Ever since I embarked upon my 30 Before 30 Project, I’ve been getting myself from one adventure to the next, doing things I never thought I would be doing, subjecting myself to experiences that are all way out of my comfort zone—hiking two hours under the scorching summer heat, jumping into the deep blue ocean with no questions asked—just to have these momentary experiences of swimming in a crater lake and interacting with fishes the size of a bus. It has been one hell of a ride.
It is amazing how much my attitude towards travel has changed. I remember when I was ten years old, hours away from a flight that would take me from Manila to San Francisco, my late and much loved Auntie Char called me up to her room to give me a Philippines guidebook. It puzzled me why she would give me a local travel guide when I was on my way to see the United States (read: Disneyland). Sensing my confusion, my ever patriotic aunt then explained that while she was as excited as I was for my first trip abroad, she said that it was just as important that I go around my country. She said something along the lines of, “Before you go off making your mark in the world, take a look at where you come from. Go around the country. Find a place, a something, that you will one day proudly talk about with the people you meet along the way.”
I never really go to browse through that green book. I only saw the page she showed me—it was of the rice terraces of the Cordilleras—and it wasn’t until more than a decade later, when my itchy feet finally stepped on Sagada soil, that I felt the meaning behind her words. Since then I have been going around the country, from the quiet region of Can-Avid Samar, to gorgeous Palawan and vibrant Boracay, and much recently, to Legazpi, Albay where I finally saw the majestic Mayon Volcano, and Donsol, Sorsogon, where I earned myself extra bragging rights by swimming with whale sharks.
It wasn’t the first time I saw a butanding—we saw one in Japan at the Osaka Aquarium—but I have never swam close to one, and that lone whale shark we saw in Osaka was tiny compared to the one we swam with up close. When we finally made our way to the Donsol Tourism Center and got on a boat we shared with a group of German travelers, I thought I would be scared to death jumping into the water.
But surprisingly enough, the moment our guide told us to jump into the sea, we didn’t even hesitate. Into the blue we went, and it was such an adrenaline rush during the part where we were swimming after the whale shark, but the moment we laid eyes on the great fish, seeing it swim right below us felt like an out-of-body experience. It was active meditation, much like how I felt while trekking to and from Pinatubo’s crater. I was there in body and in spirit, but at the same time, I felt that I was looking at myself from a higher plane. Weird? Well, you have to experience it for yourself, but here’s a videoof our closest butanding encounter—they look like they’re swimming lazily, but don’t let the video fool you. We had to swim extra fast to keep up with this gentle giant.
Our butanding experience was so mind-blowing that my sister and I have decided to make this a yearly thing. Next year, I want to do it two, three days in a row, and with new friends in tow. It is just the ultimate rush, and one that you just can’t help but want to share with others! I can’t wait to see these fishes again and I am so glad that we discovered such treasures lurking beneath our country’s waters. It really is more fun in the Philippines—you just have to know where to look ;)