Chapter 3: Snorkeling

Sept 22

Six of us sit across from each other in a traditional boat barely wide enough for one person to sit staring over the side with his back touching one gunwale and his knees touching the bench on the opposite gunwale, but the boat reaches some twenty five feet long. Two outriggers keep the skinny craft stable in the mostly untame open waters. To our port side, Lombok’s colorful and varied landscape flies by. Multicolored fishing boats line palm tree laden white beaches surrounded by steep and angular peaks, and frothy white spray rising from the azure sea against black rocky cliffs highlight the point. Our excitement builds as we near our first snorkeling location, Gilli Tarawang.

The beautiful white beach lined with seemingly wrongly placed deciduous trees and very still water inspires the remark, “If not for the blue blue water, I could mistake this for a beach somewhere along lake Michigan in the summer.” Identically shaped boats with a multitude of color schemes break the monotony of the white sands, haphazardly run ashore and anchored in the sand. The passengers eagerly disembark and don mask and fin to discover what the lazy waves hide beneath there blue exterior.

The previous evening I had entered into conversation with a friendly Uzbekistani by the pool who traveled with his two brothers, both of which knew little English. I told him we were going snorkeling the next day and he asked to split the cost of the boat. We gladly agreed.

Not only did the brothers not speak English, neither of the two could swim. They comically paired their mask and fins with brightly colored life vest and made sure not to wander too far from land. They quickly tired and disappeared among the single row of shops and “warung”, local restaurants, lining the beach behind the oddly placed deciduous trees.

Beneath the azure lining of the sea lies many colorful creations and coral formations, each continually moving with the vacillations of the current. I take my Canon Powershot G10 down with me, protected by a waterproof casing that took far too much effort and money to get to me in Mumbai. The pictures and video I attempt do not give the scene justice. Sometimes these mediums are not sufficient. Only the lens and optic nerves of the eye, anvil and hammer of the ear, and scent neurons of the nasal passages sufficient to capture, and the hindmost hippocampus are sufficient for the projecting of these memories.

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These fishing were swarming around me, nipping at my face and sides

I fight the current for some time then take to the land to reposition myself above the flow as to have free reign over the reef lining this portion of beach. When I retire I find I am the sole remaining swimmer from our group. Kara and Kim found a hut to sit and eat lunch, and the fellows from Uzbekistan disappeared. After a bit of lounging the boat pilot attempts to get us back into the boat so we can move to Gilli Menu. Kara goes south and Kim goes north in search of the other guys, but both come back befuddled. On the boat we cast an anchor and sit for over an hour waiting for them to appear, but to no avail. Eventually we decide we cannot wait any longer, we had done our duty to look and told a vendor near the boat to be on the lookout for three lost middle eastern guys. “Tell them we’ll try to come back for them. If it’s too late, tell them to find a boat back to Sengiggi.”

Kara plays with a baby turtle on Gilli Meno

Waves start crashing over the side of our slender craft as we cross between the islands. The wind is picking up, which we could not feel from the protection of the first island. Fighting the waves, Kara and I attempt to snorkel, but the thrashing water stirs up the sand mostly obscuring seemingly, well, nothing but bland coral and a few fish. We return reporting to the guide there is nothing to see, and asking if he could take us somewhere else. “It’s there, out there,” he says pointing to a distant dark line beneath the surface some 200 meters out. Apparently he would have stopped the boat but the water was too rough.

The scene is spectacular, more brilliant than the first reef we saw. More fish, more colorful coral and creatures sway with the current. Kara and I take turns diving and peering beneath the coral into the dark caves to see what mysteries they hide. Soon Kara claims she is tired and going in, so only I remain ever looking down into the depths and breathing through a tube, something I pray I never had to experience in a different capacity. Alone I travel faster, exploring more areas. To my left boats carrying wetsuit clad scuba divers scatter about the surface. To my right I keep the white sandy beach. *A highlight! I see a brightly colored fish – the size of my torso but the shape of the small tropical fish you keep in your small aquarium in your living room – swiftly dive and catch another fish the size of the circle made by your thumb and forefinger.

Before I know it the water shallows, my chest and legs barely missing the coral as the current drags me. All I need is a big wave to smash me against the reef to finish the day. When I finally stand I find myself still some 100 meters out, and I had, in keeping the island steadily on my right, gone far past the north side of the island. I do not want to take off my flippers in fear of cutting my feet on the coral, but walking forward in flippers is extremely difficult; so I warily and awkwardly step backwards all the way into shore. The others are waiting for me so we can go back to the first island and find the Uzbekistani boys.

Bigger waves crash over the bow and the view of land disappears as large swells seem to swallow us on the return journey between the islands. The three guys are eagerly awaiting our return and obviously upset that we left them. They had not understood the plan to go to the second island. But all is forgotten quickly as we begin our voyage back to Sengiggi, but now with a constant spray from the waves. At first it is funny, but after two hours of being wet and chilled by the blowing wind and rocked by the large waves we are cold and tired. My backpack sits in the bow and is pounded by the waves and is mostly soaked through by the end. Most everything important I put in waterproof bags or separate cases, but my poor cell phone thoughtlessly placed in the bottom compartment dies the most wretched of deaths: drowning. Had I backed up the numbers on the computer program provided with the phone, I would have only mourned the loss a semi-expensive phone only had for four months, but of course I could not have been that smart so all is lost: all of the contacts I have spent the last four months obtaining.

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