Me, with one of the smaller butandings (whale sharks) of the day. This one was around five meters long. The biggest we saw that day was about nine. Our guide, Omar, said that the biggest anyone was likely to see in Donsol would be around 12 meters, though whale sharks grow up to 14.
It was awe-inspiring and majestic, and I feel pretty damn lucky to live in a country that is so rich in marine life (though I do wish we made more efforts to protect it), because I’ve always been a water baby.
I don’t know what it is about me and the sea, but I like to be close to it. I feel safe in it. I have an intense fear of heights, but absolutely no fear when it comes to jumping into the ocean. That, I’ll do without hesitation whenever I can. (I grew up wanting to be a marine biologist—so very far from my current occupation: as assistant beauty editor for a women’s magazine.) I go a little crazy if too much time passes without my getting to set foot in some saltwater.
Getting to swim with the whale sharks is something I’ve wanted to do since I learned that I could do it, and let me tell you, waking up at 4:30 AM for the two-hour drive from Misibis Raintree to Donsol was so very worth it.
The first jump is a little nerve-wracking. You’re relaxing on the boat, then suddenly the guide shouts “Ready!” and you have to get your mask and snorkel on (and fins, if you like fins—I don’t), scramble to the side of the boat, sit along the edge, and on the guide’s mark, jump off in sequence into the open ocean. It’s the deepest water I’ve ever been in, with or without a life jacket. (I went without. I find it’s actually easier to swim without it.)
The guide signals you to swim in a certain direction. The water’s murky, it’s crazy dark below you, you don’t see anything, then your guide points and you still don’t see anything, then suddenly, holy shit, it’s a whale shark mouth thisclose to you! It’s huge! (Though not Monstro-huge, so there’s no fear of getting swallowed alive.)
I can’t even begin to describe how thrilling and humbling it is to be so close to such an incredible creature. I’m not going to bother trying; it’s just something you have to do sometime in your lifetime. (Soon would be ideal; climbing up the metal ladder into the boat is bloody harder than swimming in the open sea; imagine doing it over 10 times if you do a lot of jumps.)
We swam over them, in front of them, next to them; came close enough to touch (but didn’t; it’s not allowed, and besides, sharks feel like sandpaper). It was amazing. They were so beautiful.
I hope we go back, and I hope I get to do it again. And, well, one thing’s for certain: snorkeling in 15 feet of water sans life vest is never going to be scary ever again. Haha!