The 30-minute bliss

Contributed by Maria Armie Sheila Boco Garde

My friend Jhay and I went out of town for a special assignment. We boarded a bus bound for Oslob town in Cebu and left the Cebu City south bus terminal around 3 a.m. of Wednesday.

Oslob in southern Cebu is now one major destination of local and foreign tourists because of the widely known presence of whale sharks in the waters of Tan-awan, a village 10 kilometers away from the town proper.

I tried to take a nap while on our way, but when we reached somewhere in Boljoon, I couldn’t sleep anymore because each time the bus rounded a curve, I couldn’t help but take a glimpse of the blurry sea down below that popped into view, then disappeared. It would have been better had we traveled at daytime, I just thought. It was almost 6 a.m. when the bus pulled up at the front gate of Marilyn’s Resort.

Someone ushered us towards the resort. We found out later that he was Limbert Susada, the president of a fishermen’s group tasked to feed the whale sharks. The men clad in red long-sleeves who also approached us were members of the Tan-awan-Oslob Wardens and Fishermen’s Association (Towfa).

Some of them are the ones hand-feeding the whale sharks, while the others are tasked to bring the tourists to the watching area.

The members of the Tan-awan-Oslob Wardens and Fishermen

One of them, Kuya Adam, took us to the registration area located just a few meters away from the resort. As early as 6:30 a.m., a number of guests, mostly foreigners, were already in queue.

Foreign tourists who want to watch the whale sharks register as early as 6 a.m.

Guests have to pay P300 for whale sharks watching, P50 for diving, P20 for snorkeling, and another P100 for an underwater camera.

Three of the foreign guests, who questioned the registration fees, picked a little argument with the people in charged. There was an apparent miscommunication. I was recording some video shots during that time, and when one of them found out, she said something I didn’t understand. But I knew she meant she wanted me to stop recording. In respect to her, I looked for a different angle, instead.

When I had enough shots for my b-roll, I joined the line of tourists.

Registration done. Off to the briefing area.

After the registration, we went to the briefing area as all guests are required to attend the briefing on the rules in whale sharks watching.

All the while, I thought I can get near the whale sharks, but we found out that we aren’t allowed to touch them. The use of camera flash is also prohibited. These are just some of the guidelines that foreign and local tourists alike must follow to protect the whale sharks.

Tourists at the briefing area.

Guidelines in whale sharks watching in Oslob, Cebu.

Whale sharks watching

The whale sharks watching area is just less than a kilometer from the shore where I and Jhay were waiting for our boatmen. And the sea looked calm from where I stood. From a distance were the boats carrying the earlier batch of guests excited to greet the whale sharks and dancing with the small waves in silhouettes.

Jhay and I boarded a bigger boat, which can carry at most six people, including the two boatmen. I was jittery at first, perhaps because I was both excited and scared.

I started to feel like dancing as we went farther from the shore and nearer the whale sharks. I could hear the scream of thrill of the other tourists. We readied our cameras as we got nearer, and before I even got the chance to position myself better on the boat, one of the two giant whale sharks appeared.

What happened after? Watch this video.

The 30-minute bonding had to end, and so we bid the whale sharks goodbye. It was another longest 30 minutes of my life, and I’m happy to have spent it with the awesome company of the gentle baby whale sharks.

It never occurred to me when I was younger that I would have the chance to see these rare animals; not even in my wildest imagination. That’s why I consider the encounter a gift.

It’s always a blessing to find happiness in every single experience, and in this whale shark experience of mine, I also found an advocacy.

I was teary-eyed while on our way back to the shore. I wanted to go back and spend a little more time with them, but I reminded myself that I was there for work. I promised to go back, instead.

Everybody knows that whale sharks are migratory animals. It’s not even sure if they are still there the moment I get back. But whether they stay or not, I just hope that everybody would do their part in protecting these friendly gentle giants.