Discovering The Gentle Giants of Oslob, Cebu
There’s no doubt that Cebu is one of the most visited places here in the Philippines for locals and travellers alike. So, when opportunity knocked, we grabbed it and headed off to see what Cebu has to offer. Since it’s our first time we went to the usual tourist sights — Magellan’s Cross, Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, Fort San Pedro, etc. We ate what Anthony Bourdain dubbed as the best roasted pig he ever tasted. We basked under the sun in a pristine beach off Mactan Island. We partied ’til the wee hours of the morning. We dined and shopped and enjoyed every bit of time we can spend. That was a year ago.
This year we planned to return and try something different. Instead of the usual partying and shopping, we went island hopping and nature tripping.
And what I enjoyed most is our short but memorable whale shark watching adventure in Oslob. Whale sharks, also known as butanding (in Filipino) or tuki (in Cebuano), may be seen off-shore in a sleepy fishing village of Tan-awan in Oslob (South of Cebu) all year round. The best time to see them, however, is just after dawn when the sea is calm.
So we left Cebu City at 3am. Our travel time is under 4 hours, a perfect timing to see the whale sharks. When we got to Tan-awan, I was deeply moved by how the locals showed us genuine hospitality despite their simple life. Fishermen were already busy prepping their boats and their families were gathered sharing their early morning meals. There were already a flock of tourists in the area and a number of boats were already in the middle of the sea.
We headed right off to the briefing tent and paid the fees – around $14, inclusive of boat rental, a guide, and snorkelling gear. There are a lot of do’s and don’ts but my mind wanders off with excitement. A few minutes later, we found ourselves aboard our boat a few meters from the shore.
My heart is pounding. It was my first time to see these gigantic whale sharks. Then our boatman pointed to the waters and exclaimed, “There’s our tuki!” I was blown away by the size of the silhouette slowly swimming beneath us. It was huge!
Nearby is another boat called Whale Shark Feeder. Everyday these gentle giants are being fed with planktons called oyap. Our tuki swam down the waters and headed straight to the feeder’s boat. The feeder interacts with the tuki as if it’s his most loved pet.
Our guide then prompted us to prepare our snorkeling gear. It’s time to see our tuki up close. I geared up and carefully went down the water. My eyes needed no adjusting, the water was clear and I can get a full view of our tuki gently swimming below the feeder’s boat. Right in front of me is one of the largest sea creatures ever and it was amazing. But the experience didn’t stop there, a few minutes later there were eight of them. I was dumb-founded, gripped with awe.
Suddenly I was overcome with fear. The tukis have enormous mouths that they could simply swallow you whole. Then I remembered — whale sharks are among the gentlest and friendliest water creatures. I stayed calm and enjoyed their coming and going while snapping away photos of this once-in-a-lifetime encounter.
We were only allowed thirty minutes under water. I felt it was too short but then I realized there are other people who wish to experience the same thing I did. We went back to shore with the number of tourists already tripled and there’s chaos and bustle.
Oslob was relatively unheard of until the gentle giants came. Today, whale shark watching in the area has become part of every tourist’s list but there’s controversy regarding its potential dangers to the giant sea creatures. I just hope and pray that the local tourism office will continue to implement strict guidelines to protect and conserve the tukis so that we have every reason to go back and see them again.
About the Author: Oliver Ocampo is a budget traveller, freelance writer and social media consultant. He currently resides in Manila, Philippines with the company of his loveable plush doll creations. You can visit his site at www.OliverMakesDolls.com