After six weeks of traveling on assignment – from the steamy heat of Singapore to mid-winter in Christchurch, New Zealand, back to tropical Bangkok and then on to the Arabian desert – I finally took two days off from work and plopped myself down on a beach blanket by the Indian Ocean in Dibba in the United Arab Emirates.
I found the Holiday Beach Motel through bookings.com (which has a much better selection of hotels in out-of-the-way places than asiarooms.com, that’s for sure) and selected it for its great price and for the fact that it had a dive/snorkel shop right on the premises. Forget the fact that its so hot in July in the Emirates that no body of water is significantly cooler than one’s own body temperature, I was at the beach, I was going swimming and I wuz gonna see some fish!
Over the course of two days I spent about ten hours in the water, outfitted with mask and flippers by the beautiful and personable Alla Druzhynina, matron of Blue Planet Diving.
But of my numerous outings, the most memorable was not the one in which I was ferried out to Dibba rock 200 meters from the beach where the macho scuba divers go, but the least ambitious one of all. That would be the one where, fat from a lunch of lamb keema chased with two bottles of beer, I waddled into the surf and floated face down while the current pushed me from one spectacular underwater scene to another.
Maybe it was the beer or maybe it was the sun, but as I viewed the underwater life, I couldn’t help but feel I was flying at sea level over exotic terrain – a variation on the human landscape of rural, suburban and urban.
The sandy ocean floor was quite a bit like what I’d seen in abundance in the desert up top and similarly unpopulated. Approaching the mounds of green, gray and brown vegetative outcroppings, small yellow, black and silver fish started to appear. At first darting away at the sight of me, but after deciding I was no threat, emerging with new boldness to carry on their nibbling. As I approached the rocks, the fish population increased. Here it really looked like flying over a city landscape. There were streams of fish moving together along some unmarked highway (unmarked to my eyes anyway). The enormous hawk billed turtle and black tipped shark who happened along were the underwater equivalent of the tractor-trailer truck; slower moving but still very impressive and worthy of leaving them a wide berth. I don’t have an underwater camera, but this short clip by Hamad Al Dhefairi from You Tube gives a pretty good idea of what its like.
When I finally was pushed over to the jetty, the rocks loomed up at me like highrises with all sorts of fish swimming in and out of the crannies. In an elaborate design of landscaping that many humans would probably pay good money for, the nooks were festooned with deep red spiny urchins. How does nature position them so perfectly?
There’s a world teeming with life under the sea. I know this in an intellectual way, but each time I wade into the water with that mask affixed to my noggin and I make the transformation from noisy participant to silent observer, is it as if I’m seeing it all for the first time and I’m astonished once again. Familiar setting or far-away place, snorkeling is always a satisfying trip into a different world.