Swimming with the Gentle Giants

BUTANDING. Like the thousands of you who’ve done an expedition to Oslob to dance with the whale sharks, we did the same last Monday. What a super experience!

Our group of 25 arrived in Brgy. Tan-awan, Oslob past 6 A.M. We each paid P500 and listened to a short briefing. After awaiting our turn, we boarded three bancas that transported us about 150 meters from the shoreline.

With our masks, snorkels and life-vests on, we jumped. The water was 30 to 40 feet deep. Within a few minutes, we sighted a giant creature gliding. It coasted like a Boeing 747. Unbelievable sight! I’ve never seen such a huge living thing (the whale shark is the largest fish species in the world).

Then, it disappeared. For nearly 10 minutes, with the current strong, we waited. No giant. Oh no, we thought. Maybe that was it.

But then, Jourdan Polotan shouted. Shark attack! It floated and slithered. Over 20 feet long with gray/blue colors and white spots scattered around its humongous frame, the butanding drifted. Its heavy body swayed. All our scary eyes sat frozen and transfixed.

It stood up! Yes, another shark, over 25 feet long, stood vertical with its tail nearly touching the bottom floor and its mouth open to devour the baby shrimps (“uyap”).

In our 30 minutes on water, we saw three or four whale sharks. Once, I was so near touching one (maybe two meters away) until a boatman called for me to stay farther. At another time, my mom Allen was aboard the small banca when another whale shark emerged. I shouted for her dive and look. Instead, it was the large fish who lurked near, as if to say, “Hi there, Tita Allen!”

In all—like all who’ve swam in Oslob—it’s a memory to treasure for life. I’ve had a chance to visit aquariums from San Diego to Singapore—but never to swim with these jumbo fishes.

TIPS. For those planning to visit for the first time, here are some suggestions:

Go now! This is No. 1. Why? We can’t control these giants. What if, next month, they decide to have a Board of Sharks Meeting and say, “Let’s transfer to Leyte or Camiguin.” Go now. And be there early: 5:30 A.M.

Visit on a weekday. We camped in Bojloon on Sunday and, early Monday, we traversed to Oslob. Sure, hundreds of people still lined up… but not thousands. Mondays to Thursdays are best.

Go with friends and family. Our group from the BCBP included: Jourdan and Jingle Polotan; Benjie, Connie, Bea and Bienco Cimafranca; Albert, Lynn Rose, Krisha and Chleo Nuñez; Docks, Reshel, Patricia and Krista Rodriguez; Francis, Michelle, Micco and Micaela Palmares; Jack and Malu Mendez; my wife Jasmin, daughter Jana and mom Allen Z.

Stay at Granda Resort. Yes, this is an endorsement: the exclusive resort in Boljoon is only 25 minutes from the site. The breathtaking property sits at the corner of a cove and the famous Baluarte (tower) resides within their property. And, guess what: it’s owned by Stu and Anne Gould, the parents of Chad Gould, the member of the PHL Azkals. Said Mrs. Gould: “Chad, Phil and James (Younghusband) would come here twice a year!”

Wear a rash guard. My only complaint (not anyone’s fault) was the sporadic jellyfish stings that now scatter around my body. Apart from shorts and the life vest, my bare skin was exposed to the tiny jellyfish. No, they’re not visible and plenty—but they’ll sting. Cover your body. (On the lifevest: if you can bring your own, better; the ones we borrowed were not snug-fit and would float up to our necks.)

Bring your own mask and snorkel. Or borrow from a friend and sterilize. It’s more hygienic. Also, bring an underwater camera. If not, they have one for rent at P500.

Eat a little before heading for the water. This will give you enough energy to visit another must-see site after: Oslob Waterfalls.

Finally, to the Oslob officials and the DOT: you have the country’s best tourist attraction! Continue the orderly system; impose further strict measures. Invest the millions you’ll generate back to improvements. Maybe have a glass-bottom boat?