Snorkeling is our version of going for a walk around the block — doing a little exercise, a little sightseeing. But this morning was extraordinary… not only for what we saw, but for the unusual journey that led us here. Allow me to explain.
Let’s say there’s something you LOVE to do, but are unable to due to injury. You weaved your entire life around this activity, and for three years, people come visit you, because you live in one of the world’s best places for it; but you can only participate a little bit.
Then one day you say “Screw it, my injury is feeling pretty good, and I’ve got a doctor’s appointment next week anyway.” What follows is a few hours of liberated ecstasy — where all the past pain and frustration subsides into a cathartic joy, and half the day disappears in a daze of wonder and awe.
That is how our morning with the Manta Rays went.
Due to her ongoing ear injury, Sabrina hasn’t been underwater in over three years. She LOVES being underwater. She’s a SCUBA dive master and would amaze me by sitting still next to a rock, 40 feet deep, and finding the most intricate creatures, which she would excitedly share with me. She’d freedive down to find shells on the ocean floor, looking graceful and calm as a ballerina. She is a natural athlete surfing, and learned her best squiggles at Scorpion Bay, which made her giddy with delight. Then all that was halted from a bad ear infection that become a blown ear drum infection, followed by two timpanoplasty surgeries over three years and suffering from an ongoing pinhole which to this day has refused to fully heal.
Many people live with ear drum issues — but how many of those people are divers living on a cruising sailboat?? Sabrina has had to cultivate an incredible fortitude and acceptance of her situation. She’s been able to snorkel on the surface with earplugs, but has to watch everyone else play freely in the water, while we cruise through some of the world’s most remarkable underwater playgrounds: Galapagos, Tuamotus, Isla Cocos.
At least here in French Polynesia, the water is so crystal clear, and the reefs are so shallow and amazing, that we often snorkel in just 3-5 feet of water; and even in 100 feet of water, outside the lagoons, you can see the bottom. Like many people who snorkel exclusively at the surface, Sabrina has been enjoying herself lots… but still. She yearns to dive underwater, so badly.
With Jonathan and Gary, we took Aldebaran to a Motu and went looking for the Manta Rays. This is a place where the Mantas gather to get “cleaned” by little fish. Still, we’re lucky if we find one or two; we’re lucky if the water isn’t too silty (it is notoriously turbid in this part of Tikehau’s lagoon); and we’re lucky if the Mantas hang around for long.
On this day, not only did we dive with 6 (!) Mantas, the water was the clearest I’ve seen it here, and they swam around us for hours, calmly getting cleaned by the tiny fish that live on these coral heads.
Sabrina dove down for the first time in over 3 years… and kept diving for the next few hours… The majestic Mantas gave us the greatest gift we could receive.