I awakened from my slumber earlier than I would have preferred but there was a famous reef waiting off shore begging to be seen today. The transfer boat ride that would take me to the main vessel took us through choppy waters and I could feel every bit of the rising waves that came across our path. As bad as the waters were, I managed to keep it together despite the constant churning but the same could not be said for the rest of the passengers. The main staircase that ran up the center of the boat was lined with puke bag toting tourists trying to keep it together. After an hour and a half, I was now at the Great Barrier Reef boarding the floating hotel (The Reef The Encounter) that I would be staying on for two days and one night. Although I paid for a dorm room, I ended up getting my very own room; the boat occupied more workers than customers ready to await my every need. The first water session was a snorkel where I would get my first look at the Reef. Even standing atop the boat I could see how vast this massive structure truly is clearly stretching beyond my own view. Just off the main base of the reefs where only clear white sand can be found is a prominent blue hue that mirror the sky on its clearest day. Hovering over the reef itself is a clear divergence from that shade with an emerald blue hue blanketing the color spectrum held below. Peering over the side of the boat I could see with perfect clarity the fish come by curious of our arrival. Once in the water I realized I would be in for a life changing couple days. Not only were the waters fully absorbed by the sheer quantity and variety of fish in its midst, the coral dazzled in all its neon and fluorescent glory. Every shade of the rainbow could be found and not one of them lacked in their fullness and brightness: greens, purples, pinks, yellows, oranges, blues, etc. it had it all. All the while, fish went about living their lives careless about me as an intruder, nibbling on coral, tucking themselves in anemone, and chasing smaller fish. For the most part, I let the waves carry me, sloshing me from side to side as I took in the show from above. After getting out of the water, we ate a gourmet style salad and then it was time to prepare for my first dive in nearly two years. As you would expect I did not remember a whole lot from what I learned and was in need of a refresher. They broke it down for us, a father and son from San Diego and me, showing us all the underwater and above water signs, how to properly put on the vest and tank, and reemphasizing the need not to touch the coral due its potential sharpness. Being my first official dive besides my certification, I wanted to focus on the basics and decided to save the underwater camera I hired for my next dive. All of the dives (six in total over the two days) were just a bit over forty minutes each with some reaching as far as 18 meters deep. During the dive, we saw the same bountiful display of colors but with more regularity. We passed some massive dead clams, clownfish (aka Nemo) hiding in their home made of anemone, and parrotfish that had appeared to have just left a color run with streaks of bold neon colors stretched across their bodies, among many other fish and coral that would take a novel to write in full. Halfway through the dive, we got up close and personal with a sea turtle that was feeding off the vegetation of the reef. The turtle was none too afraid and happily allowed us to enjoy its presence while it used its flippers to move around the coral. What a sight! Before rising back to the surface, I got to see a stingray camouflaging itself in the clear white sand. Just a bit further away, my eyes caught sight of a couple reef sharks that were no more than a couple meters long. The sharks were not threatening, at most they might eat a few Nemos when given the chance. We relaxed aboard the vessel while the crew positioned the boat at another spot on the reef. I found out through one of the guys working on the boat that they have hostie positions in which people work on the boat for long hours with light duties and in return they get room and board and two guaranteed free dives. Honestly if I had not already purchased my ticket I would have easily done that for a solid week. Ahhh, how sweet that would have been; oh well, how would I have known a great opportunity like that existed. Upon plunging into the water for my second dive, I met the loyal fish that the crew called Frank. Frank is a humphead Maori Wrasse the size of my torso with a personality that can be best described as a puppy dog. If you energetically wave both your hands at him with your palms showing, Frank will swim in your direction and allow you to cuddle with him and rub his “snout” as you glide your hands along the length of his body. The species Wrasse is a beautiful wish as well with a mixture of blues and purples highlighting its body. Deeper below, we saw more of the same wildlife as before but then again all that sea life is difficult to keep track of. The coral itself is stunning; I would have enjoyed my time on the reef even without a single fish in sight so long as the bright coral stood within my view. After a while, I began to recognize much of the same coral but I didn’t care I could have stayed down there for hours at end if it didn’t kill me. With the exception of the rhythmic movement of the water and the bubbles that escaped our breaths, everything was quiet and perfectly peaceful. The photos I took no matter the angle and accuracy could never capture what I witnessed with my very own eyes. Truly indescribable! Even though I went with the father and son that welcomed me to join their guide, I still got to venture off at points and absorb the individuality of being one with the water and the environment I was in. After a while I began to feel like a natural gaining level buoyancy and working my way into tighter crevices without kicking the coral with my outstretched fins. Simply observing a reef shark bide its time in the water awaiting its prey was a treat in itself. On board, we consumed our dinner composed of greens, potatoes, and a filet of fish covered in a yellow lemony cream sauce. After all the peanut butter and chickpeas I went through I deserve this! As the sun set, my first night dive approached. Obviously less would be seen with the coral devoid of color from the lack of sunlight but we were promised other activity by way of lobsters, crabs, and sharks (some crew saw a bull shark recently; now that would be intimidating!) as well as fluorescent plankton. We each had a torch to light our paths but everything was still incredibly dark. Not many fish ran across my path but I always kept my eyes on the lookout for something larger such as a shark. As scary as a shark sighting would be, the surreal feeling of finding one would surpass that fear. No sharks could be found during the dive but the fact that at any one time a shark could show up in the blink of an eye out of the shadowy depths of the coral was cool as well. Simply observing the drastic change from day to night was shocking and worth a look. We ended the night with a banana creme pie that was to die for. This boat trip didn’t allow you a moment to get bored; you were either in the water seeing one of the most amazing things in the world or eating great food, so yeah life was pretty good on the boat. I was beyond exhausted so I finally got to sleep early for once in a long while in my own room in a well chilled room. For one night, I didn’t feel like I needed to strip down to nothing to find a way to fall asleep. I drifted off as the waves rocked me to sleep.
Down Under Day 50: One Wonder of the World