It has been a crazy day. The wild rush of people, faces and names, fade into the background with the gentle crashing of the waves breaking on the shore. The palm trees a bending silhouette against the drooping warmth of the late afternoon sun. Once again I am overcome with disbelief; my life is truly a paradise.
The afternoon dive has its own melody, so unlike the crisp freshness of the morning dive that not only awakens but invigorates the senses. It captures the sweetness of lazy Sunday afternoons meandering through the park. My briefing is short and simple, my divers know me, they know my style and they know my rules. I intend to guide them gently, free roaming, on a course that has no destination. We will simply enter the underwater world and let the beauty guide us. The routine we follow has become the natural interaction of friends who have dived together for years even though it has only been a few days. We kit up, we buddy check, and we inflate our BCD’s. If you don’t, bye we will see you at the bottom! We roll backwards into the refreshing waters of the tropics. A quick final check on the surface is all that is needed before we descend.
The sweetness of the silence is always the first thing to welcome me as I sink through the sparkling clarity of the inky blue depths.
Through the silence, the crackling sounds of the reef begin to make themselves known. With a flick of my fins, I drift over to a large rock covered with corals and sponges and begin to explore. A little butterflyfish flits back and forth over the coral as I invert my body, with a shift of my weight and a slight exhale, to take a peek under a small crevice. My curiosity is rewarded with a young fimbriated moray eel gently opening and closing his mouth. I move over to the side and call my divers over for a closer look. Slowly we swim from one outcropping of rock to the next, taking our time to explore the hidden secrets each part of the reef has to offer. A coral banded cleaner shrimp, his delicate legs clinging with ease to the underside of a rock, a multibar pipefish, his slender ringed body undulating back and forth the confined space of his little hideaway. Our patience yields the most beautiful rewards as I glimpse a burst of colour among the varying shades of brown rock strewn across the ocean floor, a brightly coloured nudibranch, twin chromodoris, creeping slowly over the tiny polyps of a table coral.
Our careful eyes search the reef watching for the slightest change in texture or colour in the hopes of finding a rare or beautiful critter. Occasionally we take our eyes off the reef to observe the wondrous beauty of our surroundings. A slender school of yellow back fusiliers stream across the reef moving as one. I flip myself over onto my back and gaze up at the watery sun shimmering and wavering above the surface, beams of light filtering down to us and I smile to myself.
The world above the surface seems so far away; our everyday problems, our concerns and our greatest fears cannot reach us down here.
The tranquillity of this world surrounds us, down here we are invincible, untouchable and enraptured. I am about to turn over and begin looking for the next creature to show my divers when a dark shadow catches my eye. It is the sun darkened silhouette of a turtle, her sweeping grace propelling her to the surface. I point her out to my divers and we watch as she bobs her head up and down gulping delicious mouthfuls of fresh air, before ducking down and with a flick of her flippers she glides gently down to the reef. She hovers motionlessly for a moment before resting carefully on top of a massive purple barrel sponge, her flippers hanging comfortably over the sides. She closes her ancient eyes and drifts off into an undoubtedly peaceful sleep. For a moment I am jealous of the turtle, a flash of a childlike wish to grow gills and a tail and to stay down here forever crosses my mind. I chuckle at my foolishness.
I have already spent more than half my life underwater, I basically live down here, I could not ask for more.
As our air supply runs low, my divers and I begin our slow ascent to the surface. Looking at their faces, I realise that they feel the same way that I do. None of us want to leave the beauty of this sacred and ancient paradise.
The boat ride back to the island is filled with the carefree laughter of happy divers as we chat easily about our favourite moments of the dive. Arriving back at the dive centre we gather around a table loaded with fish identification books as we write down all the amazing fish we saw. A few afternoon beers wash away the salty taste in our mouths as talk turns to amazing dive locations and funny experiences.
There is friendly warmth in the air as the sun sinks below the bleeding horizon and the common knowledge that unites us, we are and always will be divers.