Swimming with Whale Sharks in Oslob, Cebu

We just got back from our family trip to the Philippines! We’ve visited family in The Philippines and Australia every year since our honeymoon. It’s always a fantastic time: we visit, catch up with Mark’s (big!!) extended family, and have exciting adventures.

Mark’s extended family on his paternal side, Australia 2017

This year my favorite day was the one we spent whale watching and canyoneering in Cebu. Though our family lives in Quezon City (right outside of Manila) we always take an additional trip away from the traffic and pollution of the Philippines’ largest city to have some adventures. Previous years were in boracay, puerto princessa, Palawan, Coron, Palawan, Hong Kong, and the Great Barrier Reef. This year we went to Cebu.

Sunrise from the balcony of our hotel

Cebu is consistently ranked amongst the best islands in the world, according to Condé Nast. It’s known for incredible diving, white sand beaches, Spanish and Roman Catholic influences, and its lechon.

Island hopping from our first day in Cebu

We started out the day swimming with whale sharks in Oslob. Whale sharks, known in Cebu as butanding, are the largest known extant (still living) fish species. The measure in at 18 meters and weigh more than 34 tons. When the guides mentioned they were the biggest fish, I was confused, because I didn’t realize a shark was a fish, unlike whales or dolphins. …I guess elementary school was a long time ago…🤦‍♀️
A decade or so ago, a fisherman came across a whale shark in this particular area and fed him some prawns (shrimp, for my American friends). He continued to see this whale shark and fed him, and the word got out amongst the whale sharks. This makes sense because in general, whale sharks make ocean-wide migrations but also congregate in areas of high food density.

Mark’s cousin Angel

Fast forward to today: each morning there is a large team of whale sharks in this area. In the center, there is a man on a boat feeding them. Around, there are boats hooked up to a line system with the engines up, careful not to hurt the fish, and a whole lot of travelers with snorkels on.
The whale sharks were enormous! It reminded me of seeing a full size shark display like they have at natural science museums—but they were alive and right there! It was unbelievable how big they were and thrilling being near them.

I obviously had no idea what to do with my body when he was taking these pictured

One of the rules of viewing the whale sharks is that you must keep a distance of 5 meters between you and them at any given time. I noticed at one point I was too close to one, so I turned in the other direction to swim further, only to find another one just as close! I was surrounded! 

This was later on with two different whale sharks. I still didn’t know what to do with my body.

It really frightened me! What I didn’t realize is that whale sharks are filter feeding. This means that they eat by straining food particles and suspended matter from the water with a specialized filtering structure. In other words, their diets consist of things that are far smaller than you and I.
Filter feeding animals like whale sharks, krill, clams, sponges, Baleen whales flamingos, some ducks and many fish are help to clarify water and benefit our ecosystem. That means these creatures aren’t just another pretty face: they’re helping our environment. This contributes to the disappointment in learning that whale sharks are indeed an endangered species.
Another rule was that those swimming with the sharks were not allowed to have on any sunscreen, lotions, or scented beauty products prior to getting into the water with them. Those who did were told to rinse off in available showers prior to getting onto their boats. I knew this ahead of time so I had on a long sleeved rash guard and thin yoga pants to protect my pale skin, ha!
My only regret is that I didn’t remove my life vest so that I’d have better control of my swimming and would have gotten a better picture.

My friend Bryan got a few good shots with the sharks

If you’re not a fan of snorkeling or swimming in open water, no worries! You can still watch the whale sharks from the comfort of the boat. These boats were far smaller than we expected, generally the boats we take in the Philippines look more like these paraws:
We thought Mark and I would be able to take turns, one of us caring for Elvis while the other swam along with the fish. Unfortunately the boat was closer to a canoe with outriggers (or katig) on each side. But! Mark was able to see the fish up close still as the came up frequently to the top of the water. Elvis was quickly lulled to sleep by the rocking of the boat.

Swimming with the whale sharks was amazing, but it wasn’t even my favorite part of the trip! Next post I’ll talk about canyoneering, and how our family needed to be rescued after jumping off a cliff!

Japanese Wrecks of Coron Bay

It’s been far too long, but I’ve finally got a bit of free time and no trips planned for a whole month. Back to June. Back to The Philippines. Back to diving.

Jeepney for Neptune Dive Center in Coron Philippines

The Philippines is known worldwide for its diving. From the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park to the biodiversity of Puerto Galera, its a diver’s heaven. Though I’ll never tire of swimming alongside colorful marine life and spotting exotic animals, there’s something a bit more thrilling about doing so in a shipwreck. And Coron Bay has many to choose from.

Japanese wrecks of Coron Bay Philippines

A little bit of History

On September 23, 1944, Combat Air Control reported enemy activity in the area. The aircraft carriers USS Lexington, USS Intrepid, and USS Cabot ordered 24 bombers and 96 fighters to cover a chart distance of 350 miles on the following day. What happened next became one of the longest bombing missions in the history of U.S. naval aviation: a three hour flight before the attack that led to the ten shipwrecks.

For a thorough history of how the wrecks came to be, head to Coron Bay Air Raid History.

Seventy years later, these wrecks have become artificial reefs and are teeming with wildlife. After receiving our diving certifications, it was time for Mark and I to scuba-suit up and see for ourselves.

Mark and Kelsie O in scuba suits

The Dives

Olympia Maru Japanese Cargo shipwreck from world war II Coron Philippines

Our first dive was through Olympia Maru. In the photo of the guidebook above, you can see that there are four openings at the top of the ship. From the second one from the right was where we entered, and we made our way through. We had to be very careful of our breathing to be sure not to become more buoyant and hit our heads on the roofs of the ship.

We could see many shipping containers with Japanese writing and cargo drums. It was amazing to see something so human, yet so foreign to the other world that we’ve found under the sea, where tropical fish and corals had claimed it as their own. The ship was so big, it was like a warehouse was just dropped into the ocean.

Not gonna lie, I was totally feeling some Little Mermaid vibes. Unfortunately, we hadn’t yet bought our GoPro, so here’s some low-quality printed photos of the site:Olympia Maru Japanese Cargo Shipwreck from WWII Philippines

Next up was Morazan Maru.

Morazan Maru Passenger Cargo Vessel Shipwreck in Coron Philippines

This one had far more traces of human life, as it was a passenger ship. There was even a toilet! Through the years of deterioration, its turned more into a few large chunks of porcelain, but it was still neat. Because Morazan Maru sunk onto its side, it was more challenging  to orient where was up and down and it was more difficult to make our way through the narrow passageways of the ship without disturbing the corals.

What was really cool about this dive was that because of it’s side orientation, there’s a big pocket of air within the walls of the base of the ship. So we were able to take off our regulators and breathe some [not at all] fresh air all the way unda da sea.

Last up was Teru Kaze Maru.Teru Kaze Maru Sunken anti-submarine vessel in Coron Philippines

Diving along with us was a guide, as well as a young tourist from the UK. He opted out of this last dive, as he said he had been travelling throughout Australia and South Asia for the last four months and his resources were depleted.

When we got back on the boat, I didn’t want to break it to him that it was my favorite of the dives. This wreck was much closer to the surface, so light was abundant, the colors of sea life and coral were far more vibrant and the corals were less spread apart. It was also a very small ship, so from the outside I was more able to see the shape of the hull more clearly. While Olympia Maru felt like a warehouse and Morazan Maru was disorienting, this one was without a doubt a ship. Hah! Not like I was doubting the others were, ;).

Teru Kaze Maru Sunken anti-submarine vessel in Coron Philippines (2)

That being said, I think that whichever shipwreck dive is my latest will likely be my favorite. Diving, for me, is not one of those “you’ve seen one and you’ve seen ’em all” kind of things. It’s a more colorful, more thrilling, underwater hiking. It’s always different, full of sights, full of energy, and stunning.

Until next time,

Post-dive San Miguel beer in Coron Philippines

Cheers!
Featured image via: diveprice.com.

Zip Line Through the Jungle- Check!

While we were in Puerto Rico, I was sure to knock off a bucket list item:

103. Zip line through the Jungle ✓

There are few zip line adventure companies that allow children along for the ride. In the San Juan area of Puerto Rico, we could only find one. Our son is seven and many require a minimum age of ten years old.

Tropical Adventures in Dorado, a short drive from San Juan, has an accessible course that allows anyone from “six years old, to healthy seventy year olds.”

The views of the Rainforest as we were zip lining were absolutely breathtaking.

view from our ziplining trip in Puerto RicoTobias is afraid of heights, so I was really worried about this excursion before the trip. Continue reading

Tips and Tricks for Online Trip Planning

I had a house guest all of last week, so I wasn’t able to make time to post. BUT! Last week, she and I decided on a girls’ trip for the summer and Mark and I began taking steps for one in the spring. I’m so excited to finally have not one but two international trips to plan for. After all, some find that the anticipation of travel is just as rewarding as the travel itself.

There are so many different types of travelers. Some prefer all inclusive, some like to wing it, some people would rather lie on a beach than do anything else on this earth. Not I. I’m a planner, through and through. Continue reading

Honeymooners: Flights, Family and Ferris Wheels

During traditional tea ceremony and kaiseki, or traditional Japanese dinner, I was slamming down matcha like it was nobody’s business. I ended up wired & blogging about Cherry Blossoms, Kiyomizu-dera, bamboo forests and monkey parks until the sun nearly came up and I got very little sleep, so I was thankful that we had nothing but packing and heading for the airport planned for the day–which wasn’t until the evening. The one thing I hadn’t done that was crucial was some wandering.

Westin Kyoto view

the view from our room in Kyoto, Japan

Continue reading

Honeymooners: Kyoto Cherry Blossom Viewing, Philosopher’s Path & Kiyomizu-dera

Technically, day one of our honeymoon was when we arrived at Kansai International Airport in Osaka. We were completely disconnected from the modern luxuries that allow us to stay out of panic and not get lost when Mark and I realized that I completely failed to write down the address of our hotel–in English or Japanese–which was a good 102 kilometers away. (To Americans like me, I’ll save you the Googling: 63 miles!) We took the train according to my half-finished notes, found ourselves in Kyoto station, and I found myself nearly hyperventilating as we tried to figure out how we were going to navigate this city based on my half-finished notes. Always a problem solver, I managed to find tourist information and a shuttle service to Westin Miyako Kyoto.

It was about 6 p.m. Kyoto time when we were in our hotel room, but about 4 a.m. Houston time. Though I had slept for hours upon hours on the plane, I still was exhausted and promptly PASSED OUT with the lights on.

Our first full day, however, was far more eventful and without any panic. (PHEW!) Continue reading

Our Wedding Video!

Yay! I’m so excited to share our wedding video with you. Yesterday I posted a duo of photos from the wedding on Instagram, today I went to the social security office to begin to change my name, and made it FBO!*

This journey has been so exciting all throughout–at first keeping hush about it was the worst, I’m always the most open person in the room. I knew it’d be “more fun” this way and it sure was!

Without further ado… Continue reading