I’m opening The Lockwood Echo’s new Travel Section with a tale from as far as I’ve ever been.
I’m terrified of flying and have only ever been on 7 aeroplanes. But 1 of those (technically 2 of those because of a stopover), took me to the other side of the world. The idea of going to Australia had only been planted in my head 5 weeks before, so I really didn’t have time to be scared.
Not only had I booked a trip that involved being on a plane for as long as logistically possible, I also signed up to go scuba diving. I’ve never done anything like that before in my life. WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL WAS I THINKING?
Of course, a trip of a lifetime dictates every day to be lived like a Pepsi Max advert. I wasn’t just going scuba diving, I was going scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
I had to attend a safety briefing. It was all very casual. A Very Handsome Surfer Dude talked us through what to do and what to expect. We would be in wetsuits, wearing full scuba gear. We would be diving in tropical waters. We would be seeing exotic marine life. We would be the coolest people ever to have entered the sea around the east Australian coast. The only serious part of the briefing was about how the wildlife and reef were protected by very strict environmental laws. Tourists were forbidden to pro-actively engage any of the extraordinarily beautiful sea creatures we were to encounter. And it was emphasised quite vehemently; DO NOT FEED THE FISH.
By the time we were on the deck of the boat getting ready for our dive, I had built up a very glamourised image in my head of how this would go. I would look like one of the Lamb’s Navy Rum Girls in my wetsuit, or possibly a Bond Girl. I’d glide through the water like some aquamarine goddess. Other tourists would snap their cameras in my direction, thinking they’d caught sight of a mermaid, enchanting and enigmatic. At one with the sea.
The reality of the wetsuit fell very short of my fantasy. The suit had to be a tight fit. It was explained why, but I was so busy trying to breathe and stay upright that I didn’t take all that in. By the time I was encased in the blasted thing, instead of exuding the sultry look of a Lamb’s Navy Rum Girl, with cleavage bursting through a teasingly low zip, I resembled a badly twisted balloon animal. Mostly black, but with shades of bloated where my face and hands used to be.
There was no way I was going to be able to dive in this thing. I was for all intents and purposes a buoyancy aid. I could’ve been used as a fender for the boat. But fortunately they fixed that. By making me wear a belt. MADE OF METAL WEIGHTS! As if I wasn’t already uncomfortable enough.
I was starting to feel quite poorly, what with the tightness, the tropical heat, the disappointment of how I looked. The only thing that brought a smile back to my face was having the Very Handsome Surfer Dude instructor as my dive buddy and having to hold his hand as we ventured into the unknown.
I was assured the wetsuit would feel more comfortable once I was in the sea and the neoprene did what it was designed to do. I didn’t. I was feeling terribly nauseous. I became quite overwhelmed by the whole thing. The fact that I’d flown halfway round the planet. The nerves and excitement of this incredibly brave thing I was doing. The discomfort of my garb.
I passed a point of no return. I indicated to my instructor that I wasn’t well and needed to surface. He kept me calm as panic took hold. He gently guided me to a floating position and took out my breathing regulator; just in time for me to show the Coral Sea what I’d had for breakfast.
Up it all came. Plus most of what I’d eaten the night before too. I wanted to die. And not just because of how ill I felt but I was so embarrassed that I’d thrown up over the Very Handsome Surfer Dude. This was not how it had looked in my fantasy. Thankfully my tears were invisible through my wet face mask. How could something that was supposed to be so amazing go so wrong?
Just as I started to feel better, had relaxed my breathing and thought that maybe I could carry on with the dive, events took a turn for the worse. What happened next haunts me to this day.
Whilst still floating on the surface, I became aware of lots of little blue and yellow fishes. Hundreds of them in fact. Swimming all around us. So pretty!
Where had they come from?
What were they doing?
Oh. They’re feeding.
What are they eating?
No no no.
Oh this was not HAPPENING!
Images flashed through my head of me rotting in some Outback jail. With nothing but the ghost of Ned Kelly for company. I was sure I was in big big trouble. The Australians take their environmental laws VERY seriously. They fumigate you when you land for heaven’s sake. This was bad. This was really really bad…….
I could not stop the words swishing through my brain. We’d been warned. Very explicitly warned;
DO NOT FEED THE FISH!