There are things I said I would never do — mainly because of fears (heights and depths) and the lack of abilities (swimming). But last Christmas, I swam with sharks and sardines, and a turtle. I thought I would never do certain things. But I should never say never.
When we rode Singapore’s cable car eight times, I thought I would collapse in fear. I fear heights, both from above the sky and below the waters. What made me say enthusiastically yes to my best friend when she suggested we go swimming with whale sharks is something I still could not fathom until now, three months after. Maybe it was because I missed her and would do everything to spend time with her when we are together in one geographical location in the world.
Our day started early, 4AM, because our driver was very prompt. I was already upbeat and did not even wink in our ride from Moalboal to Oslob. The truth is, that day would be the day I have circled the whole of Cebu province so I was taking all the sights in. We arrived at Oslob past 6 and was greeted by our tour guide. We had a simple breakfast of puto, sikwate, and watermelon. It was a small breakfast, more like just a pama-init, to avoid vomiting when getting seasick at the whaleshark boat.
After breakfast, we listened to a short briefing on whalesharks. They might as well just played a short video to save costs to pay the briefers who were no longer enthusiastic about the topic so early in the day. There was also no time for asking questions. And there were throngs of people already lining up to see the sharks.
We were able to jump into the water at 8:30, about two hours of waiting. I was amazed to see such creatures under water. They were baby sharks but they were already huge to me. I tried going underwater to have a cool photo swimming with whalesharks. But I was so scared. The sharks were dangerously close. Whalesharks are known to be docile creatures, but they are still sharks and we are invading their space. And frankly, I become a shark most of the time someone invades my space. Not just a shark, but a monster. So, imagine my fear when one shark swam towards us and I was on its way and I got hit by its tail. I stayed in the boat. My heart was palpitating. The smell of krill making everything worse. After 20 minutes, I was glad it’s over. Goodbye P850 (P500 for whaleshark watching, P200 for swimming with sharks, and P150 for my contribution to the rent of the underwater camera). I can now say I swam with sharks. But is whaleshark watching a worthwhile experience? I would say no, and its not even because of the price. No, because I think the way the association is running the activity is not ethical, not eco-friendly, and not sustainable.
The next day, we woke up still early at 7AM and our designated tricycle driver was already there waiting for us. The cook at Emok’s Guesthouse, where we stayed, also already wrapped the pancakes we ordered for breakfast. We had another short briefing at the Moalboal tourism office. This briefing was more interesting than the one in Oslob because the tourism officer gave fun facts. After the briefing, off we went to the wharf to get on the boat.
Our first stop was Pescador Island. about 10-minute boat ride from the mainland. The first five minutes was a good ride — calm waters, blue skies. However, when we got nearer the island and as the water in the Tanon Strait turned almost black, the waves got bigger. We managed to get to Pescador safely. We spent about 30 minutes snorkelling but the waves made it difficult for me to swim on my own. I had to clutch a rope the boatmen gave us.
Our next stop was the sardine run. I did not realise the school of sardines can be found so near the shores of Moalboal. The waves got angrier and Ted vomited. I don’t get seasick but I am afraid of big waves and the deep ocean. The sardines were magnificent and it was so deep I almost got panic attacks every time my hand slipped from our guide’s hands. When our sardine run time was almost over, a big turtle decided to join the fun. I feel suffocated by water and cripped with fear by the dark blue abyss. I stopped and swam back to the boat.
I never thought I would swim with sharks or run with sardines, or play with a turtle. I should never say never.
We booked a two-day package with Island Trek Tours, paying P5,600 per person for a group of four. The package included whaleshark watching (add P200 per person if you want to swim with the sharks and P500 per camera if you want someone to take your group’s underwater photos); Tumalog Falls; full canyoneering activity; and half-day Moalboal “island hopping,” which included Pescador Island snorkeling, sardine run, and swimming with turtles. The package also included 1 light breakfast and 1 lunch, car transportation from Moalboal to Oslob and vice versa, tricycle transportation from our guesthouse in Moalboal to Moalboal wharf and vice versa.
We stayed at Emok’s Guesthouse, a few meters walk behind Gaisano Moalboal, for three nights. It is family-run and is not a luxury accommodation. It is also in town and far from the beaches of Moalboal. The guesthouse, however, served good and affordable comfort food.