Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tales (tails?) from the seashore, part 2

When I learned that I could swim with dolphins at Kizingo, I thought I knew what to expect, since I “swam” with dolphins in the Bahamas about 10 years ago (and by “swam,” I mean I stood in a shallow enclosure with a bored captive dolphin and got my photo taken). But the dolphins around Kizingo were wild, interactive, and totally captivating…I had no idea what I was in for.

Our first two outings were thwarted by the elusive dolphins, which were nowhere to be seen. On the bright side, we snorkeled among stingrays, octopuses, whitetip sharks, and thousands of gorgeous tropical fish. We took a mid-day break on a rocky island where we had hermit crab races, marveled at giant clams, and dined on fresh oysters we cracked off the rocks. We returned only a bit frustrated by the dolphins’ absence....if I know anything about wild animals, it’s that they’re completely unpredictable. I held out hope.

I gave the dolphins another chance on my last morning at Kizingo. Less than 20 minutes off the beach, we spotted a group of 5 playing in the waves. Success! At that point, I knew I would encounter at least one dolphin on my trip, and that was enough. We quickly donned our fins and snorkels and took the plunge.

All of a sudden, it became clear that the dolphins weren’t the spectacle here…we were. In order to get – and keep - the dolphins’ attention, we were the performers. Since Kizingo doesn’t feed or attract the dolphins in any way (yay for responsible tourism), we had to rely on our creativity, and their curiosity, to bring them to us. We did flips, blew bubbles, and dove as deep as we could to engage them.

The dolphins really varied in their interest in us. Some groups were tremendously curious about these strange, snorkel-bearing interlopers. To others, we were about as exciting as a bunch of barnacles. The better we got at entertaining them, however, the more playful they became. They approached - sometimes just inches away - and peered at us, they swam alongside us, and they gracefully mimicked our awkward antics.

At one point, we were surrounded by about 30 dolphins from a few different pods. They were impossible to keep track of, since they were so much more agile underwater than we clumsy terrestrial mammals were, even with our fins and snorkels. Different groups would come in and out of sight, chasing each other, diving all the way to the bottom, then breaking the surface right next to us. You’d be playing “Simon Says” with one dolphin, and suddenly a group of four or five would swim up from behind and surround you.

Let me tell you, swimming with these guys isn’t an activity for wimps. It turns out being a dolphin (or at least pretending to) is UNBELIEVABLY hard work. A few times, I was breathing so hard – through a snorkel, mind you – that I thought I might have a heart attack. (But, what a way to go, right?) We kept getting in the boat, completely spent, then seeing a newly-arrived group and diving right back in. No matter how exhausted I was, I just couldn’t stay out of the water. I returned to Kizingo unbelievably sunburned, covered in flipper-blisters, and worn out to the point of comatose. But I still can’t stop smiling.

**Photos courtesy of Kizingo. Thanks!!


Katy said...

That sounds AMAZING Kate! I'm so jealous!

Dana-Phoenix, Arizona said...

Make that two jealous people. How fun. I did the swim with the dolphins at Sea World in San Diego years ago and of course it was nothing like what you did here.

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