Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ran over by a Whale Shark

What seems like an eternity ago I took the opportunity to swim with these gentle giants in Oslob Philippines. Staying in Cebu the way to Oslob was easy via riding a bus.
Now riding a Bus in the Philippines is an adventure in itself, the streets are crowded, the traffic is measured by inches and the only traffic law being you just use your Horn and communicate via apparent SOS signals.
Oslob is only about 70 miles from Cebu, but in Filipino time that equals four hours of stopping bumper to bumper traffic and roads in desperate need of repair.
The bus dropped us in front of a stretch of road where various former fishermen turned tourist guide advertised their services by big colored flags, each service had a different flag.
 It was noon when I arrived at Oslob Philippines for my swim with the Gentle Giants, my only information of the area came via a Email to an apparent city sponsored website which had replied to my question of "what are amy lodging choices and how much to swim with these beasts" The reply being something quit common in the Philippines "There are no hotels just come and you will find someplace to stay" and low prices being listed which sounded to good to be true' turns out they were.
I would be informed that swimming with the Giants ended at 12pm, I had just missed it, frustrated and quickly finding that extra money would not buy me the happiness I demanded I settled upon a room at a house near the diving guides.
The room was amazing and I wish I had known to cancel my Room in Cebu or I would hvae stayed for a few days. The entire house waas made from a red hard wood which looked like Mohagany, I have never been in someplace so clean before. The owner was from America haven lived in this poor quiet area for some 30 years, he was also a boat builder and I would have the pleasure of seeing his latest sail boat skeleton.
He would talk my ear off as he apparently missed American company, explaining the only Americans he would see were the occasional backpackers which stayed with him.
The night would rain hard, and would be my first experience with a tropical storm, thte sound of the rain was absolutely deafening and as I tried to sleep I wondered if it would ever stop, and if my dream of swimming with the giants would come true. It would, in the morning the rain had stopped, water still dripped from the palm trees into puddles below which would reflect the rising sun in their ripples.
 I would attend a small briefing on how to properly swim with the giants, the smell of the clean morning damp air deep in my nostrils I found it hard to make it thru even the short lecture as my mind raced about the experience to come.
 We would then Board a fishing catamaran turned tour boat operated by someone at either end, on one would be a child of maybe twelve paddle and determination in hand he would push forth hard as any adult, on the other was another kid, maybe 16 years of age.
The water would push lightly under our bow as the air skipped gently off the turquoise blue water. my first sight of the Giants would be a fin sticking up slightly out of the water, a giant mouth poking up ever so slightly as it followed a "trick" boat which was feeding the animals, ensuring we would have a show.
I was still struggling with my new snorkel and mask I had just purchased, the small task of peeling off stickers and attaching my snorkel seemed nearly impossible with my hands shaking with excitement.
 Finally we would stop and I would slip into the water, looking thru the clear water I still could only see maybe 30 feet, and within seconds my first sighting would come.
 The first beast was following a feed boat, its body seemed to never end as it drifted past me, camera in hand I struggled to remember which button did what, the fact it was a new camera didn't help but really, it was only a matter of pushing three buttons, even a monkey could do that.
 I would tap into my primal instincts and find the shutter button taking my first picture of the giant streaming by. my concentration so deep at the last second I would see a giant mouth open wide filtering in its food. Now let me just say that the knowledge of these giants not attacking people does not help when a mouth that looked more like a cave is coming straight at you propelled by a 30foot body, the theme song to jaws would play lightly in my head, just so I could stay comfortable.
We had a half an hour with the animals and it seemed like all day, I would swim about darting under tour boats and the laughing passengers within.
Finally I would come to rest at my boat, chatting with my guides, a gentle Giant would swim to me, his mouth open at the surface I struggled to get out of the water, the guides would start yelling do not panic stay in the water however their quivering voices were less than reassuring, what would I do? Its body was actually above the surface as the water rose against it, I lifted my legs and said a prayer to Poseidon as the beast would travel just under me.
 I wondered if this was a game to it, how did it perceive me, was I just a big shrimp in its eyes? I would let go and follow the beat for awhile, they swam slowly and it was easy to keep close to them only slightly losing the speed battle.
 Another would come at me getting far to close, in our instructions they told us not to touch the animals, but I really had no desire, I was only worried about getting hit by its rear fin, I cannot Imagine the energy that would carry. I decided they were being a bit to aggressive for my liking and I headed back to the boat, intent on not being the first Human attacked by a whale shark.
Again I would relax hanging off the side of a boat when another shark would come at me, again my guides yelled at me to stay calm and to not touch it, lol yea right there it was right at me I lifted my feet high only to have its dorsal fin slam me into the boat, just enough to leave a mark up my leg and arm, I had officially been rana over by by a 40 foot beast weighing 20 tons. I had enough and happily crawled into the boat what aa day, getting to swim with one of the largest creatures in the sea and having the battle scar to prove it. Scratch one more off the Bucket list, but add more, heading to another island to swim with the thresher shark next, one thing about the Philippines, it seems to slowly make each dream come true.

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