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Our eyes meet. She hesitates. Unsure if she should trust us. She decides and lets go of her baby’s hand allowing him to come closer. I have fantasised about a moment like this for years. Fantasy is turning to reality as we sit with orangutans in their natural habitat in Sumatra, Indonesia.
We are entranced by this majestic ape. I know you shouldn’t really have a favourite animal, all life is precious after all but for years the orangutan has been my favourite.
As her baby comes closer, she gives me a look I will never forget. I feel the connection between us and do my best to transmit gratitude for her trust with my eyes, knowing that this moment would be etched in my memory for years to come.
All is still. Karen and I are alone even though we left with 5 others. I am grateful they have left earlier, giving us this private moment to ourselves. We are sitting at the top of the sand dunes in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia. Dunes which go on as far as the eyes can see. Our camp below looks like the size of lego pieces. Horses are little dots around the camp. Around us the sky turns into magnificent hues of oranges and red. The silence is hard to break.
As the sun dips below the dunes a feeling of connection with the world washes over me. A feeling of complete awe and joy and hope. I feel part of something way bigger than myself. I turn to Karen and I can tell. I am not the only one having what feels like a transcendental experience. Karen to this day describes it as the best moment of her life.
We plunge into the dark water with excitement and trepidation. We switch off our torches as we reach the bottom so as not to scare her away. We know she’s harmless, but being in pitch darkness on a night scuba dive with an 8ft Bull Shark close by still gets our adrenalin pumping.
Thankfully they switch on the boat lights and we could see a bit more clearly in the inky black water. She appears, so quick I’m not sure if it’s my imagination playing tricks on me. As my eyes get used to the darkness I see her again and again, swimming round the boat. She has no interest in us divers whatsoever. The big fish below our boat are what’s getting her attention. I feel awe rather than fear around this awesome predator.
Back on the boat we are giddy with excitement. What a privilege to swim beside the incredible creature. In my heart I wish I could do more to protect it.
It is bloody freezing. We have so many blankets on our bed it is almost impossible to change position. I need the loo but the thought of climbing out of bed to go down to the shared toilet at 03:00 is terrifying. We have been trekking for days and my legs and back are aching like they have never ached before. All of this pain and suffering is made totally worth the next morning. We are greeted with the sun rising over the western Himalayan mountains and crystal clear blue skies. Being around such majesty puts things into perspective. We are at around 3,200 meters above sea level, a mere hill in Nepali terms but it feels like we are on top of the world.
On Phillip Island, Australia
There are hundreds of us on the beach. The rangers explicitly told us that nobody could use mobiles and amazingly nobody is. Despite the large group the only sound you can hear is the crashing of the Southern Ocean waves hitting the beach.
Then we see them. One by one they emerge from the cold water and stand on the edge of the shoreline. It looked like a bizarre Mexican stand-off, with humans on one side and penguins on the other. Understandably, the penguins are wary to come towards us, not because of us but because of predators. They have been swimming for 3 days seeking food for the chicks and mums that are hungrily waiting 30 metres away.
One brave penguin decides to make a move and within seconds they all follow. Within moments the beach is covered with penguins, making a dash towards their nests. As if on cue, the chicks start screaming for food. How the penguins know which chick is theirs I will never know, but they all seem to get it right.
Knowing that these small birds have been swimming for 3 days to bring food back for their young is very humbling. I will never moan about a queue in the supermarket ever again.
The rain forest is all around us. It is stiflingly hot. It feels strange to have our swimming gear, masks and snorkel with us this far away from the ocean. Our guide stops the van and announces that we had arrived. I think he’s mistaken as all I can see are trees.
We walk slowly behind him thinking we may have booked the wrong tour when we come to a small hole in the ground with a ladder leading down. We have arrived he declares excitedly. He is right to be excited.
As we climb down the ladder we enter a magical world Mexican cenotes, best described as underground natural pools. Cenotes are sink holes created from the collapse of limestone which filled with fresh water from underground. Imagine swimming in a giant natural pool with walls covered in vegetation around you and the rain forest above your head and you will get the picture.
Amazingly, we have this Cenote to ourselves (not always the case as they are very popular). Prior to arriving in Mexico I had never heard of Cenotes. Nature never stops amazing me with its wonders even at the age of 43.
In the Philippines
It’s below you! he bellows. I think he’s going mad as I look down in the murky water. There is nothing there I think…. until I see the giant head coming towards me. All I can do is shout into my snorkel. Imagine an animal the size of a submarine coming towards you and you will kind of know how I felt. Whale Sharks are filter feeders and the largest known fish species in the oceans. Even though I know I’m perfectly safe, being next to such a big animal (the largest one ever recorded had a length of 12.65 m (41.5 ft) and a weight of about 21.5 t (47,000 lb) is still quite intimidating.
The intimidation soon goes away and is replaced with sheer disbelief as we swim with these beautiful gentle creatures. We are lucky enough to spend 3 hours with them. Even though this happened 7 years ago, as I write this I am smiling to myself at the memory of it all.
We live in a beautiful world. Above is a small snapshot of some of the amazing experiences we have had on our travels. Even though we love meeting new people and learning about their cultures, there is something truly special when you share a moment with another species or when you witness nature in all its glory.
This week is World Environment Day and World Oceans Day 2018. As we travel around this home of ours, lets all try to be mindful at how fragile the environment and oceans truly are. Let’s all try to tread as lightly as possible. Observe animals in their natural habitats. Say no to plastic as much as possible. Trek, kayak and cycle.
We want our future generations to experience the moving moments that nature has to offer.
Have you had a magical experience with animals or the environment? Let us know in the comments below.
- Some images courtesy of the Creative Commons