The diving belles and the butterflies (in my belly)

Baby’s first real dive went well today. Minsky and I went to tioman this weekend. Quite the journey it was to get there: flight to singapore, cab to mersing and then a lousy 2 hour ferry ride to palau tioman. But lying on a hammock and sipping a g&t after 2 surreal dives, it felt worthwhile.

The dive centre I picked turned out be excellent. It felt casual and homely and yet professional enough. Not to mention all the dive masters were insanely good looking – the local malaysian dudes and the european drifters you tend to find in such locations.


Our first dive was to a place called north point. And it was all sorts of special. For starters, it was a “drift dive” so you let the current take you. Obviously this was my first drift dive so I was a little concerned about losing myself (spoiler: I didn’t). The dive master taught us the backwards roll and by that I mean he gave me a nice little push. The backwards roll is way more comfortable than jumping in. I felt like the ocean gave me a warm bear hug as I tumbled 360 degrees and surfaced back. We descended down the rope, down to 16 metres. The rope covered in algae and lichens looked a bit gross on the surface but looked lush and organic and felt like velvet under water. I almost didn’t want to let go but I eventually did. I had my buoyancy under control and felt really good about it – I didn’t even have to touch my BCD – my own lungs seemed to bring me closer to or farther from the reef.
Obviously the reef was mindblowing, the waters so blue you’d think they were dyed so, the fish oblivious to their own beauty and to our presence. I saw clown fish that were bigger than my hand living in massive pulsating anemones, angel fish and wrasses and strange snouty fish and so many others in colours unseen on land and varieties I am incapable of naming. At times I’d just stop, hug my knees, levitate and just take a mental photograph.
When I was in kenya on safari, there would be a span of several moments when I’d have seen the thousandth zebra or the ten thousandth wildebeest and I’d find myself thinking “well this is getting a bit boring”. At that precise moment, I would see something that would blow mind anew – a lioness on the road or pregnant cheetah with 2 more cubs and I’d get excited all over again.
I was right behind the dive master when he turned around, looked straight at me and gestured that I look ahead. I stood still and watched, not knowing what to expect – a shark? A turtle? No. A shoal of massive bumphead parrotfish was bounding towards us. They look so much smaller in the photos – I’d never imagined they were a metre long and quite so wide and such a gorgeous shade of blue! It would be accurate to say they galloped over to where we were – the largest one swooped into the sand, ate something, and then all swam away. It was mesmerising. I guess the ocean is a lot more than I’d imagined. Upto that point I’d only concerned myself with sharks and dolphins and turtles!*
Swimming was not easy. I was getting tired and I felt like I was struggling and going sideways a lot. And then it hit me. Drift dive. The current was supposed to drive me. I don’t know how it feels to fly so I can’t compare this to anything but I can tell you there is something wondrous about watching the ocean go by while being cradled by the current while gravity stopped being of import. Drift diving fucking rules.
The second dive at pirate reef didn’t look promising at all at first – there were a lot of tiny creatures compromising visibility, the sandy bottom didn’t help either. There was some weird wreckage too – concrete pipes and DHL containers. Then we swam upto a massive cubical concrete structure. It looked absolutely foreboding but the dive master gave the ok signal. I looked into it and I saw it. Barely visible, almost transparent, and a ghostly shade of silver – a great barracuda. Holy cow. About a second later, a brown batwing flew out of the structure. I went in, following the guy, following the barracuda. We were barely in and under and my heart wasn’t even beating, I was quite terrified – one wrong move with buoyancy and I’d shoot straight up and into a  concrete ceiling. The barracuda was already out in the open so what was the point anyway? The point was to be within kissing distance of a big, fat, star pufferfish. It was well camouflaged so it looked like an extra lump of concrete – grey and brown and spotty and absolutely motionless. It had big cartoony eyes and was cute in its ugliness. The ocean is just full of surprises!
We then swam over to what seemed like an endless expanse of white coral teeming with fish. Our dive master instructed us to descend really really low, barely inches away from the surface of the reef(it does get your heart beating). If you stood still here, you’d see hundreds of different fish within layers and layers of coral. Here, under a cave I saw two spotted blue sting ray sleeping. Baby pink with baby blue polka dots. Because the world is amazing like that.
*Admittedly I still want to see turtles under water. I think I did see one in palawan but it disappeared so quickly that I wonder if I hallucinated it. Elvish pixie was luckier, just snorkeling she saw rengiss island’s resident big shark, 5 baby sharks AND a turtle!
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