#14 – Threshers, Butanding, and the Home Stretch

Leaving sucks. I had three weeks left in Asia that I knew would fly by just as quick as the first 47 did. I can safely say though that these three remaining weeks were some of my favorite. Following my All Hands experience, I traveled to Padre Burgos, a coastal town at the southern tip of Leyte, Philippines. A group of us stayed at Peter’s Dive Resort, which was beachfront and super tranquil. There was awesome visibility and quite a few resident turtles right out front at the house reef….zero complaints.

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In the past Padre Burgos has had a reputation for being a wonderful place to swim with whale sharks. Of course, this had me buzzin’. Ever since I touched down in SE Asia I’d been dreaming of the day I’d swim with these ever-elusive giants. Unfortunately, once I got down to Padre Burgos I discovered that sightings have been extremely rare the past couple years. Some think the eco-system was disturbed so heavily by Typhoon Haiyan that they’ve migrated elsewhere.

So I decided to put the whale sharks on the backburner and head to Malapascua Island to chase a different pelagic species I’d been dreaming about: the thresher shark. Threshers have these enormous scythe-like tails that they use to stun their prey – they’re mesmerizing. They usually hang out in extremely deep waters, but during the early mornings at Monad Shoal off of Malapascua, they come up to shallower depths of ~30 meters to get cleaned by the sucker fish. It’s a symbiotic relationship where all parties benefit: the sharks get cleaned, the cleaner fish get fed, and the humans get to watch in absolute fascination.

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^Peep this on Youtube in 1080 if you actually want a clear visual of the thresher.

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I had an interesting last night on Malapascua. I’d sort of put the whale shark idea to rest for this trip. Donsol – the preeminent place to see whale sharks in the Philippines – was far, and it was too early in the season to bank on seeing the whale sharks there. Then I met a girl named Liza, who’d just come from there. She told me exactly what I needed to hear: the journey to Donsol is easily doable on my budget, and the whale sharks are out and about already.

And that’s all it took. Bright and early the next morning, I was off for the Cebu airport, rushing to catch a flight that I’d yet to even purchase a ticket for. Chaos ensued, but I managed to catch the flight and was on my way to Legaspi. One of my favorite things about this leg of the trip is the volcano you’re greeted with when you touch down there. It’s massive, currently erupting, and wildly close to the runway:

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A short van-van away from Legaspi is Donsol, home to the butanding (whale sharks) that roam the area from December to May. A group of friends and I hired a boat for two days, persistently seeking out the whale sharks, with zero luck. Our third day was my last chance. We set out on the mini-catamaran early in the day, determined to find us some butanding. When the chatter picked up amongst the spotters and they started pointing across the horizon, all of our hearts began to race. The driver throttled the engine up and we all scrambled to get our gear on. After complete pandemonium on deck, we hopped in the water, my heart beating at a speed I didn’t even know it was capable of. Then we spotted it – a dim grey shadow moving against the blue abyss. Here we are, these five humans with awkward flippers and snorkels on, kicking like absolute madmen to try to keep up with this gargantuan ten meter, twenty ton sea animal. The whale sharks coast through the water with ease, in an almost ethereal manner. This is surely the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done.

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The next day I was headed back to Bangkok for my final few days in Asia. Where did time go? It feels like it was just yesterday that I was taxiing out on the SeaTac runway. This whole experience has treated me incredibly well. To those I spent time with on my travels, thanks a billion for adding in one way or another to this highlight reel of a trip – it’s been an absolute dream.

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