I was born in Tashkent in 1972 where I had my studies, lived and worked until 2006. I have got a working experience in real estate business, foreign affairs, accounting, teaching Russian and English. 6 years ago I married British expatriate and moved out of Uzbekistan. Since then I have been a resident in 5 countries. I’m crazy about travelling and have been fortunate enough to explore many places of 4 continents. I love meeting new people, studying new languages and learning about different culture. I have been writing my travel logs for fun since my first trip abroad. Photography is my second hobby and both complementing and inspiring my writing. Currently my family and I live and work in Maputo, Mozambique.
Anchovies for breakfast
Tofo waters are famous for whale sharks in particular. According to the latest research, Tofo Bay is home to about 300 individuals cruising with the noble dignity around this area. People come here to get a unique experience of swimming with the whale sharks. Almost everyone who goes on the sea safari encounters these magnificent creatures on the first attempt.
A whale shark is not a predator and lives mostly on plankton and krill. They average about 9 m long and the weigh up to 20 tons. Despite its size, this huge beast is quite docile towards the swimmers. There were cases of divers playing with the whale sharks and even catching a ride. Although I don’t think the whale sharks appreciated their hitchhiking much.
The whale shark was first described and named in 1828, based on a specimen harpooned in Table Bay, in the South African Republic. A whale shark has a large, 1.5 meters wide mouth at the end of its flat head. In order to eat, the beast juts out its formidably sized jaws and sucks in everything in its path. It has a greyish brown colour body with distinctive yellow spots on the top.
“What shall we do now?” asked Alan.
“Let’s go on a snorkelling trip! Plea-a-se!” Tim pleadingly looked at both of us, inspired by the commotion in the bay. He really wanted to see a whale shark and secretly hoped to be able to hop on its back for a ride.
“Shall we go to the craft market?” I suggested. “It’s exciting and no danger is involved”.
Personally, I wasn’t sure if I fancied swimming anywhere near the creature the size of a double-decker bus.
“What if this shark runs over one of us, or starts behaving aggressively” I asked. “I don’t like this idea at all”.
“Let’s find out what the options are” concluded Alan and we went out to visit a diving-snorkelling centre nearby.
At the reception a young, chubby South African girl, with a tanned smiley face, informed us that we could go on a trip with the next boat in two hours if we were able to take a part in the introductory session straight away.
“We have just had a boat return from a trip and they saw quite a few whale sharks including a mum and a calf” she reported. “And you might be lucky to spot a humpback whale. There is a couple of them playing around in the bay at the moment”, continued the receptionist tempting us to take a chance.
“Fine. We are in” said Alan decidedly.
“Yippee!” said Tim bursting with excitement.
I only lifted my hands in dismay.
“Rule number one: Do not attempt to touch or to ride the whale shark” announced our safari instructor Emanuel, a slim tall and slightly grumpy Mozambican lad.
“Rule number two: do not restrict its normal movement or behaviour”, he continued piercing his little audience with a stern gaze.
The audience included me, my family, an elderly Portuguese lady with her daughter; one young nonchalant and chirpy American; a seriously looking South African couple and an imperturbable Japanese gentleman equipped with an underwater camera.
“Rule number three: Keep a distance of three meters from the head of the shark and four meters from the tail”, continued Emanuel in his induction which went on for another 15 minutes.
Next was sorting out our snorkelling gear, waiting for a boat to be ready and finally we moving towards the beach with a big crowd of our sea safari fellows.
Swimming with the whale shark was the main goal of our trip. A big inflatable boat, equipped with a high chair for the shark spotter, was due to launch from Tofo beach. Once the whale shark was spotted, the boat overtook the animal and halted a few meters ahead, directly in its path. The snorkelers were supposed to get quickly into the water, and not to miss the majestic approach of the magnificent colossus and to observe it from head to tail while this giant was passing by.
“Off you go! Quick, quick!” shouted Emanuel loudly when the engine suddenly coughed and spluttered to a stop.
I saw Alan and Tim jumping into the glaring water right next to each other; saw others diving in, including the elderly Portuguese lady. I stumbled in hesitation. I thought I had better wait and see that the shark had already passed by and then I would go in the water making sure I had a good angle to watch, keeping a safe distance between me and the beast. I leaned over the boat to get a better look and …
“Splash!” I found myself in the water.
“Go! Go there! You’ll be late” waved Emmanuel who had helped me to part with the boat.
I turned my head to the direction he suggested and saw a huge, wide opened mouth moving slowly towards me.
“Oi, mamochki!” I gasped in a great shock, staring at the giant brown body with creamy spots on its top.
It was the size and a speed of a coach. It was enormous.
I started kicking my legs in panic trying to get myself away from that turbine like looking mouth.
It turned out I was not that close to the whale shark after all. Everything underwater was magnified and seemed closer then it was. The shark’s body was idly gliding underneath me with charming grace and dignity.
I was so taken by this view that my bottom jaw involuntarily dropped in amazement and immediately I was punished with a mouthful of saline water. I adjusted my mask and started moving away from the approaching shark’s tail, following the instruction of rule number 3. A few minutes later we all boarded the boat, the engine roared and the driver sped up catching up with disappearing whale shark that determinedly followed its mission.
Once again we were in the water. This time the visibility was better but the mighty animal decided to turn away from the annoying snorkelers and I saw only its tail and two grey shades swimming underneath.
“Did you see the two sharks swimming beneath the whale shark?” asked Tim after our second dip. “They looked like real sharks. Are they dangerous?”
Emanuel explained they were harmless remoras and we didn’t need to worry about them.