By Danny O. Calleja
DONSOL, Sorsogon (20-April-2012/PNA) – All roads lead to this far-flung coastal municipality as townsfolk celebrate the yearly Butanding Festival and the fiesta of their patron St. Joseph the Worker on May 18.
“The celebration will be both solemn and ultimately festive this time because we put together the yearly town fiesta in honor of our patron saint and the Butanding Festival to welcome the reappearance of the whale sharks which usually come in droves during this time of the year,” town Mayor Jerome Alcantara said.
The festival used to be held in April but local officials decided to move it to May 18 in time with the town’s fiesta celebration “so that it would be more fun in Donsol during the day,” the mayor said.
The town fiesta marks the homecoming of Donsolanos who are now living elsewhere of the country and abroad to take part in the traditional revelries while the festival officially signals the opening of another high adventure season of underwater interactions between humans and the enormous but gentle sea mammal.
“Dual celebrations in a day,” the mayor said. “During the town fiesta, we cater not only to our returning town mates but also to thousands of visitors from nearby places who have been accustomed of celebrating with us.”
“In the butanding season, we play host to another thousands of tourists coming in for whale shark interactions,” Alcantara said.
With two festivities rolled into one, the merrymaking will be certainly fabulous, he added.
There will be holy masses to be capped by mass baptismal of babies at the town’s century-old church in the morning, followed by the traditional food offerings in every house until nighttime and holy procession in the evening, apart from other church activities in honor of the patron saint.
Also part of the fiesta activity is a civic-military parade.
It will be followed by the parade of whale shark replicas to be presented by street dancers in colorful native attires in honor of the butandings in the afternoon.
Another highlight of the festivities is the fluvial procession at the mouth of the long and winding Donsol River where a large pod of butandings usually converge at his time of the year.
It will be participated in by an armada of outrigger boats decorated with whale shark replicas and festive colorful buntings.
In the evening after the holy procession, ballroom and disco dancing will be held at the sprawling town plaza.
Tourists will be offered tours along the Donsol River for firefly watching which serves as another spectacular attraction here.
There will be games and stalls put up at the town plaza all night long while music continually plays until the wee hours of the next morning. People would be in the streets talking with each other and having fun.
“Butanding Festival is the way how we give thanks to the Lord of giving us the gentle butanding. It may not be as glamorous compared to other festivities in the Philippines, but we consider it the most important part of the year as it is the best way we express our thoughts as a people and nature-lovers,” Alcantara said.
The presence of whale sharks in the coastal waters here was known to the local residents over 100 years. But they believed these gentle giants were dangerous.
This wrong notion changed when in January 1998, a group of scuba divers discovered its presence and interacted with the whale sharks.
Even the members of the diving group were having second thoughts if the giant creature was docile, they came in contact with it and found out it is indeed harmless.
The municipality then was categorized only as fourth class for being very poor and known only a part of the geography and national statistics.
Copy of video footage taken by the diving group was passed on to the media, the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF)-Philippines and the Discovery Channel.
It became a word of mouth passed on to every tourist exploring the Philippines and by March of the same year, the municipality started to become a world-class tourist destination. It is now known as the “Whale Shark Capital of the World”.
Now, this town is officially listed as first class earning an annual revenue of nearly P100 million mostly from its tourism industry that plays host to an average of over 60,000 foreign and local tourist yearly.
These gentle giants arrive from as early as November but the official season starts from February and runs until end of May, when the local waters is at its clearest and calmest.
Local tourism officials and professional divers have established guidelines on proper whale shark watching intended to maintain safety and to defend the creatures from over exploitation.
“As long as we protect the habitat of these sea creatures and avoid antagonizing them, they will continue to be here.
“WWF findings say that whale sharks that are migratory in nature do not actually leave Donsol as they stay here all year-round. They just go deeper into the sea during some months of the year,” Alcantara said. (PNA)
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