Saturday, April 24, 2010

holy cow.

Its hard for me to try and put into words some of the experiences of the last week. I'm going to quickly try, but I know anything I write on a whim such as this will be disappointing compared to what lives in my memories. We spent some really great days in Sydney - a city of which we were both totally surprised to love. It was sunny and the city was bursting with active people enjoying the weather in heaps of space outside in parks or near the harbor. We also have a few days in Sydney at the tail-end of our trip, so I think it felt great just to aimlessly walk the streets with no direction or agenda.

Then...we went to Cairns. The city itself wasn't much to be desired. Streets lined with horrible signage coaxing tourists to every possible activity, and where there wasn't tourist information shops, there were really gross bars where twenty somethings go to get absolutely wasted for days on end drinking two-for-one shitty beer. We had specifically made the trip to Cairns to snorkel and dive the Great Barrier Reef boarding a two-day, live aboard ship called The Kangaroo Explorer.
With a day to kill before calling the sea our home, we decided to rent a couple of scooters. Having never ridden a scooter, I was naturally terrified. I could probably write an entire blog on the fears I've experience during this trip. I'm starting to wonder if getting older is making me a more nervous person. In any case, I conquered and by the end of the day I was sad to have to give my scooter back!

The following day we boarded our boat and spent two hours making our way to the Great Barrier Reef. The ride was a large indication of what it was going to be like for the next two days in that seas were definitely not calm.

Upon arrival we were immediately briefed on what was to be expected for the next forty eight hours, including scary tales on all sorts of deadly creatures we may encounter while snorkeling and diving the reef. We were signed on to do five different snorkel times: 1pm, 4pm - then sleep - 6am, 8am, 11am and if possible, once again at 1pm. We were also given an opportunity to try an introductory scuba dive - something that in theory I knew I should do given I was in one of the most incredible places to dive on earth, but one I wasn't sure I could physically and mentally do.
We were shown to our "quarters" and then it was off to immediately suit up and hit the reef. First we were given stinger suits because after all, it is stinger season and a person CAN DIE from being stung by one. Yep. Good stuff. Then fins (NOT flippers. I was yelled at countless times for this mistake). Then a mask. Again, NOT goggles. And then poof we were swimming among coral and fish and sharks and barracudas and turtles! There were five of us in the snorkel group and the rest of the people were students completing their Scuba certification. It was Fred and Matt from France, Tina from Sweden and Tyson and I from the States. Feeling a little nerdy not with the big kids in the open water class, we decided to call ourselves the Extreme Snorkelers.

When we returned to the boat, the Extreme Snorkelers were informed that if we wanted to do the introductory dive it would have to take place at the 4pm dive session. Like, in two hours. Reluctantly I decided to do it and within minutes we were being briefed on what to expect during our dive. Dan, our dive instructor, explained that while in the water we would first be lowered down along a rope to a bar several meters under the ship. We would be asked to remove and replace the breathing device from our mouths showing him we were actually breathing under water, and not just holding our breath. We were also told how to clear our masks when water comes in under the water and how to pop our ears for the inevitable pressure we would experience being lowered deep below the surface. I'm telling you, the anxiety was mounting. By the time Dan finished, it was time to suit up.

We literally had no more than a minute or two for reflection before we were in wet suits, weights attached, tanks clipped on, and told to JUMP into the water. The terror was beginning to make me panic, but I didn't want to hold up the group. Tyson was lowered down first. I was next. At first the feeling of breathing in and out through the little air mouthpiece was fine. I was drawing long and deep breaths just as instructed so that my tank would not run out of air by using it up with scared panting-like breaths. I kept having to clear my mask of water though, and pretty soon I had a massive anxiety attack while waiting for the others to come down one by one. Sadly I slowly made my way to the surface and breathed in a massive breath of fresh HUMAN air. Ahhh, it felt amazing. I was alive. I was not dead. I did not stop breathing and die under the water. Shortly after, Dan surfaced asking me what my problem was. I told him I couldn't do it. I was simply too scared and its just 'not for me.' He paused, told me that was all great and good but I was going to do this. My mind bordered on mental breakdown. Then Dan hit the button - whatever scuba thing it is that removes air from your pack and keeps you afloat - and the weights kicked in and soon I was descending below the water line again. I tried everything possible to stay calm. My insides were so scared I barely had time to realize that I was six and a half meters below the surface of the sea and looking at the Great Barrier Reef close up. After fifteen minutes I finally relaxed and began to realize what I was doing. And after about twenty five minutes we came back to the surface. Relieved and on the surface, I reeled with adrenaline for several hours afterward. I can't say that the experience was something I really enjoyed, but it was definitely the craziest, most intense thing I've ever done in my entire life. I'm definitely glad I did it. I'm definitely glad its over. And I'm also really thankful that Dan was such an ass about the whole thing basically forcing me to do it. Because I wouldn't have done it. I was ready to climb up the boat ladder right then and there. Its hard to even write about. I can't really explain the feeling of being so terrified for my life, and yet, people dive every day and in the end I was fine. I did it.

After the dive, it was all about extreme snorkeling. Our tight-knit group was up before dawn and hit the water at six the next morning.

We saw so many amazing creatures and had a blast the entire day.

And when the experience was all over, I was really sad to say goodbye to both the reef and our new friends. I was reminded for several days afterward though considering my extreme sea vertigo.
More stories and photos to come. We spent another three days and 2127 kms in the car driving from Cairns to Byron Bay, en route to the beach!


Erin said...

Holy cow is right! My palms got sweaty just thinking about making that dive! But I definitely have a little scaredy-cat gene in me ;). Good for you lady! Sounds like an amazing, unforgettable challenge and can't wait to hear more about it & see more pics. xo

Anonymous said...

thank you for you to make me learn more,thank you∩0∩

Teresa O'Driscoll said...

Wow. I can totally relate to your fear. I am deathly afraid of drowning and don't think I would have had the courage to say yes to doing the dive in the first place. Good for you for have done so many amazing things on this adventure...very admirable and inspirational!