Category Archives: Philippines

Sunset Silhouettes – Boracay Beaches

Sunset Silhouettes!

Imagine visiting a place where every afternoon was the most amazing sunset you’ve ever seen…until the next day. Boracay island might be paradise, and made for some amazing sunset silhouettes.  Loved it!

Sunset Silhouettes - Boracay Beach Paradise!
this is one of my favorite photos from Boracay – I want to go back!

Boracay was easily my favorite part of the Philippines. We saw some of the most amazing sunsets – this post has some of my favorites.

Sunset Silhouettes - Boracay Beach Kodak Moment, Philippines
definately a “Kodak moment!”

Nearly every day in Boracay finished with one of the most beautiful sunsets I’d ever seen!

Frisbee Silhouettes! The Boracay beaches were fairly empty until around 5pm, when the sun began to set
Frisbee Silhouettes! The Boracay beaches were fairly empty until around 5pm, when the sun began to set

the gorgeous sky made for some awesome sunset silhouettes in Boracay Philippines

The gorgeous Boracay sky turned orange, red and purple, and made for some awesome sunset silhouettes.

Sunset Silhouettes - Boracay Beach -008
These kids were adorable!

capturing the sunburst in my hand

There’s nothing quite like experiencing a breathtaking sunset.

Julian captures the Boracay sunset with his SLR
My friend Julian captures the Boracay sunset with his SLR. We couldn’t get enough of these

Want more sunsets? I’ve put together all the sunset posts on Visit50.com at this link.
Julian enjoys the sunset in Boracay

How to photograph silhouettes

Assuming you work in Auto mode, turn your flash off. The key to photographing silhouettes is to meter on the background sky, instead of the subject. Most cameras autofocus as soon as you press the shutter halfway. Aim at the bright part of the sky, then press and hold your shutter halfway. Keep it pressed halfway as you adjust to what you want in your frame. When you’re ready to take the photo squeeze the shutter fully. Bam!

Want more sunset silhouettes?

I also put together some of our favorite jumping photo sunset silhouettes in Boracay with red and orange sky backdrops.

By popular demand, I’ve started to organize the series of Sunset Silhouettes at this link. Enjoy!

Thresher Sharks SCUBA Diving

SCUBA Diving with Thresher Sharks – Philippines

Introducing Thresher Sharks!  Imagine seeing a shark with a long tail that can be as long as the total body length. Thresher Sharks can only be consistently spotted in a few places in the world, so when was in the Philippines I had to see them up close.

What’s a Thresher Shark? 

In this post I’ll cover why thresher sharks have such long tails, what thresher sharks eat, how big thresher sharks typically are, and where to find thresher sharks, in addition to showing some videos of threshers in motion.  I’ll also detail my specific experience SCUBA diving to see thresher sharks  at the bottom of this page as well.

Thresher sharks are mostly known for the size of their tail (“upper caudal fin lobe”), which is typically equal to the length of the rest of their body!  Check out this below photo:

Thresher Shark  shows off its impressive tail - Thresher Sharks Philippines
Thresher Sharks have tails equal to the rest of the size of their body. Photo credit: Rafn Ingi Finnsson

Why do Thresher Sharks have large tails?

Thresher sharks are active predators – they use their huge tails not only to swim, but also to swat and stun much smaller prey fish. Whack!   When hunting schooling fish, thresher sharks are known to “slap” the water, herding and stunning prey.

Thresher Shark diet – what do Thresher Sharks eat?

Thresher sharks eat squid, octopuses, crustaceans and small schooling fish such as bluefish, mackerel, needlefish, lancetfish, lanternfish, and more.

How big are Thresher sharks?

Threshers range from 8 feet long on the small end, to as big as 20-25 feet long! That’s 2.5 meters to 7.5 meters. 1,100 lbs!

Thresher Shark swimming by
we waited and waited to catch a glimpse of the Thresher Shark

The scientific name of the three most common thresher sharks are Alopias vulpinus, Alopias superciliosus, and Alopias pelagicusBelow is a diagram from this site:

Thresher Shark diagram of features
Diagram of Thresher Shark Features
A thresher shark showing off its impressive tail - thresher sharks Philippines
A thresher shark showing off its impressive tail.

How are thresher sharks like the dolphins??   Thresher sharks are one of the few shark species known to jump fully out of the water, making turns like dolphins, this behaviour is called breaching. Here’s a photo and example for a thresher shark that wandered towards Europe, jumping out of the water.

Videos of thresher sharks:

Where can you find Thresher Sharks? 

They are generally not found deeper than 500 meters (1,640ft). You can find thresher sharks everywhere from off the coast of southern California to South Africa, but there’s not many dive sites that see them with such regularity.

The best place in the world to spot thresher sharks is in the Philippines off the coast of Malapascua Island in the Visayan Sea, located across a shallow strait from the northernmost tip of Cebu Island, at the sunken island sea mount of Monad Shoal at a dive site that’s now called Shark Wall.

Why is Monad Shoal the best place to spot Thresher Sharks?

Why do thresher sharks go there?  Monad Shoal is near the Filipino island of Malapascua – it’s a sunken island at 18-24m whose sides drop off to 230m. The thresher sharks live and hunt in this deep water for most of the day, but in the early morning, before it gets too light, they come up to the Shoal, attracted by its “cleaning stations.” Here they have a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with the small fish called cleaning wrasse, which eat dead skin and bacteria from the shark’s body, its gills, and even inside its mouth. Because the cleaning benefits these huge animals, the sharks would never think of eating the wrasse as an early morning snack. The cleaning stations are like a carwash for fish!

My experience SCUBA diving to see Thresher Sharks

Most boring dive ever!  While I find thresher sharks to be fascinating, the actual dive was actually the least interesting SCUBA Diving experience I’ve ever had. You depart around 430am, in order to arrive before sunrise. The top of the sea mount is about 80 feet down. There’s almost no fish or coral and once you get to the optimal viewing spot, you just sit on the ocean floor. Yes really. Visibility was poor.  We sat on the ocean floor doing nothing but waiting and watching for 24 minutes of the dive. Eventually we were rewarded with a thresher shark whizzing past us. Other divers said people often spot Manta rays and schools of devil rays, in addition to hammer head sharks and reef sharks. Also common near the cleaning station are batfish, flutemouths, barracuda, tuna, mantis shrimp, pipefish, scorpionfish, free-swimming lionfish, moorish idols, schooling bannerfish, unicornfish, squid, octopus and various moray eels.

Thresher Shark
Photo credit: Rafn Ingi Finnsson

 

This 1st video below is a 9minute chronicle of the experience that’s fairly similar to ours (except he saw a Manta Ray, aka Devil Ray):

2 more videos of thresher shark videos:

How to get to Malapascua to see Thresher Sharks?

Getting to Malapascua Island to see Thresher Sharks isn’t easy. Fly into Cebu, the second largest city in the Philippines. Then arrange a private taxi for 4 hours up to a tiny town of Maya (there’s an unreliable bus but I don’t recommend it – it randomly doesn’t come on many days). You’ll need one of the local fisherman to take you to the boat for a small fee, and then there’s a ferry that “leaves promptly at 8am” (more likely whenever it’s full). They operate on frustrating Philippine Time / Filipino Time, so schedules are never strictly adhered to. That’s quite a bit of effort, but once you get there, Malapascua Island is wonderful!

Additional info at MarineBioWiki, and here.

My other shark experiences in Asia: While I started my trip terrified of sharks, over just a few months I’d end up swimming with massive Whale SharksWhitetip Reef Sharks, Blackfin Reef Sharks, Grey Reef Sharks, and now the experience SCUBA diving with Thresher Sharks.

Balut: would you eat Duck Embryo?

People really eat Duck Embryo??

They eat duck embryo called Balut in the Philippines, and it might be the only food I refused during my entire trip through Asia.

When I’m traveling, I always want to sample the local food, and I’ll try almost everything. What does that include? I’ve tried guinea pigs (cuy!) in Peru. I’ve eaten grasshoppers and scorpions in Thailand. I ate just about every organ or body party of a cow, duck, or chicken that you can think of in mainland China, including duck intestine, pig brain. Where do I draw the line?  The Philippines’ Balut egg – duck fetus. Duck embryo is not for me. I just couldn’t bring myself to try eating a Fetal Duck Egg.

What is Balut?

Balut egg is a fertilized duck embryo – the embryo is allowed to grow and mature for about 17 days until it is quite clearly a baby duck. That’s right. A baby duck, with all its baby duck parts stuffed into a shell with the yolk and egg white, now crisscrossed with blood vessels and feather-like growths. Yes, sometimes it is even has the beginnings of feathers. At this point Balut egg is soft-boiled and eaten whole.

Adventurous foods: Balut

Philippines' Balut egg - duck embryo is common. You can see the Duck Fetus - Visit50.com
Balut: ready to eat a duck embryo?

When I got to the Philippines, people were eating Balut as a snack on the streets, in the same way you can pick up hot dogs on the streets of NYC, except in this case it’s duck fetus. You’ll often recognize the wings, bones, beak, and more. Balut is a duck embryo and nearly a baby duck. After 17 days (in the Philippines – other southeast Asian countries do it differently), it’s then boiled. It’s often seasoned with a mixture salt, garlic and sometimes vinegar.

Is Balut an outrageous Asian delicacy, or simply classic Pinoy goodness?   I’d call it the most disturbing thing I have ever tried to eat in my life, but let me know what you think in the comments below.

I already posted about 7 Philippine cuisines – foods I ate and liked in the Philippines, but Balut eggs are in another category entirely.

If you’d like to see it in action, I’ve curated some of the best video clips of eating Balut below.

A child introduces Balut during his 1st time trying it:

Food Network’s Anthony Bourdain eats Balut (2:23):

Travel Channel Andrew Andrew Zimmern eats Balut

Eating Balut for the first time:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpUW0b8G9Dk

How to eat Balut:

Videos: beak, feathers, and all (this is not me!)

Fight Quest on Discovery Channel it in January 2008. “Egg with wings” with partially grown feathers.

National Geographic’s video on Balut

[in my previous trip, “stinky tofu” in Taiwan was also on the “too repulsive to eat” food list for me]

More info from Wikipedia on Balut.

Balut didn’t quite make my top 7 Philippine cuisines (favorite foods and meals from the Philippines). What did?  Halo-Halo, Pork Adobo, Kare-Kare, and more.

Snorkeling in the Philippines – Malapascua Island

While I’ve never gone snorkeling with so few fish in Malapascua, Philippines, the water was clear and we had a great group and our first ever encounter with a Sea Snake! I’ll post about the Sea Snake soon, but in the meantime, here are some fun pics from our snorkeling experience below.

With hardly any fish and great visibility, we mostly just played. Our international group of friends were from Italy, Sweden, England, Holland, and the U.S.

"Philippines

 I’m often asked, is there good snorkeling in Malapascua?  If you’re looking for clear water, it’s wonderful. If you’re looking for lots of fish, I don’t recommend. With that said, I had an amazing time!

"Sea

"Photo

Snorkeling in the Philippines near the Island of Malapascua

"Antihas

"Fish

"Philippines

Sea Snake in Malapascua Philippines Visit50 Feb2011

7 Jumping sunset silhouettes

The sunsets were gorgeous in  BoracayPhilippines, and made a great setting for an impromptu photo shoot of sunset silhouette jumping pics!

Just before a sunset silhouette jumping pic in Boracay, Philippines
Just before a sunset silhouette jumping pic…
The sky was beautiful and gradually changed colors as the sun set
The sky was beautiful and gradually changed colors as the sunset
Air Todd - I'm flying!
Air Todd – I’m flying!

Jumping in the Philippines

Jumping pics - Boracay sunset

Jumping sunset silhouette pics in Boracay, Philippines, with kids jumping in the background
Notice the kids in the background joining in as I jump
The Boracay sunset was such an interesting mix of colors
The Boracay sunset was such an interesting mix of vibrant colors

9 Jumping pics with Filipino kids in the Philippines

I took “jumping pics” in nearly every country I visited, and after taking jumping pics as the sun was setting with my friends in the Philippines, some kids started jumping along with us. Below are 9 jumping travel photos I took  of and with these Filipino kids.

This was one of my many photo shoots of jumping pics
This was one of my many photo shoots of jumping pics

Jumping pics - jumping with kids in the Philippines

Muhammed couldn't jump anywhere close to as high as the other kids and was getting frustrated so I helped him
Muhammed couldn’t jump anywhere close to as high as the other kids and was getting frustrated so I helped him
Jumping pics in Boracay
It was as fun as it looks!
Jumping pics in the Philippines - we had a contest to see who could jump the highest, and suddenly they got competitive
We had a contest to see who could jump the highest, and suddenly the kids got competitive

Jumping pics in Boracay, Philippines - 014

Air Muhammed! We had just taught him how to jump. I never thought that would be something I'd ever teach a child but he learned quickly!
Air Muhammed! We had just taught him how to jump. I never thought that would be something I’d ever teach a child but he learned quickly! 

Jumping pics in Boracay, Philippines

 

Jumping pics in Boracay -013

 

Jumping pics in beautiful Boracay

The crystal clear water in Boracay, Philippines, is a great setting for an impromptu photo shoot of jumping pics!  Here are a few of the photos we took on Boracay’s White Beach (at Station Two) – jumping photos in beautiful Boracay. Enjoy!

Gabbi jumping pics in beautiful Boracay Philippines
Gabbi jumping in beautiful Boracay, Philippines

So excited to jump into the water in beautiful Boracay Philippines - 003

The clear water reminded me of the Caribbean. Some islands in Thailand are also this beautiful. So much fun!

Sarah's jumping photo in Boracay Philippines
Sarah jumping in beautiful Boracay, Philippines

me! Jumping out of the crystal clear water in beautiful Boracay, PhilippinesI took fun jumping pics in beautiful Boracay as well as nearly every country I visited. Check out the jumping pics I’ve posted so far.

Also, I’ve created JumpingATW on Instagram to feature the best jumping photos from around the world. These aren’t just my jumping photos – it’s from travelers all around the world. Join the adventure!

 

 

Whale Shark Snorkeling!

Swimming with Whale Sharks!

Imagine snorkeling with massive Whale Sharks!  They’re the largest fish in the sea, and they migrate right through The Philippines annually. It provided a perfect opportunity to not only see whale sharks up close, but get in the water and actually swim and snorkel with them. Wow. It was certainly one of the highlights of my trip!

whale sharks in the Philippines
impressive whale shark photo by Joe Newman

Whale Shark closeup in Donsol, in The Philippines How big are Whale Sharks?  Huge. The first one we saw while snorkeling was about 20 feet long; they can grow to the size of a school bus!  Average size is more than 30-feet and 20,000 pounds. They can grow much larger; a whale shark caught near Taiwan in 1994 was 79,000 pounds, and that’s not even the largest ever! (catching whale sharks is now banned)

Is a Whale Shark a Whale or a Shark?  It’s a Shark. It’s a whale-sized shark.  Rhincodon typus – the largest fish species still around (I just learned the term is “extant” – the opposite of extinct)

Whale Shark just a meter away in Donsol, Philippines
Imagine snorkeling and seeing this whale shark just a few feet below you!
How close were you?  Very close (see below photo). I was in the water swimming with whale sharks, and they were so close that I didn’t even see the whale shark at first because I was too close. I looked down and only saw cloudy water, but my friend Julian pulled me over a few feet so I was directly over the dorsal fin. OMG. The water wasn’t cloudy – those were spots on the shark about 5 feet below us. If I accidentally went vertical I could have kicked it with my fin! [see below photo]
Massive Whale Shark and snorkel fins
Notice the little snorkel fins at the top of this photo – we were this close to this massive whale shark!

Whale Shark Diving in Oslob, Philippines

photo by Adam Brill – he captured the mouth open

Is it safe??  Yes! They’re rather docile and aren’t bothered by humans swimming around them.
Whale Shark's dorsal fin - Donsol, Philippines
grainy close-up of the whale shark dorsal fin.
Were you in a cage? Nope! We went in the water with massive whale sharks without a cage. Lucky for us, they have no interest in eating us.
What do Whale Sharks eat? Lucky for us, their favorite meal is plankton and tiny fish near the water’s surface. They eat algae and microscopic plants.  Their mouths are 4-5 feet wide with 300 teeth (which play no role in eating). It’s a filter feeder – they leave their mouth open for small fish and the clouds of eggs and sperm during mass spawning.
closeup of the whale shark's mouth - I swam ahead to take this, which was a little scary
closeup of the whale shark’s mouth – I swam ahead to take this, which was a little scary
How fast are they?  They weren’t moving fast at all – slow enough that we went snorkeling with the Whale Shark for about 20 minutes before he swam off, and then found another for about 35 minutes. Reeeeally cool experience!
Whale Sharks have 5 large pairs of gills
Whale Sharks have 5 large pairs of gills. I was enamored by the pattern of bright spots
Snorkeling with Whale Sharks in Donsol, Philippines
Whale Sharks are also known as – Whale Sharks are called “butanding” in Donsol, Philippines, where I was. They’re called “pez dama” in much of Latin America. They’re called “Sapodilla Tom” in Belize, named after the area of the Belize Barrier Reef where they’re often seen. In Vietnam, where the whale shark often known as a deity, it’s called “Ca Ong.”
Whale Sharks have tiny eyes on the side of the massive flat heads
Whale Sharks have tiny eyes on the side of the massive flat heads

Where can you go Whale Sharks snorkeling?

 

We were in Donsol, a known migration area, but there’s lots of places to find, see, and swim with Whale Sharks. Near the US, I’ve read about sightings in Mexico (Isla Mujeres), Belize, Puerto Rico, Panama (Isla Coiba), Honduras (the Bay Islands), and more.

Other places to see whale sharks, according to wikipedia and the book Sharks of the World:  Thailand, the Maldives, Western Australia (Ningaloo Reef, Christmas Island), Taiwan, Tofo Beach in Mozambique, Sodwana Bay (Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park) in South Africa, the Galapagos Islands, the Seychelles, West Malaysia, islands off eastern peninsular Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Oman.

whale shark mouth open
photo by Elias Levy, who has lots of other great shark pics on his Flickr
When to go whale shark snorkeling in Donsol?
We went to Donsol in the Philippines. I was in Donsol in late March, which was ideal – the peak time to see whale sharks in Donsol is February through April.  Whale shark season is from December to May.
Who I went with:  I went with Gabbi (from Sweden) and met up with Julian and Christie (from Germany), and we met Sarah there. I traveled with Gabbi all over the Philippines, met up with Sarah to travel throughout Vietnam, and met Julian and Christie in Borneo and went on to meet up in Singapore and all over the Philippines. The four of us went on to meet up in Boracay, one of our favorite parts of our trips.  Awesome!
enroute to Whale Shark Snorkeling in Donsol, Philippines
Searching for whale sharks with Julian from Germany, Gabbi from Sweden, and Sara and Denmark
Whale Shark Snorkeling trip - Donsol, Philippines
Getting ready for whale shark snorkeling in tiny Donsol, in The Philippines
Swimming with whale sharks was an amazing experience – you’re swimming with whale sharks!  It’s definitely an experience you’ll never forget.
Whale Shark Snorkeling trip - between snorkeling sessions in Donsol, Philippines
The boat is specially designed for these whale shark snorkeling trips — we all get on this little platform and then drop in for snorkeling as soon as we locate a whale shark. Just as we jumped in someone yelled “Free Willy!” (from the movie)

maybe took a little too much
hmm… maybe I took a little too much
Learn how to photograph the distinctive patterning and scarring on whale shark here, which are used to uniquely identify individuals for long-term, mark-recapture analysis.
Here’s more info on going  swimming with whale sharks right in Mexico in Isla Mujeres (a short ferry from Cancun) – check out this post from Jack and Jill Travel.
More photos of whale sharks found here: 1, and here.

Is Boracay too touristy?

Boracay Too Touristy?

Is Boracay too touristy and overcrowded? That’s all perspective.  That’s what local Filipinos say about it, but that certainly doesn’t apply to their gorgeous beaches. While Boracay is the most popular tourist destination in the Philippines, it seems like half the tourists are  focused on avoiding  the sun. When I was there, the beaches were wide open when the sun was out, 10am – 4pm.
Here are photos of Boracay at different times of the day – it was completely empty at 1pm. By 5pm people start coming out, and by 6pm people are out to enjoy the sunset and post-sunset.

Boracay at 5:56 PM [17:58]

Boracay has some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. Amazing!
Beautiful Boracay
This is as crowded as I ever saw it in Boracay – people waited until the sun set and the clouds covered the sky to come out and enjoy.
Boracay at 1:14 PM:
does this look overcrowded?
This photo may look like it was taken of a private beach, but it’s actually beautiful Boracay in the Philippines. It didn’t get much more crowded than this… 
Boracay too touristy and overcrowded? No way! This is a 1pm in the afternoon
Boracay’s beautiful empty beaches

Boracay at 6:08 AM / 6:08:

At 6am for sunrise, young people are just getting back home from the bars after a night of dancing.

Boracay too touristy and overcrowded? No way!  It's the Philippines' crown jewel
Sunrise in Boracay – one of the few times we spotted others on the beach (but just a few).

The nightlife is awesome, among the best of any town in Asia. The “crowded” label likely is referring to the nightlife (with that said, it’s still less crowded than a lot of the bars we frequent at home in New York City). The beaches… I thought it was some sort of holiday or my area was semi-private since so few people were outside, but others pointed out that many of the tourists are coming for the parties. Many are coming from eastern Asia and thus less interested in being out during the sun’s warmest rays.

Is Boracay too touristy and overcrowded? Nope!

I strongly disagree with all of the advice I received.  Boracay is wonderful and fairly quiet beaches during the day. Don’t let anybody convince you that Boracay’s overcrowded. Perhaps that refers to the Boracay nightlife, but not the beaches.

Who needs sunscreen?

While many people in the United States tend to soak up as much sun as possible, the exact opposite is true in most parts of Asia. People go to great lengths to avoid any exposure to the sun – especially on their face, as you’ll notice in this below photo from the Philippines.

To protect your skin from the sun, you could use SFP 50, wear large hats, or you could avoid the sun entirely. If it’s completely unavoidable, why not wrap your face in towels like a mummy. See below.

Smile for the camera!

Fear of sun in the Philippines
Smile for the camera! We asked the guy behind me to smile for the photo. Really, he’s smiling. Can’t you tell?  — Photo taken on the way to Malapascua,Philippines
Who needs sunscreen when you can wrap your face like a mummy! - Philippines
he reeeeeally doesn’t want any sun on his face