Our 20+hr odyssey in the air finally came in to land at the city of Legazpi. When we got off the plane, we were greeted above by steaming, Mount Mayon (in the background) and relentless humidity everywhere else.
After jostling our way out of the airport, getting hit by bags coming off the carousel from an enthusiastic crowd (and Rose returning the favour to one of the perpetrators), we fell in with two other couples who were arranging transport to Donsol – also our destination – and asked them to count us in to their, already, intense negotiations on a price with a driver.
While going back and forth with one van driver who insisted Rose and I could sit in his trunk and keep eight big hiking bags company for the 1.15hr drive, we decided to splurge, and treat ourselves each to a seat in another van.
I know. First a hotel. Now van seats? You’d think we were pampered celebrities.
It all worked out, and we hit the road to Donsol. But why you may ask?
It was a small fishing and farming town until 1998, when businesses, with guidance from the World Wildlife Federation, realized they could make money bringing tourists close to the many whale sharks that regularly migrate off their shores between Jan – May/June.
Since then roads have been built, along with resorts and a massive increase in tourism devoted to the Butanding – Philipino for “whale shark”.
But we’re just going for the food.
Though, I think that would be hilarious if someone were to ask: “Have you seen a whale shark?” and I replied, confused: “No, so far, I’ve only eaten snapper.”.
Driving on the way to Donsol, you pass homes and convenience stores put together by dried palm leaves, corrugated metal, and whatever else the residents can find, only to come upon a big church, dressed to the nines in concrete and sound building principles.
Rose read the insignia on the church as we passed, presumably because it stood out in such contrast: “Iglesia de Christo” (that white building in the picture above).
Our van driver says: “Oh yes. Church is big business”.
But, it seems in Donsol, if you’re going on symbolism alone: the number of whale shark replicas, buttons, t-shirts, and other whale shark paraphernalia kicking around suggests the town has more than enough room for another idol.
Next stop: putting it to the test by getting in the water, hopefully, with Butanding.