Of Bicyclists and Coral

Trip Start Dec 03, 2004
Trip End Nov 31, 2005

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Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Feeling a little lonely, I invited myself on a trip by bicycle around the island with two girls staying at the hostel, Fiona and Nassha. They also intended to go snorkelling, which was good since I really wanted to try it out and wouldn't have had the guts to do it alone. We rode into town and rented the snorkelling gear. When we took off this time we looked a little silly: we were riding in our flip flops so we didn't have to carry them, and then carrying our flippers and snorkel masks in bags slung across our backs in a very awkward manner. Fortunately the wind was with us so we made good time down the road to Salmon Bay, our first destination.

The girls admitted it had been years since they'd snorkelled, but it didn't seem too mentally taxing. We got the gear on and laughed at how we looked: alien goggle eyes, and the sound of the air shooting out of the sonrkel made us all sound like Darth Vader. I flopped into the water first and was shocked at how the view of the ocean suddenly changed; even though we were in only a few feet of water, once you had the snorkel mask below the surface it made everything look deeper, endless. Of course close to shore all I was observing was little minnow-like fish and some seaweed patches in the white sand. We flippered out a bit further and popped up.

"Where are the fish?" I said. "I came here for fish!" While this was a joke, I was overheard by a man snorkelling nearby. Obviously more experienced than us, he had a wetsuit on and had probably been out for hours already that morning. He offered to show us where the best coral and fish sightings in the area were, pointing to a not-too-distant small rock out cropping.

Within moments we started to see fish: big friendly silver ones, small zebra-striped ones, whisking in and out of purple and tan corals. I became overly excited upon seeing a small blue and rainbow coloured fish and tried to both point it out to the girls and tell them about it at the same time. The combination wasn't a good one; I swallowed a huge gulp of extremely salty water and popped back up, coughing and gasping. After that I was a little leerier of the amazing powers of the snorkel mask to keep me breathing and wasn't too willing to dip down below the water line, although I know it's possible. I was content to float at the surface, flippering every now and then, watching the fish dart in and out of the rock ledges. The rock that on the surface had looked tiny was a behemoth under water, extending arms out in all directions. The snorkelling fellow who had adopted us dove down in the water and pointed out various coral formations to us while Nassha and Fiona attempted to snap photos with their waterproof camera.

After about twenty minutes we realized why he was wearing a wetsuit-the water was beginning to feel chilly. We popped back in for lunch. The girls had to catch a ferry at four o'clock, and since to get to our next snorkelling destination we had to cycle all the way around the island, we decided to take off quick.

The ride took us along the south coast and up along the west side past a series of white, empty beaches on aqua bays, cradled in the embrace of sandy dunes. They were tempting, but we had a goal: Parakeet Bay. We arrived there and the girls decided to take a quick five on the beach improving their tans while I eagerly threw the snorkelling gear back on and leapt into the blue waters. I kicked out towards the rocky outcrop that stuck out between Parakeet Bay and its sister, Little Parakeet, but stopped in horror when I encountered a (very small) jellyfish bobbing in front of me. It turns out I have a horror of jellyfish, as I turned around right quick and kicked back in, gasping out that I'd seen a jellyfish. It also turns out I'm not alone in this fear. The girls were up on their feet and willing to move to the next bay. First they climbed up a nearby dune to get a look at the next bay over while I went for a quick swim, thinking that close to shore I'd avoid stingers; but not so, as I got a sting on the shoulder. It was a short, sharp pain with a bit of tingling in the hand, but nothing particularly galling.

In the next bay, Little Parakeet, we all got in about five feet, ducked below the surface, saw a school of jellyfish, and bobbed back out. We really wanted to snorkel again but wanted a place where we wouldn't be risking multiple stings. Fiona suggested we head up to The Basin, the most popular swimming beach on the island, since they'd been swimming there the day before and hadn't had any close encounters of the jelly kind. We agreed and hopped back on our bikes; by now we'd gotten tired of ripping clothes on and off and were cycling in just our bathing suits, making the whole picture of girls on bikes with flip flops and snorkel gear and helmets even more amusing.

At the Basin, so named for the rock basins that are formed close to the sandy shore, we popped into one of the deeper rock bowls and looked beneath for jellies: but, no, just a ton of fish, right away. Bonanza! We swam out and explored the rock formations off shore, swimming through a school of leopard-spotted fish. Finally the strong waves threatening to push us into the rock formations forced us back in towards shore. Suddenly all our heads popped up at once: "Jelly fish!" We scrambled out onto a rock---at least, Nassha and I did, while Fiona tried to convince us to swim the rest of the way in, as it was just a small school we'd gone through. They'd both been stung, on the neck and the leg. I cautiously slipped back in and we kicked back to shore.

After the exciting day of snorkelling I spent my last day on the island just bicycling, out to the far tip of an isolated little cape to check out the Indian Ocean crashing on the farthest point of the island, and then through the middle past the strange lakes and the lighthouse.
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Ralph on

Now there's an island that sure looks like paradise, and who would have known you were in Australia for that! Looks like the Caribbean to me! This is surely a Best Travel Deal to be noted down.

Josaf on

Your blog is informative and interesting. By reading this blog i improved my knowledge.

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