Hilltop Views

Voices from Abroad: Jana in Australia

Courtesy of Jana Soares

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There I was standing on the edge of the sand, in a blueberry-colored wetsuit, apple red life jacket, and creamy white flippers.  A lemon yellow snorkel and crystal-clear plastic goggles framed my face.  I plunged my right flipper into the warm water, and my left flipper followed with a forceful thud, splashing up saltwater around my shins. 

I continued to penguin-walk a few steps forward, before stopping to tilt my head up towards the cloudy, bright sky.  I then looked down at the sapphire blue water, while slowly crouching on all fours, my hands gripping the grains of sand below.  I hesitantly lowered my snorkel-masked face into the water, and calmly took a deep, slow breath.

My head sprung out of the water like a springboard, and my hand flew up to my mouth, removing the snorkel piece.  I gasped, inhaling the salt-filled sea air. 

I have a secret to reveal.

I have never snorkeled before, and was not used to taking such slow, long breaths while keeping my face in the water.  But, what better way to literally get my feet wet into snorkeling than at the Great Barrier Reef?

The Great Barrier Reef is located off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia.  There are reef tours that depart daily from Cairns (pronounced “cannes”).  Cairns is a beautiful place with a tropical climate. 

The first stop on the reef tour was Michaelmas Cay, part of the outer reef.  A cay is a small, island on the surface of a coral reef, and Michaelmas Cay is the largest of the uninhabited coral cays in the Cairns region, and is home to about 35 species of birds.

After a few more attempts, I am happy to report that I was able to breathe properly with the snorkel while keeping my head in the water.  Propped up by my  life jacket, I scissor-kicked my  legs with ease, gracefully cutting through the water as I followed our snorkel guide. 

With my breathing skills now polished, I began to relax.  An IMAX movie was unfolding right before my eyes.  I was able to capture frames of memories from the underwater film reel revealing an ocean’s mystique.

Lavender purple, pineapple yellow, and rust red—these were some of the coral colors that I noticed while gliding my way through the ocean.  Their textures ranged from spiny, brain-like and maze patterned for the hard corals, to spongy, flowy, and hair-like for the soft corals.  It was a larger-than-life aquarium.  I felt like one of those scuba diving action figures in a fish tank at my old dentist’s office, except I was not actually diving, nor was I swimming in an enclosed glass container. 

However, the colors of the corals blanketing the ocean floor reminded me of the brightly colored pebbles that often decorate the bottom of fish tanks.  The ocean floor was a secret garden, embedded with corals, seaweed, and water plants.  I kept swimming and spotted a few giant clams, their stone grey and purple scalloped shells peeking up from the ocean floor.  The membrane between the valve of the shell halves bubbled water up towards the surface like soda pop.

The second stop was at Hasting’s Reef, also part of the outer reef.  In addition to thriving, vibrant corals, schools of fish darted past me in every direction, their iridescent scales gleaming in the sunrays that filtered through the water. 

Turquoise blue, fuchsia pink, sea foam green and tangerine orange fish, some displaying all of those colors, captivated my attention.  A clown fish hiding amongst the peach orange soft corals, just like in Finding Nemo, swam quickly out and back into the coral, displaying its characteristic white sashes like a pageant winner.  This particular soft coral appeared almost jelly like and translucent, dancing back and forth to its own rhythm.  It performed a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t magic trick, which made the clown fish appear, and then disappear in the clear blue water.

The Great Barrier Reef was absolutely breathtaking, beyond the learning curve of how to breathe with a snorkel, and I highly recommend seeing it if you ever visit Cairns.  Snorkeling among the corals, fish, and other sea life, revealed a treasure trove of memories and the greatness of the deep blue sea.

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Voices from Abroad: Jana in Australia