The following post is alternatively titled, "If you Cairns'norkel, you Cairns'cuba = false."
My cell phone alarm indicated it was time to get up. After a quick brekky and a "flat white" (coffee with milk), I made my way to the Port Douglas shuttle stop. Forty minutes later, I was shuffled to the "Silver Sonic" Reef boat (see below photo), carrying my quickly diminishing bottle of Clarins SPF 40 and an unraveling towel with rainbow fish on it—a scene I now recognize as a moment of foreshadow, thanks to high school English class.
I think the best way to describe my scuba experience is with a snippet from the day at sea. Following is a scene from our boat that took place right after those of us who had never "had a dive" before watched a ten minute instructional video and then suited up for our first attempt. There were about 100 people on the boat, 1/3 of whom were scuba diving--the rest were snorkeling. Eight of us were first time divers and we were split into two groups. My group got the cute instructor.
Cute Dive Instructor (CDI): OK, mates, let's have a go! Rob and Mike, you're up first. Please make your way to the watah and jump in. Lauren and Alan, on deck!
Me: (thinking to myself) Should I be embarrassed that this guy guessed the correct size wet suit for me? How do I know there's enough air in this tank? Why do I have the same number of weights on my belt as these 6 foot guys? I hope I see a sea turtle. Who the hell is Alan?
CDI: OK, Lauren. Jump in next to me and don't forget when you stand up to be careful since your tank weighs, um...in pounds? Yeah, about 60 pounds.
Me: (Now in the ocean, panicking, attempting first time breathing through mask under water while clutching CDI in utter terror. Give the "I have a problem" sign within 20 seconds. We come up.) I'm not ready yet. Can I try at the next dive site?
CDI: Listen, this boat is chaukers (chock full) and you may not get anotha chance. Just keep holding on to me and we'll go down togetha. If you don't like it once you're down theya, give me the sign and we'll come up. You'll love it. Ready, mate?
Me: (I give the OK sign and we go down. Adrenaline rush sets in within seconds along with paralyzing visions of underwater asphyxiation. I don't hesitate to give the "I have a problem" sign again and we come back up).
CDI: Don't take off your mask! We're going down again. I know this is scary, especially the first time. I can tell this is doin' your head in (Aussies love that phrase). Look at me, Lauren, and stop breathing so hard or you'll use up all your air. You're from California, right? So you must know how to do yoga. Look at me and give me a nice big yoga breath, calm down and let's make this happen.
Me: (attempting yoga breath and having flash backs of fiercely dreaded swimming lessons throughout elementary school) I want to get back on the boat. (looking at boat). Please?
CDI: I know you can do this--you were so close just now. This is the Great Barriah Reef and you don't want to miss it. I'll stay with you since the other guys don't seem to need me, OK? Please look at me, Lauren.
Me: I'll see it with a snorkel. I'm so sorry. I just can't do it. (making my way back to the boat via panicky doggie paddle, mortified).
So, I got back on the boat, ditched the tank and the weight belt, threw on a snorkel and jumped in alongside those people who knew diving wasn't for them...or who, despite their plans to go diving the next morning, had had too much to drink the night before and now didn't want to risk screwing uptheir blood stream by going too far down under water. These were my people--the pansies and the delinquents, and off we went with our hot pink flippers for a day of snorkeling.
The reef really was beautiful and I saw all kinds of fish and coral—just like in Finding Nemo! The sun was shining, the water was close to 80 degrees (according to my shoddy Fahrenheit calculations) and we stopped at three different spots. On our way home, it started to rain and everyone huddled inside the boat for the obvious boat snack--tea and sweet crackers. (Apparently, watermelon and lemonade aren’t part of the Aussie sailors’ pallet.)
It was then that I overheard a conversation among some guys from Melbourne who were planning to ask for their money back since they had been sea sick all day and blamed it on the boat staff for not allowing them to smoke. "I would have nevva come out for an eight owwa day had I known that we wouldn't be able to smoke." "Yeah, mate. If I don't smoke after I eat, I get seek, even if I'm not on a boat." "I hear ya, matey. This is bloody torcha." This seemed like an odd reason to ask for a refund, but these guys were serious. Smoking is huge over here and people don't seem to be adjusting very well to the new nonsmoking restrictions.
Soon enough the rain had passed and we all made our way back outside. A bunch of us settled into a conversation, and I was glad to see that none of the people nearby had been in my dive group which meant they didn't know about my freak out. Suddenly I heard my name being yelled by my cute diving instructor (CDI) who was on the deck looking for me. I signaled him to come over and the girls sitting near me gave me winks and playful jabs in the side (this guy was apparently the talk of the boat). At this point, dozens of people were looking my way and listening to what he was going to say.
CDI: Allo, Lauren. Just wanted to give you this slip of paypa.
Me (guessing it was his number or email, I flashed my best American smile and reached for the piece of paper feigning composure): OK, thanks (turning red).
CDI: (loud enough for everyone to hear) Sorry about today, mate. This is a receipt that you can present at your hotel where you booked your boat trip. Since you were too scared to go down for a propa dive, our policy is to refund you for your lesson. Maybe you can try again some day. And work on those yoga breaths in the meantime, Cali girl! (He winked and walked away.)
Me: (mortified and noticing giggles from around me) OK, thanks.
I'm sure I'm going to get emails from all of you telling me how lame I am for not being about to handle going under water...and that's fine. I'd rather be the girl who aborted mission than the girl who had to be airlifted to the hospital for swimming to the surface in a fit of terror and getting the bends, right?