Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Shimmer of Bubbles

I've just come back from a week on the Andaman Islands - all of which I spent on Havelock Island, where the best scuba diving in India is to be found.  These islands are far off the eastern coast of India, sort of equadistant from India and Thailand, and they're more or less little tropical paradises.  I don't know if you can see in this picture, but there are hundreds of purple trumpet flowers blooming in in the carpet of greenery bordering that white powdery beach, next to the clear turquoise sea:

But I spent most of my time under the water, like this: 

Scuba diving.  The first day I did a refresher course, since I've only done a handful of dives and none in the past few years, in shallow water that looked like a coral graveyard - all the coral gray and shattered, the whole landscape colorless.  Apparently about a year and a half there was a massive, two-month-long heat wave during the hottest months of the year.  All the divemasters had left the islands, closing up shop during the low season, and when they came back the coral was dead.  Two months of unbroken heat had warmed the ocean enough to kill it.  

I didn't want to spend a week staring at dead coral so I did the Advanced Open Water course, which dook me immediately down into the deeper waters, up to 100 feet, where the water had stayed cool during the heat wave and there was plenty to see.  Like this, from Dixon's Point:

Or this school of Moorish Idols: 

Or how about this lionfish: 

 After each dive, we'd sit down and list the fish we'd saw in our logbooks and it would fill a whole page, and we'd still not even begin to cover what we'd seen.  Huge schools of barracuda.  Giant moray eels.  We swam up to one poking his head out into the water, little tiny orange fish swimming in and out of his open mouth.  Seven foot long white-tipped sharks, which we chased around the sea floor for about ten minutes.  Angelfish, anemonefish, butterflyfish, pipefish...pustular varicose slugs and harlequin shrimp.  Fans of purple coral.  We'd be swimming in the middle of five or six schools of fish at any given moment.  It was amazing.

I spent five days diving.  The dive days went like this: wake up at six in the morning, eat breakfast, tug on a wetsuit and get on a boat sometime around seven am.  Take the boat out into the blue blue water, sea spray on either side and wind in our hair, for half an hour, an hour, until we arrived at the dive site.  Put on the rest of the scuba gear, which is clunky and heavy.  Jump in the water.  We tended to have pretty strong currents so the descent and ascent were always the hardest part, stretched out like little underwater supermen while holding onto an anchor line and pulling ourselves down foot by foot.  Then we'd get far enough down for the current to die off and we'd have fifteen, twenty minutes to really look around and enjoy the sights before we had to ascend again.

Another hour in the boat, to get rid of all the nitrogen we'd built up from the first dive, and then we'd go down for the second.  Same deal as before.  At the end of it, despite the fact that we'd mostly been sitting around on a boat and like, flipping our fins every second or two, we'd all be exhausted.  I usually went to bed at eight or eight-thirty, too tired to talk or see straight.

I did one night dive but there was strong current at the site and it was a shallow dive, so there wasn't a whole lot to see.  Sea snakes and crabs.  Well.  One gigantic hermit crab that filled a whole conch shell, which was kind of cool, and the terror of it was interesting.  A lot of people are very calm about these things but I had to force myself into the pitch-dark water with only a single flashlight to see by.  On the way up, near the surface, the three of us turned our flashlights off and waved our fins, making all the plankton flouresce, little firefly glows, which almost made up for the fact that they were stinging plankton and I have little red lashes all over my arms and legs from swimming past them.

Havelock Island also boasts a beach that's in the running for "most beautiful beach in Asia" and I spent my one day above water there.  It was pretty nice, I admit:

1 comment:

Louisa Bacio said...

You are way more adventurous than I could ever be ... or been! Such amazing descriptions and the photos match nicely, too.