Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Here fishy fishy...
Today was one of those days I will never forget.
It started like any other day; we woke to clear skies, the storm winds of the past week had subsided and the weather was pleasantly warm. Breakfast was noneventful: I had tea and a rusk with a slice of papaya, Glenn had a thick slab of challah French toast with coconut and sautéed bananas. I wrote down a recipe for a friend and sent it off. We picked up our laundry and checked email, then Facebook.
Around 11:00 we headed over to the dive shop for an afternoon 'ocean safari'. In Africa, everything is called a safari. I've even seen city tours advertised as 'urban safaris'. We were told that there are whale sharks and giant stingrays just off shore, the largest in the world. If you're lucky you might see a dugong. Apparently, we just happened to time the humpback whale migration, where hundreds of these gorgeous beasts migrate along the Mozambique coast to calf. We would be happy to see any of them.
The ocean safari is part whale spotting and part snorkeling adventure. I was told that we would go out in a boat with two spotters and drive in search of one of the above… IF we happened upon one of these creatures, we would have the opportunity to hop in and snorkel about. It sounded fabulous. Not having been here before, I had no idea how likely a spotting would be. In my experience adventures such as these tend to oversell and under deliver, the formula for making $$$ off the sea. Whatever the outcome, we would at least get to snorkel for a couple of hours. And I have told you how much I love to snorkel haven't I?
Together we all pushed the boat out through the break, hopped in and headed out to sea. Well, it might not sound very eventful, but these guys seem to be of one driving school…a crazy one. They drive a boat much like they drive a vehicle, or a bike for that matter, haphazardly speeding like a bat-out-of-hell then suddenly slowing to a near stop and alternating between the two speeds in unpredictable intervals. We all hung on for dear life as we jumped and gunned our way through the waves in search of something.
Within 15 minutes we had a whale shark sighting. Somehow, I was the only one in the boat without the foresight to slip into my fins and mask beforehand. I guess I just didn't really expect to see anything. So while the other passengers were swimming wildly around, I was still in the boat gearing up. I hopped out of the boat into the water and just as I cleared the water from my snorkel I heard the captain say, 'There! He is right in front of you.' I looked down and saw most enormous creature I have ever seen. He was so close I could have touched him. He passed quickly by and began to descend. He was massive and so beautiful. I couldn't believe I got to see him up close.
We all got a glimpse of it, but were quickly summoned back into the boat in search of another. Again, within just a few minutes we saw the huge dorsal fin of another shark. Off we were like a pack of deranged seals, flapping about with hopes of a better sighting. But this time the whale shark didn't dive, she swam right on the surface, slowly and gently. I don't know how long we swam with her…20 minutes? 30? I was panting into my snorkel taking big gasps of breath so I could dive down and swim around her. Her movements were barely visible and I was flailing about like a wild person trying to keep up. She had a little companion, a stout tuna-like fish swimming just under her belly. I tried to gauge her size by measuring one of my boat-mates in relation to her. She was nearly 4x as big, maybe 30 feet long, or bigger. Her fin was as tall as I am and her mouth as wide as our boat. Our captain said they can be as large as 20 meters long! 45+ feet! That is a BIG fish. Eventually we tired, or she did and headed deeper. We hopped into the boat and repeated this scenario two more times.
The last fish was interested in the boat prop, so she stayed on the surface for a good 10 or 15 minutes with her nose touching the boat. Inspecting. We molested the poor thing, swam in and under and around keeping a few feet between us for the most part, but under water it is hard to tell. It was a lesson in self control for Glenn and me…we both fought off the urge to pet her (you know me, I wanted to hug her, but would have had a hard time grabbing on to such an enormous fish); it wasn't easy for either of us to keep our hands to ourselves. With only 1000 know animals in existence (300 of which live off of the coast of Mozambique), we knew better. Wild animals are ALWAYS better off remaining wild.
In total we spent at least an hour swimming with these gentle giants. Now I have had some incredible marine experiences in my life: I have surfed right next to a pod of dolphins, kited through a tangle of reef sharks (who actually chased me onto the beach) and over a whale, swam with penguins and played underwater with frolicking seals, as friendly in the sea as puppies are on land, but I have never felt such awe in the ocean. I was moved, touched, humbled. I loved it and shall never ever forget this day.
Make you day happy wherever you are!