Confessions of a scuba fundamentalist
November 23, 2005
The editor of this fine publication has been hectoring me to get off my sociological horse and the usual political beat I walk. In celebration of my tenth year of writing for Iranian.com I am trading in my prophet of doom’s sackcloth for a three mil. wetsuit to write about scuba diving. Don’t expect something “lite” and heartwarming though. For me scuba is as serious as any politicized religion. I admit to being a scuba fundamentalist. I write to proselytize the benighted; to save your gravity-bound behinds from the boredom of a landed purgatory. Come with me and don’t worry. I’ll show you what you do >>> photos
First off, fly to the tropics – unless you are one of those lunatics who enjoys diving in muddy quarries of Missouri and frozen lakes of Wisconsin that have the visibility and viscosity of pea soup. Think bloody sunsets behind undulating palms of a white beach, please. And, think gorgeous, exotic islands: Fernando de Noronha of Brazil, Koh Tao of Thailand and the divine Little Cayman.
Then suit up, jump in and sink like a stone. Water is warm and visibility is... wow! At the beige sandy bottom descend down a vertical cave near the coral wall that drops down into infinity. Swim through the tortuous cave and emerge horizontally into the cobalt blue of the precipice; into a vapor of brilliant, neon gobies and a cloud of parrotfish.
An annoyed puffer swims by and gives you a dirty look. But you don’t care. You are here to gawk and take pictures without permission not to worry about fish privacy. A Nassau Grouper has parked “himself” (Groupers change sex to cope with midlife crisis and this one is a newfangled male) between two large rocks with mouth and gills agape, waiting for the cleaner fish to finish their job. If you are behind in your dental check up, feel free to take a deep breath, remove your air regulator and open your mouth. The Cleaners will dart in and out and you too can get a free cleaning. These critters are not speciesists. But in my scuba religion you have to accept your regulator as your Personal Savior, especially when you are anywhere deeper than sixty feet. So, on second thought: don’t do it.
It’s time to check your air. At this depth you still have about fifteen more minutes of “pure bliss” left – and this, beached, lumbering ladies and plodding gentlemen of the jury, is a religious expression not a figure of speech. Your buddy is making the sign of a shark (vertical palm on the head) and pointing up. Right above you a seven footer is patrolling the wall, oh so majestically, so disdainfully. For some reason that stupid “da-da-da-da/da-da-da-da” sound track never pops into your head when you are in the deep with one of these suckers. You feel safe because you have a feeling sharks loath the clumsy, ungainly divers: they would never stoop to attacking your sorry hindquarters.
But again, what do you care if you are an eyesore in this paradise? Just make an ass out of yourself and get out the camera. Taking pictures looking up is always a good idea so snap just before His awesome Majesty swims away in disgust of your stupid bubbles. And, look... Another Grouper changing color right in front of your popping eyes. Time to find your buddy and swim back hugging the wall that is covered by dozens of species of coral and teeming with gorgeous life.
But there is still more fun to be had. Your buddy, the local dive master, knows where to find a frogfish and these things have got to be even uglier that you are in this never-never land of beauteous dreams. According to your air gauge it’s really, really time to go now. Ascend slowly if you want to live. And why do you want to live? To get to dive again, silly! Go up the anchor line and fifteen feet to the surface pause for your three- minute safety stop.
Look up at the shimmying surface and the sinister looking barracuda who is checking you out at close range. And then there is this horse-eyed jack making eye contact. Hi honey! The strong current waves you on the line like a flag in a limpid, windy autumn day. You see other divers at the bottom hanging with a couple of Stingrays and a giant loggerhead turtle. One is standing on his head to get a better peek at the eerie Moray eel that resides in that crag and makes a living when the annoying divers are not around. Your time is up my friend. Say your mantra as you go up: “In any half hour of a tropical dive you are liable to see more color and beauty than you have in your entire, sad landed life.”
The above dictum holds even if you are a tree-hugging, nature loving, birdwatcher. Unlike a birdwatcher you are bound by the same laws as the creatures you are trying to watch. You see a fish you like? Don’t whip out the dorky binoculars! Swim up ten feet to the top of that sea fan and take a closer look! You are completely weightless here, remember? And you feel strangely elated; do you know why? Because the nitrogen dissolved in your blood stream gives you the equivalent of a martini for every forty feet you descend. When you come up, you are completely sober and suffer no side effects. Nitrogen narcosis has got to be the world’s cleanest high. Try to get that when you go bird-watching with your local, bespectacled, muddy-booted ornithologist >>> Photos
Ahmad Sadri is Professor and Chairman of the Department of
Sociology and Anthropology at Lake Forest College, IL, USA. See Features.