Thursday, March 12, 2015

Whale Sharks & Falls, Cebu Island

At the southern tip of the narrow long island of Cebu, is the small municipality of Oslob.  It is here that a surge in tourism has occurred over the past three years due to the whale shark population which swims just off the coast.  Once a day, the sharks are fed by local fishermen while fascinated onlookers observe from small canoes or from beneath the water as they swim with the sharks.  Bob and I were picked up from the Crimson Resort at 4:00 a.m. on Tuesday, February 24, 2015 and began the 3 hour drive to Oslob.  We were going to swim with the 20-feet long 20,000-pound sharks!  They are the largest mammalian vertebrates and many are twice the size of the ones we would see.  These gentle giants are "filter feeders" like whales, and feed on plankton and other small sea life, so they are no danger to humans.  However, when they swim toward you with their 4-foot wide open mouth, they appear quite threatening!

It had been raining most of the night and the clouds were still dark overhead when we arrived at Oslob earlier than expected.  This meant the water would be a bit murkier than usual with little light filtering through the seawater.  We were treated to a local breakfast of fresh mango, sticky rice, and hot-chocolate.  Oh, Philippine mangoes are heavenly!  We sat through a brief orientation and by about 7:30 a.m. we were in a canoe and rowing toward the shark feeding grounds.

We hired our boatman to take underwater photos of us with the sharks.  Fitted with fins and masks we jumped into the warm turquoise water and began searching for sharks.  Snorkeling was difficult due to the choppy surface waves and even more difficult upon shedding our life-vests.  But the sharks were feeding near our canoe and it was time to descend under water for some photography.

It was a little startling to find one of the sharks swimming right beside me, but I was really never afraid. We were out of breath by the time our thirty minutes were exhausted.  But it was a fascinating experience and certainly one of those "bucket list" items we can brag about having completed!

The second part of our tour was to visit Tumalog Falls.  A very steep hike descended into a cozy enclosed valley where very cold freshwater cascades over the cliffs, forming a beautiful veil and pooling into a large clear blue pond. It really created a picturesque scene!  We were told that much of this site was destroyed by the earthquake of 2013, when the rocky ledges were dotted with beautiful flowers and ferns, and a small spa was operated by some of the local women.

We were treated to a nice lunch featuring local delicacies such as spring rolls, roasted chicken, fatty pork (not so delicious), grilled fish, soup, rice and fresh fruit.

The long drive back to Mactan provided a final chance to photograph a bit of Cebu Island. 

We would soon have to pack our bags and leave the Philippines.  But we would take with us beautiful memories of beautiful people and places back to Korea with us, where we would recommend our destinations and experiences to many of our friends!


Crimson Resort, Mactan Island

Home to the city of Lapu-Lapu and the Cebu International Airport, Mactan, Philippines, is a small island that boasts some beautiful resorts on its eastern coast. Bob and I headed north to the comfortable Crimson Resort and Spa where we relaxed February 22-25.

I have to say that the resort staff where among the most friendly and kind that I have encountered.  Bob collects masks from the different places we have visited, and we hoped to find one from the Philippines.  One night we approached the head concierge for assistance.  When we asked him to direct us to a market or store where we might purchase a mask, he didn't have a suggestion but told us he would reply the following day. When we returned from a morning outing, we were surprised to find a colorful mask on our desk with a note from him.  Later he explained that he had contacted an acquaintance who designed masks for the recent Sinulog Festival and asked that one be designed for us! He did this free of charge and as a total surprise to us!  Can you imagine the delight and cheer that filled our hearts?  But that’s not the end of it, because the following day, we returned to our darkened room to find that our housekeepers had discovered the mask and used it to form a towel character on our bed, complete with reading “spotlights” illuminating their joyful creation!  Isn't that the way it works . . . one joy leads to another!

Sunday and Monday, we just enjoyed some very relaxed time at the resort.  Colorful fish swam around our feet in the bay, which was busy with all kinds of water sports.  A performance took place on the beach and good food and drinks were enjoyed.  One evening we ordered a mango smoothie and chocolate shake and were brought two of each.  I guess we didn't realize it was "happy hour" and they were serving two drinks for the price of one!  Bob faithfully worked the extra calories off in the gym, whereas, obviously, I did not.

After two days of roasting in the sun, we decided to book a tour to swim with the whale sharks on Tuesday.  You'll have to read the next post to find out more about that unique encounter!  On Wednesday we took the shuttle van to SM Mall in Cebu city, where we were successful in obtaining some silver charms for my collection, and a wooden mask for Bob.  The mall was very similar to those in the states, but of course with a Filipino flare. Unfortunately, most of the Philippines does not resemble the gated and guarded resort communities.  The stark contrast began right outside the private entry to our resort.  Jollibee fast food restaurant was spotted everywhere - it must be the Philippine equivalent to McDonalds.

As mentioned in my Bohol post, one of the things I truly love about the Filipinos is their absolute resolve to express themselves as they wish.  Their bold and colorful displays of individuality are found on walls, houses, and all kinds of transportation.  Each jeepney, bus, or tricycle is an artistic illustration of their beliefs and values.  How liberating that creative expression of uniqueness must feel!

 "God's Speed" to the Philippines!