One of the good things about traveling with only one goal in mind (say, see the whale sharks), the rest of the trip is open to anything. Of course, you can also look at it from a glass-half-empty perspective and think, there’s nothing else to do. And in the town of Donsol, which is mostly known for whale shark interactions, it’s easy to go down this road.
In the queue at the tourist center I overheard two tourists asking what else there was to do in town after they were informed that they’d have to take the boat tomorrow morning as there were no longer any slots available that day. The tourist center staff member mentioned the firefly watching river cruise at six in the evening. “Anything else before that?” You can also go island hopping, the staff member offered. “Anything else?” Pressed on the two girls. “Jetskis? Some other water sport?” Sorry, none of that in Donsol. (And thank goodness for that!)
So after you spend three hours on the water searching for whale sharks, expect to pretty much have the rest of the day being left to your own devices. For me this meant getting a chance to do a few things I haven’t done in a long while.
Like read an entire book in a day. While P had to finish writing something for work inside our room, I decided to sit outside and read. The sun was out after all that rain earlier and the sea was right in front. I sat on the wooden bench outside our room, feeling the warmth of the sun on my legs and drinking a cold bottle of Mirinda. A chapter through Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills and I was wondering whether it was the best beach reading to bring (“about a Japanese woman living alone in England dwelling on the recent suicide of her daughter”); but then Ishiguro’s wonderful and delicate prose can keep one spellbound. Right before sunset, I managed to put the book aside (I would finish it after dinner) and P and I decided to take a walk.
We didn’t walk all the way to the bayan or town proper. Many parts of the road were under construction and not a lot of people were milling about outside their houses–so unlike other small rural towns in other parts of the country. After the downpour earlier that day, Donsol looked like a quiet and lonely place. Or maybe the book was just getting to me.
We walked through a puddle-ridden road, taking a peek at the other resorts lined up in front of the shore. A couple of people who’ve been to Donsol suggested to us early that day to have drinks or dinner at Vitton & Woodland Beach Resort or Barracuda. We went inside Vitton. It was happy hour and there were a number of foreign tourists around the bar. We ordered our banana shake and beer and, as cliched as it might sound, happily sat under an umbrella and watched the sunset.
The following day, after the frenzied whale shark interaction, a late lunch and an afternoon nap, we asked our resort about the firefly watching river cruise. Normally, one has to take a tricycle to the docking area in the Donsol River or Ogod River (PhP1,250 or almost USD30 for a boat for 5 people), but because Dancalan Beach Resort has its own boat, we just needed to pass for the tour guide at the dock.
Taking a banca (a small outrigger boat) from the resort to the river while the sun sets is a admittedly a more scenic route to take. You have a view of the sun setting to your right, to your left is a view of the beautiful Mayon Volcano in Albay showing off its almost perfect cone from a distance, and very placid waters around you.
When we reached the docking area in the Donsol River, Bernard, our guide for the firefly watching river cruise joined us. A fisherman and tour guide, Bernard recalled how the butanding turned their little town around, giving many of them local fisherfolks an additional source of income. “We know that the butanding is a real help to us, so we have to do everything in our power to protect it. Imagine, one boat for a whale shark interaction employs a five-man crew, that’s already five families being helped.”
While the whale sharks became an eco-tourism attraction more than a decade ago, the firefly river cruise has only been ongoing for three years. Because of the 10-kilometer stretch of mangroves, which is now a protected area, fireflies abound in the rivers of Donsol.
Before the tour, I imagined our small boat would be navigating through a narrow body of water tightly flanked by the mangroves and the bright fireflies spilling from the trees to the boat. First off, the Donsol River is pretty wide and to watch the fireflies, the boat has to make several stops in the stretch of mangroves where colonies of those little lightning bugs brightly flicker. You look up and spend several minutes watching the fireflies do their thing. It was more cinematic in my imagination, but it was still a delight to see. Because if you also cannot remember the last time you saw so many fireflies, a trip down the Donsol River can change all that.