Monday, October 4, 2010

Dolphins in Mozambique, whole new world


It had been life long dream of my fiancée to swim with dolphins, and recently this dream became reality for her.
Neither the potholed roads nor the length of the drive could dampen Carolyn’s palpable excitement.
Waiting at the border post for our transport to arrive we got to meet the rest of the party that would be our “family’for the 5 days. (A 4x4 is needed to get from the border post at Farazela to Ponta D’Ouro)
The women got cosy in the cab, the guys started bonding on the back of the bakkie.It was a happy group that arrived physically shaken and mentally stirred at the Dolphin Centre.
The Dolphin Encountours camp site was welcoming and exceeded other dive sites I have visited.
They offer two types of accommodation, either reed rooms or huts.
Both offer the same basics, beds, storage space and mozzie nets.The huts have the added advantage of having a plug point. Dropping our luggage in our hut, we headed for the beach and the Indian Ocean, which were only twenty meters away!
Run by Angie Gullan, Dolphin Encountours was started in 1996, when after several visits by family and friends; it was turned into commercial operation.
Angie’s main aim is to offer people the opportunity to swim with wild dolphins, bringing them closer to nature and making them environmentally aware.She is currently studying dolphin behavior and how we can protect and preserve our dolphin population.
Unlike shark diving, where the sharks have to be coerced with food, the dolphins come because they want to.We found them to be as interested in us as we were in them.But I am getting ahead of myself…
The tour was facilitated by Ocean’s Essence,run by dolphin ‘addicts’ Michelle and Arnold Sachs,who were both passionate about sharing ‘their’ dolphins with us.
Boat skipper Harry van den Heever took us through boat and dive safety procedures, then it was off to the beach for snorkeling practice.Seemingly abrupt during his briefing, his talents in helping people cope with their water phobias soon became apparent.In his calm, but firm manner and together with his dog Spot he was to control all our dive encounters over the next four days.
It is amazing how sea air increases the appetite; we could not wait for our first meal.
The food was superbly prepared by Chef Roxy Macdonald and her staff. Our first meal consisted of a crab curry; with whole real crab…not the plastic stuff that we get back in Johannesburg.For dinner we were given a choice of main course, one of which was always vegetarian. The fresh baked bread with our meals tended to disappear VERY quickly. Especially the banana bread at breakfast! Depending on the weather meals are either served in the lecture area, outside or on the beach.No sitting in stuffy hotel dining rooms at Dolphin Encounters!
There were biscuits at the tea and coffee station, but these disappeared quickly as the sea air kicked in. (Well that was the excuse!)
The dives are conducted at around eight in the morning as the wind tends to pick up in the afternoon.The excitement of our first dive was tangible as we walked down the beach to the launch site.
An aside…Ladies there is no glamorous way to get in or out of the boat! Keep that in mind when packing your swim suit.
The dolphins that we got to see are the Inshore Bottlenose species, which meant that we did not have to travel far to reach them.
Unlike scuba where the ride can sometimes be longer than the dive, we got to the dolphins in a matter of minutes.
It was then that Harry came into his own. With quiet commands and reassurances and we slipped into the water.
My fiancée had never snorkelled before and Jabu (Harry’s assistant) took her under his wing during her first dive.
I heard the dolphins before I saw them, the clicking sound of their echo location can be clearly heard under water. They seemed very curious to look and interact with and around us.
All our interactions lasted about twenty to thirty minutes as neither Harry nor Angie believes in extended time in the water.Good for both mammal species.
Once back in the boat, the earlier anxiety was replaced with excitement and wonder.
The most common phrase for the rest of our trip was “Did you see…?”
Back on shore, there was time for a hot shower before sitting down to a full cooked breakfast.
After which we had some free time to either kite surf (equipment and lessons are available) or take a walk on the beach.
We were now in the capable hands on Michelle who had organized a series of lectures and activities for each day.
We started with a meditation on the first day and ended our stay learning how to give a foot massage.
Aside from being a ‘dolphin addict’Michelle is also a trained reflexologist, and she was willing to share some of her training with us. (Her talk on how she became involved with dolphin studies is both moving and fascinating)
Each time we joined the dolphin pods they showed us a new aspect of their interactions with each other and us. Some days they felt like playing with us, and on other dives they were more involved with each other.Yet all the while allowing us into their space.
And my fiancée…after her first nervous water entry no one could stop her.She was often the fist in and the last out, trying to drink the entire ocean while laughing at the antics of the dolphins swimming around her.
I chose not to do the last dive as I needed some boat launch and landing images, and that was my big mistake!
When the boat returned, I was informed that although they had not seen any dolphins, they had seen a turtle and a Whale Shark! I have been diving for several years and have never seen one. New rule for me…I will go on every launch next time.
All too soon the week was over and it was time to say good bye and head back to the border post.
Both Carolyn and I have been left with memories that will last forever.
My overriding memory was being able to swim hand in hand with her as the dolphins played around us.

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