Quite a bit, my friends, so I'll give you the briefest overview possible. When last I left you, I was getting to and snorkeling the Reef as much as possible by working on the Falla three or four days a week, and my scuba diving certification course was just around the corner. Doug and Mark, the Falla Dive Instructor, would not hear of me having my first dive experience anywhere other than the Falla, so just after the new year, with wide eyes, a bit of nerves and a lot of excitement, I climbed into the vest (BCD, as it were), tank and mask and went for it: with that first dive, I was hooked.
Yup, I was ready. So when I finally let that salty water slip over my head and put some distance between me and the air above, my perspective about what "the world" is and contains changed, completely and throughly. With that dive, I learned just how much I don't know about our Earth. And just like that, the knowledge of how much bigger my world got hit me with it's full force.
With that tank and hose, regulator and mask, I was able to get up close and personal with some of what the ocean has to offer. To examine details, spend time where and with what I chose. To be part of that watery existence, not just looking on from the surface. To be able to explore the little nuances of reef and marine life and not worry (too much) about when my breath will run out. It was very cool. Very, very cool.
As I was doing the open water dive portion of the course, the realization that I needed more time with the Reef was starting to sink in. I was diving three to four times a day, but with with so much to see I felt it an impossible task to take on in just a few days. And honestly, with being so new to diving, half my time underwater was spent just trying to figure out what the hell I was doing.
Part of my reason for booking with CDC is their unparalleled volunteer program - by doing my course with them, I was also able to sign up for an additional eight days on KE as a volunteer, scoring three dives a day while out there. So, after a couple short days on land after my course, back to the Kangaroo Explorer I went from January 14th through the 21st.
Life as a voly (as volunteers are so cleverly termed) is certainly not glamorous. Living quarters are cramped, the hours can get long, and washing dishes in exchange for dives might not be the ideal way for many to spend their time. But to me, it was heaven. My three days onboard as a passenger were filled with diving, coursework, log books, and lots and lots of learning. Volunteer days were just as busy, but in a completely different way.
So, morning dives would be deeper if the site allowed, though sometimes not as lengthy, and soon grew to be my favorites; most days, the sun was shining, water was calm and clear, and the aquatic life had yet to be chased away by the onslaught of traffic.
My voly/ diving buddy (there are almost always two volunteers onboard at any time) and I would come back to the dive deck, have a quick bite of breakfast, and work on the dishes and chores before hopping back in the water for another dive at 10:30 a.m. Followed by lunch and more dishes. If we were quick about it, we were able to enjoy an hour of free time (has anyone tried yoga on a ship before? Hilarious, I promise you!), and back in the water we went at 4 p.m. Dishes, dinner, dishes, final clean-up. Shower, socialize a bit, in bed between 9 and 10. Sleep. And repeat.
That was my life for just over a week. And I loved, loved, LOVED every minute of it! I was able to see a dozen sites of the reef, and spent about two and a half hours underwater every day. I did night dives, went tunneling (something I thought I'd be way to claustrophobic to do), pet all sorts of sea turtles, chased after sharks, tried to get as close as I could to see the delicate structures of fan and brain coral, picked my way around bommies and played hide-and-seek with garden eels (they did all the hiding).
The skipper changed sites twice a day, the rain held off and the weather stayed clear. And even though I had been able to see over a dozen sites on four or five separate reefs between the Falla and Kangaroo Explorer, I knew I was barely scratching the surface when it came to the 1500 miles of reef the GBR has to offer. As I spent more time with Doug, Mark and the CDC crew, opportunities to see more of the Great Barrier Reef cropped up. I learned about a volunteer program on a boat that goes way up north to the Ribbon Reefs, was invited on a trip in the spring down to the Yongala wreck site outside of Townsville, had been contemplating a trip out to Heron Island, and was invited back on both the Falla and KE for more volunteering and diving. And all of that sounded really, really good.
So I did the thing that each and every one of you counseled me to do before I left - I didn't stay so hell bent on my plan to see the 7 Natural Wonders that I missed out on an amazing side trip to a place in the world I've always, always wanted to see. Instead, I bit the bullet, followed my instincts, booked the flight, and touched down in Denpasar on Bali Island in Indonesia on January 25th.
In the end, the bum ear defeats the primary intention of my Indo visa run in the first place, which was to buy myself more time on the Great Barrier Reef. But I'm so glad I came for a million and twenty other reasons that I'm not so upset about diving being put on hold for the time being. Because the good news is that the injury moves my journey to Victoria Falls, my third Wonder, up to later this month - I'm really, really excited (and nervous!) about exploring my way around South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe very soon!
So here's the big thing I didn't quite understand about the Great Barrier Reef, the ocean, or, to be honest, life in general, before I went diving - you can go to the same site 10 times, or 100 times, even 1000 times, and you won't have the same experience, see the same things, or have the same conditions twice. Just like each of us, reefs are an ever growing, ever changing, living, breathing being. And just like life, everything down there is a game of chance: maybe you're in the right place at the right time to find that one thing that you were looking for. Maybe you drop in and stumble across something completely unexpected and wonderful. Or maybe you look around for a good long time, but nothing seems to pop, nothing seems to be happening. And maybe all anything ever is, really, is just a combination of timing, circumstance and perspective.
And for what it's worth, I can breathe underwater now. Something I was so scared to learn how to do. And I learned how at my second Wonder, the Great Barrier Reef. I hope this update finds your trails as happy as mine have been these days, and I'll touch base again soon from Down Under. Cheers!