Dolphin Watching and Low Tide Manjuyod Sandbar Experience at Manjuyod, Negros Oriental

 

Manjuyod stitch
Left: The first sightings of dolphins at Tañon Strait near Cebu Province (Tañon Strait). Right: All five structures built at Manjuyod Sandbar (Manjuyod Sandbar, Manjuyod, Negros Oriental)

The day after the wedding, we left the resort we were staying at around 0600H heading to Manjuyod. Truth be told, most of us friends of the groom did not know what will happen as it was entirely the new couple’s itinerary and we are just willing participants. After a quick drive thru and somehow getting ahead of the other vans, our experienced driver Mang Roly, drove northwards from Dumaguete for approximately two hours. I was seated by the window and the thing that catches my eye is the varied landscape we drove by: the plains (more precisely grassy plains), mountainous terrain almost immediately beside the shore, mangrove swamps and there are also small patches of sugar cane plantations here and there.

A few minutes upon crossing the boundary marker of Manjuyod, we drove on a rough road heading into a local beach resort. There is nothing really to see for non-Negrense tourists in that resort other than they offer a boat tour to the sandbar (I was told later on that said resort is one of the lesser known tour providers).  The caretaker starts asking us in the local vernacular and when she realizes we’re from Luzon, immediately switching to Filipino asked us if we are associated with (she said the Bride’s now maiden name) Dolphin Tour. We said yes, but we were looking at each other asking “Dolphin Tour?”. It was already past 0930H and about an hour after we arrived that we started loading the two boats and then finally started sailing. The weather is surprisingly sunny given the time of year with the right confluence of sun, cloudiness and humidity that it doesn’t feel like you are being fried. Despite perfectly seeing Cebu on the horizon, the trip actually took us more than an hour and with the gentle breeze, I actually fell asleep sitting for some time (of course it doesn’t help that our boat is the slower one). You can practically spit in Cebu (and I guess were are now technically in the province) when the dolphins started to appear. It was a sight to behold: you can see them in their schools, rising to the ocean every few minutes.  Almost all of us at this point are taking the best videos and photos of the dolphins. There are other boats (from the other tour providers in the area) swirling around and with the limited number of schools some of the boats are literally chasing for the ‘showier’ schools (ones who rises from the ocean more prominently). At first, I was concerned that we accidentally bump them but when they see the boats heading towards them they will go deeper into the ocean you could clearly see that they are fast swimmers underneath. It is one thing to see them be showy in marine shows (think Ocean Adventure), it was another to see them in their natural habitat up close with much lesser actual interaction with humans.

We did not notice the elapsed time until the boatmen started grilling fishes and squids and lunch was served. There is something to be said about freshly catch fish as they tasted fantastic. After that boodle lunch, we have to sail almost all the way back near the Negros shoreline to go the sandbar and with almost an hour sail and our stomachs full, all adults onboard have fallen asleep at some point. We arrive at the sandbar around 1300H. The sea level is at normal starting to dwindle down and you could immediately tell at this point that the whitish sandbar is enormous (A google search yields that it is 7 KM long with an estimated area of 600 ha.) with boats docked around its most famous area: An area with five stilted house-like structures akin to what Maldives is known for (the area is famously nicknamed “The Maldives of the Philippines”). The structures are basically outer shells of houses (or resembling resort cottages) standing on stilts about 20 ft. from the sand-floor. There are some people in some of the cottages which I think were being rented mostly because they have some coolers up there and they never seem to traverse far if they decide to submerge themselves in the salty waters. We anchored near the outermost structure and going down the boat, the water is upper chest deep; within a few meters of walking, you can be completely submerged. We took advantage of this and we swam and fool around the boat for hours. The bride and groom (and others) rode the least fun banana boat ride that was so slow that not even the children can fall off from it. By around 1500H, most of us were aboard again tired as the weather is shifting to form whitish cloudy to dark clouds rolling. After eating ‘talaba’ for merienda, we notice that the sand is now starting to emerge. We waited a few more minutes and we decided to go down to the now ankle level waters.

You could clearly see why this place is popular amongst tourists. I’m sure it looks amazing and inviting to take a dip during summer but as we were walking here on a July afternoon, the area looks dramatic. On one side, the dark clouds roll into the structures and on the other side you could still see the clearer skies and juxtaposing it with the contrasting sight of mother nature and the structures, the whole area is really picturesque. As the water dwindle more and the dark clouds kept on rolling by, we started taking pictures of the area and the now exposed creatures like starfishes, small crabs and even some capiz oysters. A few more photos later, we decided it was time to go as it looks like it will rain. During the return trip, the vastness of the sandbar is now much more evident as we have to circumnavigate quite a distance while returning to the resort.

As I was seated once again on the van driving back to Dumaguete, reflecting on the days’ activities, I was wondering why the area hasn’t become more commercialized. I mean, there are these house-like structures there and I’m almost sure there was some plans at some point to fully develop it into a resort or something. But I realize that as it is now, I actually prefer it: Those structures add something extra to that sandbar and it is a selling point to their advantage. Sure income will still be generated if a resort stood there but in doing that, the area will be inaccessible to most people which is a shame. It also protects the dolphins’ habitat which I believe gives them immense wealth biodiversity-wise in Tañon Strait which is much more worth protecting and keeping around than tourists.