Exploring Southern Leyte: Chasing Whale Sharks and Stories
Warning: Must be a true adventurer to participate.
Disclaimer: this trip was a complete and utter waste of money that could have been spent on other things like soap, but it was an adventure of epic proportions. Amazing people, breathtaking sights and unexpected surprises. Did everything go according to plan?
THERE WAS NO PLAN.
Unlike most of my adventures where I meticulously plot out the itinerary, contact hostels and go into deep research on the places we are going to. For this trip I let fate and strangers decide, all I knew was that I was going to go to Southern Leyte to dive with whale sharks and dive in the local reef with other freedivers from Sawum( The freediving community in Cebu going to Leyte to dive with whale sharks too). I had only learned that we were gonna camp out in the a beach when we hopped on the boat to leyte. As far as adventures go it was starting out to be epically random.
A few weeks ago I had talked to my friend @carlo-files about diving with whale sharks. That it was on the “list” but I didn’t want to do it in Oslob where they feed the sharks and the migration pattern is disrupted due to constant feeding leaving the whale shark population in the area to be unhealthy. So when Adventure Southern Leyte (The official tourism page of Maasin and the Southern Leyte region), was hosting an event inviting writers, bloggers and photographers to their area in the town of Pintuyan to go see the whale sharks in their natural habitat. Without hesitation I told my dive buddy that we had to go and do it!
We hopped on a ferry from Cebu City leaving at 10pm on Feb 2 (Friday) and arrived in the port of Hilongos, Leyte by 3am the next day. From Hilongos we got on a van and travelled for an hour to Maasin City where the tourism office said we will meet up by 7am. Once in Maasin we had a really early breakfast in the bus stop while killing time. When the bus to Pintuyan arrived we were surprised to be greeted by the Provincial Bus taking us on a two hour ride to the town of Pintuyan.
Pintuyan is 127km away from Maasin city, it is a small town where the whale sharks stop over as part of their annual migration staying in the area from the months of November to May to feed in the plankton other organisms provided by the area’s rich ecosystem. When we arrived in the town center a community leader explained to us the rules when interacting with whale sharks. He had also warned us that there are days when the whale sharks will remain unseen because of several factors such as weather and sea currents, which got me a bit worried.
Hopping on the boat it had been drizzling. I was scared that we might not be able to cross this off our list and the whole trip would be a waste of time and money. An hour into the open water we saw a fin and everyone jumped into the water to swim, snorkel and dive with the whale sharks. We not only saw one but four whale sharks in total.
Big and small it was an amazing sight to see them in their natural habitat. As snorkelers stayed at the surface we freedivers went down deep with them, literally chasing whale sharks. Seeing these majestic creatures up close I was in awe.
After a couple hours we got back to shore and talked to the locals and learned the stories of whale Sharks in the area. For one, Whale sharks are known as “tiki-tiki” in Cebuano and not the commonly used term “Butanding” which is the tagalog term. The whole experience has become a community effort where the husbands association KASAKA would guide the visitors and drive the boats while Sea Breeze Women’s Association consists of the wives prepare meals and souvenirs. Even the regional tourism office is involved in marketing this adventure providing transport options to this otherwise remote area.
The locals truly appreciate and respect the animal. They let it roam free and let the whale sharks do their own thing. They tell the guests ahead that it is not an assured experience because the whale sharks are not fed as if they are zoo animals. The boatman is excited every time we find one of the Whale Sharks asking us how big or how deep it was as we get back on the boat to find the next one. The wives at shore talk about the animal with awe, even sharing stories that at one point thirteen whale sharks were feeding at shore. It is this community effort and excitement not only for the business it brings but also for the gentle creatures that frequent their shores that bring a greater appreciation of not only diving with the whale sharks but also of the community.
As we packed up out things we got back on the bus and bid whale sharks and the people goodbye and extended our thanks. Now if you wish to go there for the whale shark experience alone the bus will bring you back to Maasin City where you can ride a ferry home or take another bus to Hilongos if you prefer that route.
The adventure continues…
However, this adventure was far from over. Since I was in the company of other freedivers one dive is not enough to satisfy our cravings for the sea. Our companion Lester who is from the region had taken us to the town of San Francisco, to barangay Napantao where he had volunteered in a reef conservation area called Coral Cay, where you have to hike a few minutes as potpot/tricycle drivers will not go down the steep road. We arrived there just in time for sunset seeing beautiful waters which we’d later learn to be a great big reef for miles on end.
As dusk turned dark we pitched our tents and made a camp fire, sharing stories, food, booze and laughter. Strangers who came together for the love of adventure.
We started off early the next day in anticipation of a great dive, greeted by pink skies as the sun was breaking through. This protected marine habitat is home to hundreds of different fish, local volunteers in the conservation center even say that the rich biodiversity and unique undersea terrain allows some deep-sea creatures to venture into the reef in rare occasions like the Sunfish and Oarfish. Not too far from shore you will be able to see massive corals and fish of different types, sizes and colours.
By noon it was time for us to get out of the water and start getting ready for the trip ahead, one bus ride back to Maasin… Or so we thought. We waited for the bus for over an hour and when it arrived it was packed with people, there was no room for us or our big bags. It was also the last bus that would pass the town. We ended up having to ride a potpot/tricycle to the next town.
All seven of us in one tricycle everyone bringing along big bags for fins, clothes and equipment. This was a far cry from the posh bus-ride getting here but onward the adventure goes!
We still had to ride a jeep to the next town where we can get on a bus back to Maasin, and this time we decided to ride on top of the jeep. You don’t often get this chance so as adventurers we took it! We got to see the vast green landscape of Southern Leyte, a real highlight of the trip if I must say!
We arrived to the town of Sogod and got on the bus to Maasin where we will board a ferry back to Cebu. The boat ride was low key, we got to review our footage and pictures, talk about the adventure, had a few beers and saw the stars.
Looking back this adventure had been so epically unplanned, Amazing people, breathtaking sights and unexpected surprises.
The dive crew
group photo by underwater photographer (instagram) @badjaw_
Hilongos-Maasin Van: 30PHP/0.60USD
Maasin-Pintuyan Bus: Free
Whale Shark Inetaction : 700PHP/14.00USD
Maasin-San Fransisco Bus:Free
Dinner and Breakfast for camping @1,700PHP among 10 pax: 170PHP/3.40USD
San Fransisco-Liloan Tricycle @200PHP among 7 pax: 29PHP/0.60USD
Liloan-Sogod Jeepney Ride: 50PHP/1.00USD
Sogod-Maasin Bus: 60PHP/1.20USD
Maasin-Cebu Ferry: 350PHP/7.00USD
Bring power banks, if you wanna keep your gadgets alive bring a really big reliable power bank and an extra for good measure. I only brought one which barely got me through the trip, even if you know you’re staying at hostel, bring an extra one anyway. I brought only one because I didn’t know we were going camping.
Bring water always. Staying hydrated is a must if you wanna survive.
Bring Snacks, preferably cookies. Avoid salty junk food that make you thirsty, cookies and crackers are a good snack specially after diving to keep your sugar levels up.
Pack light, if you can fit everything into one bag or in my case fit the other bags into the big fin bag. Its easier when travelling around and you won’t end up forgetting anything.
When you’re on an adventure where there is no plan, go with it. Ride it, experience everything and savour it. The best adventures are the one left unplanned. Its moments like this that are worth living for.
If you have any questions or wish to dive with whale sharks too, feel free to leave a comment.
Please spread the word, share it with your friends, resteem. This experience is meant to be shared and experienced. There is so much to be seen in Southern Leyte, and I thank Adventure Southern Leyte the Local tourism unit for this experience!
’Til the next adventure, thanks for reading! Stay awesome!!