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.

Honeymooners: Puerto Princesa’s Underground River

Puerto Princesa’s Underground River is the number one thing to do in Puerto Princesa. It’s been declared one of the New7Wonders of Nature, so you know it’s a pretty big deal.

Though it’s considered a part of Puerto Princesa, it was quite a ways away from our hotel. Like two hours away. Again, we all bundled up in one big van and made the trek.

We took one stop to a little shop along the way, it had a pretty incredible view.

Puerto Princessa Underground River and Palawan Honda Bay Island Hopping (16 of 37)

Why I’m retiring to Palawan: Exhibit A

Continue reading

Honeymooners: Palawan’s River of Bioluminescence, Diving, and Island Hopping

Our first day in Palawan was the best of our entire trip! We took a quick flight via Cebu Pacific Air first thing in the morning, and brought (almost) the entire fam. After our arrival to our hotel, we had to leave quickly. Though we had originally booked a city tour of Puerto Princessa, our new found love of diving led us to contact someone local the day prior to see what the waters of Palawan had to offer.

And oh, did it offer a lot. We broke away from the rest of the group, picked up the dive equipment from the dive instructors’ gorgeous home, took a short ride, picked up some lunch and water, and arrived at Pristine Beach. Literally–that’s the name of the beach. And for good reason.

Unfortunately, Mark had me leave my phone and camera behind. So I don’t have any photos!

The dives were great, we did one for forty five minutes, ate lunch, then did another dive for the same amount of time. We went down as deep as 18 meters during the first dive, but during the second we didn’t have to go nearly as far: there was a full wall of reef going down as deep as we could see.

After diving, we rested at the hotel, played some foozeball, and I discovered banoffe. BANANA IN MY FROZEN COFFEE.

YUM

YUM.

That night, all 12 of us piled in a van and headed to go firefly watching.

Puerto Princessa Firefly watching

They fed us a traditional Filipino dinner, and then we got on boats for the tour. The boats were row boats, and only four people, including the guide, were allowed on each boat.

During the tour, the guide asked if we see fireflies where we come from, then asked us if we see them less often now than we used to. Growing up and spending time in my cousin’s neighborhood in northern Corpus Christi, I saw many. But it really has been a long time.

The guide explained to us that fireflies are a sign of a healthy environment, free of pollution. They’re a sign of good air. No wonder it’s been a while. Kind of sad.

Fireflies were everywhere, and he would use a simple red light to make them shine more brightly: with his light, he looked to them to be a firefly as well. The stars shined brightly. It was gorgeous.

THEN, the tour guide threw us for a loop. “You may notice the stars shining brightly, and of course the fireflies. But they aren’t the only things that shine here in this river. If you put your hand in the water–”

“WHAT!!” Continue reading

Honeymooners: Boracay’s White Beach

We woke up at 3 a.m. our first day in Manila to head back to the airport we arrived at less than a day prior. On the first flight of the day, we headed to Boracay.

Lately, Boracay has gotten a bad rep for being overcrowded and overrated. The week before we arrived was the Easter holiday–the busiest weekend of the year, so we may have gotten a different side of the island. We really enjoyed it.

You can’t just fly into Boracay. We had to take a van to a speedboat to another van to get to our hotel. Mark’s dad, who we were there with, along with his girlfriend, told us that it wasn’t too long ago when you had to take a tricycle, get in a ROW boat, then take another tricycle to get to white beach. Which is a little like… But for partying, which is amazing and when I started to understand why the Philippine Department of Tourism has declared their tagline, “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” Continue reading