Daanlungsod, and officially became and independent parish on January 8, 1847. A fire destroyed the church on November 7, 1955. It was restored but was hit again by fire on March 26, 2008. The church was completely restored once again on December 10, 2010.

CHURCH WALLS AND GATES. The Church walls and gates were constructed in 1875 to serve as one of the defense frontlines of the complex against the Moro Marauders. The wall features a series of pyramid top piers that gives a unique townscape component to the old street of Aragones and Eternidad. Some of its part has an inscription indicating the name of the street and the year of its construction.

Having gone whale shark watching, waterfalls trekking and visiting heritage sites, I felt like Oslob alone completed my South Cebu journey. In fact, I now consider it “An Ultimate South Cebu Escape”. Experiencing its enticing attractions was a very good start of my Southern Trip to the province of Cebu. It was a welcome taste of what to expect in this charming part of the province. But of course, just as always said, there is more to see, more to explore in this once sleepy town and the whole South Cebu!

I can sit here all daylong fascinating myself with the coastal beauty of Oslob!

Suroy na! Suroy sa Oslob na!