Friday, September 18, 2009

Big Fish

So this is over a week late. I have been back in the US since Sunday. I have been sick and was going to skip this last post, but then I felt a little obligated to post a few more pictures and let you know how the vacation all turned out. Mozambique really is a beautiful country. I spent a week there kickin’ it Peace Corps style, making my way up the coast in a chapa (aka taxi brousse). Though we didn’t actually break my standing record of 25 adults, 5 children and assorted animals slammed into the back of a minivan (set going to LaTodin during the Burkina 2003 hot season), we came damned close. And this trip was seven hours long. At some point the woman next to me had enough of the screaming infant on her lap (ownership of which I was never actually able to determine) and began passing him around the bus. I set a hard act to follow by shutting him up for 10 entire minutes (with the help of a touch screen iPod) before sending him on down the line. On a separate chapa trip (I took several on my journey up the coast), the driver drove directly into a telephone pole. Fortunately he was going fairly slowly and the pole had some give to it. His defense? “Since when did they get electricity out here?”
This all had such a profound effect of bringing me back to my Peace Corps days, that after I got off the chapa, and before I really knew what was going on, I had gone into the market and bought a sachet of tomatoes and a pagne.* I had to spend a good two days staring out at the turquoise water before I was completely myself again.

And, as per usual when I get close to said turquoise water, the first thing I want to do is get under it. Usually I spare you the details of my diving conquests but there was one day of diving that was really rockstar. First of all, because of the nature of the heavy current in the area, diving was faux-Navy Seal: fighting the heavy waves to launch the zodiac from the beach, riding out bouncing over the surf, negative entry for the dives… so you already feel like kind of a bad ass. On the way out, as expected, there were the usual dolphins a-jumpin’ which at this point you almost barely take notice of. Particularly as you are trying to concentrate on keeping your fillings from popping out as the zodiac with more horsepower than your car slams across the waves. At some point though, I looked up and thought, man, that is a really ugly dolphin that just did that flip. That was also a really big dolphin. Ah. That’s a humpback whale. Between us and the dive site was the annual migration. Humpbacks humpbacks everywhere. And while it was cool to see them jumping and fin slapping while on the boat, the best part of it was that you could hear the whale-song while you were diving. At one point one of the whales got curious about the buoy line (carried by the dive guide to mark our progress to the boat on the surface). He swam directly over top of us. Water amplifies sound waves so even a small outboard engine passing 100 feet above can sound like it is right on top of you. In this case the whale song was like a freight train.

But the humpbacks aren’t the reason that people come diving on the Mozambiquean coast. People dive here because of the giant mantas. Which are incredible. The visibility was poor – you could only see maybe 15 or 20 feet in front of you. Then all of a sudden these massive things swoop out of the murk right on top of you. It is a little disconcerting the first time they do it, but then really really cool. I tried to take a couple pictures, but it is really hard to do them justice. They can be up to 25 feet across. That’s bigger than my first apartment.

So after the dive, we are all on the boat, contentedly slamming back across the waves. Suddenly the captain stops and yells something excitedly in Portuguese. Boat stops, mad scramble to don snorkel mask and fins, everyone into the water. Whale sharks. I have been chasing these bastards all over the world. It has always been the wrong time/day/season. And here it was. The world’s largest fish. And it was a big fish. Even in a day filled with humpbacks and giant mantas, this puppy was big. And it swam close enough next to me that I could have reached out and touched it. Cherry on the hot fudge sundae.

The rest of the week was spent sitting on the beach, drinking Mozambiquan beer, taking sailing trips out to tropical paradises (note the use of the plural), eating seafood (the phrase “does anyone want my last lobster tail I’m stuffed” actually came out of my mouth at a meal where the bill was less than a salad at a standard downtown DC lunch restaurant), taking pictures of the local dhows (note the sails are made out of UNICEF refugee tents) and just generally being a laze-about. Then it was back to Maputo for a week of work and karmic retribution for having such a great vacation. With all my travels around the country on the local transport, I managed to get the flu. And I discovered that no one really even cares about whether it was swine flu or not. Suck it up and get back to work. So I did and now I am.

*pagna is the colorful cloth worn as skirts by West African women and Peace Corps volunteers of all genders


jm said...

hi there. great blog - love your writing. i'm wondering how you take your pictures underwater. do you have an underwater camera or a waterproof case for your regular camera? also, what camera do you use?
thanks - jm

Kristen Himelein said...

Sorry for the delay in response jm. For taking underwater I use a plastic shell on an old Canon pocket digital. The shell works great, but the pocket digital has seen much better days. The problem is that the shells are custom designed so I will have to scour e-bay to find another...

jm said...

nice - thank you for responding. i'm always curious about the cameras people use - your underwater pics came out quite well.
thanks again - jm

J. said...

Using your iPod to quiet a screaming child could be the basis for another Apple commercial: "...there's an app for that..."