Tag Archive: Bicol

I have a soft spot for Bicol.  And I have a big appetite for Bicol dishes.  Oh, not just dishes.  Of late, I have discovered and loved their exotic shakes and ice cream! (Ice Cream Photo Borrowed From FlipNomad)


Sili Ice Cream @1st Colonial Grill

SILI Rocks


We found this cozy place called Bicol Blends Cafe in Daraga , Albay — right along the Rizal Road connecting Legazpi City to Daraga all the way to our previous destination, Donsol.   First time we chanced upon it,  we were actually at 1st Colonial Grill which is right beside this cafe.  Now, 1st Colonial Grill was what brought us to this neck of the woods.  The Tinapa Rice and Buko Chopsuey there are good reasons for a visit.  Over and above that,  we were longing to try that famous SILI ice cream.  SILI???? Yes, sili as in chilis as in peppers as in HOT and SPICY.


Tinapa Rice @1st Colonial Grill


It didn’t look threatening at all.  In fact, it can pass for strawberry ice cream at first glance.  But wait till you taste the last drop.  The spice kicks in.  Your tongue feels the “burn”, and so does your palate as you finish up with that last lick.  So be sure to have a tall glass of water at arm’s reach.  But wait, there’s more than just the SILI ice cream here.  Right beside 1st Colonial Grill is a coffee shop cum pastry shop owned by the same family.  Bicol Blends Cafe soon took over as our favorite coffee place in Bicol for its exotic pastry items and even more exotic shakes.


The Deceptive Sili Shake @Bicol Blends Cafe


There is the pili shake.  And the sili shake.  Just like the sili ice cream, the sili shake can be quite deceptive.  It starts off like your typical, standard milk shake.  But the finish! Oh, the finish…….will remind you to take your food “slowly” as our elders would often say when we were younger.  Chew slowly.  Drink. Don’t slurp.  Savor every bite.  Relish every sip.  And give your taste buds the chance to discern the variety of flavors each food morsel offers!  


And the baked stuff offered quite a variety.  Pan de Bicol Express?  This is a big pandesal stuffed with bicol express.  Don’t be fooled by the “mini-pan” description. It is a big pandesal.  Had it for breakfast along with my favorite brew.  Whoa! Did that perk me up! Understatement of the year.  I love the dough, just like the way I want my pandesal.  But the filling shook me up crazy with all those spices so early in the morning.   Besides,  it takes an acquired taste to welcome coconut cream-based fillings at this early hour.  I dare the brave ones to try it.


Pan de Bicol Express To Rev Up Ur Mornings@Bicol Blends Cafe


The second breakfast I had in Bicol Blends Cafe,  I tried the Pili Bread. Now this one is as mild as seeing majestic Mount Mayon first hour of the morning.  Pili nut abounds in Bicol and is a regular take-home or pasalubong item.  I love it.  I find it quite expensive but it is a nut truly our own, so flaunt it. Eat it. Buy it!  Many modern and fusion restaurants in the area have actually found ways to get that nut into their Bicolano cuisine,  accompanied by the unforgiving sili and drowned in the usual coconut cream. Mixed into their bread, or shaved like one would with almonds to garnish a pasta dish,  the taste of this pili nut is never obscured by the other flavors.


A Milder Treat To Start The Morning: Pili Bread @Bicol Blends Cafe

Bicol Blends Cafe


If we were spending a few more mornings in this place, I would have tried their Laing Offerings. Perhaps next time? For sure, I will be making a visit to this place not just for my sili and pili fix, but also for the cozy ambience and wifi connection the place offers.  Maybe I’d also try their Malunggay Ice Cream and Tinutong Ice Cream.  All those crazy ice cream flavors! For your info, you can dine in either 1st Colonial or in Bicol Blends Cafe and order from the menu of either since both are owned by the same family.  Nice 🙂


Craving for more Bicolano food?  Check out this blog. More yummy photos too.  Oh, take me back. Take me back! 


More? Just click the link above for more bicol dishes.


This is my entry to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ Blog Carnival for July 2011 with the theme “Awesome Food Experience While Traveling In The Philippines” hosted by Anton Diaz .  Bon apetit! 


So, there’s a typhoon?  I looked out the window of our hotel in Legazpi City and Mount Mayon beckoned in all her majesty. No hiding behind clouds.  Sun’s up,  and you can view the entire volcano.  Pretty sight.  It wasn’t even raining today!  By the time we packed our bags to leave towards Naga ,  we made a mental note of returning to this hotel if we don’t find any decent lodgings in CWC or in Naga.  I know, it is a good hour’s drive.  But hey, we are on vacay! Surely, we can go back and forth wherever our hearts take us.



I grew frustrated trying to book a family trailer in Camsur Water Complex (CWC) in Pili near Naga City.   I have heard so much about the place attracting such an international crowd that I logically assumed it would be of global standards.   The photos of CWC were so inviting even for non-wakeboarders like us.  Plus : It should be a novelty sleeping in a transformed container van.  And it would be a thrill to try wakeboarding too.   But dealing with the Reservations Desk was an ordeal. (Calling Governor L. Ray!)


A good book, bed weather, a bottle of beer, a cool breeze. The pool can wait!


I made online inquiries and finding that there is a family trailer available even for one night (I tried booking for 2 nights),  I labored to book it on that free night.  Five e-mails.  A couple of calls.  Several text messages to their published mobile number.  I got 2 replies, each one saying a family trailer is available for one night.  I kept repeating that I was actually BOOKING it.   How frustrating.  How tiring.  Lost all energy.  I gave up.  Thought we’d just try our luck when we get to Pili, Camsur.



As it turned out,  Typhoon Signal #2 in Bicol Region was a blessing in disguise.  No problem. Just Opportunities.   Many cancelled their bookings.  The scheduled Beauty Pageant to be held in CWC may even be cancelled at the last minute , depending on how the weather conditions improve or deteriorate.  Imagine finding these ladies in their bikinis (woot! woot!) ,  all made-up,  hair carefully permed ,  walking around in their silver high heeled sandals.  🙂



So we found ourselves reaching CWC and learning we can have the family trailer van for 2 nights. Yey! We were happy, even if the lady behind the Desk didn’t look happy to have us.  (Calling Gov. L-Ray…..)  The Family Trailer looked just the way I expected it.  The children expected it to have wheels though.  :))   The vans were painted blue, green or red.  We got the red one.   The painting is almost faded,  and the kitchen cupboards are in dire need of repair.  Who said this CWC place is new?   The entire place looks nice. Up close though,  your heart breaks that the place may not look as good if the property is not managed well. And they sure have an issue with ants all over the place.   A stray cat even visited us the following morning, whom the kids fed.  Nicknamed “Bob”,  he was our pet for 2 days.


No takers?


We checked out the Lago del Rey.  No one’s wakeboarding.  Who would?  Everyone is expecting the typhoon to hit land anytime now.   Armed with a good book,  I soon took over a corner from where I enjoyed reading with a bottle of beer and a cool breeze.   Lights were dimmed in this area, even if they call it a dining place.  So I just concentrated on my drink instead.  At least the waiting staff here were very friendly and efficient.  Their pizza, grilled vegetable salad,  barbeque,  and whatever else we ordered were good.  I am pleased.  Pleased enough to forget my reservations ordeal and  “not-so-warm welcome”. Before long, I found myself heading for those huts for a good rub. On a rainy afternoon, what beats that?



When we got back to our trailer home,  my niece and nephew-in-law got ready to sleep in the “Master’s Bedroom” while my 2 grandchildren each took over the twin beds on the other end of the trailer van. Each one of them too excited to sleep ALONE on their bunk.   Where does that leave their doting grandma? Poor Mamu  😦



And so it was agreed that Mamu will sleep with the not-so-little girl the first night,  and with the not-so-little boy the 2nd night.  Problem solved.


Goodbye, Bob the Cat

That grand old dame has her moods.  Last time I visited, I only had a glimpse of her peak while cruising out of Legazpi City southbound for Donsol.   Oh, the frustration!  Imagine Cagsawa Ruins without Mayon.  Most of the time,  Mount Mayon hid behind clouds, peeking out for a few seconds or a full minute, only to hide again.



Not this time.  I must have repeated myself countless times that Mt. Mayon is not like what it has been the one week we were in Bicol.   But there she was.  In all her majesty.  Looking gloriously lovely, even on a cloudy day.  As if teasing the gods since Typhoon Signal #2 was declared in the area.   The clouds would pass, but the lady is set to make her appearance. She showed up from all the corners of Legazpi City, from Cagsawa Ruins to Daraga Church up on a hill. From Lignon Hills to halfway around Mayon Skyline.   She stood there.  Ever present.  Set to make her majestic appearance.   Like no one, no typhoon could stop her.


Taken from Mayon Skyline


The morning they declared Typhoon Signal #2, we looked out the window of Villa Amada Hotel where Mayon stood guard while our not so little ones were sound asleep.   Deciding to make it a lazy day,  we even managed a day trip to Mayon Skyline.   Zigzagging up, we passed many children waving hello to us.  Unlike my last visit when it was cold and foggy,  the entire lake and the top peak of Mayon were both visible.   We made it!   The children were frustrated the Planetarium was closed (despite the sign that says “Welcome. We are open.”) and that there wasn’t much to do at the halfway resthouse.  All that zigzagging, for nothing.   But it was well worth the trip especially for me who missed this panoramic vista the last time. Intensified seismic activity you say?  Oh ok.  We’re heading down now.   Thanks for the warning.


I kept my word.  In an earlier blog , I reminisced about my late February butanding encounter and promised myself I’d bring my family to Donsol for the same awesome experience.  That promise was fulfilled last week.  

It was a straight drive from Makati to Barrio Dancalan in Donsol, Sorsogon.  Meal stops at Max’s Lucena, late lunch at Camalig’s Let’s Pinangat, and several pee stops.   The little ones were good travelers.  Expecting them to be restless, we were surprised they slept through much of the 10 hour ride.  Leaving at 5 am,  it was almost sunset by the time we reached the Butanding capital of the world.   We stayed in a place that must not be named as it was very nearly a mood killer for this vacay. Well, only as far as I was concerned.  The rest of the family went uncomplaining and were just too tired to call it an early  night when we reached the place.

We spent 2 nights here.  Randy, the Butanding Interaction Officer (B.I.O) I had that time I had my 1st whale shark experience has been waiting for us and eager to meet my grandchildren, aged 10 and 13.  My girls were also with me, all of whom were just as excited to meet the butandings.  I wrote about Randy the last time, and has since been my textmate with his “jejemon” language which never fails to give me headaches.    For the day, he was Kuya Randy to my apos.  So with the 2nd B.I.O. who joined us on our boat, Kuya Bong.   Yes,  we hired 2 BIOs.  Wanted to make sure my 2 apos can each have a BIO cum life guard when they jump to meet their whale shark friends.

The gentle giants didn’t let us down.  The 1st jump for the apos (plus 1 of my girls) was a hurried one.  No chance for dear Martin, my 10 year-old apo, to change his mind.  The minute the spotters alerted Kuya Bong and Kuya Randy that a butanding lurks beneath the waters near our boat,  they ordered them little ones to jump with them.  Oh, I was so proud of them!  No hesitation.  No second thoughts.  They jumped in tandem with their BIO kuyas, and promptly raised their thumbs up shortly after seeing the whale shark which Martin described as “as big as a Honda City car”.   Not exactly huge.  But its size is enough to get these kids all smiling and proud of their experience.  You bet it was the start of non-stop chatter from this excitable 10 y.o. till he grew tired and fell nearly asleep on the boat.


The duo of these kids’ mom and auntie was next.  They made 2 jumps, without success.  The first time, the butanding even displayed its dorsal fin for all to see.  I was so excited I wanted to push anyone in front of me just to get a good shot.  The second time around,  they were just around 15 meters from the butanding whose shadow we can actually see from the boat.  Oh, the frustration for these 2 ladies!  The 3rd time around, and because the kids are so eager to have their turn,  the BIOs allowed the 2 kids to jump with the 2 adults.  Guess what.  These butandings must have sensed the presence of my 2 apos that this 10 meter whale shark stayed with their new little friends for a while.  I was beside myself on the boat, taking photos,  when I saw them raise their thumbs up a second time.   Happiness.

The B&B where we stayed, and which we refrain from naming here,  packed a picnic brunch for us.  No one wanted to eat. Or can’t.  Too excited.  Adrenaline pumping high.  Me? I had this ill-timed eye infection that I stayed on the boat the whole time, snapping photos in between coffee and sandwiches shared with the boat crew.    Though I’ve “met” the butandings just a couple of months back, I wouldn’t mind interacting with them again.  But the glee I saw on the faces of them little ones and my girls are priceless.   Empty stomachs, yet excited over this awesome animal experience.  Too excited that 13 y.o. Patricia was swimming away from the pack, and without a life buoy at that!   Enough to send her aunt into near-panic mode.  But this grandma was watching the whole time. So did the 2 BIOs, Kuya Randy and Kuya Bong.   We all knew that in glee, we sometimes make silly moves.  But not that silly for my swimmer apo.  Patricia , and her brother Martin,  would likely not forget this experience for a very, very long time.  🙂


See you next year,  my friend. 🙂

Check also my TravelBlog  piece on same subject. 

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”  — Quote from Paul Theroux


I only managed to book the first 2 nights of our week-long holiday.   In fact,  just the one night.   At the last minute, I arranged to book 2 nights in the same place in Donsol.  After that,  I grew tired explaining to the children that we don’t know where we’d stop for a night or two, and which hotel or inn we’d stay in.  You should see them.  Those eyes growing bigger, to express surprise, a tinge of nervousness maybe,  and utter despair that this time around, their grandma has no answers.



We found a good coffee place in Daraga, Albay with wifi to bring us back to the safety and comforts of this digital environment.   While we sipped our lattes, exotic shakes (think pili and sili!) and cappuccinos,  I checked out the hotel on the second floor of the building which houses both Bicol Blends Cafe and 1st Colonial Grill.  Same owners.  Same cheery staff.   Villa Amada Hotel has family rooms.   Two adjoining rooms with a connecting door.  Lots of space.  And a window that looks out to Mayon Volcano.  Perfect!   I booked the next 2 nights.


Family Rooms: 1 room with Queen Bed connects to 2nd room with twin beds


And so it went that we spent 2 nights in Donsol and another 2 nights in Daraga/Legazpi City.  The children are happy.  They slept well. They also ate well as the menu offerings downstairs at 1st Colonial Grill and Bicol Blends Cafe are exactly what they hanker for.   Until they remembered we still had the remainder of the week in Bicol.  Where to sleep the next few nights before heading home?


Tinapa Rice from 1st Colonial Grill

Buco Chopsuey @1st Colonial Grill. Goes well with tinapa rice!


As Typhoon Signal #2 was declared in the Bicol Region,  the poor weather condition was the least of  their worries.   We still had to get bookings for our Naga stay.  But there’s a lot to do to keep them busy. And there’s a lot of serious eating to be done too. We pigged out in 1st Colonial Grill down below the hotel. This is also where we can have our free breakfast — goes with the rooms we booked.   And then finish off with gourmet, exotic coffee and shakes at the Bicol Blends Cafe beside it.  The owners of Villa Amada Hotel and 1st Colonial Grill are one and the same.  Bicol Blends Cafe is owned by the son of the family.   Pretty soon,  I would be cornering a corner at the coffee shop. Slurping good coffee while surfing the Net.


Sili Shake, anyone?

Small Talk Cafe


We also found time to drive by Small Talk Cafe to take out some pasta and pizza to eat back in the hotel. We figured that if the weather conditions worsen,  we would be better off in the hotel than eating out to savor this fusion cuisine.  Ever heard of Pasta Mayon?  That is laing-filled ravioli.  How about laing pizza , or pasta pinangat? And there’s the Pili Pasta with Basil. Yummy! We ordered all these plus the more traditional pizza margherita and cappriciosa (combination pizza) for the kids.  While waiting,  we couldn’t help but check out what were being served in the next table.  Before long, we were trying out their pili pie and mud pie.   Not bad at all!  Amazing how this small cafe fuses italian goodies with local cuisine centered on pili nuts, coconut cream and chilies.   By the time we made our way back to Villa Amada Hotel,  we were ready for the typhoon with all our takeout goodies.  What gluttons we were!  No mercy.


Our very first day in Legazpi City and the first order of the day was this adrenaline-pumping activity.  Sort of  like a prelude to next day’s Butanding Interaction in Donsol.


It was  a Sunday.  Soon after hearing mass at the Albay Cathedral, we proceeded to the Embarcadero de Legazpi.   It was too early for lunch.   We pondered what to do before our big meal at Bigg’s Diner, that famous Bicol food chain.  The cable lines beckoned.   From the Embarcadero “tower”,  across the waters, down to that mound of earth at the end.  Should we?


The entire family minus one queued up for the zipline.   The 2 kids are ziplining in tandem with 2 adults.   At the last minute, the older kid asked to go solo.  Fine.  Brave.   We waited till an earlier batch of teens got through.   Then one of these teens began cursing , and cussing, and screaming as he ziplined down.   Either he wanted to grab attention,  tried to be “cute” or simply had a bad mouth.  For sure, he wasn’t scared.   So it could be all of the 3.   All that was enough to drive my grandson nearly  out of his wits as he had second thoughts about this daredevil activity.   Damn.   Oops, no cussing.   In the end, he was persuaded to go through with it in tandem with his mom.  But not without reciting the Lord’s Prayer in its entirety.  Phew!

It was over even before we were ready to quit.   Enough adrenaline rush for a big meal at the famous Bicol foodchain.   This American-inspired, Hollywood-ish diner beats McDonald’s anytime of day.   Spag and chix for some of the  adults, while the “babies” craved for their baby back ribs.  My not-so-little boy nearly begged for a second serving.   Wow. That zipline must have really revved up their appetite.

Hoyop Hoyopan Cave


In Camalig, Albay, we took a detour to visit Hoyop Hoyopan Cave. Hoyop means “to blow”. We spent the next half hour or so inside the cave, amazed to “shoot the breeze” inside while checking out the stalactites and stalagmites. We can imagine how the local rebels were made comfortable while hiding from the Japanese then as the cave has water sources and a pretty good ventilation even during summers.  Our guide led the way, and we were relieved to find cemented pathways and ample lighting.  Just the same, I was ready with my handy flashlight and headlight.  I finally got to use them!  🙂   But we weren’t prepared to find a dance floor INSIDE the cave.  Say what?  A dance floor.  Only in the Philippines! Well, we were reminded that the cave is a private property and the owners have actually held parties inside this cave.  That explains the dance floor. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a karaoke bar next time I visit.  Up and down, a few steps here and there, and we found the 4th exit out of the cave.  Mind the stalactites and stalagmites, though.  One can earn a monstrous bump on the forehead if one is not careful.  Outside, we found local boys playing a game of volleyball while a cow parked itself in an area meant for motor vehicles.


Cagsawa Ruins Without Mayon Volcano

Most postcards in Albay show Mayon Volcano in all its majesty framed by boulders and what remains of the Cagsawa Church. Over a thousand parishioners sought refuge in this Church in Mayon’s February 1814 eruption and all perished from the tragedy. The stone pillars were constructed using eggwhites to glue the stones together. Imagine how many eggs those parishioners brought to Sunday masses, and what baked goodies they concocted with the egg yolks too! We were soooo looking forward to visiting this place as we have always visualized Mayon Volcano with this scenery, with all its tragic history. Sadly, the majestic volcano with its near-perfect cone was too shy to make an appearance. Hiding behind the clouds, one can hardly recognize even its silhouette on this cloudy day. Oh well, you can’t win them all. For the moment, the postcard will do.

Daraga Church


Finally, we drove up to nearby Daraga Church. It is said that the parish transferred to this 18th century church after the 1814 eruption. This old church was obviously undergoing some repairs and repainting. We were disappointed with the fresh coat of white paint, and would have preferred that they left the stone structure in its “natural” state. There is charm in the “old and natural”, and a paint job does not serve to enhance the beauty of this ancient church.


Nearly back in Legazpi City, we passed by Lignon Hills for another unobstructed view of Mayon Volcano. It would have been an hour’s trek to get to the View Deck, but it was our last stopover and we all felt the day is almost over. In short, we had no energy left to do the trek! Perhaps another day. For sure, I’d make a return trip and by then, I should also be ready to go trekking, ziplining and even the lava trail using the All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) available for rent. Now, that’s a good reason to go back.


More photos can be found in my TravelBlog site.

Padang Memorial

From Legazpi City, we drove towards Barangay Biga-a, just 8 kilometers from Mayon Volcano.  This place is a PERMANENT DANGER ZONE.  And for good reason.  Back in 2006, Typhoon Reming hit the area and as many as 15,000 perished .  The Padang Memorial stands here as a grim reminder of that tragedy, with the majestic volcano as backdrop.  From Padang, we passed a few 17th-18th century churches.  We took the time to stop by 2 churches , both named Santo Domingo Church. The second one had a separate bell tower as well as lovely stained glass windows. Unfortunately, the churches were closed and we failed to gain entry.

Kawa Kawa Natural Park and Mayon Skyline 

Further on,  we drove through a road lined with Pili trees and abaca hemp hanging out to dry.  Then we took an uphill road and climbed towards an area tagged as Mayon Skyline where the Mayon Planetarium and a solitary cafe stand across stone huts hugging the cliff from where one takes in a view of the crater lake on a clear, sunny day.  It was a pleasant surprise to find this cool, breezy place this foggy morning just an hour’s drive from the city. Too foggy to allow a clear view of the lake,  we instead chose to spend the next few minutes sipping a cup of hot coffee or slurping some hot noodle soup.  A nice brew would have added some charm, though, instead of the instant coffee served.


Mayon Skyline is in Barangay Bu-Ang in Tabaco, Albay.  The entire area belongs to the PERMANENT DANGER ZONE  too.  There was no chance to check out the blacksmiths from Tabaco, Albay — famous for its quality scissors and knives. ( Tabak literally means knife or machete , after which the place got its name.  )   Rather, we drove on towards Ligao City where Kawa Kawa Hill is.  Many Catholic pilgrims visit this natural park especially during the Lenten Season to do their Stations of the Cross. Moving on, we passed Guinobatan, Albay where the tree-lined road blends with the popular mode of transportation in the area — tricycles and jeepneys — and some old houses and more 17th-18th century churches.




One such old church is in Camalig, Albay whose patron saint is St. John the Baptist. The belfry is touched by this old tree with creepers along its branches and twigs, which stands witness to many Sunday masses and passing parishioners.  Unlike their counterparts in many parts of the country,  these churches are situated in wide plazas and must have served as community centers in the olden days.


It’s amazing how many 17th and 18th century churches one can find in Albay alone.  No wonder many of our priests hail from this place.  You can sense the spirituality in these places and among the people.  Truly, adversity has its favorable results.  Being in the typhoon belt, exposed to nature’s fury, the Bicolanos have strong faith in God’s mercy, as are just as blessed with many natural wonders like the near-perfect cone of Mayon and the nearby whale sharks  in Donsol, Sorsogon.   Come visit!


More photos in my TravelBlog site.

Mayon Skyline On a Foggy Morning!

Mayon Above the Barbed Wires

Cagsawa Ruins Without Mayon Volcano as Background


It has been a week since my encounter with the whale sharks of Donsol, Sorsogon. Called “Butandings”, swimming with these gentle giants never prepare anyone for such an awesome experience. A week later, and I still dream of that animal experience. I still get a high just thinking about it .



For sure, I will be bringing my family to Barrio Dancalan in Donsol. To meet their butandings and mark that memory in their minds. A diesel attends into the vintage. The Butanding Festival in Donsol will be this April, but it won’t be till May before we get there. Let’s pray those sea pets are still there. I bet they would be. After all, those Donsol folks have been most kind to them, treating them like their pets.


Check out more photos in my TravelBlog site.  

The Butanding Whisperer

His name is Randy. He hails from this very place that crosses the whale sharks’ migration highway. Randy has “known” these whale sharks since he was 12. He is now 31. I never asked, but I suspect Randy never had formal swimming lessons. Nor diving lessons. But he sure could hold his breath down there , donned only with his snorkeling equipment. When Randy barked “swim forward”, me and them boys were focused on only one thing. To see our first Butanding. After all, we have been waiting a good hour and were near frustration with one of the boys depressingly saying “I only need to see ONE…..” These boys were with another team the day earlier, and they have not been lucky. Today is their second attempt, and the overcast sky was no encouragement. You see, those butanding spotters find it doubly hard to see the “shadows” on a cloudy day like today.

When one of them prayerfully chanted “Butanding…….Butanding………Butanding”, Randy very ably balanced himself (while the boat is cruising) on the bamboo pole crossing the front of the boat and assisted the spotters. As we all chorused and chanted, the boat crew were so focused on their jobs. I admire their patience, their quiet competence. As if on cue, Randy gently reminded us to get ready on the left side of the boat. Frankly, I was so afraid I couldn’t balance myself sitting on the edge of the boat and would have jumped in before Randy’s signal. Mercifully, I was ready when Randy barked “JUMP”. We swam forward, or rather, Randy pulled me forward so I can “swim” in tandem with the boys. I’ve never been so excited in my whole life. What an adrenaline rush, just knowing a Butanding lurks beneath us. When Randy barked “Look down”, I almost panicked to see the Butanding right beneath me. Maybe 2-3 meters below me. I was so afraid my legs would touch its head and send the whale shark on a wild spree. I could see the 3 boys in our team swimming under me and beside the gentle giant, with good old me contentedly swimming over this unbelievably gentle sea creature.

If I could frame my feelings now, you would see a framed painting splashed with a quiet solitude, evoking a serenity heretofore unknown. I do not know how far we were from our boat. Who cares? Until I saw another man dive deeper under the whale shark , swimming along,as if reuniting with an old friend.  I recognize his swimming shorts. I know that pattern. And remembered they were Randy’s! So who’s swimming with me? I looked up to catch my breath to see the ends of those snorkeling tubes, as everyone in our team and those from another boat were busily watching the whale shark swim underneath us. It must have been a full minute, likely longer. But without Randy by my side, I cannot swim forward WITH the whale shark. By the time Randy came up, the Butanding gently showed its side and white underbelly as it dove deeper. Perhaps in search of it plankton meal. Our boat suddenly appeared from nowhere. Perhaps Randy gave the signal that our new friend has left us for his meal. The crew put out the rusty ladder for me to climb up as the other boys waited for their turn. I was onboard , happily watching each of the boys get on the boat, hugging Randy and jumping up and down with joy. I was still feeling “high” from the experience, and my mind captured those scenes way better than any camera could . Pure joy. Young men in their mid-20′s acting like little boys. Randy almost too shy as these 3 young men hugged him so tightly in gratitude for this awesome animal experience. Yes, that memory will stay in my mind for many, many years. Another “framed feeling” stored in my memory bank. Randy very kindly allowed us to have our 2nd and 3rd Butanding experience in the 3 hours that we rented the boat. The boys longed for a 4th and final encounter, as I opted out, quite happy with the 3 sightings. Randy stayed on the boat, hoping to get the Butanding to “show up” for the benefit of my new Nepalese friend, Ava, and Beth, both of whom chose to stay on the boat. Without the Butanding whisperers, the young men in our team came back empty-handed. But no way are they complaining. Three sightings in a couple of hours ain’t bad! Especially on a cloudy, rainy day like today. As for Ava, coming from a landlocked country like Nepal, this boat ride by itself is a most cherished adventure for her. Everybody happy!

As the boat sailed towards shore, the boys swapped stories of their experiences. One of them excitedly said that I was always on top of the whale shark. Thanks to Randy. I suspect the butanding stayed with us long enough because of Randy. They must be friends for 2 decades now. Perhaps playmates is the more appropriate word. This shy, quiet young man has been interacting with this whale shark since he was 12. When I asked him what he does off – season, Randy said he goes to Manila to work with a landscaping team. He does gardening. Talk about flora and fauna. He must really have a green thumb for the flowers, and a gray thumb for the whale sharks? I don’t know. But I truly, truly respect the quiet dignity and warm kindness of Randy and his crew. They took good care of us. Not much fanfare. No fuzzing over us. But we know they were all watching out for us. They all seem too shy. They love their butandings, knowing how much these sea creatures have improved their lives. The Donsol fisherfolks offered a safe harbor for these gentle giants, and they have been rightfully rewarded.

When you come to this area, be sure to make this one hour trip from Legazpi City to Donsol, Sorsogon. Best time is from November through May. I will most certainly go back, next time with my family. (I actually did, in late May. And my “elves” to this day talk animatedly of their whale shark encounter, as narrated in another blog) These fisherfolks make for a good example of ecotourism. And these Butandings with their broad, flattened heads and large, very terminal mouths with checkerboard patterns on their backs are truly a sight to behold. Very gentle, friendly and playful, allowing humans to swim and interact with them, as they gently glide alongside our boat. And while you’re here, be kind to this community of about 47,000 fishermen and farmers. They live off the livelihood gained from the Butanding phenomenon half of the year, and scrape a livelihood the remainder of the year. More so when the typhoons hit them. And they get it way too often to have a decent living. They never ask, nor do they even drop hints. But it will go a long way to help them with a more generous tip. After all, they deserve them. Treat these locals as you would treat a place where you would “park” your pets. You may not be around the whole time, but you draw comfort in the fact that there are guardians , caretakers and caregivers for your pets. The Butandings are here because these locals take good care of them and leave them unharmed. They play with them, interact with them. Despite the poverty, it never crossed their minds to harm these gentle creatures. Such kindness deserves to be rewarded. My Butanding Encounter is by far my most awesome animal experience. Another one off my bucket list. The idea of swimming with the graceful butandings is scarier than actually interacting with them. Really. I do not know if I’d say this same thing if I saw the Butanding we sighted open wide its big mouth. But there you go. Mouths closed, they are simply fascinating. Go!

Thanks to our Butanding Interaction Officer (B.I.O.) Randy!

More photos in my TravelBlog site.

************************************************************************************ Trivia

Butandings or whale sharks are vegetarians. They only eat plankton and krill, which are found abundant in the very very salty waters of Donsol. There is no report of whale sharks taking humans as prey!

Donsol is a quiet community of only 47,000 people. They live off farming and fishing until a big concentration of whale sharks were sighted in 1998, inviting the attention of WWF and ATF. The sightings changed the landscape and ignited an economic boom in the area. Whale sharks live over a hundred years old. “Puberty” at 20 years old!

Biggest fish in the world. They only measure from 15 ft. to as long as 40 ft. in length! Our boat can easily rest on it silvery, polka-dotted back. They swim near the surface, allowing the “spotters” to see their shadows. Donsol is now not only a feeding place or “dining area” for the butandings. Of late, they sighted baby whale sharks. That means, the place has now become a berthing ground for the butandings. Who knows where they go after May? Anybody’s guess. But the locals are confident they will come back, for yet another wholesome ecotourism adventure.

Most important trivia: You need not know how to dive nor swim to have a Butanding Encounter. Just be sure you have a good B.I.O. like Randy to swim with you, and PULL you towards the nearest Butanding. You may reach Randy with this number : +63910 5485647.  

Btw, Randy took a “summer job” or should I say “gap job” as a messenger. When I told him to see my friend for an interview, it was  a stormy day and there were no boats from the island where he lives (last barangay in Donsol, he says) and Randy had to walk 2 hours just to make the interview.  Such is life for these hardworking folks. 

This is my entry to the September Blog Carnival hosted by Marky Ramone Go of Nomadic Experiences on the topic  “Unforgettable Human Encounters on the Road”.