Humpbacked whales

Published: February 11th 2016
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The coach that took us from Cap Haitian, in Haiti, across the border to Santiago, in the Dominican Republic, was the newest and shiniest vehicle we had seen in Haiti. It seemed out of place.

But it is amazing what a change there can be, just driving across a border. All we did was cross a river ... well, that and be searched, photographed and fingerprinted. It is as if we drove from sub-Saharan Africa, across a river, and into Spain.

Even the agriculture is different. In Haiti the farming was small scale, more like allotments and a lot of land was left unused. In the Dominican Republic there are larger farms - we see many fields of rice, bananas and tobacco.

Tired after our seven hour coach journey to Santiago, we decided to eat in the closest restaurant, TGI Fridays! An air conditioned restaurant serving western food, it seemed so strange.

The next day, we headed north over the hills to stay in the Tubagua Eco Village, set high on a hillside. Our wooden cabin was new and smelt of sawn wood. We have a 180 degree view across the coastal plain to the sea. Overhead, turkey vultures cruise on the thermals.

Our days at Tubagua were spent slowly. We walked; we read; we watched the birds, the butterflies, the moths and the bats. We also ate well, on local food, cooked for us by a lovely group of local ladies.

All too soon, we are up before dawn to get down to the coast road. We have to catch the very early and only bus of the day, heading east to Samana. The rather old bus is soon speeding us along the coast, passing white beaches and palm trees.

Samana is set on the Caribbean's largest bay, so large that we cannot see the other side. Despite its size, the water is only 20 metres deep and, because of this, humpbacked whales use the bay as a nursery.

We head out on a boat, cameras and binoculars scanning the waters optimistically. The first whales that we see are a mother and her small white calf. Mum is around 15 metres long and would weigh in at around 40 tons. The calf, just a few weeks old, is 2 metres long and about a ton. It looks tiny next to its mother.

The mother is nursing the baby on milk that the calf takes while underwater. We see them when they surface for air. Luckily for us, the baby can only stay down for 2 minutes but the mother typically does 10 minutes or so on each dive.

We move on so that we do not disturb the nursing and find a pair of adults swimming and diving together. They are probably thinking about pairing up but nobody really knows anything about how this process actually happens. We get some great views on them. The boat's photographer is trying to take pictures of the tail. Whale tail markings are unique and they use them to track which whales are seen where.

After a few hours on the water we head back to Samana feeling rather lucky to have seen so many whales.

Next stop - Las Galleras, on one of those palm-backed, brilliant white sand beaches.

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