There are some people you read about and then read their writings and just wish and wish and wish again that you could've met them... spoken, shared thoughts, ideas or even a bottle of wine! Maybe a walk under tall trees. One of these people for me is John Muir. This Scottish-American writer and wilderness advocate is an inspiration, not only in what he wrote, thought and experienced- but also the changes he affected in the preservation of Wilderness in the USA. One of these is the Yosemite National Park. A place that took my breath away... Mountains and rivers, trees and deer... Promises of bears.
Image: Peter Marshall
"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life." John Muir
This is what I am dreaming of today... and tomorrow... I shot this footage in the Maldives last year before getting in the water and spending the whole night dancing with the Mantas. Need to go back there...
If there’s something as close to my heart as the Ocean in all her shifting blue wonder, it’s my family and friends… a close group of girl friends keep the relative sanity I have intact and I love them dearly. One of these beautiful girls is Alana, my surfing adventure partner and a creative force.
An unspoilt island of diversity, sandy white beaches, tropical forests and palm trees, baobab specked arid areas and crystal blue oceans, Madagascar lies just off the African east coast- wild yet inviting. When traveling via the capital Antananarivo to the south where we’re headed, it becomes apparent that this is not your average destination. There are no direct flights… anywhere it seems, the airports are small and old but the friendliness of the locals makes up for all this immediately. We arrive tired and dusty at our hotel in south eastern Fort Dauphin, a town named after the French royal ‘dauphin’ or heir to the throne, one of many throwbacks to the time of the French colonialists. Croissants at breakfast, casual bonjours and good coffee are further remnants of this time. And here it ends. Madagascar is it’s very own.
The next 12 months will see me traveling all over this wonderful Blue Planet in the quest of diving with marine creatures. For many years now competitive freediving has kept me fit and strong in the water, now it is time to use these skills for what I love most.
Working together with Belgian photographer and ocean friend Jean Marie Ghislain I will seek out the company of great whales, playful dolphins, mysterious sharks, graceful manta rays, silly seals, peaceful turtles and many more. This is a dream come true for me, the life I want to be living.
This journey will result in a book full of images and stories... follow me on this blue trail into THE LAST WILDERNESS...
I am fast asleep folded into my economy class seat when I feel a light tap on my shoulder, ‘I think you might want to look out the window’ the air hostess smiles down at me. Groggy from a night of stopovers and small spaces I wipe my eyes and look out… and my breath is knocked right out of me. A scattering of islands blink up at me from the bright turquoise water, circular in shape the reef holds bowls of blue water, so transparent I can see the coral structures below the surface.The Maldives. We land almost in the ocean… islands here are hardly as long as an airstrip.
This island nation in the Indian Ocean is made up of close to 1,200 coral islands grouped into two chains of 26 atolls.The islands are spread out over a 2000km stretch from north to south, white sandy beaches, coconut palms and flowering trees and 5-star resorts. But we are not here for the islands. We are here for the clean clear crystal blue that quietly laps and caresses the coral outcrops. Our dive boat picks us up right outside the airport and we leave land. Boatlife. Lulled by the gentle rocking of the boat,porthole open, mild breeze my dreams are vivid and intricate. I live a whole year each night and wake up in the same position. The smiling crew has prepared a traditional Maldivian breakfast of shredded tuna mixed with crushed fresh coconut, chilli and lime wrapped in a fresh savoury pancake- delicious. We dive three times a day, making our way north. The water is a new shade of blue. A vivid clarity that moves turquoise onto a deeper level of inviting. I have never seen water like this. Whole schools of fish, blue, yellow, silvery slithery and pitch black cloud around us, unafraid, unaware. Fish are fun. But I want more.
The Maldives are famous for their manta ray population, and I am yet to experience this creature. Images, video and the stories of friends have captured my attention, and I want to see for myself. We arrive at the Baa Atoll on our fifth day. This is the home of famous Hanifaru bay. A relatively shallow lagoon surrounded by coral. Winds and currents create a unique plankton extravaganza every year at this time, the mantas come in their hundreds to feed. We anchor the diving boat in the late afternoon light and I slip on my monofin. The water here is just below 30°C so allI I need is mask and fin. No wetsuit. Pure joy for a cold Cape local. The water has an eerie milky quality to it,the blue leaning to green- the plankton softening the edges of the usually crystalline
I dive down, peering into the distance. Where are they? We have heard rumours of the decrease in numbers, the unreliability of the season. Just as my lungs start to beg for air I see her… a white shape moving slowly through the aquasphere. I relax a little more to stretch my oxygen, I want to stay. The white shape enters my space and the wide open gullet becomes clear, then the gently undulating wings, the lobes around the mouth. I am mesmerised. The Manta doesn’t seem to notice me, or does and doesn’t mind, but she stays her course, heading straight to me. I float a little higher and she passes below me, to straighten out my arm would’ve been a touch. I watch her disappear and kick up to the surface, gasping and laughing, overwhelmed by beauty. I make my surface time as short as is still safe and go back down.Waiting. A wall of mantas appear from the dusk. Four, five, ten like a flock of large birds flying impossibly slow they surround me. Keeping still they pass like ghosts. Looking up I marvel at the soft white belly. Black markings on the white makes each manta unique, names etched into white skin. I feel my heartbeat slow down, surrounded by their peacefulness. Never before have I seen something so large be so graceful, so elegant, so utterly self-contained… enough. Dive after dive breath after breath I get to know them. If I do this, how do they respond. If I join in a looping, arching acrobatic dive, are we dancing?
The sun sets and the lagoon gets dark. The other divers have left the water. Can I stay? Just one more dive, please. Plankton in my hair, salt in my eyes and mantas in my heart I leave this feasting playground to dream of white bellied angels flying in formation, only to do it all again tomorrow.
Images: Jean Marie Ghislain
Diving and accommodation: OK MALDIVES. Thank you Marie, Paul, Christian and the whole crew for an unforgettable week!