No-one would ever call me a swimmer. I can keep my head above water, more or less, even swim a bit. At least I could 16 years ago when I was last in a pool. These days I might sink like a rock.
Like speaking French, swimming was something I learned as a matter of necessity. I was in a pool one day that was in the process of being drained. Suddenly my short eight-year old arms could no longer reach up to hang on to the wall. I didn’t fancy drowning, so I splashed about and stayed afloat.
You couldn’t even call that jumping in at the deep end. Maybe it’s a metaphor for my life. Finding myself just out of reach. Learning by necessity. I’ll have to ponder that.
The point is, I was never a good swimmer. A few times I had the opportunity to go snorkeling on some really fab reefs. Couldn’t do it. My mask kept filling up and sea water got up my nose so all I did was splutter and try to put my feet down without breaking any of the beautiful corals beneath me.
Photographic evidence of this was long ago disposed of, fortunately.
Which offers not a lot to illustrate my story.
One day, after I had given up the whole idea of snorkeling, we stopped mid-ocean to view a submerged reef.
The anthropologist and I sat in the rubber boat watching frigate birds. He was a most interesting man.
If memory serves, it was on this island, Savu, in the Flores Strait where I had my moment.
One afternoon, a small group of us elected to take a particular excursion in a rubber boat.
It involved swimming. We were supplied with flippers and masks, but it was not snorkeling. I’d failed that.
Our rubber boat carried us smoothly past a beach to a spot where a rock face defined the coastline. As he headed in, the driver cut the engine, taking out a paddle.
In the rock face there was a gap, just large enough for the rubber boat to enter. It was surprisingly cool in there and our voices echoed. We felt inclined to whisper, why, I’m not sure.
Then the moment of truth.
The rubber boat could not proceed very far, so we offloaded into the cool water and stood waist deep, awaiting instructions.
“There is a tunnel, at the end of the cave, under the water. If you dive down and swim through it, on the other side you will be in an enclosed lagoon.”
They had told us about this on the ship, of course. Our small group, I think there were four of us, were the only takers for this expedition. A larger group would actually have ruined the experience, so we were delighted. I was a tad nervous. Of course, I could elect to do like before and just sit in the boat, but maybe I had something to prove.
Needless to say, I did not go first.
However, once I was in the water, my nervousness departed. I had no qualms.
I just took a deep breath and followed the flippers of the person in front. My mask did not fill up!
With flippers, I didn’t need to be a strong swimmer. I just had to hold my breath for a short time.
Suddenly I was swimming through a narrow, dark, underwater tunnel. It was cold, but exhilarating.
It’s unlikely I could have crawled through such a tunnel, but this was different. I felt like a seal!
The flippers I followed suddenly vanished and I saw daylight. I shot out into bright sunshine and utter delight!
The black coral walls of the lagoon were sheer, some 20 feet in height, topped by lush tropical vegetation cascading over the edges
Bright green Flores lorikeets flew back and forth in the trees, calling out in their raucous voices.
The sky above, deep blue. The sense of peace, complete.
It was such a brief moment in time, hardly a gasp, but precious beyond measure.
This infinitesimal moment in my life, I seldom speak of. It’s a place I go to often.
I am so lucky to have it.