The seas around the Azores are teeming with life. The deep waters are perfect for incredibly large whales including the elusive Blue Whale. Sitting in your little inflatable speedboat your mind starts racing when you see the size of the creatures under the water. Surely a whale in a bad mood could turn the boat over with a flick of his tail? Stories of enormous sea monsters suddenly don’t seem so ridiculous after all.
Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Fin Whales are the second largest mammal on Earth after the Blue Whale and we were lucky enough to see a small group of them. They can grow up to an incredible 27 metres long and when they’re only about 100 metres away from you that’s not far in whale body lengths! A glimpse of a huge jaw and an eye peered at us. And if the biologist on the boat was right we only saw a third of him. He was gone in a flash, hiding his bulk beneath the waves. They seem like shy creatures… In 1916 RC Andrews called them “the greyhound of the sea…for its’ beautiful slender body is built like a racing yacht and the animal can surpass the speed of the fastest ocean steamship.” (Wikipedia)
From the sedate grace of the Fin Whales, the Orcas were just there to have fun or so it seemed. They leapt and rolled and dived along with the boat. They examined us from all angles; they peered at us from underneath the boat and examine the engine up close. Born entertainers – beautiful to see their characters in the wild. The crew was incredibly excited to see them – apparently they are rare visitors to the area. A lone male appeared in the distance and the females left their play time with us to go and join him.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It was a magical performance in the middle of the ocean.
Our trip was booked through Sunvil Holidays – www.sunvil.co.uk. Whale watching trips can be pre-booked.
A bit of shameless promotion here – this is a piece that I wrote for Visions of Africa about a trip to Kenya. Needless to say it was a pretty awe-inspiring trip! Check out the fish eagle catching his dinner…
We ventured out with our armed guard into the bush around the lodge. He didn’t speak but the way he slowly walked looking every which way created a frisson of fear.
We heard from our guide how animals can out run you, maul you etc and this had everybody expecting leopards to jump from the trees and have them for dinner. I made sure I stood as near to the man with the gun as possible.
We never went very far from the lodge but your imagination takes over. You feel intrepid. The first tracks we saw were elephants’ – with a baby in tow. I put my foot in Mum’s footstep and it was like an oversize dinnerplate. Then fresh leopard prints! Were we stalking him? Or was he stalking us? Colobus monkeys flew overhead from tree to tree (from the Greek word for deformed because they only have 4 fingers and no thumb). We passed the strangled/strangling fig tree with its’ beards growing down silently killing the tree it had taken over.
By this time it was growing dark in the forest and a sense of urgency developed. Our pace quickened a bit. Some more leopard prints and a hyena paw print – they were out there somewhere. We’d seen the animals around the water hole but that was from safety. Here we were the prey. The hyena prints led us to a hole – could belong to a hyena or to a warthog – they live in very similar holes. How does a warthog go in without knowing if there is a hyena in there? Quite simply, he goes in backwards so if anyone is in there he just gets bitten on the bum rather than having his face bitten off!
I love it when a country or an experience really gets to you. I have just come back from Kenya and I have to say I am in love! I went with no pre-conceptions, no idea what to expect and I was bowled over completely. Vast open landscapes, rolling plains dotted with giraffe, elephants, impala and all sorts of animals that I had only read about in books.
Zebra at Sweetwaters
The country varies so much though – we ventured from bustling Nairobi to the open plains of Sweetwaters to spot elephants in the rain – too wet for the cats. From there to the foot of Mount Kenya and followed our rifle toting (for protection only!) guide out onto a nature walk to find the shy leopard. She wasn’t to be found but her footprints were there, as were the hyena’s close behind.
Then into the great Rift Valley and a stay at one of the lakes that nestle at the bottom of this natural chasm. The landscape changed again and the waterfront licked the sides of open grassland and a lone male buffalo glared at us for interrupting him. We passed through forests of bright yellow fever trees, still looking for the elusive leopard who never showed her face. It would help if she wasn’t the same colour as the trees! The stars in the night sky and the frog chorus made it quite an ethereal experience.
A short flight and our experiences changed from land animals into fish and I braved the waters of the Indian Ocean to snorkel with some beautiful fish – not sure what they all were but they were all lovely and for a novice snorkeller it was incredible!
I left the country after such a short time, but I knew I’d been bitten by it – I will definitely be going back there. After all I still have to find my leopard…
I am very excited – I am trying to keep my excitement contained but it is very hard. In approximately 48 hours I will be winging my way over to Kenya. It will be my first time visiting this amazing country and I can’t wait. I know how irritating it can be watching the excitement build while you are sitting in the office, starting to plan Christmas and the nights are drawing in – hence trying to contain my excitement.
I am quietly bouncing up and down inside with visions of giraffes and lions floating around in my head. I have no concept of what to expect in reality and it brings back the joy of travelling. We have become such proficient travellers now, that it is important to remember the joy of discovering new things, new cultures and new people. The last place I went to which was new to me was India a couple of years ago and what a culture-shock that was – I loved every minute of it! Then, I was a little bit sheltered because I went with family and stayed with family over there. This is slightly different because it is a work trip (I can hear you groaning in sympathy for my hard job!). We are lucky enough to be sampling safaris, bird watching, beaches and even staying in a tented camp for one of the nights. Suddenly the cute giraffes and lions in my head take on a sinister turn – surely a lion wouldn’t have too much trouble getting into a tent???!
I hope to be able to keep you posted on my return (if the lions don’t get me!).