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

SoCal Takeover: L.A. Edition

Southern California has a special place in my heart. Mark and I took our first ever trip to San Diego, and I’m sure to always include it when I drag out our love story. The weather is grand, the people are beautiful, and the produce tastes so luscious. We went back to SD a year after our first trip for him to run a marathon, but three weeks ago we brought ‘Bias for his first time to The Golden State. My mom came along for the ride, too.

Mark and I flew together, and arrived in L.A. a day earlier than my mom & Tobias, so that they could fulfill their school/work duties for one more day. Right after we got our rental car, we went straight to the Hollywood sign because priorities.Southern California (1 of 28)

Continue reading

Glass Blowing Lessons in Seattle

Glass blowing is something I had always wanted to try. When I wrote my bucket list, it was among the many things which I thought seemed distant and unrealistic. In fact, the bucket list in it’s entirety seemed that way when I first wrote it. That’s worth it’s own entry, though. I digress.

I didn’t take any photos while I was in the studio, because I was elbows deep into molten glass. Not really, I just like how terrifying that imagery is. I don’t know why I assumed that blowing glass wouldn’t be difficult. Perhaps it was the Chihuly videos I had watched the day before at the exhibit, where I saw the ease only a genius of their craft could have doing their work firsthand. Everything about it was challenging. We had to place a cement block next to the furnace just so that I’d be able to reach into it to efficiently place the molten glass on the pipe. The glass was, as you would expect, lava hot. The distance at which you had to be was close enough was painful. I wondered if I should have worn sunscreen. You’d really think I would have taken the heat to MELT GLASS into consideration, or that the last twenty five years of enduring Texas summers was training for this day. Nope.

Inside the furnace was fluorescent orange from the immense heat, with the vat inside filled to the brim with clear molten glass. When you’re gathering the glass to the pipe, the glass has the density of molasses. You’ve got to lightly dip the pipe into the glass and quickly take it out of the vat while spinning the pipe, but leaving it in the furnace. However, the glass is invisible and your eyelashes are being singed off while you’re looking for it. Watch out for that. You repeat the dip, lift, and spin process a few times, until you have enough glass on your pipe. Then you take it over to an area with a tub of water, roll the parts of the pipe that don’t have the glass on it in the wetness to cool it, and by then the glass has also had a moment to cool.

So you take the pipe to another oven. This one doesn’t have molten glass inside and it’s a bit cooler, at roughly 2349826352001 degrees Fahrenheit. I resisted the urge to put on my sweater. They call this oven the Glory Hole. As in, “I put my rod into the glory hole” or “Its really hot on the other side of the glory hole” or “Don’t get to close to the glory hole, or it’ll melt your face off.” Through the process of shaping and blowing the glass, you will frequently return to the glory hole to keep the glass hot enough to manipulate. You can shape the clay by using various tools: over-sized tweezers, some intense looking scissors, wooden molds, and the A, B, and C section of a newspaper, folded up into a five inch square and submersed in water. The tweezers seemed like they’d be the coolest, because you could pull the glass into shapes. If you were good at it. If it’s your first time, it feels like there’s another human equal your size pulling in the opposite direction of the glass so that you can’t do it. But there isn’t, it’s just glass. And it’s hard to move glass no matter how hot it is.

With a lot of help from the instructor, I ended the day with a paperweight, an ornament, a candy dish, and a disfigured octobust for Tobias. (I meant to type octopus, but I felt that typo was appropriate. I’m just instinctively funny like that, I guess.) It was really cool, in a burning lava hot kind of way, and I would definitely go for another shot at it, with hope I would get better with practice.

 

I made this!

I made this!