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Published: July 20th 2010
"I watched the proverbial sunrise coming up over the Pacific..."
Hello again! I'm still in flashback mode until I run out of awesome things to tell you about my week in Cairns, but no worries, I'll catch up to myself and start filling you in on life at La Trobe soon enough.
So. The Great Barrier Reef. Prior to actually going there, my only exposure to this famous natural wonder of the world was watching Finding Nemo. Not surprisingly, it was even cooler in person. The only downside is the fact that it's kind of covered in water, which makes taking pictures difficult. I opted to spend my money on the fee for SCUBA diving instead of on an underwater camera, so I'm afraid I don't have much to show for this particular trip. Sorry. But you can always google it. :-)
Anyway, I've gone snorkeling before, in Mexico and Hawaii, so I more or less knew what to expect from that part of the trip. Drinking/inhaling lots of salt water when there are big waves but loving the fact that you can more or less breathe underwater and spy on the sea creatures uninterrupted... very cool. But SCUBA diving? Even more epic.
I'd never tried it before,
A shot of the coast before we got too far away to see it.
but I figured seeing the Great Barrier Reef is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so I should make the most of it. I was a little concerned about my ears, since they'd been having some popping issues on the last of my four flights and we were due to fly out of Cairns within the next 24 hours. (You're not supposed to fly within 12 hours of a single dive, or 18 hours of multiple dives. So it was kind of close, but we were technically okay.) Anyway, my ears ended up being just fine, but that was the major cause of my indecisiveness before I decided to just give it a go. And I'm really glad I did.
I knew I got spoiled snorkeling in Kauai, seeing not one but two
sea turtles (possibly even in the same afternoon; I don't remember), but apparently I'm some kind of sea turtle magnet, just like I'm a thunderstorm magnet at Cedar Point. Being uncertified, the three other students and I had to stay within arm's reach of one of the pro divers at all times, but that didn't interfere with the experience in the least. In fact, I think it made it
The up-side to being a rainy day for snorkeling.
better. We found an adorable sea turtle eating something off the coral, and it let us get really close. One of the diver guys fed it, and it still didn't swim away. And then, when it finally did get fed up with us, or maybe just finished eating, it swam right at me! I reached out my hand to meet it, but I flinched away at the last second, a millimeter from its shell, remembering the fines you can get for touching one in Hawaii. I don't know if it's illegal everywhere, but I decided to play it safe and be nice to the wild animal by not poking it. It was cool enough just to have the option.
We saw a couple of other turtles earlier in the dive too, but obviously this one was my favorite. And in general, diving was just cool because I actually felt like I was seeing things from the perspective of the fish and turtles and other animals that live there, rather than the perspective of a sentient floating log. Diving is 3-D; snorkeling is only 2.
Not that snorkeling wasn't awesome as well. That's where I saw most of the fish--our second stop, which is a part of the reef Passions of Paradise has exclusive rights to. I couldn't count the number of times I was literally swimming in a cloud of fish, hovering only a foot above all kinds of pretty coral and anemones. And if you recall the drop-off from Finding Nemo, it is totally like that. You'll reach the end of the reef and the ocean floor just falls away beneath you. It's kind of creepier out there though, so I didn't spend much time in the deep, open water. Despite what the divers said about sharks being skittish and nothing we needed to worry about if we saw one, I was kind of happy we didn't run into any. (Sorry, Kyle. I guess that's why sharks are for you, not me.) :-)
But the most unexpected highlight of the trip was the entertainment on the way back to shore. One of the dive instructors/crew members also happened to be a magician as a hobby, so he taught us some card tricks, dazzled us with a bunch more that I still can't figure out, tied some people together and let them try to untangle themselves, and was just so generally entertaining to listen to that the trip seemed half as long as the voyage out.
Of course, it didn't hurt that we also saw some whales come pretty close to the boat (humpbacks, maybe? or something similarly large and impressive) on our way back. And then the rainbow just capped it all off as the most epic day trip ever. That, I did take a picture of, though you can't tell from my shot that it was a huge semi-circle, all clearly visible. So cool! But at any rate, the Reef lived up to its once-in-a-lifetime-ness, and made for a fantastic final day of my orientation to Australia.
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