We humans! It seems we aren’t content to merely live in our accustomed habitats, we want to explore other realms that require invention of gear and equipment to allow us to be in deep space, speeding down a snowy mountain or going deep under the water to witness that kingdom. What an amazing time to be alive!
My adrenalin was pumping and my stomach nervous as I was setting up my dive gear for the first time in awhile. The Damai live-aboard dive boat has stations for each one of us with our tank, wetsuit, the BCD vest which together with my dive computer, looks like the cockpit of an airplane, my long red frog fins and my underwater computer that I strap to my wrist to tell me how much air I have left and how deep I am among lots of other details I’ve not taken the time to learn…yet!
We head off in the small dive boats to the site where we will be ready to put on the gear, put the contraption in our mouths allowing us to breathe underwater and fall backwards off the boat in an awkward water ballet on the count of 3. The water is like a bathtub of a deep turquoise color I yearn to replicate in paint. I let the air out of the vest and begin sinking down slowly, holding my nose to clear my ears every few feet. It’s the same sensation you have in a plane when you’re ascending and descending. I know many people have said to me they tried diving but their ears hurt so they thought they weren’t capable and quit. I say to them they don’t know what they’re missing, try again! The Eustachian tube from the ear to the throat is tiny and as you descend there is more pressure from the water, twice actually as in the air. When you yawn, your ears equalize. It’s the same under the water and once you’re at the depth you want, you are totally captivated by that watery Universe, one thing I wouldn’t miss for anything in the world!
As our traditional wooden Bimini ship sailed in the direction of the whale sharks, we dived along the way inspecting the coral and life around little lime green gumdrop shaped islands. There are other places in the world to have dive experiences with whale sharks but what makes this location unique is that they are completely free and wild and unaccustomed to people yet completely at ease when we were in the water with them. These magnificent animals are the largest fish in the sea. They are filter feeders which explains their big oval mouth and the five parallel gills on the sides of their heads. Their preference is plankton and small nutrients and they come to these fisherman’s rafts to literally suck the fish juice from the nets under the water! The Indonesians have started squishing up some of their small catch in sea water in buckets which they then pour into the mouths of the whale sharks to keep them from damaging their nets so when you see these rafts called bagons, it’s possible they have attracted whale sharks which they consider to be good luck. The night we arrived in the area, my good friend, the delightful and hilarious Werner Kurn, who is owner of Ocean Enterprises in San Diego invited me and our cameraman to board this rickety raft at night to witness their night time fishing skills. So get this: it’s bobbing in the waves, has a contraption of narrow boards in tic tac toe fashion where the guys fearlessly traverse like monkeys, perched a few feet above the black water, winching the nets up and down all night long. In the middle was a little 30” high hut where these 6 guys lived for several months at a time. I can’t say it was lovely in there, fishy smelling and buggy, but they did have a gas powered generator that allowed their small TV monitor to rock some Bollywood!
The next morning with our dive gear on we slipped into the water where there were 4 whale sharks around the nets. When they feed, they come up from the deep (at least 250 feet) and vertically position themselves where they either suck on the nets or are fed from buckets. They swam so close to us we could touch them and were so gentle. I stabilized myself under one of the nets and watched as one came up to my face curiously staring into my eyes then glided slowly past me. Their mammoth tails with one swish could send you into the deep but they seemed as tame as puppies. Their bellies are beautiful and snow white and their backs are an indigo pattern of polka dots, truly divine. This area had teenager whale sharks, about 40 feet long but adults can be 70 feet long and live to be 100. They each had remora fish swimming along underneath which have suckers attached to their heads and they scavenge for leftovers as well as eat parasites. For two days we were able to shuttle back and forth to the Damai at will and just hang in the water snorkeling or diving under to spend time with these spectacular beings. The last time I got out of the water, I knew I had just had a profound, heart-pounding, tear-jerking, deeply sacred experience and I hoped that these creatures would be on this planet far longer than I will.
The last night aboard the boat I revisited my travel ritual by writing what would be different in my life as a result of my experiences. Pages poured forth but one paramount thing was that we/I get so busy and caught up with life and lists and ‘try’ and power through day after day. It’s essential to hit that pause button, however you do it, and let Life sort things out without my intrusion. And it has.