Working as a naturalist, expedition leader, and divemaster for Zegrahm Expeditions over the past 20 years, I am often asked by travelers about “my favorite” destination. That is a very hard question—and one that leads me to several follow-up questions. Favorite beach? La Digue Island, Seychelles. Favorite culture? Bali, Indonesia. Favorite archipelago? Galapagos. Favorite manta ray dive? Yap Island, Micronesia. Favorite wall dive? Blue Corner, Palau.
But, when asked to describe my favorite travel experience for this commemorative newsletter, I was flooded with memories: snorkeling and diving experiences among the coral reefs of Indonesia and Micronesia, whale sharks in the Philippines, and penguins in the Galapagos. However, there is one adventure that I had to place at the top of my list.
The Clipper Odyssey was at anchor off the island of Niatoputapu, Tonga. While most of the passengers were still ashore on a nature walk, I was out on the reef with a group of snorkelers. A call came over the walkie-talkie that several humpback whales had been spotted. Mike Messick was the expedition leader so he and I went out to determine if it would be practical to take the passengers out to snorkel with the whales.
As the Zodiac approached, two adult females and a recently born calf began to take shape. Mike stopped the boat some distance from the whales and I slipped quietly into the crystal clear waters. Taking a deep breath, I dove toward the 65-foot long female just as the calf appeared from beneath its mother to begin a slow ascent. As I dove down to make eye-to-eye contact with the young cetacean, a stream of milk was flowing from the side of its mouth—the newly-born calf had just finished nursing. I will never forget that moment as long as I live!
Over the next two hours we managed to get 66 snorkelers into the water with the whales and without exception it was an experience of a lifetime. Not only to be so close to the great leviathans, but also to observe a nursing calf and feel the vibration of their high pitched song. Fortunately, there were a number of well-equipped professional photographers in the water that day, so the adventure was well documented. View a video from this amazing day:
As noted, it was a truly exceptional moment in my life, but the real joy in this experience and all the others in my 20 years with Zegrahm has been sharing them with like-minded travelers—those that place value on the shared experience. The friendship and camaraderie that has transpired with the many adventurers who have explored the world with us over the past two decades has contributed as much pleasure to my own personal life as the incredible destinations we have visited.
Twenty years ago, six of us set out to establish the best travel adventure company in the world and with the support of our dedicated and enlightened travelers, many of whom have become friends, we believe we have accomplished our goal. What can be more rewarding and memorable than traveling to the most remote and exotic places in the world in the company of your best friends, THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES.