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Last week was a big one for us. For starters, we celebrated our one-year TRAVELVERSARY! It’s both hard to believe and completely normal to think that we’ve been traveling abroad for over a full year. Looking back on the last 365 days I’m so proud of the amazing things we’ve done, but more proud of the way we’ve handled hard situations and gained perspective as a family. We are all a little more understanding, patient, longsuffering, and optimistic. I call that a win!
We celebrated our milestone by being busier than we have ever been while traveling.
After spending a boring week in Cebu City we rented a car and got out of town. We had an epic roadtrip through the island which brought us to some truly incredible sights! We saw the Grecian-inspired Temple of Leah, Sirao Peak (a garden dedicated to Instagrammers), Mantayupan Falls (the tallest waterfall in Cebu Island), went to Moalboal for a free diving course through sardine schools (unbelievable), went canyoneering around Kawasan Falls (where Ben got hurt on a 12-meter cliff dive), practiced our free diving while swimming with whale sharks (I wasn’t afraid!), then drove to the northern tip of the island to catch a ferry for the nearby island of Malapascua where Ben went diving with thresher sharks, we all went on an incredible snorkeling island tour, rented a motorbike for some fun exploration, and came back to the mainland to return the rental and catch another ferry for the island of Bohol.
One thing’s for sure: all the people who think the Philippines is incredibly beautiful and super adventurous are right! When it comes to Cebu and the surrounding islands, at least. We have had more fun and been busier while driving around this past week than at any other point on our trip!
Moving around to new hotels each night and constantly getting lost and carsick on the windy Philippines roads was not easy, but we had such a blast. We did some activities that facilitated great talks with Whit (like about the marine life we were lucky to see and our responsibility to be ethical tourists and take care of the ocean and about the poverty cycle and why we are as generous as possible), but he mostly stayed plugged into Boss Baby and Paw Patrol on his Kindle the whole time. Ben and I continued listening to the Count of Monte Cristo while I tried to navigate to each new destination. After 6 weeks of listening we are dangerously close to finishing this epic novel!
I had two favorite things from this past week: our free diving class at the sardine schools and swimming with whale sharks.
At first I only agreed to a free diving class to seem adventurous to Ben. He’s starting to get bored with scuba diving, and has been exploring free diving as a new, more extreme way to experience life underwater. I’ve humored him as he practices holding his breath, but wasn’t nearly as interested. When the time came to sign up for a course, though, I really wanted to do something big and brave with him (instead of being the one who babysits while Ben does dangerous stuff alone). We found a free diving school that could give Whit a swim lesson while we were in a free diving class, and we jumped in.
The class was really informative and so helpful. We learned the correct skills when holding our breath underwater and how to recognize signs of distress. We also learned how to save energy while diving and swimming. After an hour of theory classes we took our new knowledge to the school’s backyard- a swim-up reef with a steep drop where schools of sardines hang out.
Swimming through a thick field of silvery fish is amazing, but diving through them as they part like the Red Sea is just unbelievable. It was truly one of the most incredible things I’ve experienced, and it was so fun to learn a new skill with Ben at the same time!
After our free diving class we made an ill-fated (as Ben has said) trip to Kawasan Falls. Kawasan Falls is easily one of the most photographed and popular sites in Cebu for it’s tall waterfall ending in a deep turquoise pool. We had had a long day and didn’t want to hike the 1.5 meters to get to the lower falls and pool, so we were easily talked into a quick canyoneering session with a local group. They arranged motorbikes to drive us to the back entrance of the upper falls, where we took a refreshing plunge, slid into the pool from a water slide, tried a Tarzan swing, and some cliff jumps.
That’s where the “ill-fated” comes in. Our canyoneering guide spoke limited English and told Ben to jump into the bubbles of a 12-meter waterfall and cliff jump. Ben knows that the bubbles are created by water rushing on top of shallow rocks, but trusted that the guide knows what he’s talking about.
Ben ended up scraping his shin and foot, and was pretty upset with the guide for his bad advice. He has a right to those feelings; the jump could have been so. much. worse. I can’t even think about what we would have done if Ben had broken something on that fall!
The next day we did the other best activity of the Travelversary Celebration Week: swimming with whale sharks!
We put our new free diving skills to the test while on a snorkeling trip to swim with whale sharks in Oslob. Local fishermen hunted the migrating whale sharks for meat and oil for decades until the practice was outlawed in the 1990’s. The new law devastated the local economy, but they found a way to rebound. In 2012 the feeding of whale sharks was passed by local government, and a new tourism industry was born.
Now 1,000 people line up at dawn to swim with the sharks during the feeding hours of 6:00 am – 11:00 am. For $20/ person you stand in line, wait for your number to be called, and join a paddle boat heading 150 meters off the coast. Another small boat and fisherman drives through the small clump of passenger boats throwing out handfulls of shrimp and krill, which the whale sharks eagerly gather to partake of.
We were shocked at how close the whale sharks got to our boat, how big they are, how many were around, and their grace and beauty. Sharks are one of my two biggest fears (the other being heights), so I was nervous to be in such close vicinity. These animals act more like whales than sharks, and were absolutely mesmerizing. I was more curious and entranced than I ever was scared, which was such a gift!
We did practice free diving around the whale sharks, but every time I ventured away from our boats outriggers the whale sharks would suddenly twist in a way that ended up touching me. Getting too close to the sharks is a big no-no for their conservation efforts, so I succumbed to Whit’s pleading to follow the rules and mostly stayed near the side of our boat.
Ben, on the other hand, had another approach. Instead of swimming with the sharks he swam under them. It was amazing.
While it was exhausting (emotionally and physically) to be in the car for so long in between amazing adventures, one of the best parts was the teaching opportunities we had with Whit. We are trying so hard to not only teach him reading and math, but to also help him frame the incredible experiences he has while traveling. He’s so aloof and so innocent that he hardly recognizes the cool, unusual things around him, so we try to talk about it as often as we can. On this road trip we talked about ocean conservation, the pros and cons of participating in animal tourism, and about the benefits of working hard and supporting local entrepreneurs.
He is such a special kid, and it kills me that he won’t remember a lot of the details from this past year!