Let’s get something clear: I don’t like oceans. Oh, I LOVE looking at them. I’m perfectly okay splashing in the surf on a secluded tropical beach. I just don’t feel very comfortable swimming in deep ocean water. Maybe it stems from the time I stepped on a sea urchin in Bali (Wow Place #26). You never know what prickly, poisonous creature might be lurking in the ocean underneath, waiting for a quick bite! Still, whatever your fears, you do have to seize the moment when a special one presents itself to you. Like the day my cruise ship arrives in Cairns, Australia.
A little context first. I have just landed a one-week job on a Princess Cruise ship, creating and delivering treasure hunts for the passengers. It’s a straight-forward swap: I do 3 different treasure hunts on the ship, Princess pays for my fare. Our route is: Sydney to Cairns, Cairns to Manila, Manila to Hong Kong. The second leg of the trip is the longest one – several days at sea. I *need* to be on that cruise segment! And yet, here I am in Cairns, gateway to the world-famous Great Barrier Reef. How can I come all the way to Australia and not dive the Reef?!!
It turns out that a tour operator in town is offering a 1-day diving excursion. For something like $40, they take you out, put you in a wet suit, and lead you on a 45-minute guided dive with an experienced instructor who does pretty much everything for you. All you have to do is swim, and breathe. The rub: the excursion ends at 5pm. My cruise ship leaves at 5pm. Is it worth taking the chance that I’ll miss the boat? Some of the cruise staff are going on the same boat tour; surely the cruise line will wait for them, right?
In case you’re wondering, yeah, I took the boat excursion.
It’s not until our tour boat reached the reef and our guide is getting us ready to dive that I remember something fairly important: I don’t like deep-sea swimmin! Not one bit. What if there are sharks down there? Or electric eels? Or electric eel sharks! There’s no time to be petulant, however; before I know it, I’m plunging into the clear, cool water, breathing out of a regulator, diving down to an actual coral reef! And Boy is it beautiful! Multi-colored coral, fish of every shape and variety. Even a giant clam that our guide dares us to put our hands inside of. (No thanks!). What really gets me are these tiny little “flowers” that look like closed buds until you touch them and suddenly they burst into vibrant color. Essentially, I’m in Avatar, the Way of Water! Forty-five minutes under water is a long time, though – especially if you’re not used to it. My throat is feeling awfully dry by the time our guide finally takes us up to the boat. I’m elated, however. I did it! I conquered a fear! I checked off a bucket list item! Whoo hoo! Oh wait, what about the imminent departure of my Princess cruise!
As we near the pier in Cairns, I’m starting to get worried. It’s 5:20. I’ve really blown it! But look! The boat is still here. It’s blowing its horn like there’s no tomorrow, but it hasn’t left. I’m saved!