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!

Babymoon in Paris Portraits

We’ve been busy around the Oreta household! No time to update all the way, but I’ll give you a little peak into a recent highlight.

A little over two weeks ago, Tobias took his very first solo flight.

Tobias Colorado

He stayed with my sister and her husband for a few days in Estes Park, Colorado and had a blast snowboarding and enjoying Rocky Mountain National Park.

While he was doing that, his dad and I took a romantic vacation to PARIS!

babymoon in paris portraits Trocadero and Eiffel Tower

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My Creative Journey & Some Reflections

I went to Boston over the weekend. I didn’t Snapchat or take a single picture while I was there. It was my third time visiting the city, so  I didn’t do any touristy things and I won’t be making a guide to Boston. I went to visit a friend of mine and it was the kind of trip where two people are bonding with one another, with no need for rushing from one activity to the next. It was blissful.

The following post is a bit allovertheplace. It’s a scattering of the helpful things I’ve been doing, the media I’ve been consuming, and some decisions I’ve come to on my creative journey over the past year or so. It’s half-organized into the trip I took over the weekend. The metaphors are there and intentional. Maybe you’ll catch them all. Maybe not. Bear with me. I’m working on a New Year’s Resolution, after all. Continue reading

A Day in Cusco Itinerary, Coca Tea + Rides with Strangers

Alright, y’all. We’re two months into 2017, and politics aside, things have been terrific. Regarding my 2017 resolutions, I’ve been kicking…cans and taking names.

Well, except for one. That whole “Hit ‘Publish’ more often/post old drafts I haven’t finished thing–yeah, it hasn’t been happening. Until now!

Over the summer, I went on a life-changing trip to Peru. I wasn’t blogging regularly at the time, and when I got back into the habit, there were many adventures but felt like it was ‘old news.’ PSH. I’m sure someone out in the interwebz will find this as useful when planning a trip online as my most popular travel posts: Arashiyama Bamboo Forest & Monkey Park Iwatayama, Road trip from Denver to Yellowstone National Park, and The Bio-luminescent Palawan River + Island Hopping. Even if it isn’t, why NOT post? It’s my website, I do what I want.

So, let’s do this! Here’s the first of a series of posts about my seven day trip to Peru, where I knocked off my bucket list item of visiting MACHU PICCHU!

24 Hours in Cusco

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Thomas Edison National History Park: Laboratory and Home Tours

I first heard about Thomas Edison’s Laboratory being in the U.S. park service after seeing a picture of it on Mike’s Photo Blog. My eight-year-old son is fascinated by all things chemistry and has dreamed of being an inventor since he learned the term, so I knew one day we’d make it over in that direction.

Before my sister & brother-in-law’s visit, where we hiked Kaaterskill Falls and Sam’s Point in Minnewaska, my stepsister, Allie, came for a visit as well.

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We spent most of the time relaxing, sharing girl talk, and cooking together. After I dropped her off at Newark Airport, I thought I’d check and see how far the Edison Lab would be before returning home. It turns out that that the museum and park are only twenty minutes from EWR!

Please excuse the quality of the following photos; I had only my phone with me and the weather was absolutely miserable on this particular day.

Thomas Edison National History Park Laboratory and home New Jersey bad weather.jpg

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It was nice that the weather wasn’t that great, because the park wasn’t busy. Not at all. Anti-intellectualism could be the reason that there were only a handful of people at any given time during the hours we were there, but I’d like to think it was the weather.

After paying my $10 entry free (Tobias, and all children under 16 are free), we first made our way over to the lab for a demonstration about chemistry.

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Did you know that Thomas Edison not only made advancements to the light bulb, but he also created a rubber alternative from genetically modified Goldrenrod? How about that he was once known as the Wizard of Menlo Park, because when he invented the phonograph, people were so astonished by hearing recorded voices played back that they deemed it magic?

With all that it takes to impress someone these days, isn’t that just the quaintest thing?! A magician for playing back sounds! Continue reading

Hiking and Ice Climbing the Catskills: Kaaterskill Falls, New York

Before we went hiking in New York on Christmas, the three of us took a different scenic day trip to The Catskills.

It was my brother-in-law, Dennis’ idea to head that way when planning their trip up here. I didn’t know much about the area, other than the name sounded awfully familiar. If you’re not from this part of the U.S. either, and it sounds familiar to you, it’s because it’s where Woodstock happened. And where Dirty Dancing took place. The area is a pretty big deal as far as pop culture goes.

A day trip there wasn’t near enough time to do all of the things that The Catskills has to offer, but we did a gorgeous hike in, and Dennis got to do a little bit of ice climbing.

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As the marker mentions, the area is historic as well. The Hudson River School was the first homegrown art movement in the United States and Kaaterskill Falls is one of the oldest tourist destinations in America. Continue reading

Hiking Sam’s Point in Minnewaska State Park, New York

Every Christmas Eve, I stay up extra late either wrapping up a DIY gift with the help of some elves, making sure everything is in its place so some fat guy can eat my delicious cookies and make a mess of my house, then my son can wake up the next morning and thrash through gifts from our family. If you’re a parent, it’s surely a familiar scenario for you. But what to do after the gift-opening frenzy, other than build elaborate toys and carefully place stickers within the guidelines of plastic molds?

I think we have a new tradition, on top of the cookies.

(Everything is on top of cookies. We surely can’t go without cookies.)

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The holidays were extra special this year, because my sister and brother-in-law stayed with us. My brother-in-law is outdoorsy in a way that I feel like mentioning anytime he comes up–“Yeah, he climbs mountains. That’s his thing. He climbs ’em all over the world and ice climbs with picks and all” and my sister, Somer, is a really talented photographer. So they were more than willing to do some day trips and exploration. YAS.

After the hurricane of gift opening, we were lazing about and figuring out how we’d spend the rest of the day. I mentioned a few Connecticut state parks, and wondered aloud if they would be open or not. Next thing I knew, it was decided. We were heading to Sam’s Point in Minnewaska State Park in NY. It’s almost exactly two hours from our home here in CT.

It’s a bit of a drive, but it’s scenic, like most drives here. When we finally get there, this is what we see on a closed gate to the parking area:

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Awkward. Continue reading