Cairns & The Great Barrier Reef, QLD, Australia

Cairns and GBR 045Dam you Australia and yet another totally lovable city. I feel like I’m cheating on Sydney/Melbourne et al, but Cairns is pretty dam fine.  Big backpacker scene, nice lagoon (if you don’t mind the crocodiles,) tropical weather, Rusty’s Asian market. What’s not to like.

Let’s cut to the chase though however.

The Great Barrier Reef.

Wow. No, like seriously, wow.

Not the reef itself per say. One reef is much like the other – bits of underwater fossils/rock really aint it. (Sorry Geology Rocks (Nikk) don’t shout at me.) The wow is reserved the most awesome tick box of a pretty jam packed week; scuba diving. (It’s been a good one for things to do before you die: Fraser, Whitsunday’s, now this.)

I’m not sure how it happened, maybe seeing Callum and Andreas do their PADI Open Water course(diving qualification) in Fiji. Or possibly my new found love for snorkelling.  Either way a seed was planted.

Brochure talk alert: “Sail to Michaelmas Cay; a picturesque reef sand island home to over 20,000 seabirds (mores’ the pity the little sods). It’s one of the most important beautiful spots in the Southern Hemisphere….” Yes please.

The morning was dreamy. I led up on deck in the blazing sun with my new yacht friends, Joanna (Poland) and Eleanor (UK). Elaine – is was so like the Girlicious video! Then we anchored and the nerves kicked in.

Here’s what we learnt in our 10 min ‘how to deep sea dive’ briefing. I’m happy to pass on this vast knowledge. You’re welcome.

1)      Don’t forget to ‘equalise’ as you go down. AKA pop your ears.

2)      A round A-OK sign means S’all good. Thumbs up means ahh I want a cuddle, get me up and out of here! Important not to confuse the two, despite them defying all logic and your natural instincts.

3)      Try to keep calm & remember to breath. Possibly the most ridiculous advice since ‘Don’t run at the Dingo’s’ earlier this week.

Apparently that’s all there is to it?!

Flippers – check, wet suit – check, tank that’s heavier than me on my back on – check. Ready to hit the open ocean then. Here goes.  The plan is you hold onto a metal bar just off the boat and practice your ‘skills’ i.e. clearing your mask underwater (snort through your nose like a walrus in case you were wondering). The other is what to do if you lose your air breathy thing (yep, I really should have been paying more attention, I’m sure this isn’t the technical term.)

It’s hard to accurately remember my real stream of consciousness, but it was something along the lines of:

“WTF, like WT actual F! To hell with diving – I want to pop my head above water, I to breathe through my nose! I don’t even like fish! I’m not sure I want hundreds of massive Nemos touching me! I hate being cooooold.” I could go on.

 Actually it was cold, but my adrenalin was kicking in to such an extent that this was the least of my problems. Kelly (the instructor) then comes along, presses some red button (never good is it) that deflates your life jacket and (literally) prises your hands off the bar to drags you to stage two. Downwards. The next bar you hold is 5 meters under. Sounds like nothing, but it’s the make or break bit.

It was by far the most bizarre sensation of my entire life. Breathing underwater; it’s not right is it. And breath you do, 100 times the rate of normal, thinking to yourself, ‘I know they’ve accounted for this and given us all extra oxygen, but how much extra, how much breathing is too much breathing???’

Physically it wasn’t that that demanding. It’s more mind of matter.  All you have to do is not bottle it.

The following got me through:

1)      What would I have to blog about, the fact that I nearly went diving on the GBR? I don’t think so. Anyway, Traveller Kim is made of tougher stuff.

2)      Don’t for one second allow yourself to think too hard about all spooky stuff that’s down there. Don’t think it, I said don’t think it! Or similarly how inconceivably insignificant you are in the vastness of it all. (Get me, I’m talking like it’s the first NASA space mission, aren’t I.)

Internal angst completed, eventually all of the panic subsides. You calm the hell down. You remember to breath (not as silly advice as I first thought) and you open your eyes.

It was totally like opening bit of Titanic; the creepy/shaky underwater bit, where they’re looking for that Heart of the Ocean bling. Apart from instead of the little robot-cam, you realise it’s actually you down there!

We’re under about 30 minutes in total. And just to clarify there’s no third bar, you let go completely and off you go (following Kelly) into the big wide fish tank that is the Coral Sea.

 At first you see the same stuff you do when you snorkel; giant clams, huge psychedelic schools of fish, hundreds of crabs fellas that poke their heads out of tiny rock and sand crevices. My favourite was Mr giant turtle who sauntered past minding his own business. I swear he looked magical.

Obviously it’s a hugely visual experience, but surprisingly your lesser used senses do all kick in. You can feel the presence of things around you before you see them, and you become develop a special awareness for how deep you are based on the popping in your ear cavities and the changes in temperature. And now i’m talking like I was morphing into Echo the Dolphin. But honestly as the pressure engulfs you and it it’s just utter stillness/silence it’s, perversely, utterly calming.

Let’s keep it real though, it wouldn’t be a funny story unless there was some kind of drama. Plus I already trailed it on facebook; The shark. Yes, I’ll repeat it; The Shark. A baby white tip hiding in his little coral cave he was. I looked at him, he at I. We had an understanding….

Like hell we did! I squealed of course and tried to run (although swimming might have been more productive) then remembered I was underwater. Then laughed at my own silliness. Which believe me is not a good idea with a regulator (ooh yeay I remember what it was called!) in your mouth. I had to put to use my extensive training – desperately blowing out air to clear it. Keep calm carry on and all that.   

So, yeah. I’m now a diver (well, introductory diver at a baby 10 – 15 meters) but hey I have a certificate and everything.

Us girls were pretty much hysterical with giddiness for the rest of the afternoon, and reiterated the words ‘amazing’ & ‘out of this world’ to anyone that would listen.  Incidentally, another cool interlude of the day was riding in a submarine. Worth a mention I thought, any normal day that would be big news, but today it’s a bit of an anti-climax. Worth adding to my James Bond repertoire mind you.

Funny how something you swore you would never do becomes one of the best things you could ever do. I seriously hope I’m not linking back to this post in 6 months raving about sky diving/bungee jumping. Although travel does funny things to you. *Note Appendix A:  My ‘Never say never’ disclaimer.

Oh, and the ‘funniest’ bit (I use the word, err wrongly? – is it is no laughing matter) was the following conversation that I had with a French travel agent girl when I booked it all:

Me: (Reading the health and safety waver that they make you sign) “Oh, I see you’re not really meant to fly 24h after diving?” (The drastic messing with pressure can give you the bends & you end being airlifted away to a decompression tank, forever bankrupt as it’s not covered on travel insurance.)

Her: “Yes, It’s dangerous, but it’s only an Intro dive so you should be ok as long as it’s not within 12 hours.”

Me: “Sure that’s fine. It’s my flights tomorrow evening” (I lied, it was at midday). “Out of interest, what might happen….”

Her:  “Well it’s your head really. It might…..(Searching for the word/translation)….It might……explode!?

All time best sentence that you never want to hear!

(I’m drafting this mid-air Cairns to Singapore. So if you’re reading it, was alive enough to post it during my 3 hour transfer at Darwin International, brain intact and not splattered all over a JetStar 747. Fingers crossed! )

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  1. Trackback: Dili, Timor Leste (East Timor) | Little Anantasin

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An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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