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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Philippines Day 19: No Whale Sharks in Donsol

We had to wake up early to leave Legazpi for a day trip to Donsol. We started at 6.30 a.m. with our reliable driver, whose cab we had booked for the third consecutive day. It was a 1,5-hour-drive until we reached Donsol. The main reason to go to Donsol is the waters in front of the village. Actually what's inside the water: Whale Sharks! Not long ago the whale sharks, which mostly feed on plankton, were hunted. Today they are seen as a valuable asset of nature and protected.

We went directly to the Tourist Center where we rented snorkelling equipment, paid and registered for a whale shark interaction. We had to watch a short film in preparation for the trip and then wait until there were enough visitors for another boat to leave. They take six persons in a boat, and the number of boats is limited to seven to prevent too much hassle for the whale sharks. While they can't guarantee a sighting, we were hopeful to snorkel nearby a whale shark, as we were there in the primary season, which is from February to May. 

Soon we left the beach after our group was complete with two girls from California and a young bi-national couple joining us. The boat tour took about three hours. Unfortunately, we weren't lucky. No whale sharks for us. At one point we were told to put on the snorkelling gear and sit ready to enter the water, but it was a false alarm. In the end, we just got a short swim out of it. But that's nature - unpredictable. I just went swimming without my snorkels, which I put it on the boat next to my things. Later as I was looking for it because I thought it was just borrowed, the other Californian girls said that the other girl (from the young couple) was using it. I don't mind that it was borrowed, just that when she returned to the boat, the girl never said a word and seems to want to keep it. Only a bit later, I've realised that she lost her rented snorkels and perhaps wanted to take mine to return it instead. What a piece of work.

Anyway, later on in the journey, when we met a friend, she told us that her son was in Donsol around the same week as us and they saw several whale sharks.

Well, when you have more time at hand, it's also possible to stay at a beach resort in Donsol, to maximise your chances with a potential second tour. This way you can even have a Firefly Tour in the evening, another attraction of Donsol. There's a lot of tour companies to arrange visits in Donsol, but you can also independently rent a cab with a driver or take a jeepney or van from Legazpi to get there.

For us, it was back to Legazpi, as it was our last day in Albay. In the evening we had to pack our bags, to leave the next morning to Manila.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Philippines Day 18: Sorsogon - Hot & Cold Springs, Bulusan Lake, Barcelona Church & Rizal Beach

I woke up with a severe sore throat and eventually I can hardly speak. It's more like a squeak. I bought some Strepsils already in Manila and brought them there. It did help a bit. Fortunately, we had booked our reliable cab driver from the day before for another day trip, so it saved a call on the phone. After we visited the northern Albay area the day before, we now wanted to go south into the Sorsogon Province. We had to get up at 5 a.m., as our cab driver arrived at 6 a.m.

Our first stop was the Mateo Hot & Cold Springs Resort nearby Irosin, which is a 2,5-hour drive away from Legazpi City. It was still early we arrived, that we nearly had it all to ourselves. They have a vast hot water pool outdoors, that reminded us of the onsen in Japan and right next to it a crystal clear cold-water-pool. The pools are surrounded by the forest, which gives it a secluded, relaxing feeling. We stayed there for some time, bathing and having breakfast.

Next stop was the Bulusan Lake in the Bulusan Volcano Natural Park. There's a view of the active Bulusan Volcano, and we were greeted with quite a background noise from all the insects inside the surrounding forest. We soaked in the tranquil atmosphere and even saw an exotic bird, a Tariktik, visiting from the forest. If you are staying in the area and have more time, you can also use walking trails into the forest or rent a boat to explore the Bulusan Lake. They actually try to develop eco-tourism, that also aims to preserve the forest. 

A young Filipino guy, who turned out to be a biology student, was also photographing. He came to us and told us about a beautiful flower he had seen on the way to the lake and asked if we wanted to see it too. So we followed him and his motorbike with the cab until we came to an indeed beautiful blue-green blossom (jade vine as he called it) just along the road.

Our driver asked us if we wanted to make a quick stop in the village, where he was born, and we agreed. We met some of his friends and also got some snacks in a "sari-sari store" then walked to the beach behind the houses.

We continued to Barcelona to visit one of the oldest churches in Bicol. The Barcelona Church (St. Joseph Parish Church) was built in 1874 and has beautiful glass windows. We also took a short look at the beach opposite the church.

The final stop of our tour was the Rizal Beach in Gubat, Sorsogon. We stopped at a beach club. The entrance fee cost about 25 ₱ (or Php/Philippine pesos) and a picnic hut for 300 ₱, We ordered something to eat, rented a picnic hut and off we went swimming! The beach is vast, sandy and the weather was great. Only my friend got a sunburn after, he thought he didn't need sun protection for a short swim. He was wrong. We stayed a while, bathing, eating and relaxing before we left to return to Legazpi.