With the week beginning September 29, we inaugurated this year’s Sudanese Autumn season.
Sun, NE winds at about 15 knotts, water temperature at 29-30°, and very little current are the elements that shape these splendid days.
Precious sightings: a few grey sharks a few white-tip reef sharks, and during the trip back north to Sha’ab Rumi, some solitary hammerheads at Angarosh.
We knew that it was going to be a poor week for shark sightings.
We noticed that during our abscence (from the end of May to this inaugural cruise) underwater life has continued to flourish without problems caused by the summer heat. The coral, Alcyonaria, or ‘soft corals’, are healthy. The cliffs and plateus from Sanganeb to Shambaia are gorgeous and luxuriant as ever, bursting with reef fish and complete with some pelagic, spirals of blackfin barracuda, big schools of Bigeye Trevally (Caranx Sexfasciatus) and Bluefin Trevally (Caranx Melampygus).
The drum roll for the ‘grand finale’ begins almost unnoticed half-way through the week… I can hear the vibration from afar, there is anticipation in the air: the manta rays were, and are, there as promised.
It’s Sunday, the last day of the cruise, after a fatastic dive at Angarosh, finally we make our way to our appointment in the lagoons of Masharifa.
About fifteen miles separate us from the two beacons which signal the canal that will take us to the island of Masharifa.
The sea is calm, flat, the sky clear, noone around as if the sea were ours.
We rest, letting the boat drift, suspended between the sky and sea, the cluster of guests on the top deck watch the horizon… we cast our eyes in the dazzling midday sun.
At the beacons, no sightings, no trace of Manta rays, not even along the reefs that run back North towards Cape Abu Shagara and South towards the Island of Margarsam…
We keep going… until…
In the distance we can see a winding thread of current mid-canal… and there… Look! Triangular black points of wings that emerge, slapping the surface of the sea, dissappearing at times into shimmering schools of sardines beneath boldly diving turns.
Ready? To tell the truth we had been ready for days: snorkel, flippers and mask, everybody onto the dinghy and into the water, while the boat slides to the mooring in front of Masharifa Island.
The immages speak for themselves, we are thrilled, we swim and wait: the manta rays swim past and return, they break up and come back together, it seems like a dance, they feed with mouths wide open, consuming the plankton concentrated in the slight current which plays serpentine games on the surface of the water. It matters not that the water in the lagoon is cloudy, the up-close encounters have a huge effect.
We are there, only us, and it is paradise. Eager for shots and images, we learn minute by minute to wait, to swim carefully, we grow confident, we become as polite as the manta rays.
There are lots of them, they swim up-current and curious, then return, we point our cameras - the GoPros - at the gaping mouths for a shot or images that will preserve forever the deep white throats, fringed with gills, the unexpected looping and the elegant rolls.
They brush past us, gracefully, and continue their carousel ride.
The manta rays chat away. Meeting one another they communicate, transmit: we hear pops, gurgles and clicks. They have voices that I had never heard before, and if its possible, magic upon magic: we are listening to the voices of Masharifa.
So happy and without a care in the world.