Saturday, January 7, 2012

Party with some Whale Sharks

New Years in the Philippines is culturally a family celebration where people stay home, eat and shoot off home-made fire crackers. Of course this differs a lot from the American tradition of going out, staying up late and counting down the New Year. So most volunteers make travel plans to party places in the Philippines. My friends and I decided to spend the weekend in Cebu, an island in the Visayas that none of us have spent much time in. We planned on staying in Cebu City for the big night since there are lots of food and bar options, also hoping to see some good fireworks shows. But Jensen and I decided to head south first for some diving in Moalboal, Cebu.

Its a three hour bus ride to the dive town of Moalboal where the atmosphere is chill with lots of places to eat and drink along the beach, and a dive shop around every bend. The reserve near Moalboal is Pescador Island and we had already decided we wanted one of our dives to be there. But for some reason a lot of the dive shops were not going to the island, even though it was a really close 10 min boat ride away. But after walking around the beach strip we were able to find a shop that would take us for a morning dive to Pescador Island. We also opted for a second dive in the house reef. 

The weather was a little gloomy but that wasn't about to stop our dive plans. Despite the overcast and a few showers, visibility was great and we had two fun drift dives. The dives were walls of reef, tons of coral and fish. The highlight of the trip was to see four Green Sea Turtles and a good size frog fish. We didn't have a dive camera but for those that don't know, a frog fish is one ugly creature! However it is really neat to see on a dive. Below is a picture I pulled off the internet just to give you an idea of what we saw:

He thinks he is camouflage... the one we saw was actually sitting on a coral that resembled his colors. I think this one is confused...
I really enjoyed the dive town of Moalboal (called Pangasama beach by the locals). The atmosphere was really chill and quiet. There were a lot of foreigners there, some just visiting and others liked it so much they live there now. It is a nice beach strip with seafood restaurants and bars on the water but still has a small town feel, unlike the over populated and overcrowded Boracay. It was a great morning of diving in Moalboal but our adventure was not over yet!

Heading to Pescador Island reserve.

Had a great time with Nelson's Scuba!

When we had walked around to find the dive shop, we kept hearing word that there were Whale Sharks at a small town on the other side of the island. Most people head to Bicol to swim with whale sharks in the Philippines but it's a long ways away and we hadn't made the trip yet (its around a 12 hour bus ride from Manila). But this town was just on the other side of Cebu from where we were. After our dive we headed back to Cebu City to meet up with our other friends, but on the way we decided that we just couldn't pass up the opportunity to snorkel with whale sharks when they were so close to where we were.

In case you don't know, whale sharks are sharks and not whales. They grow very large, with the largest documented whale shark being over 12 meters (36 ft), making them literally the largest fish in the sea. These massive fish, despite being part of the shark family, are actually gentle giants that are filter feeders. Because they are so large but eating such small food, they move quite slowly. Snorkeling with whale sharks has become a popular tourist attraction and has been on my 'bucket list' of Philippine activities for a while.

So after having dinner with friends in the city, and getting a few hours of sleep, we got up and headed out on a 4am bus (the whale sharks are only out feeding in the morning hours). We rode a packed bus, standing room only, for three hours, as we headed back down south. The driver knew right where to drop us off for the whale sharks (where all the foreigners were headed haha). We brought our own snorkel and mask but rented fins and paid a small fee that goes to the local fisherfolk.

The whale sharks showed up in this small town two months ago when fishermen were out in the early morning trying to make a catch. They were very surprised when this big shark bumped against their boat trying to get the small shrimp the fishmen use for bait. At first the whale sharks were seen as a nuisance but then the locals realized that they had a great tourist attraction in their waters. So they have been getting the word out the sharks are there, enticing tourist to come snorkel.

Jensen and I headed out to the water and were amazed at these huge and beautiful creatures! They move slow and gracefully through the water, sometimes surprising us as they swam underneath. It was an amazing experience that I am sure I will never forget!

These were the "little guys" at around 4 m.

I am swimming with the biggest fish in the sea!!!

One big shark!
After our adventure with the whale sharks we made it back to the city utterly exhausted. And of course New Years Eve was upon us so we rested up with a 4 hour nap before getting ready to hit the town and bring in the new year!

We had a great view from the top of Cebu City to see all of the hundreds of fireworks shows down below!
 It was lots of fun celebrating the new year with good friends in a big city. The volunteers who have become my friends over the past year are my friends for life. We are able to share all of our frustrations, stresses, experiences and celebrations with each other and have become more like family. I don't know how I would get through all of the ups and downs of this experience abroad without them and I look forward to another year together serving in Peace Corps Philippines.

Guimaras volunteers celebrating the New Year!

Fireworks! Happy New Year!

So I hope everyone had a very happy New Year! I look forward to 2012, and all the experiences that await me!
Next week I leave for Thailand and Vietnam! I will be sure to post when I get back about my adventures!

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