Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced

The roar of the sea waves was like a bewitching song entertaining us as we dined on crunchy danggit (salted, dried fish), fried rice and fried eggs. It was our breakfast on our first day, rather night, at Oslob. We had arrived at the southern tip of Cebu after a long ride from the city, a trek from the mountain and a wandering search for our guest house while riding a tricycle. Locals seem wary of foreign visitors who curiously poke their noses into their laid-back, rural lifestyle while children were the first to jump in to guide oblivious tourists like us. Just like any other barrio (little town), eateries would close as early as 8pm expect for Paul and Madz which served a satisfactory meal paired with orange juice and hot chocolate. 

A meal of danggit with friend eggs and rice, paired with hot chocolate and orange juice.

The roaring sea waves made me more thrilled to see whale sharks or the butanding the next day. These gentle giants have made Oslob a popular tourist destination as tourists are allowed to see them up close and personal (but no touching is allowed). I love animals and the butanding itself is a fascination to me. However, the weather, gloomy as ever, was threatening to cut operations early. The caretaker of our guesthouse has told us the Coast Guard has called off the whale watching operations by 9am that day due to dangerously strong currents. Supposedly, operations end by 12nn.

We were hopeful, still. After a strong downpour during the early hours of the morning, we headed to the whale watching station before operations start at 6am. Foreign tourists outnumber local tourists in jam-packed queues which was beginning to grow longer because cashier windows were not opening yet. An operator told us the Coast Guard was still checking if it’s safe to hold operations today because the winds and the waves were strong. By that time, I was already assuring myself there’s always a next time to go back to Cebu.

Boats gathered at the whale watching site.

It was past 6am when operations were allowed to begin. Before I’d forget, whale watching costs about Php300 while swimming with the whales is at Php500. That’s for the local rate. Foreign rates are more expensive. You can go for the first option if you’re seasick (which one of us did not realize until we were at the sea). The second option will provide you not only a close encounter with the butanding but with other sights hidden in the sea. We thought we’d miss the opportunity of capturing moments with the butanding because we do not own a GoPro camera. We were able to rent one at the whale watching station at Php550.

Me, along with my friends, swimming with the whales.

I’m not a good swimmer, but I would love to take a dive into the sea. I admit I was scared of diving especially when the boatmen told us to remove our life vests so we can sink into the waters. Non-swimmers are advised to hold unto the rafter so we would not sink. But these guys are ready to save you before you float away into the sea. 

A fisherman feeding the butanding which was swimming beside his boat.

The fishermen were feeding the butanding with a breakfast of alamang (krill) when we came into the sea. I was fascinated by how its huge mouth was slurping the waters and munching its food as it moved towards us. There were about five six boats with us and some of the tourists were already taking pictures in a short distance away from the whale (because as I’ve said, touching is not allowed). I guess there were two or three butandings that were swimming among us. Thirty minutes were the only time allowed for each group so we had to jump into the waters to meet the whale!

The butanding ignoring me as I wave behind its back.

When I peeked into the sea, I was marvelled at the size of the whale which was about 5 to 6 meters long. The boatmen told us it was just a baby whale and the mother whale has not visited the area for a long time (hmmm…she might have flipped our boats by then). More fascinating were the fishes called alumahan (a type of mackarel) that were following the whale wherever it swims. The waters would have been clearer if the sun was shining by that time. But we were fortunate to see the whale that day despite the low pressure area that was threatening Cebu for a week. Besides, we were not burned by the heat of the sun. The wearing of sunblock or sunscreen is not allowed because these might become toxic to whales. 

The alumahan swimming with the butanding.

By the time we left the waters, the rains outpoured again. I believe the Lord has favored us by letting the rains stop for a while so we could see the whale. We were thinking of a plan B because this does not seem to be the right time to visit a nearby falls.

Yours truly posing at one of the restaurants by the sea.

Another breakfast of danggit.

The view of the sea at the restaurant.

I was languishing myself on a breakfast of danggit and mango juice because we only had a few hours left in Oslob. Check out time at our guest house, Chateau de Tan-awan, should be at 12nn. Even a night of staying in this place was memorable because it’s clean, quiet and peaceful. As it stood beside, the sound of the waves had lulled me to sleep.

The lounge area at the guest house.

The little souvenir shop at the guest house.

So we had to travel again to find another tourist spot. We barely had two days left in Cebu so we were not leaving without seeing much of the island. We got options though. We’re willing to risk for these options for the sake of collating beautiful memories.

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