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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Snorkeling: A Wimp’s Account

One of my recurring dreams (I have a few, but this is the oldest) is being able to breathe underwater.  Which is actually kind of strange, because I’ve never been a fan of swimming.  In fact, I’m a pretty big wimp. I don’t really love traveling to new places, or trying new foods, or facing whatever is racing to scare/nibble/sting/mutilate me underwater. I was the kid (and, ok, now I’m the woman) who screams easily when startled.  Dad’s classic dead-raccoon-around-the-basement-door fright is perhaps the best remembered by my mother; Nick and my boys continue to scare me by popping paper bags, hiding under the bed, etc.  They seem to be amused by my survival instinct.

Back to swimming.  As a kid we had one of those 3-foot-tall above-ground pools.  I loved that; you could stand up anywhere to escape Dad’s shark-chase antics.  I then married into a family that adores Lake Michigan.  I agree that the lake is quite lovely, up to about chest-depth, but I’m not a fan of big waves that interfere with that enjoyable hobby I like to call “breathing.“  After taking swimming lessons from a college student in Iowa I became slightly more confident in water, but that was an indoor pool, folks.  No waves; no malicious critters. 

We then moved to Korea, which is an ocean peninsula that enjoys lots of waves and a whole lot of supposedly edible and sundry other creepy creatures surely intent on sliming, biting, or at least scaring me.  So, again, "swimming" is all nice up to maybe my waist. Any deeper than that and I get a certain “I’m going to DIE RIGHT NOW” feeling that propels me back to the beach.

Interestingly, Koreans don’t seem to swim in the ocean just for fun.  Wading, yes.  Clinging to personal floatation devices in a tightly monitored swim zone, yes.  Diving to collect unmentionable animals to eat or sell, yes.  But Koreans always wear Proper Gear.  Which means virtually no exposed skin.  Which makes me suspect they know something about lurking hurters in the water.

Anyway.  For some reason, Nick and I decided to take our anniversary trip to Jeju-do, which is a volcanic island just south of Korea’s mainland. Besides lava-related stuff, it features beaches.  And I like walking on beaches and watching Koreans at beaches and watching Nick play in the water from the vantage of beaches.  Under the right conditions of Coke Zero, Excedrin, and chocolate, I can even enter the water and remain calm amid flotillas of baby jellyfish swooping around my legs.  But truly swimming in the ocean?  That ranks really, really low on my fun scale. 

But…Nick really really wanted to go snorkeling or scuba diving in the Carribean-ish waters of Jeju. I countered with renting sea kayaks and paddling the waves.  And insisted that NICK get snorkeling/scuba gear and having himself a good old time.  But…no.  He was persistent.  Insistent.   Possibly even annoying.  He had already ceded the seafood battle (I’m SORRY that seafood either looks/smells revolting or looks like giant insects).  But I love my adventurous (risk-taking) husband and do not wish to make him sad.  So he found a dive shop whose owner speaks some English and is willing to rent us snorkeling gear and even recommends a good place to go. And so, I had to go.  I actually had to stick my whole body–even MY FACE--into the ocean and just pray nothing evil would drag me out to sea.
All Blu dive shop in Seongwipo, Jeju-do.

Happy Nick with the All Blu owner guy and his adorable bed head.  

OK, I realized that I wasn't being 100% rational.  But here was my mental scenery, dear reader:  I have a deep need to appear competent at all times; I hate crowds of people; I am a teensy bit phobic about putting my soft self into places where invisible things will try to hurt me. Oh, and I like breathing. But Nick is as happy in the ocean as a clam puppy playing in its first snowfall.  My left brain won the argument for the sake of my marriage. 

So we got the stupid gear, found the stupid location, descended many slippery stairs, and arrived at a seaside pile of sharp volcanic rocks covered with people.  Some were even smashing just-found creatures then apparently enjoying their fresh-from-the-sea flavors.  Ewww.  I was not in my happy place. I was present but not speaking.

We found a slightly less-crowded spot on the rocks, I got on my mask and snorkel, waded into the treacherously rocky pool, and was promptly pushed down by a wave.  I was thus officially scraped up and righteously afraid angry.  I do not want to do this.  It is dangerous and reckless and pointless.  Nick, oblivious of my state, is paddling around, joyously chortling about something or other, while I tried to stop adding my own salt water to the ocean.  I made some ugly snuffling noises that attracted Nick’s attention, and he came to tend to my neurosis.

After some unsuccessful logical reasoning and a line of "buck up!," Nick found a rock for me to sit on that’s protected from the waves and put me only chest deep in the water.  After some deep breathing, I finally put my masked face in the water and …nearly drowned in wonder.  Just below me, bobbing gently between my ankles, was a hand-sized octopus.  It's dead, but I continued watching while several hermit crabs, dragging their periwinkle shells, nibble it for dinner.  I was mesmerized.  I forgot my fears about breathing and waves and creepy things and just relaxed in the deep silence of the sea.  I finally lifted my head and was stunned by the forgotten splashing waves and shouting children and gorgeous Korean couples.  This thin line separating sea and sky was a new doorway into another world entirely.  And without warning at all, I was living out my dream of breathing underwater. 

Oh.  Oh my.  Snorkeling might not be a horrible terrible idea after all.

Early the next morning, before our gear was due back to the dive shop, we returned to this place of wonder.  And besides the guy picking up trash, we were the only people there.  Nick and I snorkeled together, laughing aloud under water as we pointed out fish – transluscent, iridescent, yellow striped, even neon blue – as though we’re inside a giant aquarium.  I learn some important lessons (e.g., this was NOT an IMAX 3D movie where the camera just glides you painlessly over rocks – ouch), and we stayed until the last possible minute.  Given the buoyant sea water and my plushly-clad skeleton, I don’t even have to try to swim, as I float easily as I watch the wildlife living just beneath the sea’s glossy surface. 

In the week since our return home, we’ve bought masks and snorkels for all 4 of us and have been to the local shore many times.  And now my dream has changed a bit, as it includes bright fish and a sense of deep peace.