Throwback to the trip to Great Barrier Reef Cairns Australia. This is my memoir of the Great Barrier Reef adventure.
Cobalt sea as far as the eye could see. A shade of blue that I had yet to experience. Words defeat me as to how to say what blue this was. Blue as deep and rich as the blue sapphire. Waves rumbling, rolling gently.
The bright afternoon sun above. Sea sparkling like diamonds as if someone had sprinkled them with an open hand. The boat moving slowly over a relatively calm sea. Me and my thoughts as we travelled back to the shore – a day full of marvel and adventure.
I hadn’t slept most of the night out of sheer excitement and maybe some trepidation. It was a beautiful morning I saw the sun rise over the ocean. A glorious morning it was. We were on the boat and out to ocean by 8 am.
As we left the shore and settled in the instructors started with training sessions on how to dive, what to do and not to do, punctuated with lots of light humour.
This kept the mood light in boat but I was feeling quite tense. I could barely swim, I had taken a couple of lessons in the pool and knew how to kick my legs. The huge, vast ocean looked tiny weeny bit monstrous to me.
Putting on suits and getting ready for the snorkel, I saw all these thrilled people jump in the sea. I thought to myself “ok this cannot be too bad”.
I climbed down into the blue water using the ladder, I was too scared to jump in. As soon I let go of the ladder and hit the water, I gulped a few mouthfuls of the sea water. I was trying to fix my snorkel mask. A realisation came back to me that I never liked the sea. I actually hated sea water.
With panic sinking in and my mask still not in place, I was getting all worked up and gulping more water. I would go down the surface and then come back up. My body was rigid with fear and I had totally forgotten how to kick my legs. I was splashing my hands trying to grab on to the surface. I was kind of drowning. I was drowning for sure.
Sohail had come in the water right behind me. I could hear him screaming and telling me to calm down.
“Kick your legs,” he said. “Stop panicking you are good”.
He then tried to grab me. I am not sure if he took my hands or my shoulders but I pulled him down with me. As I gasped for breath I swallowed more water and I pulled Sohail under the water with me.
My mind was filled with thoughts of my children, alone back home in Singapore with my Mother. I surely didn’t want to die in middle of nowhere and I definitely didn’t want to pull my husband down with me in this sea. At least he should survive. I pushed him away with all my might and managed to scream at him to stay away. I said something like don’t touch me I am going to be fine. Coming here was my idea and now it didn’t feel like such a great idea. To think I flew continents so that I could drown myself. Why did I get in the water I thought to myself.
I collected all my strength and told myself “Stop Laila! You are fine! You are good! No negative thoughts! Move your legs.” “We are definitely not dying today! We are a brave!” I continued this self talk in my head, I generally refer to myself as a we in self conversation it takes away the loneliness and helps to shut out everything else around me.
As I calmed down, I remember how to move my legs. I slowly made way to the rope with which the boat was anchored. I took hold of the rope and fixed my snorkel mask. I then put my head under the water to see if I could breathe. I practised that a couple of times. Then I moved my legs to see if the kicked, and caused me to move forward. I had a choice of calling it quits and leaving the water. Sohail had joined me at the rope and he asked me what I wanted to do.
Quit- I wasn’t going to quit. I had flown for 3 hours from Sydney to come to this place.
With my breathing sorted I had the freedom to look around. I cautiously peered down at the ocean bed. A sting ray. Wow! It was much smaller than the ones I had seen in aquarium and a much lighter shade. It was a phenomenal experience to see a sting ray below me. It swam gracefully. I was mesmerised by it’s subtle movements.
Enthralled I swam a little further and got a glimpse of corals that are part of the Great Barrier Reef. There was a rainbow under the sea. A canvas painted with all colors in the spectrum. I didn’t even know that there were so many colors in world. Time flew by. It was a relatively shallow part of the ocean only 7 meters deep at its best deepest. The reef close enough for me to reach out and touch. Touch these corals – centuries old. There were shoals of fish that swam beneath me. I even managed to see a turtle. I was over the moon. I didn’t realise that time just melted away. I had been in water over 20 minutes, I was no longer afraid and I felt at home in the sea.
We got back in the boat and went to the next site which was for diving. Though I had been worried about the dive as my ears always gave me trouble when pressure changed, I was now ready to go in the water again. I am happy to say that the boat staff were Super helpful and they got me into the water with no trouble at all.
The instructor took hold of my jacket and helped me go down. As we went down my ears hurt and really hurt quite a lot. I swallowed to equalise pressure. It was painful. Further breathing through the mouth was taking some getting use to. I was struggling but as we descended in the ocean we were surrounded by shoals of fish many tinier than my nails. I was enchanted to see how perfect their form was.
The sea was perfectly clear and I could see each color and each creature in great detail. Fish swam over me and under me, as I reached out to touch them, they quickly scattered away. The ocean floor was alive. Moving and dancing to a symphony of motion. Yellows, mustards, oranges, pinks, shades of red and all other colors the living coral glorious. Alive with sea creatures; fish so colourful that they reminded me of butterflies. Fluttering from one flower to the other. As we moved on I saw many big fish and the reef shark (a much smaller shark). The big fish were as fascinating as the small fish. I was spellbound surrounded by such magnificent creatures.
My eyes sparkling with marvel and my heart beating a bit faster I paused; staring intently at each creature. Trying to memorise every tiny detail, trying to etch its picture on the slate of my heart. I had no camera under the sea to record this memory. No pictures to look back on. Just memories that were etched in my mind.
I don’t recall what the instructor did or how deep we went. I no longer felt pain in my ears. I no longer even realised that I was in this vast warm ocean. My Husband was next to me and he continued to hold me hand. He told me later that I had a childlike wonder in my eyes.
As we surfaced I was trembling partially from the cold and partially from the beauty of nature that I had just experienced.
Needless to say I went for another dive in the next location – the Paradise Reef. There I saw a family of turtles, a big fish the size of a mini boat and the symphony of colours under the sea on the coral reef.
With the dive done we headed for the shore just in time to see a marvellous sunset.
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