Snorkelling Schwarzenegger

Snorkelling Schwarzenegger

The more I saw, the more I believed that snorkelling was in my life for good!

“Please watch the demonstration on snorkelling and scuba-diving, the gear, method of wearing and SOS signals; and book your time-slot,” said the announcement in Strine from the catamaran’s PA system in Cairns, Australia. Though loud and clear, it took me time to understand it. I went across to Meg, the life-guard.

Struggling to pronounce my name, she asked with a funny grimace: “How do you pronounce that?” I asked her, in return, if she could pronounce ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger,’ ‘Zbigniew Brzezinski’ and ‘Norman Schwarzkopf’. She did, so I told her to say ‘Surya’, then ‘Narayan’ and finally, ‘Suryanarayan’. She did. I said it was that simple, after all. And so I became ‘Schwarzenegger’ for the remainder of the cruise!

I doubted if I could snorkel. She asked five questions: “Are you above 65? Non-swimmer or not swam for many years? Any back problems? Respiratory problems? Heart surgery?” I said yes to all. She told me not to worry, assured me of her guidance, coaching and company in the sea if I paid the prescribed extra fee. That set my mental arithmetic calculator on: having paid almost AUD 200, was it worth another 30? If I didn’t do it at 69, I never would; and the possible pictures of and with marine life underwater did it for me.

We reached the Outer Barrier Reef in about an hour, and then were shifted to an anchored pontoon, which had all the facilities imaginable. Looking down into the ocean through the glass-bottom boat and the submersible boat, I saw a colourful array of marine life. It was nothing short of magical. I was eager and ready to go snorkelling, when Meg emptied out half-a-bottle of Vaseline on my moustache to prevent water from getting into the snorkel. She preferred my going underwater without the snorkel, but I felt safer, with it; so she guided me, holding an inflatable tube.

Instead of the standard 20 minutes, she gave me a 45-minute, kilometre-long tutorial. The water was clear and warm, and in no time, with Meg’s skill at hand, I was able to manage my way through the sea. The sheer grandness of the coral reef, with all its variety and colour, and the vibrant sea-life, from the tiny Angel Fish to Coral Trout, (besides a sea turtle, which was also Meg’s email ID), took my mind away from the fact that I, a long-time-non-swimmer was actually snorkelling in potentially wild waters! The only problem was a lady-doctor from Malaysia, holding on to my ankle for dear life, not realising my inexperience!

After a sumptuous lunch, Meg, who was also a marine naturalist, had a discussion on reef ecology. She asked questions to ‘Schwarzenegger’, creating ripples of laughter all-round! Explaining that the GB Reef spans 1,500 km, she displayed marine touch tanks, where we could touch some of the reef's unique marine creatures. I learnt that corals could be male and female; and that for just the seventh day after full moon in November every year, the entire ocean turns pink with whale-sperm, marking the beginning of the breeding season.

The more I saw, the more I believed that snorkelling was in my life for good! Before the outdoor trip ended, I had a snap of Schwarzenegger-Suryanarayan hugging Ace-turtle-Meg.
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