A Whale of a Tale

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
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Trip End Ongoing


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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Well, as you will surely have already guessed, our decision between a trip up to the concrete jungle capital city of Brasília and whale watching on the coast was a no-brainer!

Travelling cross country from Ouro Prêto back down to the ocean was uneventful except for two developments. The first was simply an 80 km stretch of dirt road that was by far the worst we've experienced since our adventure crossing from Bolivia into Paraguay last January. The heavy logging trucks were cutting up the muddy track into deep ruts, and the constant pouring rain didn't help much either. Anyway, besides getting our nice clean van totally covered in icky red mud we managed to get through pretty much unscathed! The second occurrence was definitely more pleasurable - making a quick stop in the small town of Engenheiro Caldas for an ice cream cone, we were quite astonished to find that the vendor spoke English, as this has been quite a rarity during our first month in Brazil. We were even more amazed across the street at the Internet Café when Nadir the owner started talking to us in English. She was so enthralled with the story of our travels that she called both Carlos her husband and Juslene her sister to meet us, who in turn called the town's newspaper reporter who rushed over to interview us. So, if you happen to see the next issue of "Jornal Caldense", be sure to look out for a photo of the Channers with their van!!

Together with Danielle and Miriam, two German travellers who we met in Caravelas, we set out to gather information on whale watching in the Abrolhos National Marine Park, an area covering an archipelago 80 km offshore. Conflicting information as to how successful a whale watching trip would be in the sometimes rainy off-season was resolved by a group of ten scuba divers who had just returned from a three-day excursion to the islands. Listening to their stories over dinner that night confirmed that cancelling due to possible bad weather was just not an option.

The weather was perfect - or so we thought until passing through a veritable tropical downpour just thirty minutes after setting out! Fortunately it was short lived and it wasn't long until we sighted the first Humpback - a huge black fin glistening in the sunlight. All ten of us on board were ecstatic, snapping our digitals in an attempt to get that perfect shot, but that's about as good as impossible. "Paradise"- our fittingly named boat - veered off course to observe the antics of several more cavorting whales, and all the while we were completely mesmerized by the graceful beauty of these enormous mammals.

One of the largest on our planet, the Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) can easily be sixteen metres in length and may weigh up to forty tons. Imagine our surprise then to find that it is in fact extremely docile and well known for its acrobatic feats - yes, we were treated to numerous examples of fluke-peaking. Most awesome though, were several sightings of forty ton whales heaving themselves up in the air, somersaulting, and diving back under the surface as if they were the most graceful and lightweight creatures in existence. Our mouths open in astonishment, we didn't even have a chance to capture this phenomenon on camera!

Anchoring off one of the archipelago's five islands that was inhabited by thousands of albatross in varying stages of laying their eggs and caring for their newborn chicks, we had to wonder what Darwin might have encountered when he visited while travelling on the HMS Beagle in 1832. Abrolhos - which literally translates as "open your eyes"- is Brazil's first marine park, and was created in 1983 to protect and study the whales, and to preserve the coral reefs and crystal clear waters. The reefs are home to 18 different kinds of coral, including Coral-Cérebro (Brain Coral) which is unique to these waters. However, having been previously thoroughly spoiled by the exotic fish specimens and colourful corals in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, we found the snorkelling here to be rather tame, but it all added to the ambiance of the day.

Nor was the day over, as we soon discovered after beginning the three hour return trip to Caravelas. Yes, although the now dark and choppy waters were playing havoc with Paradise, the whales continued to put on an impressive show. They apparently complete long journeys to breed and rear their young in the generally warm and calm waters of the Abrolhos region between July and November - perfect timing for us! What a shame though that we couldn't actually hear the males singing to attract the females.

Did we regret our decision to pass up on exploring the urban planning delights of the most famous planned city of the 20th century? Not on your life! As the day ended and we watched the magnificent sunset over the palm-fringed shore, we were extremely happy that we had come to Caravelas to make the acquaintance of the Humpback whales of the Abrolhos.
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