The reason why we went to Legaspi City was to experience swimming with the Butandings (whale-sharks) in Donsol, in the sleepy town of next-door neighbor Sorsogon. We were suppose to be a group of four (two couples), but one went ahead to heaven last October 2011 and the other one went to London instead. So there were only the two of us who proceeded with this trip. If we hire a private tour group (our original plan), the cost would be too expensive since there would only be two of us dividing the cost. So the next best thing was to do a “Do It Yourself” tour. And we spent less than P1,300 per person each, inclusive of lunch (but excluding the airfare of course)! Here’s how we did it.
From our hotel in Legaspi City, we took a tricycle to go to the Central Bus Terminal, a new centralized public transport terminal in Legaspi city for all the buses, jeepneys and vans plying from/to Legaspi to all other parts of the Bicol region. It is located in the parking area at the back of Savemore Supermarket in the city proper. The cost was P20.00 for both of us.
We then waited for the air-conditioned van to Donsol to fill up with passengers. There is no fixed schedule of departure, so it really depends on the number of passengers on that day. In our case, we were there at 7:00 AM and the van filled up only by 8:15 AM. Fare is P75.00 per person. Travel time was 1 1/2 hours, with a sidetrip to the pier in Pilar town, to drop-off passengers bound for Masbate.
We were dropped off at the town center/plaza of Donsol and we had to take a tricycle to go to the Donsol Visitors’ Center, where all tourists log in and register before they can proceed with the Butanding Interaction Tour. Cost of the 15 minute tricycle ride was P20.00 per person.
At the Visitors’ Center, we watched a 5 minute video presentation detailing the do’s and don’ts of the tour. We have to pay P3,500.00 tour package fee that included the P2,500 boat rental, P650 Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) fee and P350 Butanding Spotter’s fee. Local tourists also pay P100 each as registration fee (foreign tourists pay P300). But this tour package fee is for a maximum of SIX passengers/tourists. We were lucky there were three foreigners (an Australian solo tourist and a British couple) who also needed to share the boat with, so in the end, we only paid P800.00 per person! Not bad.
We brought our own snorkeling gear, so we did not have to shell out an additional P300 for equipment rental fees. Besides, it was more hygienic to use your own gear. You never know who used the snorkeling mouthpiece before you!
After paying the fees, we waited at the “boarding area” for our boat assignment. We were also introduced to our BIO who will guide us in our interaction with the whale sharks. It was not a long wait and we soon found ourselves out in the choppy waters of Donsol with dark clouds forming above.
The BIO will tell you when to jump into the water – and when he shouts “jump”, there should be no hesitation at all. You jump right in! Our BIO actually tugged my wife while swimming with the butanding.
And then, the weather turns for the worse. Heavy rains. But despite this, we were still able to swim with two butanding on two separate dives. We jumped five times, but only managed to see two whale-sharks. Our BIO said we were lucky. The day before our tour, they only spotted one butanding and the waters were really cloudy.
After 2 1/2 hours, our group, all wet and cold, decided to head back to shore, armed with exciting memories of our encounters with these gentle giants. It was indeed an awesome experience – something that I would treasure for a long, long time.
So, how much did we spend?
Legaspi Hotel to Central Bus Terminal P20.00
Legaspi to Donsol Van P75.00
Donsol Plaza to Visitors’ Center P20.00
Tour Package P800.00
Visitors’ Center back to Donsol Bus Terminal P20.00
Donsol to Legaspi van P75.00
Lunch (Pabalot Food Stall) P100.00
Legaspi Central Bus Station back to our Hotel P20.00
A day before we headed for Donsol, we were thinking of foregoing with the trip because of the rainy weather. We decided to call the Donsol Municipal Tourism Office and inquire about the possibility of tours being cancelled because of the rain – and they assured us that the Butanding Interaction tours proceed even if it as raining. Their contact numbers are (0919) 7070394 and (0921) 9699544. Visit their website at www.ecotourdonsol.com
For SHE SAID BLOGS: http://panaylakbay.com/blog1
For HE SAID BLOGS: http://panaylakbay.com/blog
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