Last weekend, I joined a medical mission in Tinalmud, Pasacao, Camarines Sur, a far barangay reachable only by boat travel through the Ragay Gulf, along the coast of the Bicol Peninsula. Aside from a welcome break from almost 24/7 Internet works, the occasion also gifted me with the rare chance to personally confirm that whalesharks (Butanding), considered “gift from God” by the people of Donsol Sorsogon, now also inhabit the coastal waters of Pasacao Camarines Sur.
Very few people in the world have had the chance to encounter these lovable, awe-inspiring giants. So I am proud to be just one point short of the career record of the great sea explorer, Jacques Cousteau, who had admitted having encountered a whaleshark only twice in his lifetime.
We left Pasacao port at 7:30 A.M. and reached Tinalmud at almost 10:00 AM. It was a sunny day but the waves were huge and we were traveling one kilometer away from the shore. Midway through the ride, the worried leader of our military escorts, Lt. Alcala, asked us to put on our life vests. At this point, I felt some regrets that I had to bring with me my video cam and laptop; I did not like to leave them in my car, which was parked at Pasacao port.
The waves were even more gigantic on our return trip by mid-afternoon, Few minutes on the way home, I asked an even more worried-looking Lt. Alcala if he was considering going back and wait for the morning the next day when the waves would be more tolerable. No, our navigator (a commissioned soldier from Catanduanes) is an expert, he assured me. He asked us however to sit very close to the floor of the banca.
So out we go, no turning back. I prepared my mind to losing my hand-carried favorite gadgets, in case we had to swim to shore if the boat capsized. For almost an hour, everyone simply watched the big waves in silence, feeling the motorized banca getting skillfully maneuvered through rushes of big waves after waves.
Then from the back of the boat came excited voices,”May butanding.” There it was indeed, a whaleshark, the size of a bantam car and looking every bit like the wonder I see only in photos and videos, traveling with us side by side. It was so close, just a couple of feet away from the right outrigger. If the whaleshark just touched the boat, it could tip, throwing us all into the open sea. I aimed my video camera in the direction of the whaleshark but it suddenly disappeared. Moments later it reappeared fleetingly 10 meters away still traveling with us. The soldier behind me said,”Ginagabayan tayo (It is guiding/protecting us).”
The whaleshark appeared for the last time around 100 meters ahead of us, playfully floating with the huge waves. For a fleeting moment it faced us and vanished as a splash.
This creature could be telling us, “This is my domain and you are welcome.”
It could as well be wishing us “Von Voyage.” We arrived at Pasacao port two rough hours later. And safe on shore, only then could I say thank you.