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Donsol is known as the whale shark (butanding) capital of the Philippines (and maybe the world) and that is why we went down there.  We had read stories and heard from friends about the possibility of swimming with up to ten of these gentle giants.  Ever since I first saw a picture of one, I thought that this sounded like an unbelievable experience and so we put it on our “must do” list for the Philippines.

Tito Selit had helped us make reservations at the AGM Resort and they were right on time to pick us up at the airport.  We even had a nice surprise when his sister, Tita Che, (whom we had never met), saw the Brill sign that the driver was holding up at the airport.  She come over to give us big hugs and say hi before the driver took us away on the hour drive to Donsol.

After we checked in to the hotel, we had our first minor catastrophe.  I was passing our newly “jail-broken” iPhone (our lifeline to hotels and family in the Philippines) to Amanda and she didn’t quite have a hold on it before it fell to the tile floor and broke.  It was pouring rain outside, and thinking that we had just lost roughly $400 (more on that later), we went to sleep in pretty foul moods…but we were determined not to let the setback get in out way of enjoying this amazing place.

So early the next morning, we walked ten minutes through rice paddies to get to the well-run Donsol Tourist Information center.  We watched a 10-minute orientation video on how to not punch, ride, or otherwise harm the whale sharks, and then we were off to our bangka (small boat with bamboo pontoons for stabilization).  Unfortunately, after spending the entire day at sea getting sunburned, we did not see even one whale shark.  Apparently, with all the rain, there was a layer of fresh water on the top of the ocean that the butandings hate.  Later in the evening, we took a nice boat ride on the pitch black Ogod River to see some fireflies, which gather in trees and twinkle like Christmas lights.  I had never seen any before, so this was pretty awesome and partially made up for the day’s earlier disappointment.

The next day, the sun was shining, out spirits were high and we were determined not to give up, but we still didn’t see any whale sharks…until the very end of the day. We had envisioned this to be a leisure snorkeling activity but with roughly ten minutes left in our allotted viewing time, we heard the spotter yell “butanding!!” and Amanda got a quick glimpse of a fin before it splashed underwater.  Within half a minute, everyone on our boat was scrambling to get on their mask, snorkel and fins and then plunging into the water.  When I jumped in, the first thing I saw was a mouth, as big as me, within arms reach!  We had about 30 seconds to swim with this amazing creature, until it descended into the deep.  Unfortunately Amanda’s mask didn’t seal in time for her to dive under, so she missed seeing the whale shark.  Even though the rest of us only had this one brief encounter, we were so incredibly happy to finally get to see one and Amanda was happy to see the picture from our underwater camera.  We left Donsol in a great mood.  One funny thing about our departure was that the hotel’s credit card machine was broken, so the owner Mae, rode with us in the van for the hour ride back to Legazpi, just so that we could use the closest ATM. I seriously doubt this kind of service in the states!

All in all, Donsol was okay but didn’t really live up to our expectations.

  • Searching for Butanding!
  • Butanding!
  • AGM Resort
  • Crab Fisherman
  • Friendly guy washing his tricycle
  • Walking through rice paddies
  • Walking from hotel to whale shark center
  • Halo-Halo #2

Posted: April 12, 2012

Author: Adam and Amanda

Category: Asia, Blog, Continents, Philippines

Tags: , , , ,

+1 Comment
  1. Shari says:

    I bet Team Zissou scared the whale sharks away.

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