The Great Barrier Reef: The Best Worst Decision I’ve Made So Far

From day 1 I knew I wanted to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef. On Wednesday Nov. 5th that day had finally come. And then I fucked it up.

Let me rewind for a minute. I booked my boat and 2 introductory scuba dives through Poseidon, a company that had been recommended to me by my kayaking buddy Martin; it had good reviews and reasonable prices in comparison to some other places (this is not a cheap adventure) so I went with it. Error 1: if I’d booked it through my hostel they could’ve given me a discounted price and I would’ve gotten a free night accommodation. Things I didn’t know. But I’d been anxious to book this tour since it was the only thing I knew I wanted to do for sure. Oh well.

The day before they called to tell me that the Poseidon boat had to be serviced, so was I ok with being put on Silversonic, an identical trip that was actually a little bit better; newer boat, more time in the water, better food included. I’d looked at this one too but the dives were more expensive; they said they weren’t going to charge me more so I said ok.

I was picked at 6:30 am from Asylum; for an extra AUD 24 the package came with a ride from my hostel to the pier in Port Douglas and back. Maybe this early departure is why I wasn’t thinking clearly when I boarded the boat and filled out the medical information form for scuba diving.

“Do you ever get dizziness, loss of vision, blackouts, or faint?” Yes, this happened just two weeks ago. In truth, this happens to me all the time – I frequently lose vision for a few seconds when I stand up, but I don’t usually faint (minus the one time when I woke up on the tiled bathroom floor of my childhood home happy that I hadn’t seriously injured myself). I always figured it had something to do with dehydration or my awful circulation, even though I’m not always dehydrated when it happens, but now that I know it’s not as common as I thought maybe I should get it checked out… I recover quickly though so I never thought it was a big deal.

Australia thought it was a big deal. Why did I check this box? I don’t know. I had a momentary lapse of judgement and told the honest truth. They didn’t let me dive. I tried to protest, saying it really wasn’t a problem, I’ve scuba dived before, and I shouldn’t have even checked the box. It was too late. My dream of scuba diving the GBR was gone and I was stuck with just snorkeling for the day. At least they promised me a refund for the dives.

I sulked upstairs and took a seat at the back of the boat, watching the ocean race by underneath us as I listened to my iPod. What the hell was I thinking? How could I let my dream go like this? I stewed for about 10 minutes, letting myself be angry at myself, and then I let it go. I was going to be refunded over $100 that I could use for other parts of my trip. That’s a lot in backpacker money. And I still had the chance to snorkel at three different locations. I’d heard snorkeling was actually better here than diving, so maybe it would be ok.

It was completely ok. Not just ok, but it was actually an absent-minded blessing. At our first location of the day I eagerly jumped into the water, determined to make the most of my snorkel time, and within seconds was inches from the reef and its inhabitants. We had an hour and a half at this location and I spent almost all of it in the water paddling around the reef. I also used this opportunity to teach myself to dive without inhaling snorkel tube mouthfuls of water. As I did this, I caught sight of the introductory divers. They were nowhere near the reef; they were over by the boat holding onto a rope, practicing breathing and clearing their masks.

I realized something: the reef is not a place to introductory dive. The point of the day was to see the GBR, and the introductory divers had just a fraction of the time that the snorkelers had to do this. Between going through the learning process of how to use the equipment and only having 20-30 minutes of air in their tanks, their time to see the reef was minimal. I, on the other hand, had well over an hour in all three locations to see the coral, fish and one shark. The reef was my playground while the scuba divers were in class. (If you are certified though it’s probably worth it; you don’t have to go through the lessons and get to actually swim around the reef at a lower depth. Although really most of what you want to see is so close to the surface that I’m not sure it’s even better as a certified diver.)

So how was the reef? Expansive, interesting, full of a variety of coral and its residents – fish, giant clams, sea cucumbers, anemones, starfish, at least one shark, and apparently turtles, although I wasn’t lucky enough to see one. The three locations that we explored all offered something different, the third being my favorite due to it being the most colorful underwater landscape of the day. All in all though, I admit, I was a bit disappointed.

The GBR is supposed to be breathtakingly gorgeous, and it didn’t quite have that effect. It was beautiful and I’m so happy to have seen it, but this section of outer reef honestly wasn’t my favorite diving site (something I would discover in the Whitsundays). And the fish weren’t nearly as numerous and vibrant as I expected them to be either.

So in the end, with the impression I got from the GBR and the realization that learning to dive is better done not at a Natural Wonder of the World, my lapse in judgement to say I get blackouts ended up saving my day.

And it didn’t hurt my budget either. Remember how I said I’d booked through Poseidon, which had cheaper dives, but was actually sent out with Silversonic? Well they refunded me for the Silversonic prices, so I actually ended up with a cheaper day than they even offer just to snorkel. I’d count that as a win for me.

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