The Vanishing Whale Sharks of Donsol

As I mentioned on our Facebook Page last week, Berlin is THE crossroads for travel bloggers this summer. While exchanging stories and travel tips, we discovered that the whale sharks of Donsol, Philippines appear to be vanishing.

I was stunned.

When I got home, I immediately started researching the claim and discovered that it appears to be true. Apparently, the number of whale shark sightings has dropped dramatically. There has not been much international media coverage on the issue, but newspapers in the Philippines are reporting Continue…

Remembering the Lady in the Snake Bone Crown

For years, we referred to her as the “lady in the snake bone crown.” We met her while we were people watching at the market in Bontoc in the Philippines. Perhaps, “met” is a bit of an exaggeration as we really couldn’t speak to her. But we sat with her as she showed us her tattoos and her snake skeleton hairpiece, memories of a rapidly vanishing age. Despite the fact that we did not know her name or really anything about her, we remembered her very well. In fact, meeting her was one of the most meaningful experiences we had in the Philippines, a country full of amazing people.

In March 2013, Janet Scott Tama wrote to us to tell us the lady in the snake bone crown was Ina Ngallowan from Tucucan, a village near the Maligcong rice terraces, and that she was still alive and doing well. Putting a name to Ina’s face was an exciting discovery for us. We had talked about her and Bontoc’s vanishing traditional culture many times.

Last week, we received an email from Tesiesakoy Chapap telling us that Ina had passed away. We can Continue…

UPDATE – El Nido Coral

We just received this very detailed letter from one of our readers named Johnny, who took the time to update us on the condition of the coral in El Nido on the island of Palawan in the Philippines.

If you were following our blog while we were traveling through Palawan, you might remember that our post 100 Ways to Kill Coral generated some controversy among the locals and we received several informative comments from Lee Goldman at S.E.Asia Kayak Tours.

According to Johnny, not much has improved since then and he even seems to suggest that the situation has worsened. If anyone has any additional opinions (including El Nido locals), we would love to hear them in this post’s comment section.

Here is a copy of Johnny’s letter:

Hello Tony,

Thank you for the report.

I have been to El Nido twice… in November 2010 and more recently, last week. On my first visit, I did island hopping tour A (Miniloc Island and surroundings) and found that most of the coral was dead, and consisted mainly of rubble. The snorkelling sites were shallow and I assumed the rubble was due to the daily stamping of careless tourists.

Last week, I did tour C (Matinloc and Tapuitan Islands). The tour operator collected both the tour fee and Eco Tourism Development Fee (P200) from each person the day before. The operator did not Continue…

One Last Look at the Philippines

When we came to the Philippines, we only intended to stay for two to three months. Over five months later, we’re still here. Clearly, we like it.

Amazing underwater treasures, beautiful jungles, deserted white-sand beaches, stunning landscapes, and some of the friendliest people in the world make it a hard country to leave. To recall our terrific time here, we’ve put together a Philippines pictorial of some of the highlights.

Dolphin Superpod

Ripples throughout the picture only hint at the number of dolphins below the surface.

Returning from our dive trip to Calanggaman Island, we had yet another stroke of extraordinary luck. Well before we arrived on the scene, we could make out chaotic splashing on the horizon and what appeared to be animals leaping out of the water. As we approached, we realized that we had stumbled upon yet another of nature’s great spectacles: a dolphin superpod.

I’ve seen dolphins from California to Madagascar to Indonesia, but I had never seen anything like this in my life. Hundreds upon hundreds of spinner dolphins forming one massive group. At the center a chaotic splashing in what appeared to be a unified attack on a large school of fish. Hyped from the hunt, all around us dolphins leapt through the air. Some shot up high above the surface performing feats of aerial acrobatics straight out of a Seaworld show. Incredible. Thresher sharks, a manta, off-shore tornadoes, pygmy seahorses, and a dolphin superpod. Perhaps, the Philippines is giving us a few good-bye gifts before we leave the country.

Pygmy Seahorses

It took us three dives, but we have finally sighted the elusive pygmy seahorse. This tiny creature is, perhaps, the ultimate testament to the miracles of evolution. (I’ve said it before, Darwin would have loved scuba diving.) But finding these little guys isn’t easy. After several minutes of searching a large sea fan gently clearing debris and carefully examining each branch, our divemaster pointed out the ultra-tiny seahorse, which was about 1/3 of an inch (8mm) long. When he first pointed it out, I mistook it for a part of the fan. I stared at it for several seconds before I realized “the tiny piece of fan” had an eyeball. Its unbelievable adaption to the surrounding fan branches allows the tiny seahorse to blend in perfectly. Man, the underwater world really blows me away!

Touchdown

While enjoying pina coladas at our dive resort in Malapascua, we suddenly noticed people running to the beach and pointing excitedly out into the water. Cocktail in hand, we ran over to join the group on the beach just in time to witness two funnel clouds forming off in the distance over the ocean.

Within minutes, the right cloud had touched down and formed a water spout. Everyone was oohing and ahhing while snapping pictures of this spectacle. It definitely pays to come to the Philippines during the typhoon season. Sorry for the photo quality, but it was dark, I just had my snorkeling camera, and I was on my second pina colada. 😉

Our First Manta!!!

Embedded video similar to what we saw

We came to Malapascua to see the thresher sharks, but this island has gifted us with one spectacular animal after another from giant seahorses to schools of squid to mandarin fish to white-tip sharks. We are definitely getting our money’s worth here. But this afternoon, the gift of all gifts was a mind-blowing 5+ meter (16+ foot) manta which came hovering in over us like a massive underwater UFO at one of Monad Shoal’s cleaning stations.

As if that weren’t enough of a show, a thresher shark came swimming in behind us as we were manta spotting. An afternoon thresher is a rare sight at Monad Shoal. You’ve got to love those lucky days. Continue…

My Fowl Mood

Never a full night’s beauty sleep in rural parts of the Philippines. The constant cock-a-doodle-dos of a thousand roosters in training make sound sleep an impossibility. Cockfighting is to the Philippines what vodka is to Russia – the ultimate pass time.

Filipino men prance through the streets with their beloved fighting-cocks in arm taking them into restaurants or stores or wherever they want “to be seen.” Like Paris Hilton’s toy chihuahua, a colorful fighting-cock has become the ultimate living accessory, a must-have accoutrement for the fashion-conscious rural Filipino man. You can learn to breed them on Cock-Fighting TV. Or, if you are lazy but want to keep up with your pals, you can just order the Cock-in-a-Box starter kit. (No, I’m not making this up.)

Even if you don’t have a problem with people sewing razor-blades onto their pet chickens so that they can face off in gladiatorial battles to the death, you will have a problem with your hotel owner Continue…