The Road to Making a Difference in the Philippines


IMG_9958Sitting by the beach watching the sun turn from white to orange to red as it gets immersed in the sea is a moment that can switch on your creative button. It is a great spot to read a book, write a story, or simply sip a cocktail drink and breathe in the fresh sea air. These are simple joys that have become a luxury to a city dweller. Truly, the slow-paced life and simple living of a small locality will make you stop and smell the roses.

This is the quiet town of Donsol in Sorsogon, located at the southern tip of the Bicol peninsula in the Philippines. But aside from its relaxing atmosphere that is devoid of skyscrapers and traffic jams, Donsol is also the perfect place to commune with nature. Not only will you get to know more about the other living creatures in our planet, but you will also learn how to care for them.

Donsol is known as the town that is being frequented by whale sharks. This giant sea animal has been hunted down by man and sold in the market. Through the years, their population has been on a decline and their species is going into extinction.

It is inspiring to note that the men who used to poach these whale sharks, or butandings, as called in the local dialect, are now the ones who safeguard these animals. They trained with the local government and environment groups on how they can guide visitors in interacting safely with the butandings. Donsol is now a model community on how they engaged the enemies of the environment to become its friends and protectors.

Interacting with the whale sharks is a thrilling experience. The anticipation at early morning adds to the excitement. Roaming the sea, the spotter will point towards the direction of the whale sharks. Once it is in close proximity, the boats turn off their motors so as not to disturb the butanding. Then the call to “jump!” signals everyone to plunge into the sea. What happens next is breathtaking. A few meters below, one will see a huge figure that is only discernible through the white spots on its back. It is larger than life yet its bulky body swims gracefully beneath the sea, unmindful of the spectators at the surface. Swimmers are strongly instructed against going close to the whale sharks, gentle they may be, to avoid getting anyone hurt, including the giant animal.

Apart from the interaction with the butandings and a short seminar about their species and how to care for them, Donsol also offers a beautiful experience of romancing with the fireflies. At the setting of the sun, visitors head to the river for a boat ride. As darkness envelopes the town, sparkling fireflies that take shelter in trees along the riverbanks create a feeling of mystic delight. It is like having a Christmas tree with twinkling lights, only that these lights come from a natural source. Their humming brings a natural song to a quiet evening in the river that is surrounded by nipa plants.

Such experiences in Donsol bring a fuzzy feeling that is magical and astounding. As night settles in, the town falls in a deep sleep. And you will leave Donsol carrying its advocacy of preserving and protecting our ecology.

About the Author: Claire Marie Algarme lives in the 7,107-island nation of the Philippines, she loves to travel around her country and visit neighboring countries.

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