6th Island – Leyte
Next stop Padres Burgos in Southern Leyte. A place where a lot of my friends have worked doing coral conservation, where the diving is apparently great and more importantly it’s whale shark season! Eek!
After what felt like 0 hours of sleep, we headed on to our next adventure – not before we discovered the locals celebrate New Year on the night of the 1st/2nd Jan. They do this with a big loud rave party which just so happened to be right outside our room! We left early to catch a bus back up to Ubay where we had tried to get money a few days earlier. From here we wanted to catch a boat to Bato in Leyte. We arrived at 8:00am and told the next boat wasn’t until 1pm! We’d been told there was a big ferry at 8:30am but clearly not! We didn’t want to hang around and do nothing, especially when we had quite a distance to travel once in Leyte. We returned to the street running parallel to the port and booked to go on one of the local bangkas instead. The next one was due to leave at 10:30am but already delayed until 11:00am. At 11:00am we all passed through the port terminal and got onto a Bangka. After a little confusion we were told this was not the right boat. Our boat was to arrive in 45 minutes but we were all allowed to stay on in the shade until it come. Our boat eventually arrived to chaos. Everyone wanted to get on without letting those that wanted to get off. After a lot of pushing and shoving a hell of a lot of people got onto the Bangka. I insisted we sit where there is a descent escape passage because if the locals are like this just getting on and off normally, what the hell were they going to be like in an emergency!??
We ended up sitting on the boat for what felt like hours but it was only another 45 minutes. Time was starting to build up now and it was getting late. As for the boat ride when we did get going……. Nightmare. The noise, heat and fumes meant 2.5 hours of hell. We both felt nauseous and we hadn’t eaten anything since our 1 bread roll at breakfast = crotchety Tool Trip Team!
Knowing we still had hours of onward travelling didn’t help the situation. We arrived and refuelled rapidly on sprite and cookies. We were just enquiring about a jeepney, van or bus to Maasin when a van door opened and out popped out friend Leon followed by the lovely Marleen. Marleem took one look at us turned around and vomited in the hedge behind. Nice to see you too miss!! Obviously it wasn’t the sight of us; she was suffering from some lovely Manila food poisoning. We knew we were both heading to the same place beforehand but we didn’t know really when and where. This made our lives a lot easier. We jumped into the van, kept well away from Marleen and headed to Maasin the capital of southern Leyte. It was here we ran some errands, got money etc. etc. before jumping onto a jeepney direction Padre Burgos.
We decided to check out Peter’s Dive Resort which both of us had heard was very reasonable and very friendly. Dino the manager greeted us and explained he only had a few dorm rooms which were empty. We could each have a room of our own. The price was very good with breakfast included and a great deal for the dives. We were told to keep it a little hush hush to avoid other guests hearing. So if anyone ends up there – negociate! JM and I were in a dorm with 2 bunk beds and Marleen and Leon with 3. We could move to a more suitable room the next day but they were comfy beds and cheap so we all stayed where we were for the remainder of our stay. For us we stayed 4 nights – snorkelling, diving, snorkelling, diving and chilling with Leon and Marleen.
Our first day we did nothing but blogging and catching up with the world as best we could. We were so far behind on the Myanmar posts. Normally we would have jumped in and gone diving straight away but the resort had only one boat in action, the other was having some maintenance done, this meant we could only dive from the shore or sign up for the whole day whale shark boat tour with 15 Chinese. We decided to skip that and instead we arranged for the day after; diving in the morning followed by hopefully snorkelling with whale sharks. A perfect program!
Let’s go diving and snorkelling and diving and snorkelling.
Our first dive in Sogod Bay was amazing, with beautiful corals, sharks, nudibranchs, fish everywhere, but it was a hell of a lot colder than expect and JM really suffered. In the end there were only 4 of us diving, whilst a kiwi family snorkelled above us and waited for the whale shark part of the day.
After the dive we motored down the east side of Sogod, past a tiny village where we picked up some 8 or so local spotters in their tiny wooden boats. Each spotter attached themselves in a long line behind us and we towed them to an area popular with whale sharks this time of year.
Whale Sharks – A dream come true
The suspense was incredible when we arrived at the spot! Everyone was ready and looking desperately around the boat. The spotters were now spread out. They had their own snorkel masks on and would dip their heads in the water to check before paddling off and finding another spot. Within 30 mins the spotters on the top of our boat spotted a whale shark at the surface. We all saw a fin and the boat manoeuvred well away so we could jump in and swim towards it without disturbing it too much.
Ready, steady, go go go!
I had prepared my fins perfectly for this exact moment. The back clips were undone and they were positioned so I could quickly put my feet in and off I go. Unfortunately someone decided to take mine in a rush and left me with ones where the clips were actually detached and they were completely the wrong size!!! I was completely devasted thinking this was my only chance to see a whale shark!! Everyone was already in the water swimming crazily towards the area it was last seen. I was just sitting there on my own like a loser! As luck would have it they saw nothing! Phewwww. The whale shark had already gone. Unfortunately on the way back all I heard was some yelling and crying. The kids from the kiwi family had been stung pretty badly as well as the parents. Lucky for JM, Leon and Marleen, they had wetsuits still on from the diving so they were all fine. After some hot water and a bit of vinegar the kids calmed down and were really brave.
The second sighting of the afternoon was seen by a spotter in his little wooden boat. We jumped in all on top of each other in excitement and swam as quickly as we possibly could. There is was 4m below us, a beautiful 5m whale shark just swimming and chilling. A really special moment for us and everyone was so happy!! We managed to follow it for about 5 minutes before it dove down and out of sight. We tried to swim down and get closer but with all the excitement and adrenaline we forgot to take a deep breath beforehand and lasted less than 2 seconds before having to come back up. The next time I tried to take an enormous breath but again I lasted 4 seconds. I couldn’t stay down I was just was too excited, the adrenaline pumping!!! We saw a whale shark!!!
We had just got back on the boat when another spotter alerted us. Exhausted already but excited, the boat manoeuvred away and we all jumped in. Go go go!! This time we followed the top spotter on our boat. Each time a shark is spotted he gets in the water too. I think to make sure we aren’t doing anything stupid and also incase any of us have a problem. He also swims like a fish and is always the first one to the whale shark. If you can keep up and follow him you’re more likely to see the shark. Swimming as fast as we could we saw another one! This time it was slightly bigger at around 6m, and we only had a few minutes with it before it disappeared into the blue. Time to get back to the boat again. This was really tiring work!!
So so happy we had already seen two and a half (a fin and shadow!) whale sharks, we started to relax. Not for long though. Within 10 minutes of the last sighting a spotter was going crazy on his tiny bangka!
Quick, quick, quick all station go! Plop and splash back in the water! This time it was around 8m. It was beautiful and just cruising about 2/3m below us. It didn’t speed up or dive down. Instead it just went round in one enormous circle, allowing us to keep up with it the whole time. It felt like an hour we were following it but it was probably only 15 minutes. Exhausted and happy we returned to the boat again.
After such good sightings the crew decided to head back home dropping the spotters at their village on the way back.
It was so wonderful to see these amazing fish in their natural habitat, showing natural behaviour. No feeding and no mass of tourism. 1 boat (us) and some local spotters. That’s all. We felt so privileged. An incredible animal and an incredible day.
Buzzing from the day, we decided to take the advice of one of my friends who had worked in the area for years, to do the night dive at the jetty in Padre Burgos. Apparently it was the best. Divers are only allowed to dive 3 nights of the week at the jetty, the rest of the time it’s for fisherman. Lucky for us it was a diver’s night!
Leon, Marleen and myself, along with Italian Tom, headed to the jetty with two divemasters on the back of a pick-up truck. All I can say is WOW it was such a great dive! We saw sooooooo much stuff!!! Everyone was finding different things and torches were being shone left, right and centre. It was one of my favourite dives ever and definitely the best night dive. When we resurfaced after 70 minutes all we kept asking was “Did you see this? Did you see that?” Great day!
Our 3rd day in Sogod Bay was reserved for more diving of course. Unfortunately we ended up at the same site as the previous day which was a little disappointing because there were so many other amazing spots in the area. However, Napantau is always a nice dive. We dove at Napantau north and south. Luckily for us we had better visibility than the previous day. The dive was stunning. Unfortunately I got severely stung on my face going down and it didn’t stop hurting until 30 minutes after the dive and I was back on the boat. It was also the first time ever I have really suffered from the cold whilst diving. I ended up ascending leaving the rest of the group after 57 minutes. I couldn’t take the cold anymore. What a whoosie I am!!! The water was 27 degrees – Boiling! Now I understand how JM feels and it’s not fun! JM decided to sit this dive out and opted for the shallower second dive. whilst we dove he went off snorkelling and had an amazing time. The visibility was incredible for him and at least he didn’t catch pneumonia like he almost did last time.
After a 1 hour surface break, a hot drink and a bit of a warm up, we were ready for the next dive.
JM joined us this time. 2 full wetsuits, a shorty, a body warmer and hood – he was ready to go!!
And guess what, another incredible dive! Fish everywhere, a giant common octopus, white tip sharks, nudibranchs, a particularly gorgeous colourful clown frogfish and the beautiful wall cover in coral. We didn’t get too cold or stung and we both lasted the hour. One of the best dives we’ve ever done – AGAIN! We arrived back to shore at 2:30pm and spent the rest of the afternoon checking out all the photos of the whale sharks and just chilling out with our friends. We decided to leave the next day and head further north to Boracay. Philippine’s top kitesurfing destination and tourist mecca. We’d done a lot of diving in the Philippines, mainly for me although JM really enjoys it, but it was now JM’s turn to do what he loves the most – KITESURFING