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Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Donsol, long term travel, Southeast Asia, The Philippines, Travel, whale sharks

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Donsol

I arrived in Manila at some unearthly hour in the morning and made my way to Friendly Guesthouse (highly recommended hostel accomodation in Manila, complete with BBQ’s, wine nights, interesting brownies ;-p and the ever so friendly owner, Benjie).


As I was making a cup of coffee and waiting for a bed to become available, I ran into a guy who I had met at my guesthouse in Langkawi, Malaysia. Talk about coming full circle! I had met Bart over 3 months ago, and he had since been traveling through Australia and New Zealand. What a small little world we backpackers travel in?


Unfortunately, because of the eruption of Iceland’s volcano, he, along with many other Europeans, found himself playing the waiting game before he could get a flight home. Fortunately though, this afforded him an extra 10-days to see some of the Philippines. We spent the morning catching up, and I told him of my plans to head to Donsol to swim with whalesharks. By the end of the morning, I had a partner in crime.


He and I boarded an overnight bus the following evening and got the hell out of Manila and headed to Legaspi where we caught a van to Donsol. Donsol is a dusty little town, surrounded by some decent beaches, but the main draw is the fact that it’s a migration sight for whale sharks, and you can organize trips to swim with these gorgeous animals.


Bart and I checked into a cheap homestay in town, sorted our whale shark excursion and spent the afternoon on the beach, playing scrabble with an eccentric bar owner, Julia. We then ran into a couple of other travelers from our van ride, and soon had a crew for happy hour and dinner. We went back to Julia’s for dinner, where she fed us fresh grilled fish, salads, even pasta! After dinner, she insisted we drink Brandy with her and then roped us into another game of scrabble. I had to redeem myslef from the afternoon game.
The following morning we headed back to the beach and got checked in for our whale shark interaction experience. We were paired up with other travelers to make a total of six and we headed out on our banga boat with Ebbie, our captain, and the rest of the crew. Ebbie was our main man- the one who actually jumps in with us and leads us to the whale sharks, but there are four others on the boat- a driver, two men on lookout and one who controls the engine. Ebbie explained to us to stay ready (maks, fins and snorkel on). He would let us know which side of the boat to be on, and as soon as they killed the engine, he would call out “go” and we would slip down off the side of the boat and let the boat glide by us. Then Ebbie would jump in and lead us to the whale shark.
At this point I was so damn excited! I really didn’t know how I was going to react to seeing one. This is not just like seeing a 1 to 2-meter reef shark, these whale sharks are huge…I just didn’t know what to expect.


Not long after making our way out to sea, Ebbie informed us to make our way to the left side of the boat and called for us to “go!” We did but unfortunately we had missed this one. We all climbed back onto the boat, anticipating the next go-round, but you could tell Ebbie was visibly disappointed. I started to get nervous…was there a chance we wouldn’t see any? They said morning was the best time and that you can see these creatures until the end of April?


Only a few minutes later we were ligning up on the right side of the boat to jump in. I stayed close to Ebbie and saw him give me the signal underwater to watch him. As I did, I saw this huge mouth literally moving towards me. I think I yelped into my snorkel as I moved out of the way of an 8-meter whale shark. Awesome is the only word to describe this experience. We didn’t stay with the first one too long, but we had about seven other swims that morning, at times being able to cruise along next to these giants for five minutes at a time.


It was so surreal to watch their spotted bodies glide through the water below. They are quite gentle animals and were rarely phased by our presence. This was truly such a unique experience and well worth taking the time to get to Donsol for.


About the only other eventful thing to report from Donsol was the other not so cute animal we found living in our guesthouse. I awoke in the night to Bart yelling that a rat had bit him on the toe. I thought he was just talking in his sleep, but he carried on about it to the point that I was now wide awake. I tried not to make a big deal of it so he would forget about it too, but then I saw it, and it wasn’t just any rat…it was a big rat and it was scurrying along the wall towards the window.
It was HOT in Donsol, so the doors and windows were open. The windows were like horizontal shutter blinds that you could wind one way to open and the other way to close. Miraculously, Bart managed to catch the rat between two shutter blades, where we found him hanging the next morning. Before leaving, we politely pointed it out to the owners so that the next arriving guests wouldn’t be too alarmed by this oddly positioned animal. Eeeew! Now it was time to head back to Manila and back to the uninfested Friendly’s Guesthouse to await my flight down to Palawan.