26 August 2006

Memoirs of A Boy With Memory Retention Problems Part 3

I'm going to finally touch on the main highlight of the Redang trip - snorkelling! It is what we went there for after all.

Our tour package includes 3 snorkelling sessions which isn't a lot. I've read about external snorkelling packages that take you to 5 snokerlling spots for RM50/pax in a single day. At any rate, 3 snorkelling sessions over 2 days is more than enough, as I found out.

All of us were first-timers, so once we got our snorkelling gear we practiced breathing through our mouth piece at the resort swimming pool. It's strange why a resort so close to the sea would need its own swimming pool, but we appreciated it nonetheless.

Using the mask and snorkel was both easier and harder than I thought. It was easier in the sense that it was quite easy to put on and take out. I initially feared that I would have to deal with deviously complicated tubes and seals.

However, the actual act of breathing through the snorkel took some getting used to. When I swim normally, I will exhale from the nose and inhale from my mouth. But now I need to use my mouth exclusively, as exhaling from the nose will break the seal and let water in. Which turned out to be real nasty during the actual snorkelling.

Our first session that afternoon was at the Kampung Lama site. Though we travelled for almost 20 minutes, we are still facing the main Redang island. We were almost a kilometer away from the beach, so the waters were not that deep but it was my first time swimming in such deep waters so I was a little scared.

As I went into the sea, I peeked at the seabed. Then I got real scared. In the clear waters, I could see right to the bottom, and though it was only 15 feet at most, I freaked out and clutched tightly at the ladder. I let out a few nervous laughs and calmed myself as people tried to avoid stepping on my fingers as they descended into the sea.

Once everyone was in the water I told myself everything is gonna be fine as long as I have my life jacket on. I slowly let go of the handle and let myself be drifted off to the open sea. Then I repeated the steps I rehearsed earlier - inhale from the nose to create a seal, submerge my head, and exhale through my mouth. My breaths were short and shallow, clearly indicating that I was still nervous. Then somehow the vacuum around my nose was no longer a vacuum, and sea water went into my nose.

I panicked and quickly came up for air again. But by doing that the water went through my nose into my throat, and I immediately felt a stinging sensation. I was shocked at how salty the sea was! I've tasted sea water before, and I don't remember it being this salty. When I have sorethroats, I would regularly gargle with salt water, but even Redang sea is saltier!

I tried snorkelling again while staying near to the boat while my friends were happily enjoying the fishes and corals far away. After a few unsuccessful attempts I climbed up the boat again to calm down. About 5 minutes later I readjusted my equipment (not that 'equipment') and went down again.

Finally I began to get the hang of it, but my mask seal would regularly leak, forcing me to come up for water clearance. Everytime I did that more salt water would burn my throat but it was a small price to pay to enjoy the sights below the surface.

So how were the corals? Seen those National Geographic documentaries showing beautiful fishes and corals? It's like that - without the colourful corals. Yes, there are corals. And yes, there are many fishes which I do not know the name of. But they never seem as colourful as the ones seen on TV. But it is close enough, and it is definitely a special feeling seeing these things up close and personal.

The next morning, we went to the marine park. Now, I've been told that visitors to Redang must go to the marine park, and we were certainly not disappointed. More beautiful fishes and corals can be seen at a depth of less than 7 feet, compared to Kampung Lama yesterday. And there are also several popular sightings - a giant eel, a giant fish, and this:

That's a baby black-tipped shark! I didn't see the eel or the fish, but seeing this was fantastic enough. When I caught sight of it I tried to follow it and it swam quite close to the beach. But the shark was always swimming just a little faster than me, so the closest shot I could get of it was the one above.

I also stole some bread from the breakfast spread so we could do this:

I'm not sure who that is but I have reasons to believe it's Jackson. The fishes at the marine park are so accustomed to human feeding that they literally swamp your hand when you put out a piece of bread. The feeling of having your fingers nibbled by fishes (instead of you nibbling fish fingers) is a sensation to savour oneself!

A note on the photos: I bought a RM40 FujiFilm underwater disposable camera to take with me. It only had 27 exposures and no flash, so it was a little pricey. But I had no choice as my digital camera will sink (in more ways than one). Regardless, I was disappointed at the results. The pictures you see above have been Photoshopped to death because the originals were overly dark and overly blue. I know I'm taking photographs of the sea here, but the water actually seemed blue-er in my photos! And it's harder to aim and frame your pictures when the mask is blocking your view. There is a reason why I only put two pictures up out of the 27 I took.

However, true to the nature of holiday resorts, they had a diver take photos of us snorkelling using an underwater-capable digital camera. Later, they offered to sell us the digital copies for RM5 per image. Mind you, that's just bits and bytes. But in a way I prefer digital copies as I can modify and print them at will. So on the evening of our 2nd night, we selected 9 pictures and we each paid our part. Here's one of me holding the lame camera:

P.S. For what it's worth, my camera produced grain-free photos. Amazon.com has user reviews on Kodak's own version, with dismal results.

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