For all my Buddhist talk – I have some fears. Besides the sort of ‘philosophical’ fears like ‘will I do enough in this world?’ and ‘am I happy?’ – I have a few practical, physical fears.
Water is one. Confined spaces is another. And sharks and crocodiles. (An earwig crawling in my ear is another – but not quite relevant at this time… if any.) I’ll get back to the first three later, but the whole croc thing – that has been around since my nightmares as a child (and young adult). It is the reason that I don’t ever, EVER, sleep with any of my limbs overhanging from the bed, and why this trip to the Daintree rainforest has caused me some anxiety since (and before) we arrived.
We have been here, up North, for two days now, and seriously – what an amazing, beautiful place this ancient rainforest is. It is spectacular. There is an immense prehistoric-ness to it. The trees, the animals, the insects, the flowers, the mountains. From the beach looking inland, you could be in Lost, stranded in a space-time-continium rift – or in a really nice version of purgatory or wherever they were, or in a scene from Jurassic park – expecting at any time a T-Rex to come bounding out of the dense, twisted, mangled forest, or one of those giant, alien polar bears that flatten the forest in the distance when the plane-wrecked team crash land on the beach.
When someone says, “this beach is very safe – there has never been a croc sighting here”, I don’t hear this with optimism – I hear this with a great and permeating pessimism that erodes my entire being. I hear “No one has ever been killed here whilst lying on the beach or been dragged under and drowned and ripped to shreds whilst paddling in the waves – but there’s always a first!”
Very soon after visiting one of the beaches, I felt reassured to an extent – but we didn’t swim. There were many people about, and I do trust local knowledge regarding the movement and behaviour of crocodiles – animals with whom these residents share their neighbourhoods.
So onto the water and the sharks, and the confined spaces.
I’ve been snorkelling before. In Vanuatu Troy and went on a very small boat out not very far, in a part of the ocean touted as the ‘safest area to snorkel’ – naturally protected by the reefs and the islands – no sharks would come to talk to us. This activity began with me, after trying to affix the mask to my face, hyperventilating on the shore, my tears and breath fogging up the mask. (The whole mask thing = confined spaces.) Troy coaxed me out, and I managed to swim back to the shore from the boat, vaguely enjoying myself in the process, however I was not breathing through the snorkel tube, just holding my breath and looking down. The drop off scared the bejezus out of me (not the Drop off!) when I met a mean looking fish with massive teeth just facing off with me and I turned my little fishy tail to land and swam swam swam.
Water’s just not my thing. I’m not a beach girl. I don’t like surfing or body boarding or sunbaking for hours, or wearing a bikini. I’m a land, bush girl. Mountains. Walking. Trekking. Climbing to the top of something to see what I can see. Skiing. Camping. Trees – I just really love trees.
Water, no. I don’t like putting my head under water. I can swim (I can only do survival strokes) but would rather run 5km than swim 50 metres of freestyle. Putting my head underwater is like being in a box to me. You are trapped. (Horrible childhood memory = swimming instructor making me hold a swimming brick under my chin so that I wouldn’t lift my head out of the water when doing freestyle.)
And sharks, sharks frighten me. (But at least they’re not amphibious – with Crocodiles, there’s no escape.)
So today Troy and I went snorkelling. So that he could live one of his dreams – snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, which I too wanted to do – but I knew that this would mean facing my quite irrational fears, which I was prepared to do – but I knew wouldn’t necessarily be easy.
The marine biologist taking us out gave us the welcome talk: “We might see turtles, stingrays, dolphins, and if we’re really lucky – a shark!” That didn’t help my condition.
“Don’t you dare leave me.” I told Troy. And he didn’t – except I left him at one point, to return to the boat, and then he saw a turtle. Not. Happy. Disappointed to the max.
This was no little put-put Vanuatuan boat taking us 200m off shore. This was ‘the fastest way out to the reef – there in 25 minutes!’ (PLUG – Ocean Safari, great people, great tour. Cheap, fun.) And so we literally sped out to the Mackay Reef, 9 nautical miles offshore (which apparently is quite far – it certainly looked extremely far) in the most beautiful weather possible. Clear blue water all around, and what a view of the forested mainland! But we hadn’t even got to the boat and my heart started beating VERY fast, my breathing became shorter and useless as we walked…Troy squeezed my hand and told me it would all be okay… It is very rare that my fear transfers into physical anxiety but has happened with snorkelling and once at a music festival when there was no room to move due to the crowds – I used to be frightened of flying, but this never played with my heart-rate or ability to breathe normally.
Fast forward 25 minutes (yes only 25!) and I’m in the water. I have flippers on, and I have a mask on my face, and suddenly my breathing is. Short. Useless. Hyper. Ventilating. Get. Me. Out. Of. Here. The tears are coming (in my head a cartoon image pops up of my face mask comically filling up with water) – what am I doing out here in the ocean?
Troy calms me down as I tread water. I tell myself to get my shit together. I have conquered many an uncomfortable or scary situation before, and I don’t like depending on my boyfriend, but thank goodness he was there to talk me into swimming a little further, trying a little harder, and persisting with this whole swimming out in the ocean thing. I just find it a bit overwhelming. You don’t know what’s out there, and you can’t really go anywhere if you meet something sinister. It’s just a whole another world – and I can understand why some people love diving and snorkelling because of that. I appreciate the beauty of the underwater world – but diving for me would honestly be the most frightening thing I can imagine doing. (Water/confined spaces/sinister ocean beings – they’re all there.) I would much rather jump out of a plane.
I practice breathing through the snorkel pipe and the nice guide throws me a noodle floating device to help me stay horizontal for the first part of the journey. I am relaxed now, and able to breathe through the snorkel – something I’ve never been able to do before.
We visit three different parts of the reef. Two fairly shallow areas, and a short look around the drop off. I feel safe with lots of people around, and am so thankful of the amazing weather and clear water “You’ll see something coming from a mile away!” says Troy – oh yes, reassuring that is. But seriously, it was wonderful to see the array of fishes, and the coral. A highlight (since I missed out on the turtle) was the giant clams. Yes – doesn’t sound exciting – but seriously, these clams are giant!
Whilst I was slightly disappointed with the reef (it wasn’t as colourful as I imagined – I actually blame this on watching Finding Nemo so many times) it was a great experience… Shattered I missed out on the turtle, but thankful I didn’t see anything much bigger than the (small types of) Groper fish.
I wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef before it’s screwed up by pollution, rising sea temperatures, mining or dredging, and be able to tell my children that I woman-ed up and faced my fears.
But I think that’s it for my snorkelling adventures.
A little sunburnt, extremely tired, and somewhat emotionally drained, we arrive back at our hotel.
“It’s so tiring being brave.” I say with great drama (oh damn these first world woes!).
“Well, tomorrow we’ll just go to the beach, have a swim, chill out,” he says, before quickly adding, “the safe beach.”*
Love this holiday.
*See below photo – yes, this is the ‘safe beach’. Right.