Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Adventures in Nicaragua, by Kate

      My mother calls it a charley horse –buckled arch, toes weirdly extended, crescendo of pain. I was hovering ten meters over a seemingly endless swath of murky turtlegrass about a mile offshore, and the cramp removal technique I learned in my open water course wasn’t cutting the mustard. My secondhand fins were longer than I was used to – fantastic for speed, where each kick jets you forward like the high gears of a bicycle, but demanding more of my ankles than maybe I was ready for. That, and the fins were significantly overlarge, a fact I was attempting to compensate for with a thick pair of wool socks. My spasming feet suggested this was an inadequate solution.

I hovered at the surface and took off a fin, massaged my insole until the contorted toes relaxed. Tested an on-the-spot hypothesis that swimming one-finned would result in circles (affirmative). Replaced the fin, kicked slowly and gently as I felt the discomfort immediately return. Grimaced. Looked back at the distant shore, then forward to where the waves were breaking over the reef, and decided I had come too far to turn back.

A gleam of silver jacks arrived over the barren expanse of sea grass like an escort service. Eight or ten of them, each one the length of my arm with large, intelligent eyes, they schooled around me, curious. I submerged my snorkel and hovered underwater with them; without the disruptive plume of bubbles that SCUBA gear necessitates, they seemed unafraid to investigate me, and got so close that I could have reached out and stroked their silver flanks. I followed them out to where the coral began.

The reef rose toward me at a slow incline as I swam farther out, until I could see the waves cresting where they broke over the reef just below the surface. Here coral appeared in technicolor, shocking reds and oranges usually obscured by meters of water. Tiny fish darted in and out of the coral labyrinth like fairies – one half purple and half yellow, another like a night sky alight with iridescent stars. Squirrelfish hovered uncertainly with big nervous eyes, and a needlefish threaded though the reef’s cavities, nosing delicately at a spiny black urchin wedged in a crevice. I sucked in my stomach and used my arms to swim forward as the coral – some of it stinging and all of it sharp – passed just inches below me.

And then it was gone – a wall of coral dropped down into a blue abyss. Startled, I looked out into a dim, urban landscape, coral skyscrapers and shadowy overhangs divided by highways of white sand far below; fish wove in and out of coral towers, whose caves and concavities gaped like windows and doorways. I was a suicide jumper, perched on the brink of the reef. The cramps in my feet were gone. I kicked once, and sailed out over the edge.

A huge pair of dark wings opened under me. I sputtered and gasped as a spotted eagle ray, ten feet across, emerged from a coral cave in the wall just below; her wings unfurled in profound slowness, menacing tail trailing silently. Heart thudding against my sternum, I sucked in a few quick breaths and plunged down alongside her.

Her giant face was birdlike and strange, beaked and angular, with a human eye that watched me. Her pace didn’t quicken as I approached – if anything she slowed, observing the gangly creature whose awkward flight shadowed her infinitely graceful one. We swam down and down, holding each other’s gaze until my lungs were near to bursting. As I kicked frantically toward the surface – it was such a long way up! – she became small and indistinct, disappearing into the obscure blue.

     Shafts of light illuminated orange ripples of fire coral and branches of elkhorn, and the radiant pathways gleamed white between the high walls of reef. I explored the caves and tunnels of the sunken city, where shimmering schools of sprats enveloped me; I dove deep to follow giant rainbow parrotfish, to lie down beside a sleeping nurse shark. Each time I kicked toward the surface to gasp a breath, barracuda hovered menacingly, glinting silver and gunmetal. Once came close, inspecting the flash of my ring in the sunlight, and showed his brutish teeth.

It was a long swim back, over a blank canvas of sand that seemed to stretch on forever. Finally I dragged myself up onto the beach, salty and sunbaked, sore-ankled and full of wonder.

From Mother:  I can't begin to see or understand what my daughter is experiencing in the far away land of Little Corn Island, but from her writings I want to learn.  I took the liberty of looking up, adding pictures and trying to understand what it must be like to be in a world of such new and exciting beauty.  I posted the video because of the sounds the water must have made while Kate was following the parrotfish.  You must be very aware of yourself in the silence of the sea.

A diver may not immediately know what a sprat is as it surrounds her in the water, nor any other underwater plant life and fish that come into view...Kate is studying, looking up, asking questions and learning about what she sees.  That's a good thing.


Queenie said...

Hey, I could do that ! This is the third thing that I always wanted to
do and have not. First a little more dancing, second Snow Sking and now third swimming with God's
ocean creatures. Certainly one of
the most beautiful placies to be.
A wonderful experience Kate, always
use good judgment. Real good judgment calls for a partner.
Want to consider me?

fweakijam said...

That was good Mama, that was really good. I'll take you as a partner any day!

I love you,


P.S. Next time I come home we are totally dancing!

juju said...

I think I want to go! Beautiful

:+: Felly's :+: said...

another beautiful place in the world ^__^

tschafee said...

a beautiful world, beautifully described. It feels even further away than it is in our current Atlanta deep freeze. A lovely world to consider in the midst of our cabin fever.

family said...

did you realize she washes her hair in a bucket....the romance stopped right there for me.....

fweakijam said...

Kate, let this be a warning...She loves you and all but there are just some things you can't tell your sister, Kim. Washing your hair in a bucket is one of them.



family said...

just wrestling with the idea--that's all. No sensoring needed! I can handle it.....

Kate said...

You know, I have a shower. It's just cold. I can put hot water in the bucket. See where I'm going with this? You would not believe how much of a luxury a hot bucket shower feels like after a couple of months of cold rinsing...

Thanks for putting this up, Mom. :) The pictures you found are great!