“That suit, it is… sexy.”
The French guy gives me a look up and down, and an approving nod.
Right now, I’m struggling to understand why French people get such a bad rap.
“Sexy for ze sharks!” laughs his older colleague. Apparently he thinks my stylish, pink-purple Roxy wetsuit is going to be good sharkbait.
I tell him I’m not afraid of sharks. Professional courtesy, I say.
I think my joke is lost on him, given I haven’t explained I’m a lawyer.
North Nomad and I are up at a civilised 8:00AM to scuba dive with manta rays at Bora Bora. The brochures are careful to include the disclaimer that even though the dive is geared towards seeing the rays, we are not necessarily guaranteed to see them.
Our French scuba instructors pick us up somewhere close to the scheduled time at the Hilton Nui Resort and Spa. We make one stop at The Regis, where we pick up two French girls, who seem to be workers at the resort, enjoying a day off.
Hearing our accents, everyone is at pains to speak in English around us. On the way back they realise that whilst our French is pretty bad, it’s not non–existent, and after we laugh at a couple of their jokes in French, they slip in and out of French and English while they chat to us.
North Nomad has been on a couple of dives before, but it’s my first time.
I’m not afraid of cold water, deep water, marine life, or even sharks.
But I am nervous about my ears. Ever since I had a bad (and LONG) case of benign (and when the neurosurgeon said benign, I think what he really meant to say was chronic) positional vertigo for most of 2011, my balance has been a little off and my ears a little sensitive.
It’s hard for nerves to hold though, when you’re on a boat in crystal clear, blue water. The smell of salt water and the feel of sun on my shoulders and face has always had a calming effect on me.
And our instructor Jerome is very good at calmly explaining the underwater hand signals to us:
- the okay signal means okay;
- thumbs up does NOT mean okay – it means you need to go up;
- rotating a flattened hand back and forth means you’re not okay (and you should then use a signal to explain what – eg, point at your ear).
Next, we’re taught how to clear our ears when they block under water: clamp your nose with your thumb and forefinger, and blow down.
Diving below the surface, Jerome stops North Nomad and I at several levels to get us practicing with clearing our ears.
We dive down about 20 feet, checking out the coral and the fish. It’s much colder, and much darker than I’m used to when I’ve swum in tropical areas. And much, much colder than our snorkelling tour with the rays and the sharks.
Diving is such a different, and strange sensation when compared with ocean swimming. I’m used to tumbling about in surf, struggling against currents and keeping an eye out for surfers, bad swimmers, and the occasional shark.
Diving, compared to frenetic swimming, is measured, calm, serene. It feels like you’re floating through space, rather than swimming 30 feet below the ocean’s surface.
Jerome points out various curiosities to us. He shows us the dead coral – bleached and bone like, then points out the live coral and cautions us via hand signals not to touch it.
I see some of the fish we’ve been calling my “friends” at the resort – black and white striped, yellow tipped little guys with black spots on their fins. They have no fear of me – inquisitive, if anything, and come straight up to eat out of my hands when I bring them food.
A school of silvery, slim fish swims past, shimmering like metal reflecting in the sunlight.
Pointing past them, Jerome motions us over.
In the distance, two manta rays appear. Their dark hides blend into the dark of the ocean, only the whites of their wings showing this far away.
And as much as I felt like we were floating through space, these giants don’t appear to swimming – they’re soaring through the water.
One passes us, almost as if acknowledging we’re there, and keeps going. A second ray skirts around us. It’s like they’re curious, but don’t feel we’re interesting enough to interact with.
We keep a respectful distance, as we’d been instructed above water.
The rays sail out of eyesight, off into the depths of the water.
Our whole viewing of them lasted only a few minutes. And it was a surreal after-feel – the lack of tangibility to the experience making it feel like a fleeting memory all too quickly.
Up on the surface again, John gives us some hot tea and biscuits to warm up. He tells me that I’m a natural at diving (I told you these French men were charming), and suggests I work towards certification if I enjoy it.
Asking what we thought of the rays, he tells us that when people say aliens don’t exist, he knows it’s a lie. “They’re under the surface here, flying through the ocean.”
Cost: Introductory Dive is 10,000 XPF per person – approximately $115 per person.
You can connect with South Nomad, Jessica, over at Google+.