One of the more joyous travel moments of 2011 was a trip to Exmouth in Western Australia, accompanying a friend on a swim with whale sharks, a pleasure I had experienced in 2010.
We left booking everything to the last minute, which is generally a big mistake, and more so this time because we were planning our trip for the Easter weekend.
Alarm bells sounded when it was nigh impossible to book accommodation. In the end we took a camp site without power, and borrowed a tent.
On arrival we scouted around town to see if we could book a day out with the whale sharks. Undeterred by the bemused looks we received from most of the tour operators when asked if they had any seats available that weekend, and the hopeless look that followed a request to go on a wait-list, we finally found the one last seat on a boat. Friend and I wrangled over the place, and my superior logic finally won out: I had done it before so he should take the tour.
Now, my friend and I are eternal optimists, so I was only slightly dismayed at not getting a ride as well. We cheered each other on by commenting that something would happen, and he had a good feeling.
On the appointed morning for the rendez vous with the sharks, I was roused by my friend stomping about infuriated that his morning tea wasn’t available. Since I was awake anyway, I accompanied him to the bus pick-up, to send him off.
When the tour bus arrived, my ever optimistic friend asked the driver if they had any vacancies, and again, there was that pitying look.
And then a voice at my elbow said: “My friend is sick and can’t come, would you like to buy her ticket?” Would I ever!!!!
I have never been a sluggard at getting ready for things, but this time was a record – one blink and I reappeared with snorkel, fins and a grin from ear to ear.
Our up-beat-ness was rewarded big time – our tour followed a small juvenile, a mere two and a half meters long; juveniles are said to be far more curious than their grown up versions, diving less and staying on the surface more to check things out.
If you have never been swimming with whale sharks, the process goes like this: the boat takes you out into the deep sea, where the spotter planes help to locate sharks feeding on the surface. The boat then moves to a position in the shark’s path, and a group of us leap into the water and swim furiously – with little idea of where the shark is. If our course is right, and we followed our group leader, we find ourselves in the path of the oncoming shark. One minute staring into an expanse of cobalt blue water, and the next a massive mouth appears out of the blue (both figuratively and literally) and we flap to get out of the way of the approaching maw. Have no fear dear reader, these creatures are gentle giants, and an accidental ingestion of humans is unlikely: anything larger than coral spawn is likely to be spat out or avoided in the first place. Then we swim alongside, and the most dangerous creatures are our swimming companions, all desperate to wring the most out of this experience – elbows, fins, hands and legs may be deployed against you to get as close as possible to these extraordinary creatures. Eventually, the shark has cruised enough, or has had enough of the following horde of humans, and dives into the depths once more, doing a reverse of its appearance, for long minutes you can see the creature descending, spots and all, and then suddenly, it’s disappeared into its surrounding, so perfectly is it camouflaged.
At the end of our outing, like over-exited kids wanting just one more ride, we begged the captain for just one more swim, to be rewarded by our “little” friend who spent
close to thirty minutes cruising around and about the boat, snapping at air bubbles, turning suddenly, prompting a flurry of fins while we tried to maintain the requisite 3 meter distance.
Thirty minutes of magic, a triumphant result of positive thinking.