Sunday, August 4, 2013

THIS Is How You Celebrate A Birthday!

3 August and 4 August 2013

Okay, so my birthday is 3 August - and we had a lovely relaxing day with reading by the pool, walking around town, eating well, that kind of stuff.  We wanted to go out on a sail and snorkel trip, my present from my sweetie - but they were booked for Saturday.  So okay, no problem, the birthday trip will be Sunday.

We booked with, out of Port Douglas - they had half day trips instead of whole day trips, they didn't worry about giving you a big posh meal, and they're a smaller operation.  Plus a sailing trip, instead of a big motor boat - so fewer people, and better for the reef.  (This is a photo of their sailboat, from their website - gorgeous, huh?)

It was WONDERFUL!  The weather was warm, sunny, blue sky, calm seas, enough wind for the sail but not enough to make huge waves.  Perfect day for a sail and snorkel.

We went to the Low Isles, a group of islands in the middle area of the Great Barrier Reef off the northern part of Queensland, just a bit north of Port Douglas.  Basically, the reef consists of the outer reef, where it drops off to open ocean, and the inner reef, which is all the middle area between the land and the outer reef.

So, the reef really does look like the photos you see.  These are all lifted from the internet, I don't have an underwater camera - but this is what it looks like.  Colors might be a bit more muted, since we were snorkeling and looking at everything through several meters of water - it really does change the colors of the coral.

Anyway - we had about an hour sail out to the Low Isles, with the naturalist on board talking about the reef system, how it's living coral, and the only LIVING thing on earth that is visible from space.  THAT is how huge the reef system is!

Then we suited up (Richard and I rented wetsuits, the 22 C water - 74 F - is still cold to us after years in the USVI) and jumped off the back of the boat.  What a shock!  There's that initial thrill of entering the new world, of being buoyant and weightless - but there's also that moment of cold enveloping your body and suddenly freezing your blood and organs - so it took a few minutes to calm my breathing and feel confident in however deep the water was where we moored.

And then we were off, a group of us following our French Basque dive leader, as we snorkeled around and over and through groups of coral, with all kinds of shapes and colors and waving fronds.  With little fish darting in and out, schools of turquoise and fushia parrot fish munching on the coral, fabulous pink anemone fish (the pink equivalent of Nemo, a clown fish!), even a stingray hiding under a rock.  A batfish, which has such giant fins that it really resembles a bat!  Coral in Dayglo yellow and orange, pale mint green, dusty rose, umbers and siennas, even lavender!  It was so beautiful, so magical, and so lush!  Absolutely gorgeous!

Then a turtle!  A wonderful green turtle, swimming along right below me!  He disappeared into the depths, and we headed back toward the boat.  Then another turtle, bigger (though both adolescents), just swimming along, minding his own business, off to tour the world and have his or her own turtle adventures!  (When scientists talk about sea turtles, they talk about hatchlings, and juveniles, and then breeding pairs and nesting females - the years in between juveniles and breeding/nesting are referred to as the "lost years" because no one really knows where the turtles go, or what they do.  So we've decided they just go off and see the world before they settle down in their adult years.  Right?)

Back to the boat, happy but chilled, and that horrible moment of leaving our mermaid and merman existence and returning to gravity - I swear, the most difficult part of snorkeling or diving is getting out of the water and back into the boat, when gravity hits and you feel like you weigh about 10 times what you really do - I hate that moment of re-adjusting to gravity, of losing the weightlessness.  But, well, I'm not a mermaid, Richard isn't a merman, and we have to get back on the boat.

We headed back under sail, with stronger wind and bigger waves.  A few dolphin swim by, ignoring us and intent on their dolphin business.  Everyone is relaxing with some fruit, cookies, water, tired and happy.  And then a shout goes up - "Whale!  Whale!"

There were two adolescent humpback whales, frolicking in the waves, slapping their tails and leaping in the air and splashing back down, looking like two little kids having fun!  OMG, WHALES!  The naturalist on board said that this is how they learn to communicate, all this leaping and splashing and tail flapping and practically standing on their heads underwater.  The skipper turned off the engine, and we sailed up - and the whales noticed us!  They actually swam over to the boat, swam alongside, then dove under and reappeared on the other side of the vessel!!!  Some more slaps and flaps, with pectoral fins waving and tails flipping, and even a few spy-hopping moves, where they bob up head first and then fall over sideways, in a breach, so close I could see the striations under their necks - they were funny, and thrilling, and it was one of the most exciting displays ever!  Plus one of those animal/human interactions, where they really seem to know that we like the whales, and they want to show off - like little kids, "Hey, look at me!  Watch this!"  They were just having fun, or learning and practicing, and we were lucky enough to share this moment with these two juvenile humpbacks!

As I said, it was wonderful!  (And the crew were all just as excited as all the customers!)

We're back in our campervan, warm and dry after long hot showers, filled with memories of just a fabulous day on the water, the Coral Sea, the Great Barrier Reef.  This is why we're travelling, this is what our rolling luggager life is all about - moments like these.

And, what a way to spend a birthday!

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