The island, not the city.
Now we have cleared that up, let’s get started…
After a 3am wake up,we ventured out into the dark, cold night. Ok, it was NOT cold, it was ROASTING HOT even at 3am! Our driver picked us up from our hotel and we embarked on the 3 hour journey to Oslob on the South of the Island of Cebu. As it was dark, there wasn’t much to see, so I soon nodded off, waking up as the sun rose, about an hour away from our destination.
The last part of our journey was rather scenic as we passed along winding roads with the extensive coast in view. We arrived some 3 hours later at AJ’s Place in Oslob. I had opted to book here based on the reviews I had a read online, the fact there was a breakfast and lunch included and the fact we could avoid the larger group tours here.
On arrival, it wasn’t quite what I expected,we seemed to be greeted by a group of what seemed to be high school students, who it turns out, seemed to be doing the day to day running of the place. It did make us feel a bit uncomfortable, especially when we were introduced to our tour guide for the day, a 15 year old(ish) teenage girl.
We were led to our private beach ‘bungalow’, or rather gazebo, and served our breakfast of fresh mango, rice and hot chocolate. The mango was incredible. So delicious, sweet and juicy. Cebu is very well known for its mangos and I can see why! The rice I wasn’t so keen on and I didn’t get chance to enjoy the hot chocolate as it was scolding hot and we were hurried on our way to whale sharks.
We hired a Go Pro as we didn’t have a suitable underwater camera, it cost us 700 Philippine Pesos for the day hire and CD with all the pictures at the end. I made the mistake of leaving my bag at AJ’s place in one of their lockers, thinking I could get it back after swimming with the whale sharks, but due to a lack of communication on the actually day’s itinerary, I didn’t actually get my camera back until lunch. It’s amazing how lost I felt without my camera!!
I also didn’t realise that hiring the camera did not include actually getting to take the pictures yourself. Instead the camera was passed between our tour guide and the guys in charge of our small boat and never once was I allowed the camera to take my own pictures. Which I found very frustrating.
So, the whale sharks swimming site is within waking distance of AJ’s place and we arrived around 7am and the place was packed. I could not believe how busy it was. We had a short safety and conservation talk all about the whale sharks and what you can and can’t do. There is a lot of controversy over the whale sharks swimming at Oslob and I did feel quite torn about being there at times. The number of visitors is not by any means controlled and there are so many boats constantly ferrying groups of people back and forwards. The whale sharks are also constantly fed by a group of men on small boats to keep them in the area. They aren’t netted in or anything and could swim away if they wanted, but I suppose the constant supply of food lures them in.
Although you are told to keep a certain distance from the whale sharks, not to touch them etc, these rules are by no means enforced, and also, it is very hard to avoid when the whale sharks come so incredibly close to you!
We were boat number 52, and that was at 7am! So you can work out how many boats go out throughout the morning. I would therefore recommend getting there as early as possible as we still had to wait for around 30 minutes for our boat, and there isn’t much to keep you entertained whilst waiting.
Finally our number was called and we were handed a couple of very wet life jackets to put on, lovely. And so ensued the first of many disastrous attempts on my part of board/disembark the boats. I was an embarrassment. I do not know what happened to me but I seemed to have no sense of balance, coordination or ability to keep my shoes on my feet. Disaster.
One advantage of using AJ’s place for our trip was that we ended up with a boat just to ourselves, which really did help the experience. We also had two guides who ‘sailed’ the boat out to the whale sharks and took ALOT of pictures. It turns out that underwater pictures, where you are holding your breath and trying to avoid sinking are not flattering at all. However, we did get some amazing shots of the whale sharks. Oddly you must wear your life jacket in the boat but you can take if off to go swimming…
We had about half an hour in the water with them, which was plenty of time.I think due to the fact there were just the two of us meant that the whale sharks seemed to migrate towards us, so close that they often brushed past/underneath us. They are incredibly beautiful, gentle creatures. They glide through the water with ease and really do make you feel incredibly small. Even though they are no danger to you, the site of their metre wide, open mouth coming towards you really does make your heart stop momentarily!
We returned to shore and after another embarrassing disembarkation of the boat fail, were whisked off to our next destination, Sumilon Island.
I didn’t realise I wouldn’t be able to get my bag with my camera etc at this point as we were hurried along to board a pump boat near by. As it turns out, this part of the trip was nowhere near what I expected, and it was a good job I didn’t have my bag.
Firstly, I fell over boarding the boat, then I spectacularly fell off the boat and into the sea when trying to disembark at the island. I genuinely made the biggest splash ever, swallowed half the sea and cut open my knee. What on earth was wrong with me?!
It turns out that this bit of the island was supposed to be a nice sandbar to relax on but as it was high-tide, there wasn’t much to see, so we had a quick swim and then boarded the boat back to the mainland. If I am honest, this bit of the trip felt like a waste of time and it was a disappointment. I thought we would be exploring the island and spending a few hours here but for some reason this didn’t happen.
We ended up returning to AJ’s place by about 9:30am, way ahead of schedule and were straight away offered our lunch. Luckily as we had been up so early and were rushed through our breakfast we were hungry but it still felt odd having lunch so early! I am not going to lie, the day really was not turning out as expected.
Lunch was served and we enjoyed quite the spread of local dishes, including my favourite Chicken Adobo. Suitably full from being fed enough food to feed a very large family, we were shown the pictures that had been captured of our day so far. Luckily my boat fails were not captured on film!
We were handed our CD with the pictures on and bid fair well as we were ushered onto our next stop by our driver. Apparently this ends your association with AJ’s place as their guide does not join you. We were then pretty much left to our own devices.
Our next stop was Kawasan Falls. I had seen so many images of these beautiful falls all over social media, guide books and travel magazines. In all the pictures the falls look like paradise on earth. So peaceful, beautiful blue waters and serene. Oh, how the reality differs!
We were dropped off (abandoned) in a car park by our driver and left to find out own way. There are no signs, at this point there were no other tourists in site and no evidence of a waterfall being anywhere near by. We headed off in one direction and when a friendly local spotted us, he quickly pointed us in the right direction, so a quick u turn later, we were finally on the right path to the falls (or so we hoped!).
We followed the path along a beautiful river, past locals playing, bathing and washing clothes in the river. The walk to the falls is really great, and in my opinion, better than the falls themselves. It’s not far, maybe a 15-20 minute walk and although you can get a motorbike to take you there and back, you really would be missing out on the snapshots of local life and the beautiful riverside walk.
Eventually we made it to the falls. Hmmmm. This is NOT what the Instagram pictures look like. From the moment you reach the falls you are mobbed by people wanting to sell you everything, tables, chairs, life jackets, rafts, towels, food, drinks, the list goes on. The small area by the falls has been completely developed, there is nowhere to just sit and enjoy the falls (unless you are willing to pay for a table and chairs). It is dirty, overcrowded, loud and just completely ruins what was probably once an incredibly beautiful site.
I pushed my way through the crowds to the edge of the falls. It was the opposite of peace, quiet and relaxation that you would usually expect from such a site of natural beauty. I had quick dip in the water just to get some pictures and to cool off from the humidity and the water was refreshingly cold. We really didn’t stay long and were grateful to retreat from the falls.
It was just a classic example of tourism ruining the beauty of such a site. I know people need to make money but they have set up such a huge business right at the foot of the falls and there is no escaping it. It completely detracts from these stunning falls. In front of the camera, the falls are incredible, behind the camera though, well, that is a different story. If you have seen my Instagram, you will see that I am guilty of some serious editing on my pictures of the falls, removing unwanted people from the shop and making it look like the perfect, stunning waterfall that I am sure it once was.
After a disappointing trip to the falls, we had quite mixed feelings about the overall day. This was made even worse by the 5 hour journey back to our hotel due to the insane traffic on the Philippines. Tired and exhausted, we have incredibly fond memories of the whale sharks, which may well have been one of our favourite experiences in the
Philippines but it was somewhat damped by the rest of our day not quite living up to expectations.
Maybe if we knew what to expect at Kawasan Falls before getting there we wouldn’t have been so disappointed/surprised and I am sure to some people, this sort of commercial set up would be right up their street however, I like nature at its purest, I love the serenity of waterfall and I could spend hours watching the constant flow of water cascading down into the lagoon below. I really did think Kawasan would be like that and I was so excited to spend some relaxation time there, but clearly, the instagram pictures are edited and the real scene behind the camera is never shown. Such a shame, as the falls themselves really are truly stunning.