Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ordinary...

My little dictionary defines ordinary as “not exceptional in any way, especially in quality or ability or size or degree”. And then, in addition, as if to emphasize the point, it mentions the words “ordinary bicycle’ and first off a bland looking bike comes to mind, probably black with silvery bits, and backpedal brakes, just plain with nothing odd or fancy about it, but then the little dictionary goes further and describes its idea of “ordinary bicycle”.

“An early bicycle with a very large front wheel and small back wheel…” Of course I had a good chuckle.

We are heading home on Friday. Ordinarily at a time like this one would go on about what it has been like and say something profound. Instead of doing the usual write-up of our last few days – which has been brilliant to say the least; the weather has been fantastic (no doubt as those who have followed the ‘weather where I’m at’ little project have noticed), we have had a few lucky shark sightings and many people saw these magnificent fish for the first time, and there is still a day to go – I am going to leave you with some ordinary photographs.

And normally one would not compare photographs to bicycles, unless it is one of those with the very large front wheel and the very small back wheel, which of course in my opinion, makes it anything but ordinary.

Stretching on an ordinary sky-cycle...
Just an ordinary island...
An ordinary rainbow...
An ordinary fish...
And an ordinary smile...

Wish you where here!
:)

PS: The shark photo is courtesy of my friend Luke Riley. :)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Slow sweet fools and end times...


The other end of the runway...

Time they say is a healer. It is money too. And a dimension. They say that time is one directional and irreversible. That it is a commodity and precious. It is invisible, invincible and inevitable. And yet, Albert Einstein said that time is nothing but a persistent illusion. Of course, I am sure you can forgive my indulgence in some philosophical banter given that time is running out for us – there can be no illusion that the MCSS official whale sharks season 2012 is coming to an end.

It has not been the best of seasons. In fact from an economic point of view it has been disastrous to say the least. Throw in the devastating fire and we are all left with our own thoughts and interpretations of past events. The only winning side appears to be science, which given the data seemed to indicate that whale shark numbers are declining and that climates are changing. No surprise.

Yesterday, for the first time this week, Neil got into the air. Remarkably he managed to do a complete survey of the whole of Mahe, even if there were threatening rain storms in the vicinity – his descriptions are quite vivid! But the highlight was being routed over the town harbour by Air Traffic Control. While orbiting and waiting his turn to land he spotted a large black square that seemed to be moving – of course we are very familiar with the shape of Manta Rays. Neil was intrigued that this guy was right inside one of the ports, among all the boating and shipping action. The harbour is not just a safe place for boats but for fish too. Many small fry hide in large schools amongst the harbour walls, boats and other kinds of flotsam often found in these areas. Naturally (no pun intended!), predators are not stupid either and it has also been well recorded that sharks hang around these areas more often than not. It was not completely surprising to see the Manta in the harbour but it was a first.

Talking about firsts, I have come to the conclusion that the only thing certain this season has been change. To illustrate my point I would like to invite you to join me in a little project that is bound to prove fun. Click on the link, “weather where I’m at” and follow the weather forecasts as predicted for our little island over the next few days. (I have handily put in the correct link for you :) I encourage you to do so every few hours too. Without a doubt it will change while at the same time and very appropriately I might add, illustrate the volatile characteristics of the whale shark season thus far. (To be honest it was a particular dismal forecast which prompted me to write this blog entry in the first place. Now it seems to have lost some of that point I’m trying to make! :)

The other day, by no co-coincidence I might add, I was listening to music from Diane Krall. With the music in the background I was lost in thought when quite suddenly, these words just leapt at me.

“Time is made of honey slow and sweet...”

Given that my thoughts and emotions were pondering the notion of end times, perhaps it is not so unrealistic that these particular words grabbed my attention, though the fact that I was certainly not listening intently says a lot about the ability of the subconscious. Suddenly I was enthralled by the depth of imagination of not only likening time to the viscous flow of honey, but that you could actually taste it. My mind started to consider that honey could actually be slow and just as I recognized the magnificence of such a super personification, the very next line quite literally made me burst out in a chuckle.

“Only a fool knows what that means.”! (The song is ‘Temptation’ sung by Diane Krall)

I chuckled for a long time after while the ideas of slow honey, sweet times and fools danced in my head. It struck me the foolishness lies in the thought that time could be only slow and sweet – that given our season events only a fool would deny that sometimes time is swift and bitter too.

Wish you were here!

;)
PS: Could I be so cheese to say, Einstein, 'lick' your heart out!? :))))


The other end of the runway...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chinese lanterns, buttered bread and double edged swords.



Do you know what a rain drop feels like at 60mph? The white streak on my arm is a little bullet of a drop...

I recall one Christmas when Chinese lanterns were the rage. In fact it proved to be a rather memorable one but not for what you may think. While we spend some time gazing at the night skies lit up with glowing paper bags, we ended up having way more fun reading the direct translations from the instruction leaflets – this had us rolling in laughter for the better part of Christmas. Though amusing, it illustrated perfectly the notoriety of direct translations involving languages from the Far East. Of course for translations to make sense, what is needed is an understanding of the meaning or intent of the subject matter, in this case operating instructions. 

When it comes to popular phrases though, especially when one is dealing with a particular culture that is, say, emotionally rich in expression, chances are that they will have an existing or equivalent saying already. Take for example, “having your bread buttered on both sides”. I stumbled upon a particularly humorous translation of this the other day. It is easy to imagine big burly Russians – perhaps it is all the fur they wear in those freezing temperatures – but would you believe the Russian equivalent is, “it’s hard to have a seat on two chairs at once”? And what about my all-time favourite, an expression that strikes at the heart of those exuberant pasta and wine lovers, the Italians? “To have the barrel full and the wife drunk!”  :) Hehe..!

At the end of the day we all have our own idea of having it all, of having your cake and eating it. (And some have really ruminated the meaning of this expression tiresomely!) Take for example my circle of friends – all lovers of flying, in particular hang gliders, the very best kind of flying one can do – who work long hours to feed this flying passion. They mistakenly think that being paid to fly is the equivalent of having your bread buttered on both sides.

Consider for a moment sitting in a little open cockpit micro-light. Your only landing option is covered by a large dark cloud, streaks of rain falling from its belly. And as the cloud grows and spreads you are ever so more flying further out to sea, putting your faith and trust entirely into God’s hands and a metal machine to keep you aloft and alive. Inevitably you ponder the wisdom of flying and your initial weather assessment that sooner rather than later this cloud will dissipate and the rain will stop. And even though you desperately try not to, because your reason knows it is futile to do so, you worry. You hope. You fret. And while your smile, your voice and your demeanor remains calm, there might just be a reason to visit the Doctor when you land, just to check up on those pesky stomach ulcers.

The startling reality is that if you weren't being paid you would never be up there in the first place – and how quickly having your bread buttered on both sides can turn into a double edged sword.

Rain over the air port while we wait out to sea...

Still wish you were here!
:)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

R.I.P


Sailing is one of those gentleman sports. It is man against the elements and there is something noble about that. When the wind fills the sails and you can feel her mast and hull taking the strain before there is a steady surge forward, man is somehow made more alive. Perhaps there is some spiritual connection between man and that which fills his sail, somehow when those sails bulge full it strikes at the core of being man. In our modern era we have many variants of sailing. Even though in my younger years I was an avid sailor, today I practice sailing of a different kind. I have wings allowing me to sail, not on water, but on air. There is something ancestral and deeply satisfying in that. And I have had the privilege of sharing that with others, which have resulted in close and cherished friendships.

One of the most clich├ęd sayings I know goes something like this, “it’s blah blah blah… what matters is how you get back up” – oddly it reminds me of Muhammad Ali, the famous boxer – but given the dramatic events of late; the complete lack of sharks during the most booked part of our season and the devastating fire, the recovery of the Underwater Centre has bordered on nothing short of the miraculous – in no great part due to the organising skills of Glynis and David. Within two days they had set up a kind of field dive centre right outside the hotel on the grass and it was business as usual. It has been so effective that guests were none the wiser about the recent tragedy – which gets me to my point.

Tragedy.

I have recently received an email about the death of a friend and I am astounded about how deeply it has affected me. Tragedy seems much more appropriate here. In part, it is the reason for me not keeping up with my blogging – not that I am making excuses but as far as excuses go… Well, let’s just say I have not been in the mood for much lately.

Todd Stuntzner and I met in Seychelles some 7 or 8 years ago. He was working for Helicopter Seychelles back then and as is so often the case, over time got enchanted with this little micro-light – how else when Todd was sitting in a comfy helicopter cockpit at 1000ft while hearing the radio transmissions from a tiny-micro-light flying at 6000ft. If this does not stir your interest as a pilot you just do not have flying at heart. It was inevitable that Todd called me to go for a flight in the micro-light. We became friends to such an extent that he ended up visiting me in Wilderness the year after. Todd also learned to hang glide and as so often happens, the intimate time one spends with students on a training slope when learning to fly like a bird establishes connections and builds bonds way out of the norm. Todd was an awesome guy, a gentleman, a fellow hang glider pilot, aviation enthusiast – someone whom I with great honour ended up calling my friend.

After his stint in Seychelles, Todd moved back to the US and he took up hang gliding as a sport, often keeping me updated on his new found flying exploits as a hang glider pilot. I enjoyed his emails, picking up on the excitement of experienced gained and the satisfaction Todd got from sharing them with me, the instructor, the man whom he perceived as having given him some great gift. In this day and age of bits and bytes Todd would send postcards, finding clever ways to express his joy and appreciation of having learnt to hang glide. All those times it was I in fact, who realised it was me who had been given the great gift.

The email from his parents came as a shock. They had only recently gained access to his email friends list – but Todd had passed away in the end of May of this year, along with three of his friends when their light aircraft went down while on their way to a fishing weekend.

Oh, I guess I have to mention that the sharks have finally decided to make an appearance. Of course, whilst our change in whale shark luck might have come as a result of prayer, or the appearance of carnivorous plankton, and that it was perfectly timed to lift our spirits, especially after the dive centre went up in flames, I could not fully share in the joy of this. We have had sharks for the whole week. The afternoon shark dives have been so successful with as many as 11 sharks dived on by happy customers, all in just one after noon. It was like old times and not. The interns too have finally seen what these enchanting islands can really be like, while tourists, fresh off the plane and totally ignorant of our last month’s ordeal were totally mesmerized by the sharking experiences. And while it was something to behold when these islands decide to turn on, I could not fully share in it. It was strangely surreal to think that someone who had experienced the islands joy with me was no longer alive.

Given the state of my mood it is impossible not to reminisce about past good times and of course friendships. Friendships that, like the wind filling the sail of a yacht, momentarily send you on an exhilarating broad reach and then quite suddenly, leave – the wind taken out of your sail, quite literally. One is left pondering the memories while it is inevitable that you realise you have been moved, physically and spiritually. You are changed forever.

It seems good friends have a way of doing that. RIP my friend.

Wish you were here…



Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fire…

Of course there is always a lot that happens during whale shark season but this year, well, this year is one for the record books and will go down in history for more than just the lack of whale sharks.

As you should be aware of, for the last months we have sighted not one whale shark around the island of Mahe. It is a first since the start of the monitoring program – 1997. Though it has its scientific value it has been really bad for all parties concerned. No whale sharks, no eco-tourism tours. No eco-tourism tours, no research funds. As if things couldn't get worse, yesterday morning we hear the dreadful news – the Underwater Centre has burned down! Yes. Right down to the ground – there is absolutely nothing left. We are talking diving equipment, dive computers, BC’s, weight belts, tanks, compressors, paper records, personal gear from customers (Not to mention the whole of the Aqua-firma’ dive group who is here for a week of whale sharking and diving – all personal gear gone, up in smoke – if I can use such a cheesy metaphor at a time like this.) I believe there are two dive tanks that did not explode – the only things that survived the furnace. The cause, would you believe, the pizza joint next door. They left the electric pizza oven on all night and with the building consisting of thatch roofing, well…

As you can all imagine things are a bit rough and out of joint at the moment. The paperwork and insurances set to probably play on for many months if not years. And in the meantime people’s livelihoods are on the line.

For now, the MCSS is continuing with the monitoring program and have arranged gear to do eco whale shark encounters, in the event we get these elusive spotty creatures. Of course, we are all pretty down considering. Fire can be a destructive force of more than materialistic things…

For our comfort, wish you where here!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Quick update - very quick!

Today was my turn to fly. The weather wasn't ideal - a moderate Northerly wind made the western side of the island turbulent and unpleasant. The afternoon the wind was lighter and the flying much nicer. Once again the water around the island is exceptionally clean - in many parts the under-water visibility is in excess of 30 meters. It is the 8th already and these spotty creatures are still playing hide and seek.

Rather reluctantly we seemed to have gotten used to their non-appearance...

Still...

Wish you were here!
:)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Humour me with fear...

Darren, our third house mate, always whirls in after work – he just whisks in to grab a few personal belongings before heading out to his love for the night. Sometimes though, we would squeeze in a quick chit-chat about the day’s experience.

“I had to go down to see if the ruvs was ok today.” He says with a note of increasing excitement.



A ruvs is an acronym for, ‘remote underwater video station’ and has become quite the latest scientific buzz word among the MCSS crew. It’s a home-made kind of contraption, constituting a steel frame with a can of fish bait punched full of holes on one end and a Go-pro video camera on the other. This set-up is just lowered overboard, left on the bottom for three hours – as long as the battery lasts – then pulled up and the video content watched with the hope of capturing something exciting – like a big old shark of course! So far, none of that has happened except that on some occasions the ruvs would end up on its side, which after 3 hours of video watching led to a few stiff necks.

I was not surprised at all that Darren had to do a quick breath hold dive to go check it out.

“Phew!” he says while pausing to take a deep breath, clutching his heart with one hand and then, his eyes draw into little slits while smiling widely – his sincerity at these moments becomes so obvious that I have developed my own sense of endearment for him at times like these. Of course I can’t help but smile too, the sense of recognition of having been in similar scenarios quickly coming to mind too.

This made me wonder whether humour is an acquired skill or taste. Of course we all laugh soon after birth, long before we have an awareness of it but I am not talking about the pleasured response or the response from being pleased, rather the ‘what’ that should cause a pleasing response. I mean, it would be completely inappropriate to laugh if someone gets mugged. (Or would it?)  The reason why I am heading down this line of thought is because personally I find myself laughing at the oddest of things. (Thankfully, I know I am not alone on this otherwise I would have been very concerned!) And of course we all know that a sense of humour is healthy but my sense of humour can cross that border of subtlety with such ease that I think perhaps it is only I who can go so far and see humour there. Of course the qualifications for seeing, or rather experiencing this kind of humour often comes with having personal experience of a similar event, which can greatly add to the hilarity – something which I was experiencing right now.

Darren was rubbing his heart in a soothing circular motion, as if still needing to calm himself down from the experience. “But the water was like, so green and the viz just 2 or 3 meters…” he continues while visions of dark, murky green water easily come to my mind. After all I did spend four years in the Navy as a diver.
“And it was deep, maybe fifteen meters..?” for just a moment he looks at me quizzically before continuing, still rubbing his chest, “And it got dark the deeper I went and I was thinking.., Phew!” He pauses again while taking a deep breath – I could see he was reliving the moment, the slits hiding his eyes becoming even narrower and naturally my insides start to chuckle much more at this stage. “What if something big suddenly comes up at me? What if a whale shark suddenly just appears out of the gloom?” He was smiling directly at me, his eyes opening more to make clear eye contact so he could make sure I was with him down there…

“I would freak out so much!” he says excitedly while I nod and start to break into an audible chuckle. “And I almost turned around to go back but then thought about the ridicule of the guys in the boat and then, Phew!” he says once again taking a deep and loud breath before adding, “Suddenly it was there, the right way up and I was out of there! Straight-up! Boy I wasted no time!” He was shaking his head almost violently, eyes drawn to slits again – very evident of his honest admittance of the fear he had felt.

I too laughed with him. “It is nervy hey..!” I mention while remembering those moments of mind-warfare while diving into deep murky water on your own all too well. Of course the laughter I felt went way beyond the mere words of our conversation. I could sense some emotion within Darren that in his retelling of his experience he was going over some newly discovered personal emotions resembling the likes of fear.

And boy is that funny! ;)

Wish you were here!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Does green mean go?


Anna and I enjoying the good conditions...

Just a quick up-date.
The weather has finally started to play along but of course no one bothered to tell the whale sharks about that. We have been flying consecutively for the last 10 days (and some before that too) but thus far these somewhat elusive spotty creatures have not made an appearance – yet. It is somewhat puzzling. In essence it is exactly this type of occurrence that made marine science what it is today. The ‘why?’ question (in this case!) being foremost in our minds. It is a rather intriguing puzzle (Something I elude more about in my book - Wings and Whale Sharks. :) but trying to piece together why they are not here is a tricky affair. There are of course a whole range of variables to take into consideration which makes it difficult to make it an exact science (which it is actually – kind of like the weather ;)

The water last week has been exceptionally clear. We had areas with close to (if not!) 40m of underwater visibility. For mid-September this is rather unusual. This time of year the water is often more turbid with plankton bits floating in the water making for abundant whale sharks. Of course the water clarity was broadcasting the lack of their popular food stuff – a logical explanation why there is now a lack or rather, a complete absence of whale sharks! (Of course the reason as to why the water is so clear i.e. the lack of plankton is another story all together.

Exceptional water clarity for September...

This week though there has been a slight shift in the current patterns. There seems to be an accumulation of “green” water regions in all the bays on the windward side of the island. These areas are very apparent from the air and are – as we pilots like to put it, a good sign. Though the greenish tinge to the water is not necessarily the plankton type that whale sharks like, it most probably is a predecessor to the good stuff and we are all waiting with abated breath (though it could be a week or two for the plankton life cycle to kick in).
In the meantime we have been flying and taking up the interns and others that are keen to see what the survey flights are all about. Here are a few pics of those – notice too the exceptional water clarity.

Wish you were here!

:)

PS: Spot the green line running down the middle of the pic - blue on the right and green on the left.