24 March 2019

Finding Nemo

I wasn't sure I would see them again. It had been three years I hadn't set foot in the same spot. Nothing had changed but every time I got a glimpse of the ocean and its truly turquoise colour, I wanted to stay, never to come back where I was expected to come back to – home, work, obligations, self-imposed responsibilities, whichever.

The beach in Trou-aux-Biches, Mauritius

The calm lagoon waters of the island of Mauritius were protected by the coral reef, the presence of which about three hundred metres at large was revealed by the distant sound and sight of waves crashing onto it. That memory had accompanied my thoughts when I had been asked by nurses to think of something pleasant: they were about to try inserting yet again the drip for my epidural anesthesia, for they had failed to do so at the first attempt. I would force myself to remember how I would enjoy eating goat cheese with a piece of freshly-baked baguette (or was it some other kind of bread back then, I don’t remember). Sat directly on the sand, alternating between looking at the ocean and reading my book, I would lick my fingers covered with the juice dripping from the small, ready-cut pineapple.

Those memories had replaced the ones from Thailand’s southernmost island of Koh Lipe I had used in my mind as I went through previous surgeries. Why? Because while I had loved the tranquillity of that tiny island – there were no cars just like on the Gili islands in Indonesia – I kept remembering that I had to swim next to a series of anchored longtail boats when I wanted to have a dip in the Andaman Sea. I couldn’t help but think that, as a result of their guzzling use of petrol, the near-shore waters must have been fairly polluted. That thought kept bothering my psychorigid mind that needed anything but environmental concerns as I was about to get “stabbed” with an intravenous drip or other medical procedure!

Walking in the transparent waters of Blue Bay, Mauritius

Mauritius offered me that reprieve. Yes, I had been disappointed with its coral which I didn’t expect to be dead. But there was something about Mauritius, its on-the-surface peace between a variety of ethnic groups, its interesting mix of English and French, the general warmth of its people, that made me want to come back. At the same time, just as much as I avoid reading the same book twice or avoid watching the same film twice (with some exceptions), I tend to dread coming back to the same faraway geographical location, lest I be disappointed.

Three years back, in Mauritius, I had encountered a couple of turtles far below the surface of the well-named Blue Bay Marine Park. I had been snorkelling for a couple of hours and had been lucky to encounter them. It had reminded me of the similar thrilling experience off the coast of Gili Air. This time, I was on my way back to shore and thought, wouldn’t it be funny if I got lucky again and spotted “my” turtles? I scrutinised the green-tinted seafloor through my snorkelling mask and within a few minutes, lo and behold, I spotted a turtle. See if you can spot it too in the following photo taken with my GoPro.

Can you spot the turtle located in the centre of this unprocessed photo taken with my GoPro?

What followed was “obviously” a thirty-minute chase to make sure I would have something for dinner. I’m joking. How could I hurt that cute animal?! I did follow the turtle though, eager to swim alongside it and possibly be able to take better, closer shots, ideally with only the water in the background.

A closer shot of “my” Mauritian turtle
Mauritian turtle racing to the surface of the water to catch a breath of fresh air

It was exhilarating to get really close to the turtle and see it reach the surface to take one big breath of fresh air before immediately and quickly diving back into the depth of the ocean. I was still smiling when I noticed that “my” turtle was swimming towards another turtle! Despite keeping distance, I did notice I was causing the turtle to be cautious: it had given a first attempt at reaching the surface before retreating, perhaps due to my nearby presence, before trying again and then dashing back downwards. The glass-bottom boats that were bringing their weekend load of local families had inevitably observed my strange movements in the water. As one got closer, I could hear the expressions of joy of the families as they saw the same turtles through the glass. The skipper nodded at me in appreciation before ferrying everyone back to shore. I was back to being alone with “my” turtles, taking the time to film them through different angles… as I had done just three years before. Fins firmly anchored to my feet, it was easy to swim at the same pace as them.

It was time to get back to shore. I started feeling cold, having possibly stayed a little too long in the water. There’s always that little fear in me that I wouldn’t be able to receive help if a sudden heart attack struck me – silly thought considering the low probability of this happening but still a thought that comes to my mind pretty much every time I’m swimming alone or relatively far from the coastline. Till next time, maybe?