It is grey. The sky is grey. The surface of the ocean is slate grey.
The island cliffs are white-grey from years and years of bird crap.
To say my mood is grey would be an understatement.
We have travelled forty-eight hours from one side of the globe to the other to swim with the impossibly large, incredibly elusive giant manta rays off the coast of Ecuador. We are with the best team in the world. Top boat operator in the region, leading marine megafauna biologists, the perfect season and the right time of day. Everything is lined up for us to have the breath-taking experience of freediving with the giant manta birostris. Except this is day seven on the boat and we haven’t seen a fin, a tail or a gill of one. Seven grey long days at sea with not a single sighting on any our dives. Tomorrow we fly back to Cape Town and as I stare down into the shifting blue grey of the pacific I deepen my breathing. As adventure freedivers and ocean conservationists we travel to these special places around the world where it is possible to meet large ocean creatures. We’re resilient. Peter is an ex-USA swim team member, with the kick-strength of an aqua-man to push the camera deep down on one breath and I have over fifteen years of competitive freediving and a childhood of horse whispering to bring into the water. We’re ready. Big animals on one breath with a simple no strobes no flash rule underwater is what we do. We strive to capture uniquely inspirational human/ animal encounters to capture the imagination, open hearts and ignite love of our blue world. But we can't do that if the animal in question has failed to show up.
The rest of the divers are on the boat. The captain has pulled up the anchor and it’s time to go. The wind has picked up, the surface is choppy. We’re done.
From far below me I see a shape, a darker shadow flitting along the bottom. Is it? Can it be? One deep breath and we kick down. No need to talk, no need to discuss. We leave the surface and we see her. She is all black on top, white patches on her belly and she is bigger, so much bigger than I had imagined. She turns on her side to look at us and comes closer. Will she stay? Is she curious? Will she want to meet me… as always a deep doubt fills me. For a wild animal to choose an interaction is the greatest gift you can ever be given. Never to be taken for granted, nor something you can plan for. All you can do is show up. She slowly banks right, swoops like the most elegant bird imaginable and comes in right under me. Her heavily lidded, eye the size of a golf ball settles on me and we dance. My arms out, her wings stroking water as she glides alongside. She is curious, she stays. I don’t even notice Peter pushing the camera through the water, picking an angle, lining us up. Making sure we can one day share this story. My lungs are burning and my muscles are out of oxygen but I don’t want to go back. This moment, this creature, this blue away from grey – these five minutes of perfection is all I want. Five minutes. Five minutes we get for our weeks of travel, days and hours of searching and only one giant manta. Was it worth it? A thousand times over. It is always worth it.