Annchen

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Friends & Istanbul: the antidote to tired travellers

There is something to be said about the precarious feeling of returning to an old home base. The feeling of instant familiarity, but also of countless nuanced changes – so that you know you know it, but you also know that it is not the same place you’ve known before. For me a place like this is Istanbul.

 

Anyone who knows me well will know that I lost my heart in Istanbul working in my favourite museum in the world, The Museum of Innocence. If you heard me talk about Istanbul, you’d think we spent a year there, or more – but the reality is we spent just a few three months staying in the city. But it seemed remarkable how easily I fell in to the rhythm of this ancient place. I made new friends, I knew where all my favourite street cats stayed, I had my favourite place to buy onions, which was different from where I liked to get my honey and cheese, and still different from where I got my strawberry tea. The shopkeepers stopped showing me the prices on their calculators and started to speak to me in Turkish as I learnt, and the junk shop guy would give me bits and bobs for dirt cheap (and offer me tea afterwards) while I listened as he refused to name a reasonable price for the other tourists perusing his Aladdin’s Cave. The guys at the corner knew to make me a half chicken sandwich when I showed up at lunchtime (and to give me the receipt), and we were almost always treated with a free desert at Omers’s restaurant. Or given a rice pudding to go when we said we couldn’t possibly eat any more.

 

I am not under the bizarre impression that Istanbul is some sort of second home to me. I loved the corner we frequented, but I have little understanding of the complex net of socio-political topographies. I don’t speak Turkish, and have forgotten much of the little that I learnt. I can’t stay for as long as my heart desires (though the visa is free for South Africans). I can’t cook Turkish food, or do anything else valuable that would show any sort of lived comprehension of the culture and the roots. I didn’t even have a bank account. So I won’t call it a ‘homecoming’ – that’d be a bit insulting to Istanbul’s actual residents, people that are rooted, even trapped in its place and history. But I do feel a warm at-ease-ness every time I come back. I don’t need to check my phone for directions every time I walk somewhere; I can walk with a purpose of knowing what I’m after, and a purposelessness of someone who isn’t afraid she’ll get lost without one. I love stepping off in Istanbul without the pressure of doing and seeing stuff and being the tourist that I am, but instead just being content with taking pleasure of being there.

 

And we were fortunate to have two layovers in Istanbul during this long backpacking journey. We were welcomed into our friend Dilan’s palace, and we just revelled in being together and enjoying life’s luxuries like bomb breakfasts, streetcats that aren’t gross, being able to flush toilet paper (not in SE Asia, you don’t!), wine and cheese, and the simple luxury that is strolling along the Bosphorus (in one of Dilan’s favourite neighbourhoods that she told me about 3.5 years ago but hasn’t been able to show us until now!) . These were two days of eating, sleeping, eating, strolling, laughing, trying to convince Dilan to get a cat, and more eating. The first layover was the relief of a feeling like home and familiarity and the world’s best breakfast after mildly roughing it and backpacking in the Philippines (not strong on the breakfast scale), and by the time of the second layover Dilan nursed as back to health after a monumentally tiring Egyptian trip from Sharm el Sheikh to Cairo, and back again, the day before.

This is the best breakfast in Istanbul

Istanbul's snuggly street cats

Istanbul's cats

We’ve traveled a lot the last few years, and 2018 has been especially rough. It is a great adventure, but it can be tiring sometimes, and what we miss most is the constant of everyday rituals and a community – friends to love and be loved by (in person). So moments like these – strolling through Bebek with Dilan, picking up every third snuggly cat, and being given a bed and a couch and space to feel at home in, is what nourishes and repairs traveler like us. Like a den where we can rest from the chase, catch our breath a bit.

Mostly, though, we always just wished we stayed longer every time we get to hang out in Istanbul.

 

P.S. 

The best breakfast in Istanbul is at Beyaz Fırın in Beşiktaş. This is our official statement.

Snuggling Istanbul cats in Beşiktaş

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Sharm el Sheikh to Cairo, and back again

I would rather have a passport that grants me access to all the places that Joel’s passport allows him to go. I would rather not have to pay all of that $$$ for every visa I need to get; I would rather not have to gather all the bank statements and hotel bookings and proof of insurance and all the rest; I’d rather pass up on the stress of going to the application appointment to endure a string of what feels like criminalising questions; I’d rather forget about all the third-party visa agencies that couldn’t care less about you or your passport; I’d rather not have to go to my home country at the southern tip of Africa every time I want to get permission to go somewhere. BUT…NOTHING beats the feeling of relief and joy and pure unadulterated excitement when you are handed back your passport with a brand crispy new visa in it. Which is why I was especially excited to go back to Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.

(Not visa-free, but a free visa for South Africans, woohoo!)

 

We got our Advanced diving license in Sharm two years ago, and we haven’t been in clearer waters anywhere else in the world since then. It is incredible – like almost not even credible, it is so crazy clear. And ever since then we have been dying to go back to this blue universe.

Well, we are in between jobs and degrees and homes – so…no better time than now, right?

 

Sharm el Sheikh, the town

Sharm el Sheikh sits on the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, flanked by the red sea and sheltered by the Sinai Mountains that rise dramatically from the dust. We love it here. Joel has bragged about Sharm el Sheikh so much to his family that his dad now jokingly refers to it as Caramel Shake (pronounced the American way – it’s better). But you’d probably be surprised if you showed up in town, thinking: “….this is what they have been raving about???”

Sharm sunset

Looking out over sleepy Sharm el Sheikh at sunset

It’s a strange little town, actually. Before the 1960s it was sparsely populated by Bedouins living in shacks and tents in the shade of the mountains, and some fishermen drawing life from the sea. And then like a mushroom in the night, it became a thriving resort city for Israelis and Russians. But it’s half empty now, tourism has tanked after a plane got shot down about three years ago, with closed down restaurants, mall and hotel construction sites stopped mid-way. Salespeople who moved their lives here when it was booming have little to do and are particularly aggressive. Shisha lounges line the street with no customers. So now it’s a sparse, flat town lining the bays with faded Russian signage and lush resort hotels. An Arabic twilight zone where all the Egyptians can speak not only Arabic and broken English, but fluent Russian or Polish or Italian. Actually, we were almost always at first approached in Russian before we told them we are from South Africa. It’s strange place.

But we don’t love it for its town.

Sharm el Sheikh, the back country

It’s more than just a neglected tourist town – the majestic mountains are rich to explore and the sun sets in a red ball of glory every night behind them. In fact, one of our favourite travel experiences ever was climbing Mount Sinai in the dead of the night for the golden sunrise. This time we took off on ATVs just behind the main town, Naama Bay, to kick up some dust and chase some storks. We yelled our names into ‘Echo Mountain’ with a bunch of Arabic tourists, and waited for the mountains to yell it back to us. Tourism has picked up a lot since we came here two years ago, when the Hilton was so empty we could have had our names echoed back to us in the foyer, so it was nice to get out of the crowded resort.

Sharm el Sheikh: Affordable Luxury

Honestly we also like Sharm because it is cheap. We stayed all-inclusive at the Hilton for 70EUR a night, in a huge ocean-view room. A beautiful resort with multiple pools and spectacular snorkelling right from its private beach. Also, we just came from the Philippines, where we roughed it for 10USD a night, where power cut out and toilets didn’t flush and fans didn’t really do it for us at night in the 90% humidity or whatever it was. So when we arrived in Sharm it was a power shot of ultra super duper luxury, and we welcomed it with open arms!

Sharm: Gate to the Red Sea

But mostly we love Sharm el Sheikh because the diving is out of this world. The water is a colour of blue that gets you every time, the visibility is 15 meters on a bad day, but 30 meters most of the time, and the conditions are always mint. Sharm el Sheikh has something like 364 days of sunshine a year. And in this case, a sparsely populated town with a dwindling tourist industry is perfect. Less people in the water means healthier sea life. Plus, it’s got one of the top-ten dive sites in the world in the Ras Mohammed National Park – Shark & Yolanda, where we got to descend in the open blue, with the Shark Reef wall dropping hundreds of meters into the darkness below, and explore the Yolanda wreck with toilets and bathtubs and basins strewn about at a shallow end a few meters away. There is no place for reef diving and visibility like the Red Sea at the tip of the Sinai peninsula. 

Sharm Shark & Yolanda

Finishing up a dive at the famous Shark & Yolanda reefs.

Diving sharm

Added bonus: all the diving boats are really, very nice

Sharm to Cairo

And when we got all the diving out of our system, we decided to do something a bit crazy. Joel has never seen the pyramids before, so I convinced him we should go to Cairo for a day. It’s crazy because we would leave at midnight on a bus from Sharm, get to Cairo at 8am, do all the stuff, leave there at 3pm, get back at midnight (if there aren’t delays or traffic!!!), fly from Sharm to Istanbul at 3am, fly from Istanbul to Oman at 9pm.

Three continents, two days.

Impossible, right?

Wrong.

We did it.

Sharm to Cairo, at the pyramids

Made it.

We were exhausted.

But we did it, we survived the surprisingly crowded Egyptian Museum after no sleep and no breakfast. We fell asleep only for a minute on the Nile cruise. We managed to convince all of the Papyrus sales people that I already bought one 15 years ago and don’t need another kitschy papyrus with my name in hieroglyphs. WE SURVIVED THE PYRAMIDS. We posed for every dumb photo they made us pose for until we had to be rude about it. We managed to completely evade the sales people in the perfume shop. We skipped the bus ride back and bought tickets online with Air Egypt from Cairo to Sharm. We made it to the airport in time. We realised we didn’t actually have tickets. We bought tickets again. We flew back to Sharm with plenty of time to catch our flight to Istanbul.

It will now forever be known as the craziest 48 hours of travel we have ever done, until, God forbid, we do something crazier. We spent valuable time on three continents in two days.

The Nile

The Nile: Good a place as any for a nap.

If someone instructs us to do an optical illusion photo one more time…

By the end of it – when we finally arrived back in Sharm el Sheikh – we were so ready to move on and get out of Egypt. We were so ready to say goodbye to the busy resort luxury in Sharm and usher in a time for early quiet mornings of camping on the beaches of Oman for a month. So we checked in, checked our backpacks right through to Muscat, even though we were still to spend a day in Istanbul, and took off right out of there on my window seat.

 

Sayonara Sharm. That’s a wrap from us.

Sharm ATV

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A Birthday in Bohol: Travel Diary Update

If the Phillipines was Joel’s birthday trip, then Bohol was the birthday island. We were only staying for 3 nights, so we jumped right into packing our days full of incredible things to do – after we found some mouthwatering Filipino fusion food at Pilya near Alona Beach.

After our amazing-turned-terrible snorkelling session at Apo Island, we were eager to get some dives in before we departed this beautiful island nation, so we signed ourselves up for a day of diving with Bohol Dive Club right away. And the dives were incredible. Giant turtles half the size of us, sea snakes, and fields of eels popping out of the sand bed simultaneously, floating around like long little ghosts before taking cover in unison again. And then there was that giant shoal of Jackfish. Hundreds of half-meter fish slowly forming tornados and clouds and walls. Joel and the dive master drifted through as they parted like the red sea, but before I could follow the wall of jackfish closed up just inches from my face as I waved to Joel and he completely disappeared on the other side behind them. You just hang there and it feels like you are just engulfed inside of this giant shoal of fish.

We hailed in thirty-five on the rooftop of our 5-storey, artist-designed tower Airbnb with a couple of beers as we watched the sunset on one side, and a thunderstorm roll in on the other.

Sunset, Bohol

Thunderstorms, Bohol

Thunderstorms, Bohol

THE CHOCOLATE HILLS

So on Joel’s birthday there was only one more thing to do on Bohol island: see the famous chocolate hills.

It was a tight schedule. The chocolate hills were at least 1h30min drive from our Airbnb – in a car. We were going on a cute little yellow scooter. So that’s 3-4 hours of driving right there. But we had to be back by 4.30pm to be picked up for a kayaking with fireflies excursion that we got really excited about and booked the day before. And we also really wanted to check out a snorkelling spot that was recommended by our host. And in-between all this we had to check out of the tower and check in somewhere else.

We packed up and set off early, deciding to ignore our hunger and just stop at a place on the way. The chocolate hills are a well-known tourist attraction, so there will be something along the way right?

Wrong.

A house here and there where people are leaving cooked dished in pans on the window sills, for sale. At-home convenient stores where chips and cookies and water are sold from behind metal griddles.

The islands that we visited in the Philippines made Bali look like an all-inclusive resort.

Finally we spotted a bakery and quickly devoured some muffins and ice cream for breakfast. I mean, did you even have a birthday if you didn’t have ice cream for breakfast?

The Tarsier sanctuary was our first stop, after cruising through the wonderfully cool and eerily quiet man-made forest. Tarsiers are teeny tiny tiny little primates that will fit snuggly in the palm of your hand. They are furry little alien babies. Top level cute.

Man Made Forest, Bohol

Cooling down in the shade of the man made Mahogany forest

Tarsier sanctuary, Bohol

Tarsier sanctuary, Bohol

 

And then the we noticed dark and angry-looking clouds moving across our way, dwarfing the hills where they came from. The light drizzle turned to pelting rain, and we happen to pass by the only building in sight when torrential rains swept through. A local lady ushered us in – ‘quickly, take cover – it’s gonna rain!’ And we pulled in our bike under the porch of a room in the middle of nowhere with a sign that said ‘40php entrance fee’ just as it started dumping (we learnt later they are charging a 40 pesos entrance fee to look at the python and ostrich they keep in the back). It wasn’t long before the little porch was cramped with 10 locals all taking shelter, getting out and putting on their ponchos. And there we were, drinking beer and tea, staring at a paper-mâché ostrich head and spitting python, watching it come down in a restaurant-cum-zoo with the loud shrieks of what is apparently a horn bill kept somewhere in the back piercing through the storm every now and then.

Waiting for a storm to pass in Bohol

Waiting for a storm to pass in Bohol

We arrived to the expanding views of the chocolate hills eventually, which, surprisingly, actually has nothing to do with chocolate besides inducing cravings from having to say and read and hear chocolate so many times. We had just enough time to climb the 200-something steps and take in the view of thousands of hills stretching out as far as the eye can see, before thick white clouds moved through, erasing the view like it was never there and bringing with it that heavy monsoon rain. And whilst we were taking cover on top of a chocolate hill with a bunch of Chinese tourists, we finally canceled that kayaking that we were never gonna make anyways.

Chocolate hills, Bohol

Mist rising from the hills after a brief cooling down pour

Chocolate hills, Bohol

Nevermind Carmen, Bohol – I love this birthday boy!

And just as well, because our supposedly two-hour ride back turned out equally adventurous and a thousand times longer as we pushed to get out from under the mountain and its clouds, having to stop every 20 or 30 minutes and take cover from beating rain, later accompanied by flashing and blaring thunder.

We finally made it to the main city at 5.30pm. The billowing rain clouds were behind us, and – shining bright like a beacon of hope – a towering glowing ‘M’ in front of us. We were starving, having had ice cream for breakfast and not much else. We didn’t even have to check with each other – it was a definitive, telepathic YES, and we parked at McDonalds without hesitation. And then we both scarfed down a meal and a mcflurry and it was one of the best most satisfying meals ever.

Rain, McDonalds, tiny alien animals, thunderstorms, infinity pools and wine, more rain, and a whole lot of adventure. This birthday was one for the books.

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We Survived Apo Island: A Travel Diary Update

After our adventures on Cebu island, we jumped on a small ferry to make the quick and easy 20-minute crossing to Dumaguete on Negros island. We were headed to Dauin – a stretch of coast famous for its beautifully protected wildlife and its proximity to Apo island. We found a teeny tiny cottage on the beach at a dive resort with two or three kittens and the teeniest tiniest puppy you could possibly imagine. Not a bad start.

Apo island is a volcanic island off the coast, about an hour’s boat from Dauin beach. There are a total of two dive resorts on the island, over 60 recorded sea turtles that hang around, and bunch of sea snakes. The visibility is great, the reefs are healthy, the water is the colour of paradise.

It’s diver’s heaven.

The clearest water at Apo Island

Only we didn’t dive.

The owner of Cebu Dive Centre in Moalboal (where we did the sardine storm dive) summed it up nicely. Comparing snorkelling to diving is like comparing a chicken sandwich to a roast chicken dinner. Both are good, but one is better.

But sometimes you just feel like a simple sandwich, you know? Though mostly you just can’t afford a roast chicken dinner each day. And sometimes you’re still so full from all the roast chicken you had the previous two days. You get it.

So we went as snorkelers on a diving trip.

We started strong when we moored by the village and jumped in the clearest water we’ve seen in the Philippines so far. Beautiful and bright corals span the seabed 5 to 10 meters below, inhabited by equally bright and beautiful tropical fish. And it wasn’t long before we spotted our first turtle. A magnificent giant thing, with its shiny tiled shell and honeycombed skin scratching its back against the reefs. We hovered and stared; it would go back up for some air, and then dip back down, cruising elsewhere. And then we saw another, and another.

Our second site was a bit deeper, but Joel spotted two black and white sea snakes, and we followed them as closely as we dared. An exciting first-time sighting for us.

Snorkelling at Apo Island

After lunch the boat was taken around to another point and things went south very quickly. The little boat, basically at capacity with 4 divers and 4 snorkelers, was rocking back and forth aggressively. There was a quick briefing for the divers; they jumped in and disappeared. Nothing mentioned to us poor snorkelers. It looked rough, but not as rough as our manta ray snorkelling expedition in Nusa Penida, and we were 100% not going to wait for divers for an hour on a sea-sickness-inducing boat with another snorkeler that already threw up on the way over. So we jumped in.

But it was deep; there was nothing to see; Joel’s rented mask kept fogging and flooding; my snorkel was mostly just filled with sea water; the corals were far to close to the cliff against which the waves threateningly broke.

We tried to see stuff, would give up, and start back towards the boat, only to see it sloshing back and forth, and stayed out. We made this decision multiple times over the next hour as the divers calmly floated below. Man, what we would have given to slip on a tank and escape the crashing waves and bumpy boat. So we just made it our mission to survive.

We managed to make light of it in between our frustration in the water. The situation was actually ridiculous. It’s one of those situations that are funnier in the moment than in hindsight. In hindsight it’s really freaking frustrating. We paid a lot to do this snorkelling trip, but we received no guidance, no briefing, and that last site was really not a snorkelling site. It was not fun, and it was not safe. But being out there in the water seemed better than having the contents of our lunch swooshed around in our stomachs on that little boat. I get that divers should be privileged, but if the snorkelers are just tagging along it should be at least 40% cheaper.

So this is a story of how we should have had that roast chicken dinner.

Even though we mostly make smart choices when we travel, we don’t always get it right. Hindsight is always 20/20, I guess. If we could do it all over again, we would 100% go back out to Apo island. It’s spectacular. But we would also 100% strap on our tanks and pop in our regulators. Lesson learnt. 

 

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5 Highlights in 5 Days on Cebu Island, Philippines

I had spent so many hours going through blog posts about Bali – what to do, where to stay, what to expect – checking and rechecking booking sites for the accommodations, and had not worried at all about our time in Kuala Lumpur (as we would be hosted by family), that finally standing in line to board our Air Asia flight to Cebu City in the Philippines actually caught me off guard. To be honest I found it even a bit hard getting sincerely excited, because I had no idea what to be excited about. I had no idea what to expect.

And then after a surprisingly smooth 3 hours and 40 minutes we landed on Filipino soil and the adventure that was Cebu Island washed over us like a tidal wave. The joys of being there hit us quick without time to adjust to it and we (Joel more particularly) fell in love almost instantaneously. It’s a bit futile to emphasise 5 highlights of our brief time on Cebu Island because it was really all good. But I had to organise a million highlights somehow:

5 DAYS, 5 HIGHLIGHTS ON CEBU ISLAND

5. A DAY IN THE LAP OF LUXURY

When I say lap of luxury I mean a large air-conditioned room with a door in between the toilet and the shower head in a 3-star hotel opposite a huge air-conditioned mall. This might be silly, but it was a real treat to check in to this large room with the prospects of taking a nap and not waking up super early and going to see a movie and maybe buying a new fresh and clean shirt at H&M. I am sure you can stay like this – or some version of this – everywhere we’ve been, but the Philippines we’ve seen makes Bali look like a built up resort. It’s rough around the edges. The tourist infrastructure is there, but not nearly as plugged in or consistent as in Bali.

It’s only been a bit more than a week since we spent a lot of our time in malls in Kuala Lumpur, but our time on the Filipino islands was so opposite of this that going into this mall almost felt like a new exciting experience.

We had big giant burritos, stocked up with a box of popcorn, and got in line to see a movie (Venom, it was bad but we didn’t care) in an air-conditioned theatre.

That is luxury.

 

4. AIRBNB KARAOKE(ish)

The Airbnb review read: “She invited us to sing karaoke with her friends…we had so much fun”

Uhm yes. Done. Booked.

Joel messaged her and said: “we want to go karaoke with you and your friends!” Whereupon she almost immediately replied: “I won’t be there, but my staff will take you.”

No sooner did we get our key to our room than one of the staff members excitedly stated that ‘a driver will take us to dinner and then come back and pick her up and then we go to karaoke and band.’

Lol okay.

So after dinner she took us to a local hangout called Zola Lola’s Restobar, where a band was just starting to warm up under a mix of glowing purple lights and flashing dance strobes. About twenty other locals sat around in plastic lawn chairs working on their first or second beers. There was a semi-open area for the band and a closed room for the karaoke. There was one guy in the karaoke room apart from the sound guy who was singing a Filipino song. So our Airbnb host decided we should skip Karaoke and support the band instead – she seemed super excited about requesting songs. Ten minutes later another staff member from the Airbnb brought a Japanese guy who was also staying there that night and they joined our table. So there we were, with another tourist and our tricycle driver and our Airbnb hosts, drinking beers, and requesting ‘Losing My Religion’ and singing along as one of the singer’s belted out ‘I will Survive’ with some notable skill.

It was fun.

We forced ourselves to leave around 10.30pm (sadly before I could see if they were going to try our requested ‘Kiss from a Rose’), because we had to get up super early for what would be one of the most incredible moment of our lives (read on).

Requesting songs with our airbnb host

“That’s me in the corner; that’s me in the spot.light; losing my religion!”

3. AGUINID FALLS

We allowed our driver to talk us into going to one of the waterfalls. It was just sort of an in-between thing to do. We’ve already been to some amazing waterfalls in Bali, but mostly we were feeling full and satisfied, having just dived with whale sharks for an hour, and had some time to kill before our ferry to Dumaguete on Negros island – so we weren’t expecting that much.

We traded in our sandals for rented water shoes, paid the entrance fee (about a dollar, give or take), and followed our two mandatory, though voluntary, ‘technical’ guides in to the forest (guide #2 basically just doubled as personal paparazzi – we’ve never had so many photos taken of us since our wedding day).

Soon we were met by the first tier of this 5-tier waterfall and we were so taken aback. Milky blue white waters gently flowed through multiple pools caked with mud and a sort of chalky sediment, making the falls look like something from a Dr Seuss story. It is a mini canyoneering adventure where you walk and climb through the falls to get to the top, 5th tier. Stopping for a dip at the pools along the way. We started with trepidation at first, walking slowly over what seems like super silky slippery boulders, before we realised it’s actually not slippery at all. Apparently there’s some acidity in the water that prevents algae growth. Each new tier revealed a stunning surreal setting, with milky cool waters, rushing streams and trickling falls, stalagmites and stalactites forming in sidelong caves. And each new tier brought with it multiple photo ops, as we were directed by our ‘technical guides.’

A waterfall for the books.

Aguinid Falls, Cebu

2. IN THE EYE OF THE SARDINE STORM

There are some spots along the reefs surrounding the Filipino islands where the sardines gather in shoals so enormous they are like underwater storm clouds, whipping this and that way, the silver skin flashing almost like thunder as they suddenly flip direction in unison. The shores of Moalboal, Cebu, is one such place where the sardines run daily, so we decided to do our first dive in almost two years into the eye of the storm.

It is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. At one moment it is just reef wall and sea, the next you fly into a shoal so thick it blocks the light from the sun above you. I thought at one point we were swimming under the shadow of a big boat, or maybe going into a sort of half-cave, only to look up and see thousands of sardines darkening the surface of the water above us. And then our dive master would shine his red light into the shoal and they would change shape and direction, forming a new cloud elsewhere. Straight underwater magic.

 

1. WHALE SHARKS

I remember the first time I saw a whale shark in the water. We went snorkelling with them in Mozambique. I jumped out of the dinghy turned around and audibly gasped through my snorkel as it headed straight in my direction. Powering past me at a surprising speed. It was incredible.

But seeing 15 to 20 of them, together, in a shallow 12 meters of water was just something else. We walked in to the water with our tanks, descended in only about 5 meters of water and followed our master as the shore sloped downwards. And then all of a sudden we were under them. All of them. So so many. And they would stop and feed at the top, lifting near-vertical, their tails almost scraping at the bottom. And you’d be looking up at this giant creature, and its practically five times your length. and then you’d turn around and see another cruising in from the bottom and you’d have to move quickly to let it pass.

Honestly, it was more like dodging whales. They were everywhere.

Our dive lasted for what seemed like forever. We used almost no air as we just sort of floated in this shallow blue universe with whale sharks gilding all around us. We were able to really take in every moment of it. We stayed out for about an hour and still came up with 70 bar. And then it suddenly seemed like it was a moment that could never last long enough.

Best dive ever? Yes.

Best moment of this journey so far. Certainly.

Craziest most surreal moment in our lives? It’s up there.

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