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A day with dolphins

A Varsha Rao, Nov 6 2017, 12:23 IST
Spinner dolphins in Mauritius

Spinner dolphins in Mauritius

It's 9 am and the Mauritian jetty we are standing at is slowly coming to life. The sun is out, sunshine beautifully bouncing off the waters of the Indian Ocean. Boats, both big and small, are being readied for the day. Having woken up at six in the morning, we haven driven some 70-odd km through some sleepy villages, the capital city of Port Louis, salt fields, the Black River National Park and luxurious resorts to reach the Tamarin Bay jetty, from where we would be whisked off on a day-long dolphin cruise.

One of the major attractions for both Mauritians and non-Mauritians, dolphin cruises are perfect to pencil into your Sunday calendar. Such cruises generally offer dolphin-watching opportunities (obviously), some snorkelling time, a lunch out on the sea, a visit to an island, and front-row views to the oceanic landscape of this stunning island nation.

Bruno, our catamaran skipper, starts off by giving us some basic safety instructions, after which we set sail for the open water. Pretty soon, the jetty is but a distant dot in the landscape. We pass by mountains and beaches that seem to have materialised out of a picture postcard. Behind us, on our left, we are told to look at the grand Le Morne Mountain, whose summit is a huge, square-shaped monolithic rock.

Sitting pretty at the extreme south-western tip of Mauritius, this mountain has a sad history. In the 19th century, this mountain was a refuge for many runaway slaves. After the abolition of slavery in the country, when the police went to inform these slaves about their freedom, many slaves misunderstood their intention and jumped to their deaths. Today, the place is a World Heritage Centre and also a favourite spot of many hikers, and might also be home to a few ghosts of the past.

Coming to the star attraction of our cruise, dolphins, we are told these aquatic mammals head to Tamarin Bay every morning to catch up on some sleep, and mating. That's where we are headed, screams Bruno, over the blaring Mauritian music in the catamaran. As the sun climbs higher in the sky, the water turns turquoise green, and then a deep shade of navy blue.

The water games

Luck seems to be favouring us today: the weather is clear, the ocean calm, and in the distance, we hear dolphins splashing about in the water. Bruno informs us that the dolphins we see jumping out of the water are spinner dolphins. The dolphins put on quite a show for us: they leap out of the water, spin around and splash back into the blue, leaving us with dropped jaws and out of breath. It's a big pack, Bruno says, almost 100 to 300. As an acknowledgement of their playful antics, we collectively 'ooh' and 'aah' till the dolphins disappear deeper into the waters.

At the catamaran, chilled rum cocktails flow freely and the music turns more upbeat. Our fellow cruise companions, comprising Indian honeymooners and a Mauritian family, ditch their seats for coveted spots closer to the water. The sun has risen higher in the sky and the water has magically turned crystal-clear, and sports the lightest shade of blue ever possible. With the wind in our hair and ocean air in our lungs, we sail further into the ocean to look for that perfect snorkelling spot. Finally, the catamaran slows down, and while the crew sets up a grill by the side, we get ready to meet and greet our oceanic friends. Wearing a life jacket and a snorkelling mask, I stand on the edge of our catamaran, ready to disappear into the blue beauty beneath me. My worried mother mouths words of caution and goes ballistic when a crewmate jokes about sharks swimming in the waters below. I don't know if it's the utter serenity of my surroundings or my own fear, I can suddenly hear my own heart thud loudly. But what's a trip to Mauritius without a few splashes in the Indian Ocean? So, I take a deep breath, and leap into the air, screaming, before splashing into the cool waters below. I seem to go down for a while, deeper and deeper in the ocean, before rising up, a blob in the water. Bruno throws in a couple of bread pieces around us in the water, which lead an entire school of fishes to us.

Soon, a call for lunch is made and we reluctantly swim back to our catamaran. It's almost noon and the ocean looks spectacularly blue. We are told we need to get into the smaller boat trailing behind our catamaran to go see the world-famous crystal rock of Mauritius.

One of a kind

Situated about 200 m from the shores of the biggest lagoon in the Southern Hemisphere, this crystal rock is a fossilised piece of coral reef that juts out of the water. It looks like a rock bouquet and can only be found in two other places of the world: Maldives and Seychelles. We circulate this chunky piece of rock in our small boat before getting off on Benetiers Island. Named after the clam-shell-shaped crystal rock, this island is perfect for an afternoon snooze. You can also pick up some souvenirs from the numerous surfboard stalls here. Ever tried tamarind ice-cream? You might just find it on this island.

About 30 minutes later, we are back on our catamaran, on our journey back to the jetty and reality. We all are satiated and drowsy: you might wonder if it's all those rum cocktails. But no, it was the delicious combination of water, land and air that make Mauritius a heady cocktail. And mind you, one sip of this natural concoction and you will get addicted. And suffer from a hangover that you can't shake off, even after going back home.

Fact File

Getting there: Almost all hotels will be able to hire taxis for you from your
hotel to Tamarin Bay.

What to do: You can book the full-day catamaran dolphin cruise from 9 am to 4 pm, which include a barbecue lunch and snacks. Or, you could go for the shorter, two-three-hour version in a speedboat, which will include breakfast and swimming with the dolphins.

Book at least two days in advance as such cruises fill up quite fast. The simplest way to book is through your hotel.

Cost: The price for these cruises usually ranges between Rs 2,000 and Rs 3,500.

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