Last summer I took swimming lessons in hopes of feeling confident enough to get scuba certified, but observing the dive instructors on the ship, I knew it would have been too much for me.
The ship was a “speed catamaran” with “state-of-the-art computerized ride control systems.” This meant we got out to the reef faster, with less choppiness, and for that I was grateful. It still took an hour to reach the reef, and one hour of seasickness would have felt like eternity.
The dive instructors had convened the tourists who would scuba in the front of the ship. Most of them weren’t certified—they would get one hour of instruction and dive with the instructors.
As I watched, I recalled my mother exhorting me, 50 years ago, to finish my food with her mantra, “Think of all the starving people in China.”
They aren’t starving anymore. All the divers were young Chinese. The base tour wasn’t cheap—$176 US—and they would pay extra for each dive.
The instructors were hunky, sun-browned he-men. They demonstrated scuba hand signals, “This means low on air,” said one as he held his fist to his chest, “and this means out of air,” as he slashed his hand across his throat.
Suddenly a crew member yelled, “Dolphins!” and everyone rushed to look. Dolphins indeed! There were a dozen cavorting in our wake, and when a crew member went out on a wave runner they jumped for joy around him. It was absolutely delightful.
Everyone around me was taking photos and video but I desisted. There was no internet out here, and I had decided to leave my phone wrapped in a plastic bag with a small amount of cash and my Minnesota driver’s license. For all I knew my passport had been stolen. Maybe Aussies weren’t as honest as I’d thought. Would someone pay $176 to spend the day on a ship and pickpocket their fellow passengers? Probably not, but I wasn’t going to leave my phone in the open.
I took two photos of the sea all day, at our first stop. Then I decided to just enjoy and not try to capture it.
We snorkeled and dived for an hour at a site called Stonehenge, where rock formations jutted from the ocean. I understand the naming system, but Stonehenge is part of Agincourt Reef 3. The ship stopped at three sites out of 35 in the vicinity, depending on weather conditions.
The fish were astounding. There were angel fish with yellow, blue, and white vertical stripes and yellow tails and beaks. Whatever kind of fish Nemo the cartoon is, it was there.
I glanced down and make a muffled exclamation into my mask, “Giant clam!” My dad had played Giant Clam with us when we were little—sitting akimbo on the floor and pretending to eat us—the little fish. Giant clams really are giant—maybe four feet across.
When I am fortunate enough to be in an environment like this, I feel a peace and oneness with everything. I don’t believe in god but I do believe in heaven-like places and states of mind, and this was one.
The horn sounded and we exited the water for lunch. There was an enormous buffet with fresh seafood, fruits and veg, and healthy hearty salads.
As I ate, three women in the adjacent booth invited me to join them. They were Lebanese-Australians from Melbourne. They appeared to be my age but they all rocked bikinis. Was it their Lebanese skin they should thank for their faces being without a wrinkle? They were well-educated, smart and funny world travelers who were very kind to invite me to join them.
After lunch we stopped at Barracuda Bommie. A bommie is an underwater tower. I floated face down, mesmerized as I watched thousands of barracudas swirl around the bommie—down, down, down into the darkness until I couldn’t see anymore.
Why do scenes like this bring on such a feeling of peace, at least for me? Perhaps because it’s so humbling. I realize how vulnerable I am, and how insignificant.
At our last stop—Blue Wonder—the sea began to swell and I hit a wall of exhaustion and nausea.