Thursday, July 28, 2016

Stranger in a Strange Sea

 "Yeah, the water's salty, it burns, and it'll get in your eyes and mouth. But don't worry, you get used to it." As soon as the scuba master said this, I decided diving wasn't for me. Unfortunately, at that point I was treading water, a belt of lead weights around me, looking as ridiculous as only a fat man in a skintight wetsuit can look. We were 20 minutes away from a decent shoreline. There was no backing out.

He was right. it burns, and you feel like you'll never stop blinking. The shampoo they wash your underwater goggles with to ensure they don't fog up, stings. But you do get used to it. One minute, you are sputtering and gasping, trying to get used to the strange sensation of breathing through your mouth, and only through your mouth. The next, you know exactly what Dorothy meant when she realised it wasn't Kansas anymore.

This is a world where the normal rules don't apply. Nothing works like it should. Light doesn't. Nor does gravity. The plants don't flutter in the breeze, they sway to the gentle ebb and flow of the currents, or the silent probings of the marine life that cuts through them. It's wet, of course, but it's wet all around, so it doesn't feel wet anymore. Instead, it just is....a slow motion world where you are the alien invader. Bug eyes peek at you from within creamy white bulbous shoots that gently float in the water. It's their world. You are just a visitor.

You're told not to touch anything, and your instructor makes sure you obey, firmly guiding you away from arm's reach of every interesting, spiky, gelatinous, shimmering, sparkling, crusted or just plain weird object you see (magnified 2.5 times thanks to your underwater goggles). It's the world's scariest "look, don't touch" policy, because you don't know which little sting gives you a mere 7-hour itch, and which one puts you in a hospital. The presence at your shoulder does, of course, but he would't tell you even if he could. Which he can't. So you drink in through your eyes, while hoping you don't drink anything in through your mouth. Yes, he showed you what to do if your breathing apparatus comes off. It's just that you are 30 feet underwater, and you'd really rather not check if you remember all the steps in the correct order.

In fact, you're quite helpless, being pulled and pushed and occasionally tapped on your shoulder if there's something interesting you might be missing. Your dive master points at what seems like an surprisingly even, jagged split in a rock before disturbing the water with a wave of his hand. The opening snaps close, and you realise it was a gigantic clam, so crusted with corals and mud so as to be indistinguishable from the bedrock. A fish wiggles by, paying you scant attention, every colour of the rainbow and then some playing on it's gleaming surface, Sea cucumbers, one and a half foot long and nearly as wide rest on the ocean floor, barely registering as living creatures. Schools of fish show more coordination than a Chinese regiment, moving as if controlled by a singular, erratic, and above all, lightning-quick puppet master.

And then, just like that, it's over. A quick visit to the sea bed to experience the novel sensation of walking 30 feet underwater, and you are pulled back to the world of noise and motion, away from the comforting, insistent pressure of water all around you. Suddenly, you realise you are wet, you are cold, you are hungry because you didn't have breakfast, and your throat is parched. Time moves. You clamber back into the waiting boat. Waiting to take you away from this world of blue and green dreams. Back to reality. Back to the familiar. Back to where you belong. Back to where the water is sweet and the eyes don't burn and the plants move like they are supposed to. So why, as I sit on the swaying deck and look at the emerald water below, do I want to slip quietly back in, and be an alien once more, in a world that isn't quite mine?

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