Tag archive for "donsol"

Firefly watch in Donsol, Philippines

Destinations, Philippines

Firefly watch in Donsol, Philippines

4 Comments 15 December 2011

Even though my bed was looking pretty good after waking up at 4 a.m. on the day of my arrival in Donsol, Philippines, I decided to go on a firefly watch that night. Departing from Amor Farm Beach Resort at 6 p.m. most nights, a bangka boat picks guests up at the beach and sails for about 20 minutes to Donsol River, which runs through Donsol proper.

Along the river we picked up our guide Bernard who knows absolutely everything a human being could possibly know about fireflies. Things like, they’re not actually flies, but beetles. They produce cool light. They mimic each other’s lights. It’s a chemical reaction that causes them to light up. This chemical reaction is done to attract the opposite sex.

Bernard was adorable and every statement he made was followed by, “Mam, you have question for me?” He is by far one of the best people I met in the Philippines.

But back to the actual tour.

It starts out slow. I saw maybe one firefly, then a few in the bushes here and there. Then all of a sudden, I spotted what looked like three Christmas trees situated ahead on the river.

Hundreds of fireflies covered these Indian Almond trees, pulsating light at the same pace. I was living my five-year-old dreams. (I was a professional firefly catcher from five to eight years old. I always dreamed of catching enough to make a lamp for my room. I’m sure you all know how that usually ended.)

Bernard then suggested we look down at the water. That was also flickering with light. He said the flickering came from all the plankton in the water and vast amounts of plankton are why so many whalesharks seem to visit the ocean surrounding Donsol every year. The tiny organisms also glow at night.

He finally advised us to look up. The stars were spectacular.

“Light is the water, light in the sky and light in the trees, ” Bernard said.

The area is so special for wildlife and luckily it has very little light pollution to corrupt such a beautiful view at night.

Firefly watch is an ideal way to end a day in Donsol and one a lot may not think of until visiting the area. It costs P1,250 and departs daily from Amor Farm Beach Resort. Make sure to bring a coat.

Banner photo courtesy of Best of Bicolandia Travel.

Thanks to Amor Farm Beach Resort for supporting my trip to Donsol. As always, all opinions are my own.

Become a fan of Amor Farm Beach Resort.

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Arriving in Donsol, Philippines

Destinations, Philippines

Arriving in Donsol, Philippines

2 Comments 07 December 2011

I’m not sure many airports can boast a better backdrop then the one in Legazpi, Philippines. Walking off my 6:30 a.m. flight from Manila to Legazpi, I looked left to see Mt. Mayon standing tall amongst a perfect blue sky with clouds circling its peak. It was such a gorgeous sight I put off retrieving my luggage for a bit to take some photos. No wonder the Bicolans, locals to the area, named it “magayon,” which means beautiful.

Visitors have a clear view of Mt. Mayon when departing their plane at Legazpi Airport in the Philippines. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I finally made it inside the airport to find a small luggage belt and not much else. Since there was only one flight, I was quick with picking up my bag and heading out. On my way out of the airport an officer stopped me, as well as everyone else, to check if my luggage tag matched the tag on my ticket. I later found out this is a security measure a lot of Asian countries take.

Leaving Legazpi Airport I found the same sight as in my airports near resort beach towns – a crowd of drivers screaming out from behind a fence. It can be a bit stressful to take them all on, so this time I made prior arrangements to be picked up by Amor Farm Beach Resort, my accommodation in Donsol, Philippines. Amongst a sea of shouting drivers, it was relieving to see “Bobbi Lee” on a white sign.

Tricycle drivers wave me over at the airport. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The car ride from Legazpi to Donsol is about one and a half hours. Legazpi is very small, but busy. Tiny cement block houses and stores as well as bamboo huts covered in Red Horse and Coca Cola ad posters line the streets. Jeepneys, tricycles, buses and bikes weave back and forth and in and out of oncoming traffic. It’s a fun ride if you’re with a bold driver.

But all that calamity dissipated as my van left the city. Palm trees became more plentiful and small houses spaced out amongst massive rice fields. Not long into the ride I smelled something roasting. It was a good burning smell that I later found out was burnt shrubbery, which locals do to help prevent mosquitoes.

My driver must have noticed me taking tons of photos cause he offered to stop at Daraga Albay Church, so I could take some of this local treasure. The 18th-century baroque church on top a hill looked as if it was slowly falling apart with a few windows smashed and chipped siding, but it’s still active and people were praying inside. The church was supposedly built by a “daraga,” which means single lady in local tongue. The size and details made it look quite dominating against a tropical backdrop.

Dargay Albay Church looks in ruins, but it’s still in use and offers beautiful views of the city. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The streets became busy again as we entered Donsol proper. Welcoming guests to the town’s biggest attraction, a paper mache whaleshark is displayed before entering the Donsol. Donsol proper has a similar setup to Legazpi, but much more low key and bit friendlier. Everyone smiles when you walk or drive by. Couples and families ride or bike together. For a major tourist town, it seems to have maintained its family-oriented, close-knit community.

The scenery quiets down again then sign after sign for various resorts pop up exclaiming, “Turn Here!” or “Left to so and so in 800 meters.” There’s an array of places to choose from and most cannot be found on the internet or in guidebooks. If you’re planning to do a lot of water-oriented activities, make sure to find a place close to the Donsol Tourist Center. During peak season, March-June, it may be a good idea to book ahead.

I had already arranged my accommodation with Amor Farm Beach Resort prior and as the van pulled into to this quiet and roomy resort right on the beach, I had a feeling I picked the right place.

The beach by Amor Beach Farm Resort at night. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Thanks to Amor Farm Beach Resort for supporting my trip to Donsol. As always, all opinions are my own.

Become a fan of Amor Farm Beach Resort.

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Eat like the locals: Bicol cuisine

Destinations, Philippines

Eat like the locals: Bicol cuisine

4 Comments 05 February 2011

Any time I would dine with other people in Donsol, Philippines they would ask the waiter or waitress, “Can you recommend more dishes like the local ones you did before?”

Bicol is the local culture and dialect in Legazpi, Philippines and the city’s surrounding area, including Donsol. This special culture includes quite a few unique dishes people may not be able to find anywhere else in the world, but definitely won’t be able to find better anywhere else.

It’s always a better idea to taste the local cuisine when traveling, not just to try something new, but also because those are the dishes the locals best know how to make. That may be why Amor Farm Beach Resort in Donsol has a sign in its Kawnkita Restaurant that reads, “Bicol cuisine at its best,” with four suggestions of key Bicol dishes listed underneath.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Kinunot P150

This dish features some kind of white flake fish, often sting ray or tuna, cooked coconut milk and malunggay, which is a popular tree that produces leaves similar to spinach. It’s very flavorful and can be quite spicy at times. A lot of dishes in Bicol cuisine are based in coconut milk and if you saw the endless amount of palm trees in the area, you would understand why.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Adobadong Manok P175

A good choice for the not-so-adventurous eater, this dish includes sauteed chicken with coconut milk and papaya. It’s a mild dish similar to other several sauteed chicken dishes, but with a slight taste that makes it special.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Laing P75

For the vegetarian, this dish has gabi taro leaves, which has a consistency similar to spinach when cooked leaves, cooked in coconut milk. The dish can also include ginger and taste very strong of it depending on whose cooking, Its quite a rich dish, so don’t be surprised if you can’t get through one serving.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Bicol Express P175

The name sounds westernized, but the tastes is like nothing outsiders have had before. They take pork and cook it in finger chillies and coconut milk. The mixture of spicy and sweet goes well with the meat, especially its fatty bits.

All dishes are served with rice.

Thanks to Amor Farm Beach Resort and Whaleshark Adventure and Tours for supporting my trip to Donsol.


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Third times a charm for butanding

Destinations, Philippines

Third times a charm for butanding

5 Comments 03 February 2011

The banke boat speeds up and motor gets louder.

They must see something.

So I look back to Jun, the spotter for my butanding (which means whaleshark in Bicol) search, he points two fingers to his eyes to motion, “I see,” then in the air, “two.”

It’s time.

I and the other five passengers on my banke boat strip off our clothes, throw on our fins and snorkels and move to the front of the boat. About ten boats are heading to the same whaleshark so we don’t have much time before it gets scared and “kararom,” goes deep as the Bicol crew says.

That was a word I had heard two often here in Donsol. This was my third day searching for whalesharks. While a few had been spotted in the past two attempts, every time, “kararom” and the fish that has fascinated me for so long was gone.

But this time is different. I have a good feeling about Jun and he looks pretty determined staring ahead as our banke speeds up to join the others.

“Get ready on the right,” Jun says.

We all sit with our feet hanging off the right side of the banke. Then I the Dutch girl behind me gasps and points ahead.

Passengers on a whaleshark search await on the right side of their banke for the signal to jump. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Passengers on a whaleshark search await on the right side of their banke for the signal to jump. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I see the tip of the whaleshark’s tail.

But we notice it too late. The banke goes over it, more than tapping it.

Great, I think. The closest I’ll probably ever get to a whaleshark and we kill it.

But Jun is still determined. The boat swerves and Jun screams, “Go!”

I don’t hesitate. My body flings from the moving banke right behind Jun’s. I follow him closely, but I am the only one. My head is in the water searching desperately. Then I see Jun’s hand in front of me pointing.

There it is. Everything I came to Donsol for. I could only see the whaleshark’s tail, but I saw it!

Photo by Neils Dekker

This photo is of the second whaleshark I saw. Photo by Neils Dekker

I come to the surface, smiling and shouting, “Yes!” to Jun, but he seems unfazed.

“It was hurt, so he swims away,” Jun says.

It’s amazing how fast that whaleshark swam. Every video I had seen showed the fish in slow motion, but this one is speedy.

Jun is even more upset that not everyone in the group saw it, so when he gets back to the banke he reiterates how important it is to follow his command.

We’re not in the banke long. Another whaleshark is spotted and Jun tells us to prepare. The banke moves towards what looks like the scene from “Titanic” when the boat sinks and everyone is splashing around at the surface.

Mayhem at the surface. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Mayhem at the surface. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

At Jun’s command we all sit on the edge of the right side of the banke.

“Go,” Jun shouts.

I follow straight after him once again. This time is a bit more chaotic as about 30 people surround me, splashing around. But I keep close to Jun and watch his hand. Again he points to me underwater.

Finally, the whole whaleshark in all its glory. I knew it be amazing, but this was ten seconds of pure bliss.

I’m the only one completely underwater swimming above a six to seven meter graceful beast. I want to hold my breath just a little longer, but I can’t. I resurface, breathe deep and dive down again, but not without swallowing a mouthful of salt water. I catch up to the whaleshark, but this time it’s moving faster. I’m above it’s head, then it’s body and finally it’s massive tail. I watch it disappear, then resurface smiling.

Now I just need to find my group and my banke in this mess!

Jun, legendary spotter, and I after swimming with the whalesharks.

Jun, legendary spotter, and I after swimming with the whalesharks.

Snorkeling with a whaleshark was even more amazing then I thought it would be, but not nearly as easy.

I don’t know why I assumed I was guaranteed to see a whaleshark in Donsol the first day out. This is the best place to see the fish in the Philippines, but they’re still wild animals that live in a massive ocean.

My whaleshark saga started Sunday, January 30. It was season for whalesharks but not high season. I woke up at 7 a.m. grabbed a pair of fins as well as a mask and snorkel from Amor Farm Beach Resort then made my way to the Donsol Tourist Center, only a five-minute walk.

At the center, people must pay a P300 registration fee, which is good for five days, and P3,500 for the boat ride, which is split up among its passengers, a maximum of six per banke. After a short video explaining procedures, which also featured a Baywatch-like scene introducing Butanding Inspection Officers (BIO), passengers wait to be called.

On the banke, there are two designated spotters, one captain who runs the motor with a long bamboo stick and one person in charge of steering. Spotters look for shadows of the whalesharks. There is no radar system. So it’s easier to spot a whaleshark on a sunny day.

My first banke included four English people and one Chinese guy. As usual with a boat full of English, the experience was a good laugh, but a bit of a let down. A few bankes spotted a whaleshark, one’s passengers even jumped in the water. But our spotter said, “Kararom.” That was the only sighting in four hours at sea.

However, the English were determined to find one that day as it was their only full day in Donsol, so they asked the captain how much it would be to take a banke out that afternoon. They paid P2,000 under the table for two hours on the boat and they came back with nothing.

The next morning I tried again, which went pretty much the same as the day before. That afternoon, a German and I decided to do a bit of “snorkeling” via banke boat and if the spotter on board happened to see a whaleshark then hooray.

Again, nothing.

The following day, I was scheduled to go on a land tour of Mt. Mayon and Legazpi city. While I wanted to give the whaleshark search another try, I think a day off the sea and away from the sun was just what my over-tanned skin needed. I came back that night to hear from two guests at my resort that they saw five whalesharks and swam with all of them.

Was this some kind of cruel joke?

Then came my third and final day at sea. The day I had originally planned to leave Donsol for Cebu, but at the last minute changed my flight.

Obviously the extra day in Donsol was worth it. I swam with two whalesharks and while I may not have a photo to prove it, (I’ll be shocked if the photos I shot on my disposable underwater camera came out considering all the poor visibility due to plankton) that image will stay with me forever.

And the feeling is one that will be quite hard to top.

Thanks to Amor Farm Beach Resort and Whaleshark Adventure and Tours for supporting my trip to Donsol.

Become a fan of Amor Farm Beach Resort and Whaleshark Adventure and Tours.

This was posted from Legazpi Airport, which is a free wifi zone.

Hanging on at Manta Bowl

Destinations, Philippines

Hanging on at Manta Bowl

4 Comments 30 January 2011

“You dance with the tide,” Ruby Lita, operations manger at Whaleshark Adventure and Tours , which operates out of Bicol Dive Center in Donsol, says during a dive briefing for Manta Bowl.

Then she pulled out the hook on a string.


Divers hook onto a rock or hard piece of coral, then wait for something big to pass by. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

How strong is this current?

Lita says five knots on average. The dive plan is to descend in a group, find a hard piece of rock or dead coral attached to the ground and hook in.

Why do it?

To dive the Ticao Pass, which Lita also calls, “Big boys’ alley.”


San Miguel, located above Ticao Island alond Ticao Pass, also known as "Big boys' Alley."

The pass, located between Luzon and Ticao Island, is known for its large fish, in particularly manta rays, hence the name Manta Bowl. People also see sharks and sometimes even whalesharks.

It was clear by Lita’s look and questioning, “What is your experience? Have you drift dived before?”, that this wasn’t the easiest of dives. Still divers ranging from open water-certified with eight dives to rescue diver-certified with countless, boarded the banka boat for the dive companies full-day, scuba tour.


Crew and divers board the banka boat in Donsol, Philippines. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The banka boat departed from a short walk from the dive center, which is located across from Donsol Tourist Center just minutes away from Amor Farm Beach Resort, where I’m staying. The first destination was San Miguel Island, located above Ticao Island, about an hour banka ride from Donsol.

On the way out, the sun came out and a blue flying fish landed on board. First spot of the day! This dive was already shaping out to be a lot better than some of my previous ones. The island looks like two massive mountains coming from the water with a deserted beach in between.


A flying fish landed on our banka on the way to San Miguel.

Upon arrival Reynado De Castro, our divemaster, briefed us all again. This site was to see a few things, but also to get sorted with weights and test everyone on a slight drift before heading to Manta Bowl. With that my group of six divers and two divemasters geared up. While getting ready, Ray told me the dive site is named “Bobby’s Wall,” like me, but with a y.

And what a beauty my wall was.  Within five minutes of descending, Rey spotted a stone fish, followed by several lion fish, a sea snake, marble ray and two nudi branks. I was quite relaxed on the dive, thinking this drift time thing is easy, when boom! Literally, BOOM! Then again and again. Rey turned around and signed with his hands to relax. Once on the boat again, he said it was dynamite fishing, which is illegal in the Philippines, but still occurs.


One lion fish Rey spotted at Bobby's Wall. Photo by Tobias Loechner

After an easy first dive, I felt quite relaxed on the hour-long journey to Manta Bowl. But my confidence and calmness disappeared as I saw on the side of a rocking boat, about to roll back into unforgiving currents. Rey and the rest of the staff were extremely attentive to every diver. In spite of all calamity at sea, Rey kept everyone in order and together.

As I descended 18 meters in waters with 10-meter-visibility at Manta Bowl, it was hard to even noticed the current. Then I caught a glimpse of the bottom and realized just how strong it was. The group hit bottom and all looked to Rey. He motioned for us to keep drifting, then pulled out his hook.

It’s really frightening at the moment. I attempted to latch onto one piece of rock, but it was not attached. I quickly grabbed onto another and while I was hooked in, it didn’t seem like a comfortable position. I tried once more and finally felt somewhat safe. All the while I was nervous of bumping into other divers behind me, but even more concerned about completely passing the group.

I was in constant motion down there.


Holding on as the water swung me around the bottom. Photo by Tobias Loechner

Once hooked in divers just wait for something big to pass by. To be quite honest, I was more focused on staring at the rock that was holding me. Waiting there I started picturing myself coming undone and having to grab onto something again. Then I wondered if my knees were positioned anywhere close to a sea urchins or something else that could really hurt me. Finally, I realized I was the one doing the hurting as I looked back to see my knee on a piece of coral.

My body flew side to side, while my right hand clung to a short rope completely straightened. We moved once more, but no big fish passed by. In fact, the only cool thing I saw was a puffer fish who I think was taunting me.

The group ascended hand-in-hand to a safety spot. Rey released his safety sausage connected to fishing line, so the boat could come pick us up. Then everyone boarded for lunch. Lunch was a simple marinated chicken with rice and string beans. The boat offered us endless water and cookies.

The third and final dive went about the same as the second. No big fish, but I actually enjoyed the current. It was quite a rush to be in the middle of water that strong. Plus, the way Rey handled the previous dive and kept us all together made not worry about the last.

While I didn’t see any Manta Rays, the whole experience was thrilling, yet relaxing. Just the boat was something special and the rides to and from offered some beautiful sites. I saw things in the first dive that I have not anywhere else in the world, which gets me pretty excited for diving the rest of the country.


Whaleshark Adventure and Tours

Located in Bicol Dive Center across from the Donsol Tourist Center in Donsol, Philippines

Underwater Manta Bowl Tours

P4,500 for three dives, P3,500 for two dives

Contact Ruby R. Lita
+63 921 929 3811

Thanks to Amor Farm Beach Resort and Whaleshark Adventure and Tours for supporting my trip to Donsol.

Become a fan of Amor Farm Beach Resort and Whaleshark Adventure and Tours.

This was posted from Quick Access Internet in Donsol Proper. Internet costs P20 per hour.

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