Goodbye MWSRP!


Kev and I have landed in Istanbul 3 days earlier than initially planned to avoid any Maldives visa issues. We were to stay 32 days in the Maldives, however, the tourist visa is for 30 days and after discussion with the MWSRP team on the options available to us – chance it and just stay for the two days (and risk a fine of $600 each); attempt to gain an extension for the visa (which was very troublesome); or buy a return ticket from Male to Colombo, Sri Lanka (only an hour flight one way) so that our 30 days is reset; the best option that eventuated was to pay a fee of $90 per person to Turkish Airlines and change our flights.

In the first week, Katie and Alissa proposed that if we were comfortable enough, the volunteers could do a little presentation of photos or of anything regarding their best moments on the program. Sure enough, I automatically thought of collecting photos. However, I found that over the month, I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked. But that was ok, as in the first and second week of the program, I wrote a song on my ukulele about searching for whale sharks.

It just came to me on a morning ride on the Dhoni. I remember sitting outside at the front and for some reason all these words came to me. Things like ‘ink blue’ and ‘tear drop’. Words that Katie had used to describe what to look for in the water. For some reason those words stuck and then when I wrote then down, the rest of the song just came.

The chorus tune also came to me on the Dhoni ride. After that, whenever I was out on the Dhoni or in the water searching for WS I played around with the tune. So here’s the finished product! I recorded it on our last day in crazy hot weather. So please bare with my mistakes here and there!

Here are some more photos from my camera:
Chris, Me and Kev. The koolest kats in town.
Chris, Me and Kev. The koolest kats in town.
The volunteer postcard shot. Thanks for the shot Fernando.
The volunteer postcard shot. Thanks for the shot Fernando.
Me and whale shark. Photo credit: Chris Hunter
Me and whale shark. Photo credit: Chris Hunter
Kev and I with a whale shark. Photo credit: Chris Hunter
Kev and I with a whale shark. Photo credit: Chris Hunter

A game of guess who with all the random photos of watches, hands and other limbs

Watch photo #1
Photo #1
Photo #2
Photo #2
Photo #3
Photo #3
Photo #4
Photo #4
Photo #5
Photo #5

Random photos here and there:

Photo from my first free dive session
Photo from my first free dive session
Measuring the length of the whale shark
Measuring the length of the whale shark
So friendly!
So friendly!
The amazing tea Alissa gave me for my stomach!
The amazing tea Alissa gave me for my stomach!
The pole that I would use to practice my free diving.
The pole that I would use to practice my free diving.
Cool looking fish.
Cool looking fish.
Another interesting fish... pipe fish?
Another interesting fish… pipe fish?
Amean getting in on the spotting action!
Amean getting in on the spotting action!
Fetched the current measuring device!
Fetched the current measuring device!
Last sunrise on Mandhoo.
Last sunrise on Mandhoo.
Whale shark found on the flight out of Male!
Whale shark found on the flight out of Male!
Closest I'll get to lasering the claspers.
The closest I’ll get to lasering the claspers.

So that ends our chapter in the Maldives. Until next time! Thanks again MWSRP. I can’t thank you guys enough for such a wonderful, eye-opening experience. Missing you guys, the water and the whale sharks already. Please keep in touch!!!!

=)

Oh! And if you wanna find out what kool kat Chris is up to in his travels, do check out his blog at :http://eachandeverymoment.blogspot.com

Our footprint: http://spiked.it/ceDPpYE

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Last day on the reef with MWSRP


Our last week.

How sad.

We’ve had an awesome month here with the MWSRP team. This week feels a little like the end of school, with our group slowly shrinking. Ben and Rach left us on Tuesday to return to the UK. Alissa and Neal have been in Male on business for the past four days (but returned last night) and so it’s been a small group.

The MWSRP Crew - Fernando, Chris, Neal, Alissa, Katie, Iku, Kev and I.
The MWSRP Crew – Fernando, Chris, Neal, Alissa, Katie, Iku, Kev and I.
A failed jumping photo attempt.
A failed jumping photo attempt.
Rach, Fernando, Ivy, Me, Kev, Katie and Iku, with Chris and... umm I forgot his name, but he beat me in foosball.
Rach, Fernando, Ivy, Me, Kev, Katie and Iku, with Chris and… umm I forgot his name, but he beat me in foosball.

This however, has not impacted our knock-out record of spotting at least one WS every day when we have been out on the reef! 100% Success! Today, on our last day on the reef, we had three encounters! Meaning we have had a total of 62 WS encounters!

Monsoon change

The events of each day have been pretty similar as the one before it. However, the weather has been noticeably moody with heavy rains and rough seas one moment and then calm waters and scorching heat the next.

Also, dragonflies have started to appear. In week one, Neal and Alissa mentioned that dragonflies are a sign that the monsoons are changing as they migrate from the Himalayas. So I was quite amused when I started seeing more then one dragonfly buzz around.

I was also told that another indication that the winds are trying to change is that manta rays start appearing. This is something that we’ve been hoping for.

And so, luckily for us, every day this week we’ve been seeing mantas and we’ve stopped the boat to get in to swim with them. They are fast swimmers with such little effort. Mysterious. They are ‘the Batman of the sea’ in my mind. They appear out of the cloud of plankton and then quickly disappear with the flap of their wings.

Manta ray
Manta ray

Spotting my first whale shark

On the look out for whale sharks - Iku, Neal, Chris, Me, Alissa and Katie
On the look out for whale sharks – Iku, Neal, Chris, Me, Alissa and Katie

Ok, so in our first week Katie, Chris, Kev and I unanimously spotted Woody who was swimming right next to the boat. After that, the spots have been made by either Katie, Neal or Rach .

However, on Monday I was able to spot two WS! For the first spot I saw this clear outline of a WS swimming next to the boat and just automatically shouted

SHARK!!

However, as soon as I shouted it, I realised that it was the same WS that we had seen a few minutes earlier.

Then, about 20 minutes later, while I gazed over the water onto the reef bear the shoreline I saw this big dark shadow and a difference in the texture of the water. I just watched it and bumbled to Ben

Uh… Is that a….?

Ben walked over and took a look saying that he liked what I was seeing. But then started thinking it was a coral block. I was adamant that it wasn’t quite a coral block as I swear my eyes saw it move. We both continued to look at it until a wave rippled over it to reveal the WS and Ben shouted

oh yea it’s a whale shark!

I shrieked in excitement, fist punching the air and jumped up and down in happiness! It’s taken almost a whole month for me to finally figure out how to spot them! The name of the WS was Lucky. How appropriate.

After the encounter, Chris told me that I had scared him a little with my jumping as we were standing on the roof of the wooden Dhoni which has a termite problem. Haha… Eeeeep!

Tuna, tuna and more tuna

Our food selection for breakfast - tuna noodles, tuna curry, tuna and lentil curry.
Our food selection for breakfast – tuna noodles, tuna curry, tuna and lentil curry.

Well, the only positive that I can see from leaving the Maldives is saying goodbye to the tuna filled dishes. Not that the food is not amazing (sorry for the double negative) it’s just that having the same awesome food for breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, short eats and dinner is quite tiring on the mind and stomach. Though I cannot praise enough the creativity and ingenuity of the chefs here. Amazingly, they find different ways to cook tuna but on bad days, finding surprise tuna in your dish is a little disheartening. Fernando expresses the frustration enough for all of us. Which most of the time, is quite satisfying seeing another person struggling too. I’m sure that in less than a week of leaving the Maldives, I’ll be missing that tuna.

Learning Dhivehi

It’s typical that when you have only a few more days left in a place, everything starts falling into place. Not only am I now even more eager to try and spot a WS, I am also eager to pick up more and more Dhivehi. I’ve started talking to Amean, our boatman, asking him how is he, and if he thinks the day will be good. It’s so much fun and I love that smile in the eyes of everyone who I try to speak Dhivehi to.

Words I’ve been working on:

How are you? – Keeneh

Good – Badabada

Bad – Sakuda

Fat – Bodoh (Amean taught me this word)

Stomach – Bundung (another word from Amean. He actually taught me these words while describing a man on another boat. Bodoh bundung! hahha!

Dive down – Ah dih

Today – Mare du

Sight/see – Belani 

Sandwich – Baanana

Sooooo with these words, I start making up sentences such as

Amean! Mare du belani how much whale shark?

Or

Mare du badabada or Sakuda?

He humours me and gives me more tips. I love how we both have broken languages and we still can communicate. The other hand, Dude, (no one knows his name yet) he’s beginning to open up too! And yes, he has begun to respond to the name Dude! 😀

Me, Kev, Chris, Katie, Alissa, Neal, Amean and Dude on our Dhoni.
Me, Kev, Chris, Katie, Alissa, Neal, Amean and Dude on our Dhoni.

Now, we are waiting for dinner and for drinks at Manta Bar where we are able to get $2.50 mixers – for example cranberry and vodka. However, the bar tenders tend to put two double shots in the drinks…. oh yea!

 

3 Weeks in and New things continue…


What I’ve found interesting is that even after spending two weeks on the programme (and looking for whale sharks most days) there is still opportunities to do new things. This is probably true in my day to day life as well but being on holiday has opened up my eyes to these opportunities.

Spotting Sharks

So to look for a shark you stand on top of the Dhoni (local boat) and you want to find these moving brown black blobs. To make things more difficult they’re often obscured by the sun glare, the rise and falling of the swell and several meters of water too.

There is a 6m shark in this photo.  Yup.
There is a 6m shark in this photo. Yup.

But there’s more than one way to look for sharks. When the reef is right it can be easier to spot them from under the water. So this is where drag snorkling comes in.

DSC04492
Showing off underwater biceps. Thanks Chris for the photo
Under water it feels like you're flying along. Chris says it was 15kph at most.
Anna’s view of the drag

Unfortunately both expeditions underwater didn’t find us any sharks but it made for a great experience to see the sea life flying past below you.

Poo in my bed

So I had these things falling on me throughout the night during our second stay over in Digurah.

I spent the whole night thinking "Why is there sand in my bed?? and why is it not going away???"

It wasn’t until morning that I realised that it wasn’t me that carried these grains in but it was actually falling on me as I lay on the boat floor. After some googling I’m convinced that I was pooped on throughout the night. This still counts as a first.

Crabs

In our rare moments of free time I wandered down the beach to look for things to photograph. The only things I found were crabs. There are lots of crabs here so I thought I’d name them.

Erik (because he's red) - The least skittish of all the crabs. He let me get really close.
Erik (because he’s red) – The least skittish of all the crabs. He let me get really close.
Boo - Like the ghosts from mario he hid away when he sees you watching him
Boo – Like the ghosts from mario he hid away when he sees you watching him
Brutus - I like him cause he's big and meaty.
Brutus – I like him cause he’s big and meaty.
Tim - The tiny ghost crab. I got cramps holding the camera steady to get a photo of him
Tiny Tim – The ghost crab. I got cramps holding the camera steady to get a photo of him

I always find crabs entertaining to photograph. They’ve got detailed textured shells which are great to capture and its also fun being able to sneak up to only as slowly and carefully as possible. Almost like a hunter catching prey (minus the pain, the killing and the maniacal laughter)

(EDIT)Back to spotting sharks

I forgot to show you where the shark actually was

still not very obvious
still not very obvious
DSC06390
here’s a close up

Given how hard it is to spot them its been pretty amazing that we’ve seen so many sharks so far. But we’re lucky to have the MSWRP (Eagle eye Katie especially) crew with us to help us spot them. And that’s how we get the chance to see them underwater

Just chilling with Stephan

Second week as a MWSRP volunteer


First week’s encounter count – 21.

This week’s encounter count – 8.

You would think that with the drop in WS encounters we would be getting bored right? WRONG! Things just keep getting better and better. The biggest day was on the Monday, the first day for Fernando, the last person of the MWSRP team to join us (and not the WS Fernando). We ended up seeing 5 WS in rough and strong currents, but they were beautiful encounters.

Neal, Fernando and I also got the chance to swim with a pod of either pilot whales or risso’s dolphins. The two fellas sped ahead towards the pod, whereas I swam briskly but carefully because I didn’t know how they would respond to us being in the water and joining them. They pretty much just swam together, and eventually pulled away. They were not too interested in us, but it was still and wonderful experience!

Pilot whales/Risso's Dolphins? Does anyone know?
Pilot whales/Risso’s Dolphins? Does anyone know?

Admittedly, the days are beginning to merge together. Days are jammed packed full of activity from 6:30 through to 9pm but for me, I love each and every moment. Even though I’m suffering from the most annoying and persistent case of heat rash. While spotting WS we do come across other cool animals like dolphins, sailfish jumping out of the water, turtles and stingrays! When we are on our lunch break in and around Lux, we have been swimming with white tips and black tip sharks too! They are sooo cool, and my fear of sharks has quickly disappeared!

Bonjour! A turtle! Rach thinks they are French. I'm beginning to agree!
Bonjour! A turtle! Rach thinks they are French as they stick their head up for a quick breath and then dive down in a Frenchy-like way. I’m beginning to agree!
A stingray stealthily swimming on the ocean floor.
A stingray stealthily swimming on the ocean floor.

Dhigurah

We had an overnight stay on a local island called Dhigurah (which means ‘long island’). It was a great experience to walk around the streets of the town and just observe life there. The community is very close knit, and extremely curious of foreigners.

Trekking off to explore Dhigurah
Trekking off to explore Dhigurah
Bright flags in the streets of Dhigurah
Bright flags in the streets of Dhigurah

We had short eats at a cafe; which consisted of fried pastries with tuna inside and some cake. Neal also introduced us to ‘Betel Nut‘. It was an experience. It’s like chewing on bark, but then there is this spice that is somewhat menthol-like and then there is this overwhelming feeling of heat that rises in your cheeks. (Well it did in my case). Neal loves the stuff. I don’t mind it, would have a chew if it was offered again and was feeling game at the time, but I don’t think I’ll order it.

"Betel Nut" Neal loves this.
“Betel Nut” Neal loves this.
Kev outside the Dhigurah power house in crazy winds.
Kev outside the Dhigurah power house in crazy winds.

 

The MWSRP team: Fernando, Kev, Me, Neal, Alissa, Katie and Chris. Ben and Rach were leading a school tour at the time.
The MWSRP team: Fernando, Kev, Me, Neal, Alissa, Katie and Chris. Ben and Rach were leading a school tour at the time.

At night, we went to visit Ben and Rach who were looking after a school tour. We were able to watch a traditional Maldivian dance called the Boda Beru. I was dragged up to dance but I was so exhausted. Then all of a sudden in a red flash, there’s Kev next to me dancing his heart out. Shake-shake here and a shake-shake there. The dancers loved it, and so did the school kids! According to Rach, the students loved Kev so much, that he ended up being a highlight of their tour and featured on their slideshow summary as ‘the dancing guy’.

Kev impressing the locals and Ben and Rach's school tour with his dance moves during the 'Boda beru'. The school kids called Kev 'the dancing guy'.
Kev impressing the locals and Ben and Rach’s school tour with his dance moves during the ‘Boda beru’. The school kids called Kev ‘the dancing guy’.

After a good hard workout, we all returned to the Dhoni which we converted into a dorm. The sleep was not too bad actually, given that the floor was hard, there were mozzies and it was a little damp and hot. It’s pretty much like camping but on water!

Our Dhoni converted into a dorm!
Our Dhoni converted into a dorm!

Stephan, the cute whale shark

So, the most memorable encounter for the week for me is with little Stephan. He appeared last week with the grand travelly. Last week he was so wonderful, he kept swimming up to us, and I remembered that I had to keep on trying to swim away from him. Yesterday, we had one WS encounter. He was a little guy, and he swam around us. He kept circling us while feeding. When I say us, I mean the MWSRP team and then like 30 other tourists that dove in after they spotted our Dhoni at a stop. It’s quite frustrating as there’s fins and splashes in your face. But the WS was unphased. He (I knew he was a he as I swam under him to check out his bits) just kept swimming around us and was completely chilled. I was so eager to find out who he was as he was extremely cute, and when we ID’ed him and found out that he was Stephan. It was no big surprise that he was so friendly. I really, really do love him now. 🙂

ID shot of Stephan
ID shot of Stephan.

The day to day stuff


So, its Sunday.

We were supposed to go out on the Dhoni today to look for whale sharks, however, the weather has been terrible due to cyclone Phailin. It’s been raining hard, and the seas are rough. It has been like this since Friday actually.  On Friday we did a ‘test dive’ with the dive centre at the Conrad in hopes to go diving yesterday, but the dive yesterday was cancelled. So we have yet to have a dive!

I like to think that this is a sign that the monsoons are changing, as we have been told that while the monsoons are changing, awesome things like the mobula rays start migrating around the islands. *crossed fingers* I really hope this is the reason for it!

So today, with all our data done, we are all just chilling on the Conrad Rangali ‘Relaxation Island’, which is where our office is set up at. It’s called Relaxation Island because no children are allowed on it.

We hope that after lunch, the weather may clear up so that we can sneak in a snorkel and work on our free diving.

OH Yea, free diving is awesome. I love it. I snorkeled a bit back home and dove down into the little holes in the reef near my house, but that was a maximum 3 metres. Here, we get to really challenge ourselves with the whale sharks. I find we are getting deeper and deeper and lasting longer each time. Kev has improved in leaps and bounds! Our experience with the crazy swell on the Thursday really showed that! I freaked out when I was told by Ben to look out for the oncoming swell, as Kev was all by himself and there was no way that I was going to get to him on time. Though to my surprise, he was speeding to the boat quicker than all of us! What a gunner!

Our morning commute

So I mentioned earlier that its been a refreshing change having to commute to ‘work’ by Dhoni instead of the train. Here’s a video of one of our commutes on a better day.

The staff beach on the Conrad Rangali

When we want a sneaky wifi connection, or want to play table tennis, dream about playing vball (as we don’t have enough people) or want to use the loos, we go here:

Meals on Mandhoo

So our meals are shared with the staff of the Conrad Rangali. As a volunteer with MWSRP we are not guests so we get the chance to see the life of the staff members here. The food is pretty delicious, however, a little monotonous. But when we are hungry, monotonous doesn’t come into the picture! I think because we have been really free the last few days, the food has been a bit of an issue…(the hashbrown high) and talks about icecream, Tim Tams and Kev and I craving instant noodles. Here’s a picture of what the kitchen look like on Mandhoo.

Eating on Mandhoo
Eating on Mandhoo

 

Down Time

When we are not eating, whale sharking or on Mandhoo, we are normally in the MWSRP office in the Ari Lounge on Relaxation Island:

 

At the Ari Lounge
At the Ari Lounge

 

Kev, Katie and Chris at the Ari Lounge
Kev, Katie and Chris at the Ari Lounge

 

So we will be remaining here up until lunch time. Fingers crossed we get some good weather this afternoon!

 

 

A week of whale sharks…


Its the first rainy day today so our dive trip got cancelled. (Programme Perk: Dive trips are REALLY cheap if you’re on the programme. 17USD PER DIVE all gear inclusive) so instead we’re doing laundry and surfing the net.

Not every day is sunny in paradise
Not every day is sunny in paradise

From my point of view, I find that life on the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme has been hectic or totally calm. We spend hours just searching along the shorelines of the Southern Ari Atoll looking for marine giants, just standing idly on top of the boat.

Everyone up top looking for sharks
Everyone up top looking for sharks

But as soon as a shark is spotted the whole crew springs to life. People fin up and dive in with cameras, you have the boat captain steering us closer while fighting the tides, the spotter yelling out directions to captain and divers, and someone recording data before jumping in as well. Its total organised chaos.

Surrounding the shark and getting into position to take photos and measurements
Here’s the team surrounding the shark and getting into position to take photos and measurements

But I’d have to say the experience is amazing and some neat photos come out of it too =D

Anna, the shark and a trevally
Anna, Stephan the shark and a over protective trevally

After the first week I can honestly say I’m exhausted, happy and still excited for our next trip out. Given Anna’s comprehensive post I’ll just post some highlights that have stood out for me.

Mornings

Every morning we take the Dhoni out from Mandhoo to Rangali and for a short 30 minutes its a peaceful ride where you can chat to others or lie down and relax.

Chilling in our morning ride on the dhoni
Chilling in our morning ride on the dhoni

Always wear sunscreen…

But its not all fun times now I’m brown, burnt, covered in a rash and have a blistered lip. Also I look like I’ve been wearing a super hero mask in the sun.

I don't sunscreen my lips because I don't like the taste.
I don’t sunscreen my lips because I don’t like the taste.

Sleep

We spend most of our time in the dorms. Though mostly asleep as we’re so tired. Its simple rooms but its clean. Plus nobody snores so that’s a plus.

Simple lodgings
Simple lodgings

Food

Admittedly the food can get a bit repetitive. There is no shortage of rice prata and tuna curries for each of your main meals. And though I don’t mind the taste of it I am getting a little tired of seeing them. So on Friday when second breakfast came around I was in for an awesome surprise.  Hash browns. You know when you’re looking for variety in your diet when you’ve just finished a full breakfast, put all your dishes away and leaving the canteen to get ready for the day but as soon as you spot hash browns you make a bee line for them and pick one up to go. Last Friday that was anna and when I spotted her holding one I did I 180 and darted right back to the buffet and grabbed myself one. So on the way out from the canteen it was the 3 volunteers, Anna, Chris ad eating hash browns with probably the biggest grins on our faces all day. Rachel in front of us slightly bemused why we were all so happy about hash browns. I can’t really explain why that hit the spot but that hash brown the memory of all three of us eating happily still puts a smile on my face. 

I can swim

This was the first time I can recall being truly terrified in the water. We were all in the water chasing down our second shark of the day. The current was rather strong and once I caught up I was too tired to actually dive down to photograph the shark. So I decided to lag behind rather than keep up. From then on I swam slowly and bobbed along with the waves watching the action from afar. In my lethargic state I wasn’t watching the waves and a huge wave crashed just past me. It was then I realised the tide had been carrying me towards the break. I started to panic and looked around. I couldn’t see anyone else. But I did see the boat a fair way off so I swam. I swam really hard. All I remember was I just stayed focused I watched the sea floor and noted that for several strokes I wasn’t moving at all because of the tide and then when the tide subsided I made ground towards the boat. When I finally made it and hauled myself up I was exhausted. I just collapsed on a bench and breathed. Later one of the programme members was telling me how he was trying to warn Anna and I about the on coming waves. Only he only found Anna and saw me a fair way off. He swam towards me to help me out only to find that I was just speeding away from him. I guess from that point of view I must have been fine and not really in danger. But just being beside a crashing wave and not being certain what the reef was like was enough to scare me into a lung bursting swim. All I have to say about it is that I’m grateful for Anna and Voonie for the training before I left =)

Anyway that’s enough random thoughts for now. A lot has happened in the past week and I’m sure more will happen in the future too.