I’ve been obsessed with whale sharks for years and really caught the bug when i swam with them in Western Australia in 2015. I hit the Google to find more opportunities and found the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (that’s a mouthful!). After a few days in Singapore, I had no idea what to expect when I arrived on Dhigurah Island for my two-week volunteer stint. The previous volunteer group sullenly informed me they hadn’t seen any whale sharks in their two weeks. Damn, I thought, I guess I can hit up the Yucatan for the summer whale shark season.
I never thought I would so thoroughly enjoy the experience. Not only did we see whale sharks 7 out of 10 days, including once while diving, but we totally connected as a group of volunteers and staff. I’ve traveled a lot so I’ve experienced awesome wildlife encounters and groups that have a lot of fun together, but I rarely experience them both at the same time. That specialness made the experience even more poignant and allowed us to form the type of bond reserved for summer camp during your formative preteen years. [In full disclosure, I never went to summer camp so this experience was what I imagine summer camp was like! Don’t ruin my fantasies!] And just like summer camp:
- We spoke of dirty things like we had never seen the other side of puberty.
- We had inner jokes and hashtags, like we were speaking our own language #yolo #yolomaldives #3words #menageanous #frommageatrois#focusharder #wristicicles #magnum#3nightsaccommodationinsunnyhawaii #sharkdab #twerkinghard#datingpentathlon #FCM #Clothingoptional #BootieBarrel #applepower#0or7sandwiches #wait5moreminutestofeelrealhunger #doubledessert#toospicytoospicy #deepdirty #conlengua #maspordentro#isolatingDJmusic #trashbillrubbishray #eatingcoconut#lovethekindyoucleanupwithamopandbucket #inlovewiththeKokko#eurotripsummer2017
- We jonesed for alcohol that was forbidden. Instead, we made do with abusing coffee shots and hookah. Amazing what type of high extreme sun exposure, dehydration, and a couple hits of shisha can give! #livelikethelocals
- We got island fever, schoolgirl crushes. My face is turning red thinking about all the things we said we would do…not to mention I don’t think I’m that flexible. Now, almost a week off the island, I’m not sure why my island goggles were so strong, but it sure made life fun!
- We ate unhealthy amounts of pastries, processed carbs, and gummy bears
- We played embarrassingly bad volleyball
- We got matching friendship bracelets!!!
- We did yoga (the kids do that sort of bourgie stuff in summer camp now, right?)
- I made friends that I hope to stay in touch with even though we live in different places (easier with FB than old-school penpalling). I’m stoked to have met an awesome wingwoman, Bridgette, who would totally take one for the team and reminded me of nonstop giggling sessions of junior high.
I also learned a few things about myself:
- I have a beautifully dirty and inappropriate mind, and when that mind gets together with like minds, oh dear… Not much has changed since my friend in HR in my first job gently reminded me it was not okay to assess prospective candidates based on their hotness and single status. I still don’t understand why not.
- I bring a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm, especially to things I love like fuckin’ whale sharks!! Several people remarked this to me, and I actually find it surprising, because for the last few years before my journey, I felt like a ball of negative energy, lethargy, and criticism.
- I’m really into team building and inclusion. I love helping (prying) people out of their shells with mildly invasive hypothetical questions (e.g., “what superpower would you want and why?”). This is not something I consciously do; I guess I just get bored and start talking to anybody, everybody. It’s also a great way to hide your crushes…
Summer camp bonding
Diving / Marine life: An intention this year was to get back to nature and the ocean. Between bull sharks in Playa and whale sharks/mantas/etc. in the Maldives, I’ve really enjoyed nature’s amazing gifts!
Male: I spent a morning wandering around the busy Maldivian capital and enjoyed the short domestic flight and speedboat ride to Dhigurah