Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: Whale sharks, Chole Island. Tanzania
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago … having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.
Herman Melville, Moby Dick
A Drop in the Ocean
In one of the great classics of English literature, Captain Ahab takes Ismael and the rest of the crew on a wild goose-barnacle chase around the seven oceans. He is searching obsessively for the elusive and legendary white whale, which is like looking not so much for a needle in a haystack as for a drop in the ocean. But sometimes a drop is all it takes.
Close to 80 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, and that is close to the percentage of water in our bodies. The concentration of salts and trace elements in the oceans also matches that in our bodies. Just a tiny amount of a substance or lack thereof, can be the difference between severe illness or well-being.
The same principle applies in nature, where every stitch in the weave of the biological membrane is interlinked and helps to hold the whole together. Ecosystems are the patches that, woven together, maintain the health of the entire biosphere. When you start pulling out threads, undoing the stitching around the seams, the integrity of the fabric is compromised.
Most of life on our planet begins with tiny seeds, from algae and sponges, through jellyfish and molluscs to vertebrates, fishes and mammals. There is even one theory that life on earth was seeded by the detritus of supernovas or meteor impacts. And it was in the oceans that these “seeds” first flourished and began the dance of life we call evolution.
The dawning of the age of sailing ships and international trade was the beginning of the great maritime unraveling. In spite of this this we still spend more on one shuttle mission than all oceanographic research ever conducted and the seas remain a mystery. After two centuries of increased hunting, by the mid 20th century every whale species was swimming swiftly towards the great forever, until whaling was banned worldwide.
Sea turtles followed them and only the most ardent conservation efforts have managed to stem that tide, but still many individual species are highly endangered. The biggest problem with extinction, other than the actual loss of the species itself, is that you do not know what effect it will have on the biological system until long after it is gone.
Have a look at our video below:
We stayed at Chole Mjini while photographing and researching this chapter:
A World Beyond.
Chole Mjini is not a luxury hotel, and was never meant to be. “Development and support for the people of Chole island was – and remains – our motivation and the primary purpose of the Chole Mjini Lodge,” declare lodge owners Jean and Anne de Villiers on their website. “All we need ourselves to make us contented is fresh seafood, fruit and salads, a good mattress and fine quality sheets, stimulating conversation, new activities every day, ice-cold beer and palatable chilled white wine, hot bean coffee and ‘proper’ tea and then a hot shower after hours in the sea. Our aim is to provide these simple luxuries to every visitor to Chole Mjini.”
When you appreciate this you more easily understand when they say the lodge will not appeal equally to everyone. For example itwill not be found amenable to people who want their tea delivered on a silver tray: room service here is a pulley on the outside of your timber tree house. You won’t find anywhere to plug a hairdryer in nor even a choice of courses on a menu.
For those who like their day to follow their plan or schedule, systematically and precisely as they like their lives to run “back at the office”, this will seem chaotic but it is anything but. Here life follows the most basic rhythms, the clock kept by the sun and the tide. What can confuse visitors is that here “high tide” means a flowing one, while “low tide” is the ebb.
Chole is a place where you kick off your shoes, put on a sun hat and feel the sway of the leaves, the spin of the planet and shrug off your cares. You should also take off your watch because here the tides,rather than mechanical time, determine how the days unfold.