|Split view of ocean (photo from http://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/people/10-things-you-can-do-to-save-the-ocean.aspx)|
When once I gazed upon a lake or ocean, I simply admired the rhythmic waves and dazzling sun glinting off the inscrutable surface; what might be below that thin shiny film was alien, not compatible with human flourishing. Dipping ones eyes below was accompanied with fear akin to near-miss experiences with death. Now, however, I know better. Now I long to slip through that transparent skin between worlds, to snorkel among the strange creatures in their universe. And now I regularly dream of flying underwater, wondering at this other half of creation.
Which sounds all wonderful, but here is the thing. Snorkeling means you're within an arm's reach of air, of that joyous invisible lifesource.
However, from the nanosecond we booked our flights to Malaysia (see our other adventures here and here), Nick beseeched us to pretty please try scuba diving again. (Backstory: Our family did a Discover Scuba class in the Philippines last year. I strongly failed to appreciate unlearning things like Up = Air = Life. Beloved Husband and oldest son, however, were ecstatic. The other two kids were, well, whatever. You know.) Back to beseeching: We the family gathered a formidable array of counter-arguments: David’s ear hurts terribly more than 2 meters underwater (he was later banned from diving by a Malaysian ENT doc/diver), so the pressure was off him (ha! A diving joke!). For her part, Elisabeth was concerned about torture by things who bite/sting/rip or generally look weird; I, on the other hand, prophesied death by frenzied drowning. We fought with vigor, but in the end Mr. Cajoling Puppy Eyes wore down the resistance from our Death Panic Eyes. *Sigh.*
So, we found a (truly wonderful) dive shop owner who booked a Discover class for us two days hence. Summary (and spoiler alert): We had a fantastic time. Nick, overjoyed at his victory, slavered all over the dive shop (and then on the boat ride to the islands, and then even more while diving like a manic eel, which got him into a wee spot of oxygen-less troubles later, but even THAT didn’t diminish his wiggly joy). David snorkeled (jealously) above us; Sunny took excellent care of my irrational self; and Elisabeth was quite distracted from her fears by the personal attentions of a rather attractive young dive instructor.
|From left: me (failing to non-verbally cover regretful panic), joyous Nick, distractingly attractive dive instructor Nathan, suddenly-shy Elisabeth, David the causal, and Sunny (owner of Sunny Reef Divers, Kota Kinabalu and photo credit guy).|
For those of you who have not yet experienced the joy of this “lazy man’s sport” (quote from Sunny), I shall now offer some tips. Because I have 3 whole dives under my weight belt (ha! another diving joke!). So I'm an expert beginner. Fear me.
(Tip 1) Get a dive instructor who talks incessantly about safety. Seriously. While fitting us for equipment, Sunny shared stories about stupid divers, and his responses were reassuring (e.g., a guy who lied about his experience and couldn't do the basic skills wanted Sunny to certify him anyway. Nope.). When we got on the boat, the first things he (Sunny, not the lying diver) pointed out were the fire extinguisher and the first aid kit. Thus, many of my fears about potential problems (like, say, leg cramps or giant jellyfish or a certain husband swimming himself out of oxygen) were considerably eased. I did ask Sunny why in the WORLD he had a giant knife strapped to his leg, fearing the worst (large populations of underwater person-eating monsters). Nope: he carries it to slash open illegal fishing nets and thus release the captured creatures. Sunny gained so many points.
(Tip 2) Actually getting oneself into the water from the boat is the very scariest part. That backwards rolling “SPLOOSH!”
waters with 60+ pounds of gear is nearly as scary as walking down the wedding aisle. Or birthing babies, or going to dinner
parties, or whatever terrifying stuff you’ve lived through. The terror only lasts a few disconcerting seconds before your buoyancy vest pops you to the surface again and you laugh with joy that you're not dead.
(Tip 3) Once you’re in the water, you only have 1 job! JUST ONE! Forget all those gadgets and gauges and gear and just do your one job: breathe. Iiiiinnnnnn….. ooouuuttttt….. iiiiinnnnn…… ooouuutttt…. Listen to those soothing bubbles. You don’t even have to keep your eyes open. When you’re ready to open your eyes AND keep breathing, dive guy will steer you around and point out all the pretty fishes and hopefully check your gauges and stuff.
(Tip 4) This one is true for both snorkeling and diving: Try not to laugh while under water. Doing so rapidly fills your mask with water and then you can’t see the pretty fishes even with your eyes open because you’re
freaking out a tiny bit distracted by all the water now sloshing inside your nose holes. To be sure, fish are surely
funny and wonderful, and I am a big laugher on land, but refrain from such underwater behavior until you are skilled at mask-clearing. I, after several laugh-related near-drownings, am now a mask-clearing expert, which allows me to chortle rather often. This initially startled Sunny, but then he got over my switch from Panic Eyes to Joyous Bubble Face and let me do more of my own steering. Once he had me reach out toward a mid-sized clownfish (think Nemo), which happily approached and bit my finger. And I laughed and laughed and blew the water out of my mask, ready to breathe again and see what else I could see under the watery ceiling.
So. Elisabeth and I are willing to do more scuba diving, but please don’t tell Nick, because you KNOW he’ll next beg us to dive in caves and at night and with electric eels and who knows what else.
|Elisabeth & me. Photo by Nick.|
|Kota Kinabalu at the bottom of map; |
Jesselton Pier to the right of the labeled Resort.
We went to all but Sulug Island.
P.S. Wondering what we saw and where we went? We snorkeled and/or dived off four of the five TARP marine park islands (20 minutes off the coast of Kota Kinabalu). We saw so many, many, many kinds of fish and corals plus some medium-sized sting-rays, giant urchins, starfish and even a big cuttlefish (oh, be still my heart!!)! Here are a few of our pictures plus a list of the fish that Google and I could identify - perhaps only 1/3rd of the species. :)
Parrotfish (common and Bleeker’s; Scaridae)
Lined surgeonfish (Acanthurus lineatus)
Sergeant major (Abudefduf saxatilis)
Pufferfish & boxfish
Several species of clownfish (saddleback, false, etc.)
Wrasse (bluestreak cleaner; red breasted)
Anna’s magnificent slug
Blue Sea Star & burgundy sea star
Black long spine urchin (Diadema setosum)