“For those of you who need to puke…”
The bacon that I had had with egg—if I remember correctly—for breakfast earlier that morning did a nasty turn inside my stomach.
“If you suffer from sea-sickness…”
“I guess I will find out today!” I said, childhood memories of besmirched interiors of our humble Maruti 800 after an hour’s drive in the unforgiving Delhi sun and a stroke of gluttony in a dhaba shook a finger at me.
I sat near the toilet—anticipating the worst to happen—staring at an amoeboid spot on the seat cover that was only making my nausea worse. The waters had decided to be choppy that day. Donned in three layers of clothing, I was exhaling steam. I obviously needed three more.
“The difference between seals and sea lions is that…”
I wouldn’t have budged had it not been for a stench that could potentially curdle milk.
I settled down once more as our boat gained speed, tearing into the waters of the Pacific ocean. My fingers were crossed tight. I had, after all, waited for this day for a little over a decade.
“It’s a giant turd!” said the bespectacled lanky boy to his father. He was serious. Almost as serious as his need for a change of spectacles – it was an otter. Our boat had halted a while back and we were all scouting the ocean for a sign. A little over ten minutes and three turd sightings later, I was getting impatient. I would have happily settled for a fin, or even a tail, anything, really.
Then a spout broke through the surface of the ocean in the distance. Moments later, another.
When humpback whales breathe, their blow, a double stream of spray, rises 10-13 feet above the surface of the water – I read about it once in a book, one among many that I have read on the subject. Like a bump that first lingers beneath the skin and then gains a head, my fascination with whales, which began with reading Moby-Dick in seventh grade, grew with time until it begged to be released.
I was navigating my head like a meerkat would, clueless where to look. We were everywhere and nowhere all at once - the enormity of the Pacific dawned on me. At least three people on the boat were purging their breakfast into the ocean.
“These people are creating a no-swim zone for all the fish around the boat!” said the bespectacled boy’s father. The apple had not fallen too far from the tree, I concluded.
By this time, our guide decided that it was time to move further into the ocean, so we did, and came to a halt fifteen minutes later.
One minute. Two minutes. Seven. Eight. Twelve. A dark form rose from the water like a submarine, drawing a collective gasp from the boat.
Then there was a massive thunderclap from somewhere behind us on the other side of the boat. I turned around just in time to see the whale’s white combed underbelly and head disappear into the water, its pectoral fins spread wide on either side, as if trying to say a hello, the perfection of its bumpy skin jaw-dropping. A humpback had breached.
A breach is a leap out of water, a behaviour observed in various species of whales, humpback and sperm whales known to be the most enthusiastic of the lot. Imagine a fifty-feet long creature, weighing anywhere between 27-45 tonnes leaping out of water. Scientists are uncertain if this behavior serves some purpose, such as cleaning pests from the whale’s skin, or whether it is done simply for thrills. I, for one, think that they are just having some good old-fashioned fun.
I had barely caught upto my palpitating heart when there was another thunderclap. And then another. And I was just as thrilled every single time, to have been let into that tiny window of time that allowed me to watch a whale in its absolute glory. In a strange way, it was both humbling and inspiring to watch that stunning orgy of flesh, fat and force hurl itself into the air from the mouth of the ocean with unbelievable grace.
I couldn’t have asked for more, I remember thinking to myself as I sat down, going over that image in my head of the exact moment when the whale was completely airborne. A sound like that of a dozen soda bottles being opened at once interrupted my thoughts and I looked over. A spout rose few feet away from the boat.
“They are right here!”
We had visitors - two humpback whales. They glided next to us with nonchalance as camera shutters exploded.
We ran from one end of the boat to the other as the duo swam underneath us and appeared on either side. When they spouted, we ducked for cover. When they raised their knobbly heads above water, we held our breaths. There was a moment when I saw right into the eye of one of them as it rose its head above the water, those brown eyes the size of my hand, sentient. Our little game of hide and seek went on for fifteen minutes, then they decided to say goodbye.
“Humpback whales have one of the longest known migratory journeys of any mammal on this planet…”
I sporadically picked up words from our guide’s talk without meaning to, my eyes set on the humpbacks that were swimming away from us. Perhaps this might sound absurd, but I felt a tremendous gush of sadness as I saw them leave, the kind that one feels when one has to bid adieu to a friend knowing that they will never meet again.
The engine of the boat revved. The humpbacks had sunk into the depths of the ocean. The goosebumps on my skin were gone. It was time to go home. And tell the story of the day that I met the most extraordinary traveller I have ever known - one who sees more of this world in a day than most of us will in a lifetime, story of that time when I lost my heart to a wayward soul.