Great Barrier Reef -- If I had to assign a soundtrack to my first scuba diving attempt, it would sound more like the daunting theme from Jaws than the jolly Under The Sea from The Little Mermaid.
But that's probably what I should have expected from a quickie cruise ship stopover in Mexico with an instructor who barely spoke English. I was the only one in our group unable to remove my regulator a necessary safety skill in diving.
So I had to hang back on shore and watch as the rest of the group began their grand adventure, feeling stung by the non-refundable $100 fee and deflated by my sudden lack of competence. I resolutely decided to do everything possible short of growing gills to kick my underwater breathing hang-ups.
Fast-forward a few years to last February, when my husband, Cary, and I were planning our honeymoon to Australia. If we were going to blow all our wedding money and cramp ourselves on airplanes for 22 hours to get there, we couldn't miss out on the country's most brilliant natural wonder, the Great Barrier Reef. The 2,300 kilometres of intricately shaped coral reefs and their community of brilliant aquatic life were more than enough incentive to enroll in a local scuba diving course and learn to make O2 peacefully co-exist with H2O.
Easier said than done, I discovered, during our first session at a midtown Toronto swimming pool. Once again, I couldn't manage sharing my regulator with my husband, my less-than-impressed diving buddy. Unable to subdue the alarmed voice deep in the primal region of my brain screaming, "You shouldn't be breathing under water!," I hurtled to the pool's surface, gasping and bug-eyed.
There was too much was at stake to give up. For the week leading up to the next pool session, I psyched myself up like a determined virgin on prom night, summoning lots of Dr. Phil-style positive self-talk. It worked: I submerged and went through the list of skills calmly and effectively, minus the previous week's hysterics.
The real test, however, is going down under in the Land Down Under. Two weeks into our trip we reach the northeastern beach town of Cairns, the most popular gateway to the reef. To complete the final stage of the recreational dive certification process, we sign up for a two-day excursion that will let us complete four dives at three different reefs. The sun's out in full force, the aquamarine waters of the South Pacific are calm, and we're eager to explore the highlights of this renowned World Heritage site.
Decked out in several kilos of scuba gear, we gradually make our way to the edge of the boat and take our first plunge into the ocean. As we deflate our buoyancy control devices and let ourselves fall 6, 9, 12 metres, we're blessed with excellent visibility that lets us take in the sights of this underwater garden of eden: hundreds of fish species in a stunning array of shapes, sizes and incandescent hues, weaving in and out of massive pale pink, yellow and lime green coral cays.
From time to time, as we descend and practise the skills we've learned, twitches of fear creep in. But shouting underwater just doesn't work, and bolting to the surface from 40 feet below can expand your lungs into an overinflated birthday balloon a definite buzz kill.
By our last dive, I'm starting to feel quite at home among Nemo and Co. We've mastered all the important beginner diving techniques and easily achieve our certification.
Steely prom-night-virgin resolve has worked, but in this case, the main event far surpasses expectations.