Swimming with the Humpback Whales
An avid traveller and co-founder of TheVibe, Suveer Bajaj recently embarked on a trip of a lifetime to watch hundreds of humpback whales traverse the nesting route across the Mozambique Island to get us this exclusive travel tell-all.
“My friends and I have this annual ritual of sorts, where we take time off from our busy schedules to travel as a group,” begins Suveer, as the interview gets underway.
The traveller who is also an earnest scuba diver has globe-trotted in search of unique and exotic travel experiences since long.
As we started researching possible destinations for this year’s sojourn, we had a few checkmarks to hit, he says. “We wanted a new diving experience — new waters, newer conditions. And this is when we learnt about a life-changing event unfolding in the African continent that had us gripped,” reveals Suveer.
Describing the marine phenomena the explorer explains, “In South Africa, July is the month of winter. The waters are cold, and a large colony of humpback whales crosses the country at the Cape of Good Hope during its migration from Atlantic to Pacific. As the water gets warmer and shallower on the Eastern-African waters of Mozambique strait, the humpback whales head here for the mating season and to give birth to calves. These calves are not strong enough to come out and swim in the open ocean, and as a result, the mothers and calves hang about the strait till the calves are strong enough to leave the shorelines.”
It was then that the plan fell into place.
It’s not an easy journey to make. If travelling from India, you first fly from Mumbai to Adis Ababa in Ethiopia, before getting to the sleepy African capital city of Maputo in Mozambique. Mozambique which gained its independence from the Portuguese only in 1975, is bordered by Swaziland from where it receives a heavy influx of tourists throughout the year. From Maputo, it is another 7-hours drive to Inhambane in local trucks called jhaapas. You can also get there on a short 30-min flight and drive down to Tofo.
PRAIA DO TOFO: A HIDDEN GEM OF AFRICA.
The little beach village of Praia Do Tofo or Tofo as it’s fondly called lies in the province of Inhambane and has a community size of just 6,000 folks, made of both indigenous people and expats. The main market area is just two streets, and each street has distinct standalone shacks selling items ranging from kebabs to beers. The beach village has no concrete or paved roads, it’s just a fun, hippie village. The place gets a few hundred tourists a month, most of whom are either surfers, divers or researchers.
Suveer paints a picture of the mornings where they were staying. He shares, “Tofo doesn’t have any big fancy hotels, so we stayed at a guest house by the name of Casa Do Maar. We had three beach-facing rooms with the most surreal views imaginable.
Every morning, we would wake up to fresh tropical fruits and witness hundreds of humpback whales breaching the surface of the ocean. It was the most divine spectacle to have breakfast, even before the start to our day.”
Soon after breakfast every other day, the gang would cross to the other side of the street to a dive shop which went by the name of Piri Piri Divers and the qualifier of being “the hottest dive shop in Tofo.” This is where we met the fun adventurer, researchers who patronised this quaint dive shop.
The little dive shop is run by South-African Nick Bateman who came to the Island country a decade ago to fall in love with the place and settling down here. His crew — a multicultural crew — comprised of instructors from Mozambique, Brazil, Germany, and Denmark.
“I realised that many people had left their countries from different parts of the globe to restart their lives in this clean town with friendly people and clean air, away from the big city hustle and bustle. The people were so friendly, nobody had an ounce of negativity,” reveals Suveer.
SWIMMING WITH THE GOLIATH
If the journey to get to the diving destination was any revelation, then the actual dive experience was promised to be a real dream.
“Mozambique is a beautiful country, and the ocean here barely sees any human activity. Regular culprits such as overfishing and pollution are also non-existent here. As the visibility became better thanks to the Southern winds, we turned into our 5 mm wetsuits to hit the water,” shares Suveer excitedly.
In what was possibly one of the most humbling experiences of the entrepreneur’s life, he explains, “You see these massive creatures, each stretching massive 10 to 15 metres, gliding in water. These mammals are so carefree and majestic. It was a truly spiritual, life-changing experience as we connected with these giants of the high seas.”
The waters are extremely choppy, and it was getting very windy. You had boats that were jumping, and a few tourists throwing up. You are raised to believe that man is powerful, but he can’t control nature. You compare the sheer size of these animals. It is humbling to see that we are part of a larger whole, all embodied by these beautiful sea creatures.”
He divulges further. “We witnessed a mother and a calf, with a big whale swimming around them, keeping a watchful eye. We also got a chance to snorkel with whale sharks — the largest species of sharks in the world. While diving, we saw hammerheads, leopard sharks, and grey reefs.
We spotted manta rays on every dive, which was surreal for the sheer abundance. We were all witnessing new organisms — such as ruddies, peacock mantis shrimps, triggerfish etc, which we’d not seen before on other dives. The diving tour lasted for anywhere between 45 min to 60 min. The sights were so gorgeous, that every time we’d come back after the session, we’d feel like we had only done about 20% of the dive.”
The spectrum of all that the travellers noticed — from the microscopic to the gigantic all in one region of the world was cathartic. The location is a hidden paradise of Africa.
THE PEOPLE YOU MET
As you travel through the village and meet the people, you realise that they are all happy and environmentally conscious folks. “I’ve heard of captains of small ships who’d spot plastic floating miles off, and take a detour just to pick them off from the waters. There is a giant turtle made of plastic bottles, once collected from the beach, that stokes feelings of marine conservation.”
The first week of October is also the spring break time in Mozambique.
“We found many groups of families come and patronise the many shacks on the beach just as in Kovalam in South India. Children were lining up for surf lessons, friendly dogs prancing through the beach, kite-surfing happening at a distance — it had one big active beach vibe,” explains Bajaj.
Here you could forget about your worldly problems. The place is not one of those places where you go to find yourself, but one where you go to lose yourself,” says Suveer as he parts ways.
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