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Monday, April 7, 2008

So we head further North and we quickly lose sight of any form of civilized link which would commonly be stuff like power lines and telephone lines. There is just vast emptiness but pretty landscape. It’s fairly similar to African bushveld. One brilliant thing about travelling in OZ is that you can practically do it without it costing you a cent in accommodation. As you travel along you will find stops along the way and these vary from simple picnic stops with benches and dustbins to 24 hours sleep over stops that have basic camping facilities with some even offering cold showers. All of these types of stops are FREE!!! Yes, you heard me, FREE and well maintained. We have used them and we even bought a book that is dedicated to all these rest stops. You will find them all over the place and if you have a campervan then you can basically travel around OZ without it costing you anything in accommodation and you will be fine as you have your own shower and toilet in the campervan/mobile home. Just about everyone owns a campervan in OZ! You see hundreds of them on the road. The government also provides places where you can empty your campervan crapper and even fill up with fresh water. There was a campervan that was travelling the route we were on and we saw it always camping in these free places. It’s easier if you have a campervan. With a tent it’s possible but at some point you need to get to a camping ground to have some comforts.

One thing that I always saw in the movies and thought maybe slightly exaggerated was the Ozzie flies. Holy crap was I wrong!!! It’s freaking insane!! We have these things trying desperately to climb into EVERY orifice one has. Even your tear duct or it feels like it when they fly right in there. It’s absolutely insane. Luckily the wind blows most of the time because if it didn’t, we would be looking like moving black swarms. If the wind blows from the front while you walking then it’s a little better because they sit all over your back but if the wind is on your back, well, you are in Shit Street. We bought head nets right from the word go and it saved our lives. When you see pictures in the gallery with us wearing what looks like black vales, that’s the head nets. Life savers! As long as the flies are off your face it’s bearable. As my sissy Teresa says – At a first glance I thought you were getting married A LA OZ. Lucky this fly thing is only a real problem in the “Outback”. The cities don’t seem to have many. Anyway, it’s all a bunch of fun and a new sensation having flies fly up your nose and down your ears.

So where are we then? We are in Coral Bay, which is 1500km North of Perth. What a place! Coral Bay because the bay if just full of coral. One can snorkel out from the beach and swim into the big coral reefs. Absolutely wicked snorkelling. I wish I had a scuba course behind me because this experience would be so much more rewarding as the coral goes from 1m to around 7 meters and diving down to see stuff at 8 meters every time is quite a bit of hard work. I’ve always said I’ll scuba one day and I’m certainly going to do that when we eventually find the place we would like to live.

Coral Bay offers many exciting adventures in the ocean but the most out there adventure would be swimming with the Whale Sharks and that’s what we were here to do. I wouldn’t quite call it swimming but rather a 1000m sprint swim that would put Penny to shame! Whale Sharks are graceful creatures that look like they are floating by slowly sucking up tons of plankton but they are HUGE fish, in fact the biggest fish in the ocean and their slow is my ‘I’m being chased by a Great White’ panic pace. Luckily we bought the state of the art in fins which have some super turbo effect with nitrous or that’s what the salesman told me, and these fins propel you faster than anything else ever invented which enabled me to barley keep up with the Shark that thinks he/she is a whale. Again, I was feeling the immense energy this secretive creature had. What an absolute privilege to be able to swim with a creature that size and one that has eluded man for so long. There is so little known about these fascinating creatures simply because they live so out of sight. They can dive to 1000m. Man is still trying desperately to successfully tag these animals so as to track their movements around the globe. I was humbled by this experience and the sheer privilege to be in the same space with such a large ocean creature. Funny enough I thought the adrenaline was going to be pumping when I first saw the Whale Shark but it was a rather calming feeling and the only thing pumping was my lungs from swimming like Penny. I was swimming so fast to stay with the big fish that my snorkel kept tearing out of my mouth and I’d end up swallowing 3 litres of ocean water. Then I would begin the almost impossible task of trying to get the snorkel back in while keeping my head underwater so that I didn’t miss any action and at the same time trying desperately to empty the ocean out of it just so I could repeat the whole action again. Next moment this gentle giant had quite enough of these flipper flicking pests near it and it would simply dive back down into the depths of the ocean and you would see it slowly sinking away into the BIG BLUE until it faded away and all you were left with was massive depths of blue ocean. This is when the adrenaline started to kick in as I looked around frantically for either the Whale Shark to suddenly emerge from the depths under my feet or some other not so friendly gnashing teeth monster wanting to eat my flippers.

Luckily for us the day was a good one and we managed to swim with 5 different Whale Sharks which is supposedly quite rare to find so many in one go. The task of finding these creatures is quite an undertaking. Just imagine an ocean the size it is and although these creatures are huge they come up to feed every once in a while and then they dive again into very deep water. The tour operators use a spotter plane that flies around and around to find these guys out there. It’s quite an operation and involves quite a lot of time. We got on the boat at 08h30 and only found our first Whale Shark at about 11h30. You basically spend a lot of time sitting around on a boat that is charging off into the ocean ramping up and down the huge ocean swells. Luckily Lynda was smart and bought us some sea sickness pills that we took before we got on the boat. That saved our lives otherwise we would be feeding the fish like a few of the people on board. Shame, they were looking a bit dismal. It’s actually quite a good thing because we get to eat more of the goodies the crew give us as these guys are turning green at the gills and aren’t in any mood to chow down. After chasing these gentle giants around the ocean we had yummy lunch and went off to find some more beautiful creatures in the ocean. We were a long way from home and the ride back was long. We had time to laze around on the boat and catch up on some sleep. For those less fortunate, they had more time to keep feeding the fish. I’m glad there are those more giving than I am :-).

Coral Bay is definitely one place to visit and I would recommend it to anyone with a love for the ocean and its creatures. It is probably in the top 20 of places to go diving around the world. The whole experience was quite a moving one although it left me a little sad in the end. I guess a sense of guilt turned around inside of me as I questioned the whole affair. Are we doing something wrong by “hunting” these beautiful peaceful creatures down and swarming around them, pestering them while they are going about their peaceful lives? At the end of the day we are not contributing to their survival or well being which raises a few questions in my mind. These animals have almost been hunted to extinction and all in the name of decedent Shark Fin Soup. The fins can fetch US $15000.00 on the black market just so some idiot can say he has had Shark Fin Soup. I’d like to make some Human Ball Soup out of him although I think I’d find it hard to sell. One thing I guess is that awareness is being created of sorts and possibly this has a larger impact than I can possibly imagine. These gentle giants are really magnificent creatures to be in the water with and to me of the utmost privilege to have spent a little time with. I bid them farewell and hope they remain safe. I’m at least a little comforted by the fact that they are very well protected in OZ. So much so that it is one of the very few places on earth were they have managed to identify the same Sharks coming back to Coral Bay, year after year. The operators take photos of the Sharks on every excursion they do and this is recorded in a central library. Whale Sharks are identified by their spots around the left side of their head. It’s like their finger print and unique to every Shark. This information helps those doing research around the world and it is like this that they have identified that the same Whale Sharks keep coming back to Ozzie waters. If anything else I think this suggests that they are not too bothered and are in fact well treated in Ozzie waters. At least that is some consolation to me. It still leaves me a little uneasy with the fact that anyone can come along and pay money to go and bother these creatures. There are strict rules in OZ with regards to swimming with them and they enforce those rules but as always there are those pipes that come along and try to grab onto the shark and ride it like it’s their toy bike. These people get promptly yanked out of the water and for that I’m glad. One thing I’ve learnt in OZ is: Don’t screw with the rules. They don’t take kindly to that. They are by no means unreasonable either. There is usually a good reason for the rules that are there and if you take the time to inform yourself it becomes pretty clear why.

Remember to check out the latest posting on the photo gallery which will have some photos of the Whale Sharks taken on our swim with them. You are not going to distinguish Lynda or me in amongst the array of wetsuit wrapped bodies. Anyone with a yellow fin is not us. These were the standard issue fins and we had our own. Ours look like they are broken. They are split down the middle which is supposedly the latest technology in fins.

Ho yes, before we sign out here, check the photo gallery and see how badly it has been flooding in OZ. The world has most certainly gone crazy. These guys in the north received four times their amount of annual rain in just three days! Crazy stuff I tell you.

We are now packing up and gathering more supplies for our track down South and eventually East across the Nullarbor Desert. This I guess is going to be the longest section of the trip with so much more to see again. So if you don’t hear from us in a little while it might be because we are OUTTHERE but I’m sure we will be updating our story as we go along.

All the best and a huge hug from both of us.

Eddy & Lynda