When I first heard of the news about hundreds of whale sharks attracting tourists in Cancun, Mexico at this time of the year, I felt the urge to browse through my files because I couldn’t exactly recall the last time I swam with one in Donsol this summer. Every year, I usually find myself going on the whale shark tour for at least five times, but with the very low number of whale shark sighting in our place this year, I know I didn’t make my quota.
After some time, I stumbled upon videos and photographs of that encounter which took place on April 8, apparently my fourth and last swim with a whale shark this year. There’s an exciting story behind this encounter which happened on the birthday of one of my best friends, D.
The sound of my friends giggling (0:59-1:01) on this video is just priceless. 🙂
You see, I do not really like entertaining friends in Donsol during Holy Week because it’s a hilarious week for us at the resort. For those who are visiting my site just now, our family owns Amor Farm Beach Resort, the first in the area (I mention this as a matter of disclosure, so if you sense a certain bias for the resort on this site, that explains it :)).
Holy Week is really not the best time to visit Donsol as the place gets crowded the most and I have my hands full with resort work as a receptionist, waiter, dishwasher, you know the drill. Besides, it’s always full occupancy at this time of the year so I really don’t have shelter for my visiting friends. Last year, when my other best friends A and A, and my lawyer-friend D, visited me, they had to stay on a tent!
So imagine my surprise, and my discomfort, when my friend D from Singapore expressed her desire to celebrate her birthday in Donsol, which fell on Easter Sunday. She said so on a very short notice (three days before she flew to Legazpi), by that time, rooms at the resort were fully-booked already. Good thing Mama had built one spare room for me because she knew I have friends who will be visiting every now and then when I am in Donsol.
What I was more worried about was the fact that I can’t really attend to her because I would be busy working my ass around, PLUS, the strange reality that the sighting of whale sharks this summer had been disturbingly low. Whereas previous years saw at least five sightings of whale sharks in a day, only about two sightings per day (on the average) have been recorded this year. Some tourists were really disappointed that they failed to see a whale shark, or even just its tail, after four or five times of taking the tour.
But D was really persistent, nothing can discourage her from swimming with the whale sharks on her birthday. And so without her knowledge, I informed our other friends about her plan and on Holy Wednesday, a day before D arrived, our friends A and A were in Donsol already. They have been to the resort last year and they are aware of my resort duties but was thrilled to find that they won’t be sleeping on a tent this time. Yay! 🙂
D was really surprised to see A and A when she arrived and was kinda amazed at the “surprise merienda” that we prepared for her later that day. A was to leave Donsol the next day and because she can’t celebrate with the rest of the group on D’s birthday, she requested to have a little feast for D.
We prepared pancit and fruit salad, and since we couldn’t get a cake on a Maundy Thursday, we came up with an undas pancake cake for her – so called because of that gigantic white candle that people usually lit when they go to the cemetery during undas or All Souls’ Day. This was, of course, a pun on the same undas banana cake that D prepared for me when I celebrated my birthday in Sagada five years ago. 😀
Here’s our little group celebrating D’s birthday.
And we were later blessed with this sunset.
The next day, before A left Donsol, she had a grand time with this whale shark since she won’t be with us on the whale shark tour anymore.
But other friends came in time for D’s big day. Our lawyer-friend D arrived shortly after A left, and they went on the firefly tour that night. Our former students whom we got close to eventually, J and V (and their friend J), also arrived in time for D’s birthday salubong.
When Sunday came, everybody was excited for the whale shark tour, except me. I was worried D won’t get her wish because I knew the past days had been really disappointing in terms of whale shark sighting and because I knew a lot of people would be out there as well, out-competing everyone just to see the world’s largest fish.
Save for A (who had swam with whale sharks thrice already), lawyer-friend D (who would be swimming with them for the second time this year), and me, the whale shark tour was a first for everyone else in our group.
I was praying hard for a miracle.
I certainly didn’t want to let D down.
She who acts not just as a friend but also as an older sister to me; she who introduced me to community work; she who took me on an Asian tour when I celebrated my 26th birthday; she who looked after me when I vacationed in Singapore and who willingly took the hard route to Malaysia with me because my money wasn’t even enough for a comfortable trip; she who got me into riding a rollercoaster (this one’s really an achievement on my end) at the Universal Studios; she who invited me to go with her family around Palawan.
How can I disappoint this tarsier smiling in front of me, right? 😀
Everybody in our group didn’t want to let her down, so much so that we thought of dressing up these two voluptuous friends of ours in some whale shark costumes and have them glide with her underwater if worst comes to worst. 😀
After one hour of searching for a whale shark, our boat finally got to the area where other boats were also stationed, hoping to chance upon one whale shark. As with every whale shark tour, everything happened really fast when our Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) ordered us to get ready.
Before I knew it, everyone was already swimming fast to get to where the whale shark was. I was left on the boat documenting the entire experience for them while really praying they, or at least even just D, get to see a whale shark up close.
I was relieved moments later when D emerged out of the water giddily happy! She couldn’t contain her excitement and kept on thanking the universe for conspiring so she could cross this experience off her bucket list, on her birthday!
They swam with a whale shark which was possibly between eight and 10 meters in length. Everyone obviously enjoyed their moment, albeit quite shortly, with the world’s largest fish. The three youngest members of our group cannot help but gush continuously as well about this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
When our BIO exclaimed that there was another whale shark in the water, we jumped on the opportunity. I joined our group and there, beneath us, was the biggest whale shark I have ever laid my eyes on. It must have been 12 to 124 meters long!
No two whale shark sightings are ever the same, believe me. Every encounter feels like it’s my first time to see such a gentle ginormous being and, always, I am humbled by the experience. Everyone in our group felt the same way.
We swam with the whale shark for almost ten minutes and when we surfaced from the water, we were really just screaming our lungs out for that unbelievable treat. When we got to our boat, it was time to surprise D with her birthday cake which I managed to hide near the boat’s engine.
Seeing our friend this happy was actually the best reward of the day.
We just had to have this picture taken. See those happy, glowing faces? 😀
Finally relieved, I had my customary two-thumbs up photograph with D, an act which I do with every guest I had successfully taken on the whale shark tour.
After the trip, we went back to our resort and devoured the sinigang which J and V prepared especially for D. We were obviously starving already that I forgot to snap a picture of the sumptuous feast. Everybody then took some power naps and when we walked along the beach in time for the sunset, we were presented with this view.
Donsol sunsets are just hauntingly beautiful, right?
To end our day, we went to a bar nearby to have some cocktails. Upon learning that it was D’s birthday, the gracious host surprised her with a plate of “melt-in-your-mouth” tuna sashimi. In between laughter and reminiscing our good old days in UP Baguio, where I met D and everyone in our group, we capped off D’s day with a grateful heart.
I guess the universe really favored D on her birthday because she is a good person that deserves the best when she desires it. She has her shortcomings as a person just like everyone else in this world, but as a friend, I couldn’t think of a moment when she has let me down – except maybe for those nights when she will ask us out only to fall asleep in the middle of our coffee jaunts.
When we were traveling around the Cordilleras, which D treated then as her second home, she would always let me take the window seat so I could enjoy the ride. Well, this friendship has been one amazing ride with you, Ate, and I miss you. I hope to see you soon!
Love and light, everyone. Go, juanderlust! 🙂
- Video taken with D. Zapata’s Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 digital camera.
- Except for the first sunset photograph which was taken with an Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 digital camera, all other photographs were taken with a Canon 550d.
- Juan in Donsol, fall in love with its sunset (ameramor.com)