Monday, June 7

Two and a half months in Indonesia: Snorkeling at Tulamben

I know there was a time before I learned to swim, but I don't know exactly when this was. I do recall very nearly drowning in the headwaters of the Mississippi River. That would give some indication of a time I knew no stroke or crawl. It's likely that incident, combined with a mother who was a former lifeguard and a father who enjoyed bringing me along on fishing trips, is the cause of this inability to remember a long-distant past where swimming was not a part of my skill set.

As any proper boy should, I preferred swimming in lakes and rivers to swimming pools. As such, I can't remember either a time where there wasn't at least a single set of fins, mask and snorkel in our towel closet. Their promise is of seeing underwater, watching walleye and perch passing by and crayfish scuttling between rocks. Their power over the young is an undeniable one. In practice, this didn't work so well in the dark of Minnesotan waters. The state name comes from Ojibwa or Chippewa or something and means "cloud-tinted water." Maybe that's true in southern Minnesota. A better name for that in the north would maybe "mud-tinted water" or "Coke-tinted water." Your hand is just a lighter brown stain in the water twenty-centimeters before your eyes in Lake of the Woods. Any farther and it's not even that.

So it wasn't for a few more years that a snorkel and mask proved of any use to me whatsoever. That first time also happened to be in Key West. This past Sunday, I went snorkeling again, this time around the wreck of the USAT Liberty outside of Tulamben. To be clear, the Lonely Planet Guide calls it the best and most popular dive site in Bali. It is still nothing in comparison to Key West and its waters clear as the air above, teeming aquatic life and stretches of brilliant coral. Snorkeling outside of Tulamben the water was so murky that I couldn't see our guide or Demetra if they were more than a few meters to any side though the water was clear down to fifteen at least, it bordered on crowded with so many snorkelers and divers crowding in around the sunken mass and much of the coral had taken on the colors of the rusted hull.

That's not to say it was without its particular pleasures. I kept pace with the divers below, popping the biggest bubbles they released and letting the rest wash over and around me. I saw the electric yellow and blacks of angel fish, others with brilliant blue lines running along their fins, others still no larger than a minnow but brighter than an Easter egg. A school of silver fish the length of my forearm circled around me, away from their Neanderthal cousin, the size of quality club sub-woofer and depth of my extended hand.

I am an unusually fortunate person.

Totally worth the sunburn. It was the first time I bothered to put on sunblock this whole year, and I fully expect to be in pain another two days at least. I haven't had one this bad since first grade.

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