Shoemans Trail

The quest for liberation

Month: March 2016

Donsol – Swimming with Whale Sharks

A small rural beach town on the main island of Luzon is in the tourist focus from December to May each year, that’s when the whale sharks migrate through the area. There is also another town in the Philippines advertising whale shark tourism but there the animals are fed and they stopped migrating and just stay in the area, plus they’re not properly treated with too many people swimming around them and boat numbers are not limited, this should not be supported!
In Donsol it happens a more ecological way. A so called Butanding (Filipino word for whale shark) Interaction Officer, a BIO, is assigned to each boat, advising the people and watching that the animals are treated the right way (no touching, no feeding, no underwater flash, max 5 min interaction, one boat at a time,…). The big fish still get a bit distracted and sometimes hurt when multiple boats with tourists venture out every morning, wanting to see the gigantic fish and chasing it, the back fin can get hurt by the boats propeller as the whale shark swims close to the surface to feed or the fish just gets distracted while feeding with some humans swimming close by. That’s why the tours just happen in the morning from 7 to 11. One must decide for his own good if this can be supported. The whale sharks come around this particular area every year though and haven’t chosen another spot that looks as they still like it here and are treated not that bad.

So early in the morning I got in the boat with 5 other guys, hardly 10 min later in the open water Jerry our BIO told us to wear the fins, snorkel and mask and sit on the side of the boat, ready to jump. 2 min later we were all kicking with our fins, following Jerry, heads down in the murky water and yes there he was, the first whale shark, massive in size I could not see the complete fish at once as the visibility wasn’t that great but it was a magical moment swimming along the giant which just dove down after a couple of seconds.
Having a white belly the rest being grey, the skin marked with pale yellow spots and striped, individual to each – it just looks friendly. The largest fish on the planet can grow up to a size of a bus! In Donsol they range between 5 and 10 meter. More info’s on the worlds largest fish: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whale_shark

The second time we were more lucky swimming a minute next to it and getting quite close. We cruised around the area for about 3 hours and got to jump in the water a couple of times, sometimes we missed the giants as they dove down, sometimes we saw them so close almost able to touch and there was that moment where we got into the water as we saw another group already swimming with the fish for some time. We could trace the route of the whale shark got in some 20 meters ahead and all of a sudden the only thing I saw was the fish swimming straight at me with its big mouth wide open – uaahhhh!
They use the area as feeding ground and mainly feed on plankton and grill just opening their mouth and swimming. I knew that fact but still in this particular moment I was a bit scared and swam aside as fast as I could seeing the mighty fish slowly swimming past.
The last one we saw didn’t swim that fast so I could keep up with him and let me fall back, filming the tail, a couple of kicks later I would be back at his mouth investigating the cleaner fish around and checking his teeth and eyes, magnificent, swimming a couple of minutes next to the biggest fish on earth and also the biggest one we saw today, maybe 10 meters in length – just an unforgettable experience!

Apo Island & Dauin – Diving the Philippines

I flew into Dumaguete, a booming town, since the last 4 years property prices have quadrupled, no wonder with world class diving round the corner and a tall mountain right next to multiple beaches. The town also has some 400 years old buildings to offer, erected by the Spanish back in the days. A bit away from town I found a place called La Fiesta – Ralf the owner is German, living around with his family for quite some time now. I was longing for some nice German food and I found it right there, Gulasch, Schnitzel, Spätzle also the pizza was bloody tasty. The only down part – the noise from the road, everything else, food and social life is superb, not talking about the amazing live music every Thursday. Hooray to the good times!

What made me come to the area initially was a hint from Sanny, to dive Apo Island… For the first couple of dives I went together with Joe, Martin and Kasper to Dauin, which is famous for macro diving, looking out for the tiniest things underwater with sandy bottom and just a few spots like old tires, sunken jeeps or old ropes – we still managed to spot some wired critters and tiny creatures, but the diving was different, the colors more greenish and you really have to look for stuff. Apo Island the next day was just the opposite, more the diving I’m used to, corals as big as cars, colorful and in all shapes some smaller schools of fish, the typical reef fish and turtles, lots of them, the biggest we saw measuring 2 meters. I was stoked by the corals, Raja Ampat will always be number 1 on my list I reckon but Apo gets pretty close. Of course we saw dolphins on our way back to the shore another perfect day diving!

I’m still drawn to the mountains, not as strong as to the sea but all the peaks send out a magnificent energy and the area has some taller hills to offer, so I went up the slopes to the base of Mt. Talinis at round 500 meters, the peak itself is at 1.903! Volcanic activity, vivid colors, hot pools, sulfuric air and some nice waterfalls can be found up there, I was totally reminded of New Zealand! It was a sweet day with the bike, off-roading is so much fun, way better than riding a simple scooter. I managed to handle the semi-automatic bike quite well, feels even more like getting the bike licence now as soon as I’m home!

A pretty versatile week, learned a lot about the Philippines and the people and had some great fun outdoors. Whoop whoop!

 

Philippines – The former Spanish Americanised colony

After 36 hours of travels I met up with some friends in Palawan the so called last frontier of the Philippines. The country itself is influenced by the Spanish for more than 300 years, so current names still are Spanish like El Nido or San Fernando, the food is Spanish and American influenced as is the language, which is a plus as English is widely understood. If you wanna know more about the history, read along: http://wikitravel.org/en/Philippines

At a first glimpse, the country looks pretty sweet and the people smile a lot, of course – tourism is booming, it’s more expensive as in Indonesia so far, and we’ll see how this develops in the more remote regions without that many tourists.
So after I met Flo, Jules and Krische in San Fernando beach we organized food, drinks and transport for a couple of days, chilled one more day and set sail for an uninhabited island one hour off the main island.
When arriving on Calibangbangan we couldn’t believe the sweet waters which were crystal clear, memories of the Andaman’s shot back to my head. We paid the owner and went for 3 days to the smaller island nearby called Tacling, beautiful sandy beach, an ok coral reef and some rocks.
After setting up a camp and taking care of firewood we did what we could do best, relaxing.
There were also some small expeditions round the island with beautiful trees, full of fern and an access to the hill as well as 3 more bays but all pretty rocky. The only down part was that every day some tour boats arrived with a loads of selfie stick throwing tourists and snorkeler. Luckily every boat went away after one hour, giving us peace again.
On the 3rd day our boats man Marc picked us up again and brought us back to San Fernando.

I relaxed for a bit in El Nido after the trip and the guys went back to Manila to tackle the next big thing, maybe we’ll meet again, I don’t know where, I don’t know when!

Raja Ampat – One step closer to heaven

The islands are nothing but a natural beauty, a paradise in Papua, above and under the water! I often needed to look twice to check if it’s real; it’s just insane, so sick, incredible and beyond belief!

The spectacle was already starting when flying in from Jakarta to the capital of the Maluku island chain named Ambon, big cloud formations and the sun rose bringing light to the new day in almost all spectral colors. From Ambon the next flight took me over so many small islands, sometimes even just as big as a house, until the plane came down in Sorong the hub for the Raja Ampat islands. All further travels from this point – by boat. In Waisai I met Githa my local contact who put me forward for a nice homestay, that’s the cheapest option for accommodation over here if you don’t want to stay in a resort charging 200 euros a night. Githa also co owns Arborek Dive Shop together with her husband Marcel.
Round about a hundred people living in the community and it takes 20 minutes to walk around the island, which is about the size of 7 football fields and has everything basic you’re looking for: a well with salty water, not as salty as the sea though, lovely bucket shower – living in paradise with the least effort ever, so good…small shops to buy juice, candy or a beer, sunsets and sunrises right at the doorstep, friendly locals & lovely children jumping around asking for your name, enough shade to beat the midday sun, probably the best seafood ever, lovely beaches and an incredible coral reef, made for snorkeling (In an afternoon session I even saw 2 black tip reef sharks and a small marble ray beside the usual suspects and the wonderful coral) – I love it! As the Batak at Lake Toba, Sunday is a pretty important religious day for the community. No one works and half the island in best clothes, holding the songbook or the bible and going to church, singing accompanied by guitar.

This is how a sunset on the island feels…in time-lapse 😉

https://youtu.be/9DxvNnYGl_Y

 

From Arborek I went diving for 2 days with Marcel, felt sweet just going down with one buddy who’s also the guide. The first time we got in the water and it was just insane! Fish everywhere, visibility of 30 meters, coral gardens until get no, colorful as spring flowers so many different species of soft and hard coral living wherever they could fit, just one square meter had so much living organisms I saw in the Andaman’s within one dive! Unbelievable! Everything here is on big scale! We saw turtles, massive schools of different fish, black tip and white tips reef sharks, multiple manta rays getting cleaned in front of our eyes, the biggest one measuring 5 meters! Magnificent animals! Also eels, lion fish, stone fish, scorpion fish, frog fish, marble rays and dolphins. Fuck yeah it’s been a hell of a ride! I gathered the best clips and made a small movie, go check it out…

 

With Githa and our always smiling boatman Baba Saurab we went to Piaynemo the other day, another natural phenomenon of small rocks covered with plants surrounded by clear emerald blue waters – it’s one of those spots in catalogs and we went there early to beat the heat and the crowds, I could even squeeze in a meditation before the first people came up and inhale the place properly.

My spirit rose again, still can’t believe what I saw during those wonderful days – looking at the pictures makes the memories last but the feeling will stay in my heart…

Before I forget:

  1. The music in the videos is from a friend, check out his sound cloud page
    https://soundcloud.com/m-inc-to 
  2. The island I stayed has a website, go check it out
    http://arborek-rajaampat.com

And now go for the amazing pics!!!

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