Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sharks, Whale sharks and Whales

Life under the turquoise water of the ocean is a newly discovered wonder to me. Since I hesitantly fell backward off the boot for my first open water scuba dive I have marveled at this new world through the haze of my oxygen bubbles. There for it was with great excitement that I packed my camouflage backpack for a trip to marvelous Mafia.

The above mentioned is an untouched little island off the coast of Dar that boast a magnificent marine park. In fact, the dive sites around this island are world renowned and I could not wait to proudly put my brand new scuba license to the test! And the promise of spectacular diving is only half of it. With great anticipation I logged onto the website of the lodge everyday weeks before to see of news of whale sharks. These magnificent fish could arrive any time from the beginning of October, but they decided to tease us and it was only three days before our expected departure that the website eagerly exclaimed – “they have arrive”! I could hardly sleep I was so excited!

My friend Joey and I stayed at a lovely quaint lodge (Butiama - check it out, I can highly recommend them) but spent very little time in our colourful room. First stop on Friday was the Mafia Marina Park for two dive sessions. I could never have anticipated the sight that awaited me as soon as I equalized my way down to the bottom of the ocean. There were fish EVERYWHERE! I squealed with excitement into my regulator. I wish I was more artistically inclined, then I could draw all of this for you, for my bumbling s cannot begin to describe the coral, the fish, shy garden eels, massive scary looking ones, the gigantic lobsters, the lovely lace-like cowry shells, the luminous sea snails. Joey said at one stage he looked around to see if I was coming and he saw me just spinning around and around like a planet. I simply could not believe the underwater world around me. My favourite, without a doubt was the turtle we chilled with! They are so big and awkward looking and yet so graceful under water. I just wanted to hug it and take it home with me! “Awesome duuuuuuude”!

Saturday morning I could not wait to get on the boat and go and find me some whale sharks! But alas, the giant fish were nowhere to be seen. Hardly able to hide our disappointment we opted for some snorkeling instead. But again I could not get enough of the coral and all the fish! And I love the freedom of movement that snorkeling allows! We dived and dipped and had a great time! At one stage our guide instructed us to go under the water, hold our breath and listen…humpback whales calling to each other…incredible…The rest of the day was spent kayaking, strolling along the beach and lazing around reading our books. Pure bliss.

Sunday morning was our last chance to find the whale sharks. The manager at the lodge had by now all ready warned us that we were probably a bit early and they come and go still this time of year. She did not want us to leave the island disappointed and tried to manage our high expectations. But Joey sang at breakfast “I have a feeling”…and the whale sharks came out to play! When the huge speckled fin broke through the water hardly 2m from the boat I had my doubts, but when Ali shouted “JUMP” I jumped and swallowed a mouth of saltwater as the gigantic fish brushed past me. It was frightening and unbelievably exhilarating at once! I was still recovering from my first encounter when the whale shark turned around and headed back towards us with a giant flat mouth sucking air, plankton and water. My first impulse was to head to the safety of the boat, but Ali grabbed my arm and started swimming straight towards the big guy. And then the whale shark sank underneath me, I ducked the massive dorsal fin and swam alongside him/her looking straight into the eye of the beautiful creature. I could see the hundreds of little brave yellow fish hovering just in front of the massive mouth feeding of the plankton that escape the black throat of the whale shark.

We spent the next two and a half hours swimming with 6 whale sharks. At one stage I had two on each side of me within arm’s reach. The moments I was not worried about being squashed to death I was absolutely amazed by it all. By far some of the most indescribable hours of my life! I have experienced so many wonderful things since moving to Tanzania, but it has been in nature where I have been truly touched by a sense of something Bigger than us mere humans. Swimming with the whale sharks of Mafia was indeed a spiritual experience in a time it was much needed. The mysteries ways…

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