SNAPSHOT: THE ENCHANTING TOSLOB FALLS

IMG_2989

Like everything in life, when things gets overwhelming, you need to step back to see the whole picture.

The first time I went to Toslob/Mag-ambak Falls, I was so amazed with the beauty and the feel of the place.  Water cascading gently down a wall of umbrella-like rock formations creating a curtain of rain shower falling into a (not too) shallow pool hidden by bamboo trees and lush mountain vegetation.  I tried to get as close as I could, hoping to take a photo underneath the falls, looking up the sky.  Of course, that is easier said than done.  Firstly, my camera isn’t water proof.  Second, the widest my lens can go is 18mm.  But I did try… not too close tho.

When I returned after a year or two… this time, with another set of friends who very much enjoyed swimming in the cool waters of Toslob falls… I wondered away, followed the water as it flowed down stream from the main pool down to patches of smaller pools and rivers.  From a distance, the place is just as enchanting.

OSLOB: TOSLOB/MAG-AMBAK FALLS

We were done with whale shark watching at a little past nine in the morning.  We got breakfast at one of the stalls in the beach — grilled whole chicken, liempo and rice.  Since we were staying overnight in Oslob, we were now wondering what else to do with all the time we have… besides sleeping (sayang naman ang oras).  IMG_6827We found ourselves on a multicab (once again arranged by Gwen, our homestay host), driving to the highlands of Barangay Tomalog, Oslob.  After 15 minutes drive from the beach, we got to the drop off point where we paid Php 20.00 entrance fee.

We were told that the hike going to the falls would be around another 15 mins… or we could take a habal-habal going.  We decided to walk since the road was paved though it was very steep… probably the reason why most vehicles don’t go beyond the entrance area.

IMG_6837

The hike down probably took us more than 15 minutes… with the usual stops for photo ops and to catch our breaths.  On hindsight, I think it is always a good thing to bring a thumb stick or hiking poles when going on hikes to help you keep your balance and reduce stress on your legs, knees, feet and back.  It was a tiring walk but manageable compared to most destinations that require similar treks.

Imposing cliffs and a lush jungle surround the waterfalls.  As you near the site, you are greeted by mini pools.  It’s a good thing that they did not try to develop the area and put some artificial structures in the area.IMG_6862

When you get to falls, it is simply breathtaking.  Unlike other waterfalls that overwhelm you with their power, Toslob falls is a large wall of cascading rainfall.  It’s as gentle as you can get.IMG_6858

The fresh water cooled us down and washed away the saltiness from our skins.  It was a good place to think or meditate.  We somehow lost track of time and took us awhile to decide to go back to where our rented vehicle was suppose to pick us up.IMG_6868

We decided to take the habal-habal going back.  Too tired… too lazy… by this time we were all sleepy.

OSLOB: SWIMMING WITH THE (WHALE) SHARKS

“Manong, may pating ba dito (are there sharks here)?” Maki nervously asked our boat paddler-guide as we were heading further away from shore.  There should be.  We have traveled through three provinces just to see the Tuki (Whale Sharks) in the waters of Oslob.  Maki has been recounting the horrifying scenes and episodes from the TV show “Animals Gone Wild” ever since we planned this trip.

DSC05322

Whale shark watching in Oslob starts at 6:00 a.m. until about 2:00 p.m.  We arrived at the port of Liloloan around 6:00 a.m. and decided to head to our home stay host in Daang Banwa so we can leave our stuff.  We got an air conditioned room, which can accommodate six (6) persons with had it’s own bath and shower for Php 800.-.  The beds looked so tempting after traveling for more than six hours.  It was hard to resist falling asleep… but we have been looking forward to this adventure.

Gwen, our host, arranged for a multicab to take us to beach managed by the local government in Tanawan, Oslob.  She also owned a small souvenir shop and arrange whale shark watching tours.  When we got to the beach, we registered and paid the fees inclusive of the boat rental, guide, and snorkeling gears… Php 500.-, if you wish to go snorkeling and Php 300.-, if you’re staying on the boat, which I did.  For foreigners, the amount is doubled.

goggling goggles
goggling goggles
more fun in the Philippines... indeed!
more fun in the Philippines… indeed!
at the orientation area

Everyone was required to undergo orientation at the briefing center on the rules for interaction with the sharks.  The orientation was very brief that I barely remembered anything what the lady said… Probably that’s the reason why they have illustrated version of guidelines in case you didn’t want to listen or tend to forget easily.

Let’s see if I got the DO’s and DON’Ts right.

  • maintain a minimum distance of three (3) meters from the whale sharks
(too) close encounter

My friends who went into the water had no intention whatsoever of invading the whale shark’s personal space or swimming within the allowable distance… but there seems to be a problem since the sharks like to swim within close proximity of the humans.  They were caught by surprise when a shark brushed their feet while they were floating in the water.

  • do not undertake flash photography
Atty Maki trying to configure her underwater camera

Since I opted to stay on the boat, I took photos of my friends who swam with the sharks… and many times tried to swim away from the sharks who were heading towards them.  I left Igor (my camera) at a locker we rented for Php 20.-… and used a Doc Argie’s point and shoot instead.  Atty Maki also brought an underwater camera with her.  There wasn’t much need for flash since it was a clear day and even underwater, you can get a clear shot of the sharks.

photo by Atty Maki
photo by Atty Maki

According to Atty Maki, she just pointed and clicked her camera… and hoped that she got a picture of the sharks.  It wasn’t that difficult to capture them in the frame since they were quite enormous… some even bigger than the boat we were on.

  • do not attempt, touch or ride the whale sharks

DSC05325

Several smaller boats with lone paddlers called out “Seven”, “Francis”, which we later on realized were the names they gave to the sharks.  In no time, sharks would swim towards these boats… the paddler would feed them with small shrimps.  It was incredible to see that these giant creatures seemed to have formed a bond with the fishermen and how they seem to follow the boats around like pets.  Though I wonder if the fishermen were also told not to touch the sharks since I have seen a few who would pet the shark that swam along side their boats.

  • do not use sunblock (I read this in the internet)

DSC05248

The use of sunblock lotion is discouraged since the chemicals will be harmful to the whale sharks and the other fishes in the area.  If you don’t want to get burned by the sun, it would be good to come early when the heat isn’t as intense… otherwise, you can always bring an umbrella.

We saw at least four (4) whale sharks at the same time… though there could be fifteen (15) or more of them in the waters of Tanawan.  Interestingly, they have grown to be the fishermen’s ‘pets’.  You didn’t have to look or wait long to see them.  The sharks seem to be too accustomed to the presence of humans (especially the fishermen) that they just appear right away.  After thirty (30) minutes, we headed back to shore.    

It was a surreal experience, though I stayed in the boat (because I can’t swim) and had to watch these gentle giants only as they surfaced from the water… it didn’t take away their magnificence and impressive size.  The whale sharks (or Tuki as the locals called them) in Oslob have been drawing a lot of attention and hordes of travelers and tourists.  Much needs to be done in terms of protecting these gentle giants.  I’m not an environmentalist or an expert on the matter, so I don’t really know what is the best course of action at this point… but as visitors and travelers, we can do our share in following the rules even if no one is watching.

smile!
smile!
photo by Doc Argie

EN ROUTE: BACOLOD-SIBULAN-OSLOB

schedule of Bacolod to Dumaguete
via Mabinay A/C Ceres buses

It started raining late in the afternoon in Bacolod.  The rain would pour hard for a brief moment and thin out as if it was about to stop… then it would start raining hard again.  Maki sent me a text message, reminding me to pack my rain gears and that she was picking us up after eleven o’clock in the evening.  So things weren’t looking too good.  We would have to do without the “swimming with the (whale) sharks” in Oslob if it continued to rain the next day… and that was suppose to be the highlight of this trip.

Fortunately for me, my friends agreed to take the midnight bus from Bacolod to Dumaguete.  I would much rather stay up late to catch the bus than wake at two or three in the morning to catch the four a.m. trip.  Argie, Connie and myself carpooled with Maki to get to the south terminal.  Maki, who never seems to be late, got us to the terminal early enough to catch the 11:30 P.M. non A/C regular bus.  Lori arrived a few minutes shortly with her fastfood take out for a very late dinner.  We waited for some time before we can board our bus.  We were able to reserve the front row seats thanks a friend who worked in the legal department of the bus company.

As soon as we got on the bus, we took out our sleeping gears… Lori had a sarong as blanket and her backpack for her pillow.  Argie and I each had inflatable pillows and our HeadWare as eye mask.  Connie and Maki don’t like to sleep while traveling.  They had to contend themselves with the outdated movies being shown on the bus.

Argie and I were getting ready to sleep. =)
Argie and I were getting ready to sleep. =)
(photos by Lorivic Mercado)

There weren’t a lot of passengers in the bus when we left Bacolod at 12:50am.  The air conditioning must have been in full blast… and with the rainy weather outside, it seemed to be freezing cold inside the bus.  We were six hours away from Dumaguete… (five hours or less if you’re taking a private vehicle).  Sibulan was the town before Dumaguete… so we will be in Sibulan in a little less than five hours, enough time to catch some much needed sleep.

Maki and Connie… trying to stay warm.
(photos by Lorivic Mercado)

I remembered the bus stopping a few times to take on passengers.  (Hey! I thought this was a non-stop bus.)  Then all the towns  between the two provinces of Negros seemed to have passed by like a hazy dream.  No matter how stiff my back and my neck was, I would still fall back into sleep.  I guess, I can doze off quickly while on transit than I do in my own bed.  In between dreams, I kept asking myself, “Are we there yet?”

It was barely 5:00 A.M. when the bus conductor informed us that we were already in Sibulan.  We asked him if he can take us to the stop nearest the sea port.  It was still dark when we alighted the bus.  As we walked along the empty streets, we tried to look for someone to ask where the sea port was.  It was quite difficult to find people in the streets at this time… though we did find a few, we relied mostly on body language and our rough translation of Cebuano.

After a couple of turns, we found the sea port and the first trip about to leave port.  We didn’t have to rush since there was a ferry from Sibulan going to Santander, Cebu every hour starting 4:30am.  We’ll take the next trip.  We got our tickets, Php 62.00 per person.  There was a restroom in the terminal in case you need one.  Since our boat hasn’t arrived, we decided to have coffee and (very) early breakfast at the stalls beside the terminal while waiting.  The tinolang isda must have been good, Lori ordered a second round; while the rest of us had noodles.

Lori enjoying her tinolang isada.
Lori enjoying her tinolang isada.
(photo by Argie Villajin)

There were very few passengers when we got in the boat.  Few enough to have one plastic bench for each one of us.  Connie and Lori immediately got comfortable and got back to sleep.  As we crossed Tanon Strait on the way to Cebu, the sun was rising over the horizon.  Half way through our trip, the sky was bursting with blues and oranges to signal the beginning of a new day… and more importantly no more dark clouds.

sound asleep
sound asleep
excite to see clear skies
excited to see clear skies

We got to the port of Liloan, Santander in southern Cebu after about twenty to thirty minutes.  I wanted to take some photos of the pier and the beach but we needed to catch a ride to get to Oslob and the bus parked at the pier was filling in quickly.  By the time we got up the bus, there were no more seats but the conductor kept telling us there was room.  Of course there was room, only if we wanted to stand in the aisle ’til we reach Daang Banwa in Oslob where we had reserved a room at a homestay.  Since we didn’t know how long the trip was, we decided to hire a trike for Php 50.00 per person.

Being new to the place, the ride seemed to went on forever, with every up hill climb and endless curves.  It was a scenic drive that was both a feast for the eyes and very challenging to my nerves.  I should have taken photos… if only I knew how to hold my camera while riding at the back of the motorcycle.

ITINERARY: BACOLOD-OSLOB-DUMAGUETE

August-borns… (left to right) me, Maki, Connie and Lori

We’ve been planning a birthday getaway to Guimaras but at the last minute (more like two weeks) we had to change plans since we couldn’t get the desired number of travelers.  We needed a plan B.  Dumaguete was an easy choice since there’s a bus that leaves Bacolod for Dumaguete every hour… but we’ve all been to the capital city of Negros Oriental many times before.  We also needed another activity to make the trip and the long weekend memorable.  Siquijor, Apo Island or Oslob? I’ve been to Siquijor before around the same month and the sea was more than rough (at least for me).  Apo Island would have been ideal for diving and only Connie knew how.   Dette, who loved to dive, wasn’t permitted by her doctor due to her special condition.  So, Oslob it is!

I wanted to make a detailed itinerary of the trip together with the expenses… but I forgot to write down everything and the first thing that slips through my memory are the numbers and the amount we spent during the trip.  Here’s a rough sketch of our 3D/3N birthday get away…

DAY 0 BACOLOD to SIBULAN via bus
 
DAY 1 arrival at SIBULAN
  SIBULAN to LILOAN CEBU via ferry
  LILOAN to TANAWAN, OSLOB via trike
  check-in at GWEN GALLANO’S (home stay)
  register for WHALE SHARK WATCHING
  BRUNCH at the beach
TOMALOG FALLS
  back to home stay
  LATE LUNCH at BIGMAC
  IMMACULATE CONCEPCION CHURCH
  CUARTEL
  BALUARTE
  DINNER (take-out from the market)
 
DAY 2 wake up call
  BREAKFAST
  TANAWAN to LILOAN
  LILOAN to SIBULAN via ferry
  SIBULAN-DUMAGUETE
  LUNCH at ROBINSONS
  check-in at GO-HOTELS
  REST
  MERIENDA/COFFEE at SANS RIVAL
  DINNER at GABBY’S BISTRO
  NIGHT-OUT at CAPT. RIBBERS
 
DAY 3 wake up call
  stroll at the BOULEVARD
  early BREAKFAST at the PUBLIC MARKET
  BRUNCH at GO HOTELS
  CHECK-OUT
  leave for BACOLOD