Thursday, September 22, 2005

Great Barrier Reef

I took a two-day cruise on the Great Barrier Reef. I have never actually been on a ship before, so that in itself was pretty exciting. We spent two days doing basically nothing but eating and spending time in the water. Here was the view from the ship.

The ship was quite nice. It had one big main room with a dining area, lounge and bar. The ship was made to house 50+ people, but we had only 10 passengers on our trip. There were more staff than passengers! We got to spread out and take over the whole place, each of us taking our own room and bathroom. It was a really nice group on the trip, too. Three guys from Austria, two girls from the UK, a couple from San Fransisco who were on their honeymoon, a guy from Switzerland, a girl from Japan, and me.

On my first go out in the water, I tried snorkeling and it was really cool. Even just with a snorkel I could see a lot of interesting fish and coral. On my second time I decided to try scuba diving. Getting suited up and learning the basics was a bit complicated, and on the recommendation of another passenger I wore two wet suits since I had been really cold while snorkeling. Great idea, by the way. I was so much more comfortable and felt like I could stay in the water forever.

The first time I got suited up, I nearly fell over backwards - that scuba tank is heavy! They gave us a lesson about all the things that can go wrong and how to deal with them. One of the things you have to watch out for is allowing too much pressure to build up in your ears as you dive down, as this can make your ear drums burst. To prevent this, you have to frequently plug your nose, close your mouth and blow out. This is called the Valsalva manuever (there's a little shout out to my friends in the autonomic lab).

After all this preparation, I finally got to dive into the water. The sensation was amazing. I love swimming anyway, and the ability to dive down without ever having to come up for air is so cool. It was almost like flying. Suddenly all this heavy gear weighs nothing. And all of the things I saw! I was like being on another planet. I saw a huge turtle, all sorts of coral, lobsters, anemone, sea cucumber, a giant clam, hundreds of fish, and three white-tip reef sharks (apparently these are not dangerous to divers).

In addition to a few daytime dives, we took a night dive and a dive at dawn. For the night dive you carry a waterproof flashlight, and that was even more amazing. To be surrounded by total blackness, then suddenly reveal a whole world going on at the bottom of the ocean was indescribable. I felt like I was discovering things for the first time in the world. There was a full moon that night, too, which made it even more beautiful. The ship had a hot tub to warm up in after the dives, adding to a fantastic night.

The dawn dive was great, too. Waking up and putting on a cold, damp bikini was no fun at all, but once I got in the water I wouldn't have traded it for the world. I got to see the world waking up, with sting rays still half buried in the sand, and the whole pace of things much slower.

I would love to go diving again. I hear that Belize and Fiji are great places to dive. Maybe I will get my certification and head to those places one day.

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