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Taking the road less traveled Spending a year in five continents to embrace my "inner turtle", to live simply, and to avoid being shark bait!

Diving with Manta Rays

MOZAMBIQUE | Wednesday, 4 April 2012 | Views [447]

Giant manta ray spotted on the first dive!

Giant manta ray spotted on the first dive!

Diving in Tofo is no joke!  While diving in Koh Tao is like skiing down a green slope, diving in Tofo is more like a black diamond.  Where are the blue slopes??

I had two dives each week during the first two weeks.  Even though I wasn't scared out of my wit, I was certainly forced out of my comfort zone.  I guess that's my theme for this year!  Geographically, Koh Tao island sits in the western side of the Gulf of Thailand, and the waters around it really aren't that strong (or at least not while I was there), so the waves are small and big boats can easily navigate.  Tofo Beach opens out to the Indian Ocean and the waves may get quite strong as they approach shore; not waves big enough for surfing competitions, but definitely big enough to make swimming difficult and surfing possible.  

To reach a dive site, the routine is itself an experience:  we prep our gear at the dive shop so the BCD, regulator, and tanks are already connected and tested.  The gear are loaded into a truck and driven to the beach, along with the boat that will take us to the dive sites; it's a power boat with a rounded rubber edge so passengers can sit on it and to climb in and out, and seats about 14 people.  The bigger boat is about 6m long.  At the beach, the gear are loaded into the boat and secured in a rack in the middle.  The truck "dumps" the boat from the trailer as close to the water as the truck can go (it goes into Reverse and "jerks" the boat off).  Everyone then helps with the launch.  We first push the boat around so the front faces the ocean, and then we push it into the water, deep enough so the propellers don't get jammed in the sand.  The women push the boat until the water is about waist high and then we jump in (more like scramble), while the men will keep pushing until the water is about neck high.  The act of launching can take as long as 10 minutes because the waves will keep pushing us back.  Once launched, the boat goes full speed towards the dive sites, and we all sit facing the center, with our feet in foot straps nailed to the floor and our hands hanging tightly onto ropes tied to the side; I imagine we look like navy seals rushing out to sea en route to some rescue!

The boat uses GPS to find the dive sites; there is no fixed buoy in the water.  Once we're close to the dive sites, the boat stops so we can get into our gear.  We do a group check to ensure everyone is ready, and then the boat restarts towards the dive site.  The boat doesn't actually stop for us to enter the water; it simply slows down and we do a negative entry.  What's a negative entry?  The dive leader will count "3, 2, 1" as the boat slows, and on "1" we tumble backwards into water and immediately descend.  Oh yea, this is no "giant step" entry, there's no ascending to the surface to indicate you're OK before descending as a group.  We tumble in backwards, start our descend, and once have leveled off, find our buddy to buddy up.  Too bad if your mask isn't adjusted correctly, then you're stuck adjusting it underwater (which keeps happening to me, frustrating!)  I think if I learned negative entry instead of giant step during my Open Water dive lesson, I may have wet myself in my wetsuit!

Everything else aside, I have seen amazing and jaw-dropping animals during my first two dives.  Just like in Koh Tao, two sea turtles emerged during my first dive here; I think the turtles and I have made a cosmic connection.  Visibility is decent and water temperature is comfortable, about 26 degrees Celsius.  One thing I was completely unprepared for is the surge or "swaying"; while underwater, the surge will push and pull us from one side to another, which we can't control; sometimes the surge is so strong it will push us 4 or 5 meters back and forth.  At first I thought I had bad buoyancy control, then I noticed the other divers and all the fish and corals were also "swaying" back and forth.  Imagine being a fish and living like this, seems like a rough life.  On my second dive (which started at 6:15 AM, yikes!) the boat was headed to a dive site named Outback, but while on our way, we met another boat who said they saw manta rays at another dive site named Manta, so we headed there instead, and it did not disappoint.  We dived to 23 meters, and about halfway through the dive, there it was… a giant manta, with a span of at least 4 meters, swimming (or more like flying in water) above us gracefully.  It was the most majestic ocean animal in action I have seen so far!  I tried to take a photo but since the underside of the manta was white, and visibility at that depth wasn't great, i could not focus in time and it was gone.  But wow!  We dived for about 50 minutes and made a safety stop; while stopped, what did we see but another giant manta, this time below us!  Again it just swam majestically and peacefully away from us, while I thought in my head how much luck I've had as a diver!  

At the end of each dive, we ascend to the surface and the boat will be close by (it follows us the entire time by following the buoy that the dive leader is holding).  We take off our gear except for our fins while still in the water, and then we climb back (ungracefully) into the boat by kicking furiously while grabbing the side.  Once all the gear are secured and we're back in the boat, we are each rewarded with a lollipop (I would have preferred black coffee but that will have to wait) and the boat speeds back to shore, as in really "speeding".  This is how the boat beaches:  once it's about 100 meters away from the beach, we are told to hang on; it then goes full speed towards the beach and makes an abrupt stop once it hits it.  Talk about full throttle (guess this replaces all the track driving I'm missing this year!)  The gear are put back into the waiting truck, and we drag our  bodies back to the dive shop to help disassemble the gear (and I finally get a good cup of coffee at the dive shop).

I can't wait to push my diver's luck further, hope to catch more giant mantas in future dives!

Tags: dive, giant manta ray, mozambique, tofo

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