VERY Little is known before about this sleepy town in Southern Cebu except for its ancient fortresses and bountiful sea where fishermen go out daily to catch fish.
No one predicted that a group of one of the world’s largest fish species, actually by far the largest living non-mammalian vertebrate, would someday visit its waters and stay.
The warm sea between Bohol and Southern Cebu has long been a playing ground for whale sharks and dolphins. Although they were killed in the past for their meat, they now roam freely in the area because the fishermen have realized that they are now more valuable as a tourist attraction. While the island of Pamilacan in Bohol has long become famous for dolphin watching, the town of Oslob is slowly gaining popularity because of the daily visits of gentle residents – the whale sharks.
The whale sharks are filter feeders and they feed mostly, but not exclusively, on plankton that are small plants and animals. Recent studies have shown that they also feed on small fish and shrimps.
The fishermen of Oslob were still unsure how it all started. In fact, they only discovered by accident that the whale sharks also feed on small shrimps. Whale sharks do regularly come to the waters off the southern tip of Cebu but they never stay long enough. According to them, most of the fishermen in Oslob rent out their boat to divers who usually comes to Sumilon Island to dive, and they sometimes bring with them small shrimps or fish that they throw into the water to attract bigger fish. One day, they noticed that the whale sharks were also attracted to the shrimps. Soon after, they saw more whale sharks that would follow the fishing boats hoping they could get their share of the shrimps.
The news of whale shark sightings and the unique interaction between the fishermen and these gentle creatures has spread like wild fire. This brought people to this once quiet town. The people of Oslob are still adjusting to the sudden surge of visitors and still have no idea how long the whale sharks will stay. There are also growing pressures from environmental groups to stop domesticating the whale sharks and the people of Oslob may soon be forced to discontinue the feeding.
In the meantime, however, the whale shark interaction is another good reason to head south of Cebu. Even without the whale sharks, the south offers some great adventures to see many hidden attractions like ancient fortresses, undiscovered waterfalls, submarine gardens, heritage villages and deserted beaches. Going south means taking an unhurried time to explore many off-the-beaten paths and meet ordinary people who are just happy to share their secrets.
How to get there
It is not difficult to go to the town of Oslob. However, if you’re going there specifically to interact with the whale sharks, you have to plan your trip so that you will be there very early in the morning.
If you are flying from Manila, the gateway to Cebu is Mactan International Airport. From there, take a taxi (fare between P250 to P300) to the South Terminal.
Take any Ceres bus going to Bato or Santander. It easy to spot buses passing by Oslob as they have the whale shark signages. First trip leaves as early as 4 am. One way fare is P156. Inform the driver to drop you off to Tan-Awan, or to be specific, at the Tuki (local name of whale shark) Center. The trip takes around three hours.
For those who wish to see the other sites of Oslob, the only way to go around is to rent a habal-habal [a motorcycle that can accommodate many passengers]. They are parked outside the resorts and you can ask their drivers to take you to the waterfalls and to the other attractions.
What to see, what to do
Located about 125 kilometers south of Cebu City, the town of Oslob is one of the earlier settlement sites in the island. In fact, it was heavily fortified to guard itself from the attacks of pirates and invaders during the Spanish rule. Its strategic location looking out to the rich waters of the Cebu Strait played a very important role in protecting the colonial interests in the region.
Until this day, the remains of the old Daang Lungsod, as the name suggests, still stands two kilometers south the town center of Oslob. The walls and the five bastions or baluartes of the fortified settlement still exist but now lay in ruins and covered with vegetation.
There are also baluartes right in front of the Church of the Immaculate Conception. The present day church made of coral stone was built from 1830 and was completed in 1848. The adjacent buttresses were completed in 1850 while the adjacent bell tower was built in 1858.
On the southeastern portion of the complex still stands the unfinished cuartel (barracks) originally intended to house the Spanish soldiers or Guardia Civil. It was started in 1848 but remained unfinished until the end of the Spanish rule.
Aside from its heritage attractions, Oslob is also known to many divers as alternative destination to explore the rich corals of Southern Cebu. The colorful submarine garden around Sumilon Island Natural Park can rival those found in Moalboal, Cebu.
For the unhurried traveler, a detour to Barangay Tumalog, where an uphill trail leads to the enchanting Mag-Ambak Falls awaits. Mag-Ambak Falls is actually a wall of protruding rocks curtained by a perpetual shower of water. It a nice place to chill out and cool off, with the soothing view of the water falls framed by lush vegetation.
The biggest attraction nowadays in Oslob is the daily showing of whale sharks in Barangay Tan-Awan.
Whale shark watching fee is P500 for local tourists. All visitors are required to attend a short briefing on the proper conduct when interacting with the whale sharks. From the registration area, you will be led to meet your designated boatman. You will be given a life jacket, a mask and a snorkel. Once you are ready, the boatman takes you on a paddleboat to the area where the whale sharks come to feed.
Don’t be surprised if you see your first encounter only a few hundred meters from the shore. And at any given day, it is not unusual to see at least half a dozen whale sharks. You just have to look closely as they swim right next to the feeding boats. Or better yet, get into the water with your mask and snorkel and be awed by the magnificent sight of these gentle giants.
Where to stay, what to eat
For those who wish to stay in Tan-Awan much longer, there are actually about a dozen resorts that offer overnight accommodations. Guests may check-in at these resorts: Oslob Seafari; MB Sunrise View; BCD’s Place; Gisworld Beach; and Luzmin.
Or visitors can stay the nearby Sumilon Bluewater Island Resort and enjoy a combination of whale shark watching, diving, swimming and relaxing in a deluxe environment.
On weekends, particularly on Sundays, the sleepy barangay of Tan-Awan comes alive with a small tiangge [flea market]where you can feast on freshly-cooked seafood, barbecues, local kakanins [rice cakes]and lechon Cebu. This is the best time to be in Oslob as you can cap your encounter with the whale sharks with a gastronomical adventure.