The South! Ahh! For the longest time, I’ve been traveling up North because of some established favorites like La Union, Pagudpud, and Vigan. It was only two weeks ago, upon a visit to my trusty mechanic, that I heard of this town in Sorsogon called Matnog (yes, my mechanic has a client all the way there). Why the interest, you ask? Because I saw a photo from the blog of Lakwatsera de Primera–an arc that said “You are now leaving the island of Luzon.” It’s the southern counterpart of Sta. Ana, Cagayan (jump-off to Palaui Island, home of Cape Engano). *goosebumps*
And yet, I did not get there. Haha! I’m saving it for another day, because I realized that I’ve been to very few places south of Luzon, like Quezon, Camarines, Norte and Camarines Sur. Also, because a 16-hour drive is so physically taxing–as you might have guessed, I drive alone and it requires extra caution (and more stamina). And this is why I ended up in the home of them gentle, spotted sharkies. 🙂
Driving to Donsol
There are several ways to get to Donsol: via plane (approx. one hour) or bus (approx. twelve hours) to Legazpi City, Albay. You’d be glad to know, though, that some air-conditioned buses travel straight to the municipality–like Philtranco, for about P860.00 as of November 2014. If via private transport, it takes about 10 hours, discounting 6 yosi / merienda breaks. Haha!
Word of caution: if you are using Waze, there is a chance it would direct you to Pio-Duran Rd. DO NOT go there. As of 01 April 2015, it is still under construction. You will end up in a gorge. I made the mistake of following my GPS blindly and as a result, I got set back by two hours following a dirt road. It was two in the morning, I was alone. Get it? The worst part is that there is no signal in the area so there is absolutely no calling for help.
That said, better take the Maharlika Highway. 🙂 Past Legazpi, you will see a junction. Make a right going to Pilar / Donsol. From then on, it’s an exciting, zigzagging ride. I arrived there around 6 AM, just in time for sunrise.
A charming tourism town
There is so much to see in the area outside of the usual tourist itinerary. When you get there, put your bags down at the hotel and stroll towards Whale Shark Interaction Center. Register for the following day’s Batch 1 Departures and watch the briefing video so you can get it out of the way. Afterwards, rent a bike and go around town. This is what you’ll see.
It’s always worthwhile to go around the village. You’ll never know what you’d see there.
Take this tailoring shop with a vintage Singer machine. My mother used to own one. Haha! Also, consider bringing a headlamp when you go cycling. Locals on motorbikes are generally careful on the road but I cannot say the same for hired drivers from Manila.
- Sleep early and be at the Whale Shark Interaction Center by 7 AM the following day. It gets pretty chaotic.
- As a rule, the local tourism authority only allows 30 boats at a time, maximum of six tourists each. The fee is P3,500.00 for three hours, inclusive of the boat, boat crew, spotters, and the fee of the Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO). Split between 6 people and it’s a total of P600.00. You will have to rent your own mask and flippers, so that’s another P300.00.
- Don’t forget to bring sunblock and water! 95% of the time you would just be staying at the boat (under intense heat, so yes, take the earliest batch), until the spotter sees a shadow and your BIO asks you to jump. And when he says jump you better be ready (mask + flippers + life vest on).
- After you get into the boat, the BIO would do another briefing reiterating the safe swimming distance (3 to 4 meters). Listen carefully and take it to heart, unless you want to get slapped by a giant fish tail.
- When swimming: Most photos / footages show whale sharks steady or swimming really slow. In reality, these giants swim pretty darn fast. So no, it is not going to be chill. Good luck trying to take a selfie. You would be catching your breath most of the time and the person with the strongest lungs and legs would probably get the most exposure. Also, wag pasikat! If you are not a very strong swimmer, please wear a life vest.
This is our group of six. With the exception of the boat crew and the spotter, I was the only Filipino there (yep, 3 Taiwanese, 1 British, 1 Colombian). Fortunately (or unfortunately), they are all certified divers and I was the only noob in the group. The best part is that I only needed to follow their lead and somehow keep up with their pace to get the best of each dive.
Frankly, this is the only time I felt bad about not having an underwater camera (ergo, the absence of an actual footage in this blog) but at least, I didn’t have to worry about it when I was catching my breath. Haha! All in all, we were able to dive three times. The first and the third times, I was able to see only the tail, but the second one! My god, I think I was able to keep up for about a minute until the whale shark decided to go deeper and then disappear. Rock and roll. Hands down, Donsol!
Other matters of equal importance
Lodging will not be a problem. Even during the Holy Week I was able to secure a room less than 24 hours before arrival. Homestays and fan rooms abound! During my first night I stayed in:
Amor Farm Beach Resort | Brgy. 7 Dancalan | +63 909 518 1150. The fan room costs P800.00 The rooms actually have aircon units, but if you booked a ‘fan room’ just follow the honestly policy. 🙂 There is a sign right below the unit that says, “Please do not use the aircondition if you reservation is a fan room. – Thanks, The Management”
On my second night, I stayed at:
Dancalan Beach Resort |+63 905 218 2973 | A Backpacker’s Room costs P500.00. Good enough if you don’t mind shared bathrooms.
- MNL-Donsol-MNL via bus: P1,720.00 (if taking a car / sedan, the total transportation cost would be about P4,000 including toll fees)
- Lodging for two nights: P1,300.00
- Food / grocery / alcohol / yosi budget and other incidentals: P2,000.00
- Whale shark interaction: P900.00 (boat, crew, gear rental)
- Bike rental: P225.00 at P75 per hour
TOTAL DAMAGE: P6,145.00. Of course, this could go down about 40% if you are traveling with friends. I hope you get to enjoy Donsol as much as I did in my short stay here.
Shameless plug. My friend, Kim Patria, just launched his newest project called See Sorsogon. Check out the site as well as its Facebook and Twitter accounts. Contributions are very much appreciated. Up next, my Mt. Mayon adventure! There is no leaving Albay without a quick trek to an active volcano with a perfect cone. 🙂
This blog post is part of my 2015 travel project called #epic7107 — to vist as many places within the home-country as possible and to write not just about destinations, but also, people.