Deadliest Catch Donsol

Trip Start Oct 01, 2011
Trip End May 05, 2012

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Flag of Philippines  , Luzon,
Sunday, March 11, 2012

Got into a taxi trouble free. Got to the airport, checked in, got on the plane on time, trouble free. We came into land one hour later onto what has to be one of the most picturesque runway landings in the world. Right next to a volcano that is quite rightly descirbed as the 'perfect cone'.

We have been to some tiny airports on this trip but this one could top the lot. The baggage claim was outside, there was little point them even having a carosel, we could have just gone and took it off the plane ourselves.

We rarely now have a solid knowledge of how to get to places, the book helps but it's so out of date it can't really be trusted. Previously it hasn't been a problem because you know if a destination is popular there will be tons of buses and tours going there with other tourists. Philippines is not the same.

Donsol is one hour away from Legaspi airport. With no proper bus link it was either wait for a jeepney to fill up or get a taxi. Luckily for us a guy was heading there for a pickup and wanted a fare there too so he cut it in half (still 12 though).

It was a nice drive into Donsol and a million miles away from Manila (figuritively not literally). More like our drives through the Laos and Cambodian countryside, lots of happy people living in wooden shacks and suchlike. They must have a problem with drugs in these parts because every few metres there would be hand painted signs saying things like:

'Say no to drugs, yes to sports'
'God not drugs'
'Drink drive but no drugs'
'Rob foreigners blind, lie, cheat but don't do drugs'

Maybe I made a couple of them up but you/I get the idea.

The weather is pretty bleak, grey and Donsol is little more than a road with a few bungalow resorts on it and a none existent beach. We arrived at the only busy place which is the Whaleshark interaction centre. The friendly staff helped us into our hotel (the nicest room we have stayed in yet here) and then we opted originally to do the swim tomorrow as Charlotte was feeling a bit quesy.

As the weather is shit we decided actually it was stupid not to do the swim today so we went back to the centre but a group had already gone and in order for it to be affordable you need to go out with a group of between 5 and 6. There was one guy waiting so we had 3 it was now down to the gods as to whether a further 2 or 3 would show up. We watched a video guide which did nothing but sell the experience to us even though we had already signed up and paid. Then we waited and waited. I got angry as the time past because I was irritated that if people didn't show up we would need to stay in Donsol another day because there is no way we were coming all this way to not swim with some fuckin big fish.

The final boat goes out at 2. Around 1ish an Aussie couple turned up and my mood went from depressed anger to relief and suddenly everything is right with the world. The only trouble was now we had to face the reality that we were about to be dumped into the middle of a choppy sea on a bleak day alongside 30 foot sharks.

We nipped back to the hotel to rent cheap scuba masks and fins and on the way back chatted to Jeremy (one half of the couple) who seemed pretty cool and immediately referenced my beard. It's got to that point. I say that but even in Cambodia locals were saying "you are young guy, why a beard?". Back at the port we met Jeremy's girlfriend Rachael who was also cool and some random older Euro bloke.

J/R had been on the trip the day previous and had enjoyed it enough to do it again. They told us that it wasn't as relaxing as it sounds because even though you're on a boat of 5 all the other 10 boats or so are also looking for a whaleshark so when one is spotted all the boats converge and you're surrounded by over excited Koreans. In the end we got into the water 4 times in total and the first two only had the five us.

As for the experience itself? It's easy to say in retrospect that it was an amazing experience but at the time it didn't necessarily feel it. Firstly when they spot one you have to jump in asap avoiding the wooden sides of the boat. The first time we jumped in the guide held my arm and led me out to it. The visibility is dreadful so I could see virtually nothing until all of a sudden I'm on it's fucking head, out of nowhere there's this giant open mouth. I shit myself and swam away watching it all along it's back to the end. I thought it had gone until I kicked it in the back. In theory you are supposed to only swim alongside its head and body not get near its face and mouth. Of the 3 times I got into the water everyone I would be wondering where it was and then everytime it would appear face on. The final time I literally had to swim up to avoid kicking it in the face. Every kicked a shark in the back? I have, 3 times, it's a weird sensation.

I'm a weak swimmer and there were no lifejackets so as soon as it went past me and I'd crapped myself I got seperated from the group who would swim along with it (Charlotte had missed seeing it the first time so the guide helped her the remaining 3). By the 4th time I was happy not to bother, I got as close as I could to it and I was tired and full of sea water as the mask was shite. Charlotte said an American guy almost got sucked into it's mouth on that swim. The guide was angry but I doubt he did it deliberately, you can't see a thing until the shitting thing is on top of you! We spent a while looking for a 5th time but it was getting late and they gave in. I was secretly happy. Plus we had good pictures thanks to the guide.

We chatted more to J/R and it turned out they were flying back to Manila tomorrow morning. As the cost of a jeepney/taxi back to town would be excessive I enquired whether they would be ok with us tagging along. We've only been here a day but we will have done everything necessary. They said yeah so we went into town back on land and booked flights back to Manila at 7am tomorrow morning.

Earlier we had arranged with some lad with a tricycle to go see the fireflies tonight. I'd invited J/R along too. They came to the hotel a little before the guy showed up and whilst we waited I decided to sample another Filipino beer, Red Horse. Apparently the alcohol percentage is variable, sometimes it will be stupidly strong, sometimes weak. It tasted harsh, like Bintang. The trike guy took all 4 of us, 2 in the side cart two on the back of the bike. The beer was big and I felt a bit light headed by the time we eventually reached the dock.

J/R live in Manila. Rachael works for the embassy so they filled us in on all sorts of interesting facts about the locals. The one thing I've made a note of is how in rough parts of Manila people have been shot for singing Frank Sinatra wrong at karaoke. There were more interesting ones but I've forgotten them.

We had a cool wooden boat to the 4 of us along with the guide. We noisly made our way down the river. Occasionally in the bushes/trees that lined the river we would see the flickering of fireflies, we were beginning to worry that this was as good as it would get, but then about ten minutes in the boat docked in a tree filled with hundreds nay thousands of them. I've never seen them in real life before, it's pretty spectacular, like the best Christmas decorations you have ever seen. It would have been highly romantic if you are into that sort of thing.

We stayed at the tree for a while, catching them and having the guide recite facts he had read from a book, he would start all his sentences with "Studies tell us..." it was nice, at least he gave a shit. Normally I write how x activity should have been relaxing but it wasn't because of... but in this case it was nothing but relaxing. I mean really what could possibly have gone wrong. I tried to think of silly things but it's early and I'm hungry.

We got back to land and J/R sat in the sidecar this time. Rather than sit on the cramped bike I climbed onto the back of the sidecar and stood up watching the darkened villages fly (25mph fly?) I then climbed up on the roof and sat atop that for the remainder of the journey. A boring cramped journey instead became an ace one and led to another what's the point in normal life conversation over tea with Charlotte.

J/R headed to bed whilst me and Charlotte ate at a fancier restaurant than ours, this marks the first time Charlotte has tried and subsequently enjoyed Filipino food. I had a sort of curry style thing called Bicol Express, it left me with a weird taste in my mouth, literally.

Even though on re-read of the above it would appear I didn't have the best time on the boat whether that's true or not today has been an amazing day.
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