Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Donsol: The playground of the Gentle Giants

We set out way early in the morning as it takes about an hour drive away from the Legaspi city. Because it’s so early, we didn’t have proper breakfast. L Lucky we were smart and bought some bread the night before during our 1 hour journey.

The guide drove us for the full hour and the sea came into view! Yea! I actually love the ride, because they came to pick us with a Mitsubishi SUV and it was so big and comfy! Reaching the place refresh, we went to the Bicol Dive Center shop to try our fins and goggles. Afterwhich, they brought us to the tourist center to fill up a form and watch a mandatory video for all snorkelers on rules and guidelines.

To be honest, it was my first time snorkeling. Although I knew that it was nothing much, but for someone with a fear of water, it was quite a lot for me to take in. Furthermore, I was reading online prior to the trip and heard many comments about how beginners should try snorkeling in calm waters for the first time. But since we are going to search for whale sharks, calm water just don’t seemed to fit into the picture.

And so we head out!

Me and my partner was quite paiseh (Singapore dialect for embarrassed) because our BIO was actually lunging a huge bag full of our towels, goggles and snacks. Although our boat caters for 6, I guessed only we took up a full package (consisting of lunch and snacks, oh and towels and water as well).

We headed quite far out into the open sea, and we were given an option whether or not to wear a life vests. It was actually quite contradicting because the life vest keeps you safe, but you can only float on water. Since I’m not a strong swimmer, of course I wore the life vest at the first chance I’ve got.

We were actually quite worried because they said there was little to no sightings for the past few days but I insist on trying. As you may have read my previous posts, I have been secretly praying that this trip of ours wouldn’t come to vain.

It was just anxious waiting and keeping a lookout for I don’t know what, since it’s my first time, and I have no idea what to look out for in the waters.

Our eyes for the day

And suddenly the BIO just started screaming, “GET READY! GET READY!” – it was a que for us to wear our fins and goggles. And I just went YES! in my heart. At that point of time, it was just pure excitement and anxiety in my heart, since like I said, I have no prior experience to snorkeling, let alone in this choppy waters.
We sat by the edge of the boat and next thing we knew, “GET IN NOW!” and we JUMPED!

LOOK DOWN! LOOK DOWN!” The BIO was screaming at the top of his head and when we peer through the waters, it can only be the most magnificent thing I have seen in my whole damn life. The whale shark was just gracing through the waters. And it was HUGE, although the word huge doesn’t seem suffice.

And as silly as I am, with my first encounter, I let out a little scream of excitement, in the water. Yes, in the water, and you can only imagine what happened next. I drank a whole lot of sea water, and I was coughing and struggling and feel like I was going to die. And yes, although I have my life vest on me.

Afterwhich we board the boat when the gentle giant was out of view. One funny thing about boarding the ship is that we have to remove our fins. So each of us just clung on to the boat and comically struggles to remove the fins. I was really really bad at doing so.

What amazed me was a pair of Iranian guys who did not wear a life vest and dives (equipped with only snorkel goggles and fins) with the shark. One of them swam a long distance away before mounting the boat. I was so so so envy of him because I know that that is something I can only dream in this lifetime.

In the midst of our trip, while we were all freezing and hungry, the BIO started handing us (only me and my partner) water, cupcakes and towels. We were once again DAMN PAISEH! But since we had enough, we shared water and the cupcakes with all on board. And luckily there were 6 cupcakes. Phew.

So this continued for another 4 times until we were all tired and fatigue and we went back on shore. When we step ashore, another mini surprise came up. I know this might sound childish but the sand was indeed soft and black and they SHIMMER! I was really amazed.

As mentioned earlier, our full package includes lunch! WHeeeeee!! We even have a place to shower and relax before we take our 1 hour ride back to our hotel at Legaspi. Talk about hospitality. Phew! Seeing that we already dirtied our previous towel and only brought a small one along, they hurried to bring us new towels.

To be honest, the package we have paid was rather expensive. However, in view of the great customer service that they are giving, I would at least rate them 8/10 even with the amount we paid.

And then we were back!

To be honest, some heartfelt opinions about this snorkel trip is that,

          -  It’s great since the whale sharks are not being kept in captive, nor are they being fed (like those in Oslob Cebu) to attract them around. I think this is extremely important because feeding them disrupt their natural cycle. SO PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE support whale shark snorkeling at Donsol over Oslob Cebu to support the eco tourism.

         -  Although many warnings were given to the fishermen that only 6 swimmers are allow to be near any one shark; and that we were to be at least 3m away, these advises are more than often ignored because sometimes there are just so few whale sharks in the vicinity. I can only say that it is lucky that these gentle giants can swim away fast enough.

       - I have also recently watched a documentary named “Blackfish” regarding the hunting of the very intelligent creature also more commonly known as Killer Whales, or also known as Willy from the movie Free Willy. I have always been an environmental advocate; I believe that we should cherish the environment and what’s within in as much as we cherish any other material items. So people, please try to visit them in their natural habitat, you will not regret it!!

With that, I end my amazing journey with memory I will never forget.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Time Travel: The story of Mt Mayon, Cagsawa Ruins and Daraga Church

Our tour guide was telling us about the story of the Cagsawa Ruins and Lignon Hill. Lignon hill means to look back. He told us that Lignon hill stands inbetween the town proper of Legaspi and while you gaze at the beauty of the town from atop the hill, remember to look back and be prepared to be mesmerized by the allure of the volcano. He was telling us that the eruption itself was so beautiful that people will fly into Legaspi during the period of eruption to catch a glimpse of this heavenly splendor.

However, this brilliance comes with a price. During the 1814 eruption of Mt Mayon, the entire village of Cagsawa was consumed in the mudslide caused by the eruption, leaving behind only the Bell Tower of the Cagsawa Chuch today in the Cagsawa ruins. It was told that the mud (as the locals suggest) accumulated to a depth more than 3m.

You can still see a house along the entrance to suggest the depth of the mud when the tragedy happened. I was told that the Government has specifically left the house as part of the heritage trail to let the future generation understand the devastation of the past eruption.  

Till date, Mt Mayon has erupted for no less than 50 times since the last tragedy and luckily none has caused an equal scale of damage to this lovely place, although one recent eruption in 2006 nearly took away what remained of the Cagsawa ruins.

As the original Church was destroyed, the Daraga Church was built as a replica. Daraga also meant Single Woman. This being that the new church was built by most single ladies in the town. They also used rocks from the eruptions and what was nearby instead of our conventional concrete and brick.

It was a sad part of their history and I understood more than just architectures as our guide explained the history to us, how the history is interlinked with one another and the significance of these seemingly meaningless structures.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Legaspi: The Town of Sleeping Beauty

This enchanting town was about an hour flight away from Manila. Right before we approach the airport prior to landing, the magnificent Mount Mayon came into view. Unlike Manila, Legaspi is a small town comprising of mostly low rise buildings, which enhances the beauty of this volcano with its famous near perfect cone shape.

Mount Mayon is one of the most symmetrical volcanos in the world. However, despite its alluring beauty, it does not sleep. Mount Mayon is an active volcano which erupts about almost every 2 years.  

As we approached the small airport, there aren’t any immigration counters or proper queue as this is a complete domestic airport. For a first timer like my bf, this certainly comes as news for him. Yeah! Our airport transfer exclusively for us!

We stayed at the Tyche Boutique Hotel which has superb location (right next to Hotel St. Ellis). About 5 minutes walk to Pacific Mall and the Embarcadero. And as the hotel is new, the exterior is very distinctive from far, and the interior was clean. One thing I love about the hotel is their customer service. They are friendly and not to mention super helpful. Definitely recommend! 4* for them! We also got a map from them which looks detailed enough but we didn't used it a bit since Legaspi is really easy to get around either by foot or tricycle. 

They have a restaurant attached to the hotel which serves our breakfast! They have a choice of Filipino style or continental style.

Anyway, so we head to this “Small Talk Café” strongly recommended by the hotel staff for our lunch and it was great! I think we were a’lil unlucky because they were having an event inside when we reached. But the food was fantastic nonetheless.

Cordon Blue

Thereafter we went back for our half day city tour which was really worth it as it only costs 1000PHP ~ SGD30 since its private (meaning only the 2 of us) and inclusive of pickup and a tour guide.

We went to a few places of interest including the Lignon Hill, Cagsawa Ruins, Daraga Church and Embarcadero. (Read more: Time Travel: The story of Mt Mayon, CagsawaRuins and Daraga Church)

Overlooking Legaspi City

Backfacing Mt Mayon
So we were atop the Lignon hills and there were some activities like zipline. I think they love zipline b'cause there's one at Palawan, oh an at El Nido too. Haha. Well, we weren't exactly interested so we skipped! All of them. 

One thing I don't really like was that everyone, like EVERYONE try to persuade you to take the ATV (all-terrain vehicle) to the "Mayon Lava". Basically, you ride a ATV to the base of Mt Mayon. The thing is, my bf and I wasn't that a huge fan of ATV and I was a'lil turned off by all these. 

Daraga Church
Some compulsory trick shots at the Cagsawa Ruins. SO you are seeing loads of these trick shots at the Cagsawa ruins. (Me too before I was there. I saw tonnes of them online) What happen is that there are many freelance photographer who will gather there and help you take these trick shorts for ANY fee that you pay them. I thought it was rather interesting and so we did!

Behind the scenes

As our main motive for this stop to Legaspi was to swim with the whale sharks in their natural habitat, the guide was very helpful in assisting us accomplish our small mission. He brought us to the Embarcadero and enquire if there are any whale shark sightings in the neighboring waters since it would be a waste if we sign up with no sightings. But NOPE! There were no sightings of any of those majestic creatures of the wild so we have to head over to Donsol for our amazing encounter. (Read: Donsol: The playground of the Gentle Giants)

Spoiler Alert!!!
We came back to Legaspi Town proper after we swam with the magnificent giants!!!!!! YEAH! They were so incredible I was constantly thinking about them throughout the trip. To be honest, I have been secretly praying for weeks before this trip to let me swim with the whale sharks and YES! I swam with them.

So we reached and we unpacked and we had dinner at the Pacific Mall. Some foodie pictures for our stay!

We had another full day at Legaspi which was great as we can rest abit will we indulge in the natural beauty of this place. We had our breakfast and walked over to the wharf.

Since we had some time, we also caught a movie and had a late lunch before heading back to our hotel to pack and prepare for our next part of the trip!

Until later!