Snorkeling at La Digue, Seychelles
“Jump, “ orders the skipper Hyacinth as I look nervously at the ocean depths below from the boat. “Its ok, if you don’t know how to swim,” he adds in a loud booming voice. Clad in my life jacket with a snorkel mask in my hand, I have never felt this excited and scared at the same time. I am right in the middle of the Indian Ocean, on a snorkeling expedition in Seychelles. It has been a rather choppy sea as the speed boat is literally tossed around by the waves like a juggler playing with his toys. And we have just anchored in the deep blue ocean with no land or shore in sight.
It is my third day in Seychelles and I have been island hopping. My jaunt began with Mahe, the largest island in this country, located in the Indian Ocean, about 1500 kms from Kenya in Africa on a quiet Sunday morning when the islanders were in the weekend mood. After spending the next day in Praslin, listening to tales of pirates and hidden treasures, I land in La Digue, the most charming of all the islands I have been to so far.
The jetty looks straight out of a picture post card. Colourful boats pose in the waters as bicycles lie around . There are no cars in this tiny island – just ox carts and bicycles and the occasional open jeep that transports huge groups of tourists. Fairy terns fly around as I spot some waders on the shore. The granite rocks stand in the middle of the ocean, like chipped pieces of a mountain which is probably lying submerged below. But we have no time to laze around or explore La Digue. Hyacinth lands with his boat and ushers us all in for a snorkeling expedition to the uninhabited shores of the satellite islands – Cocos and Sister.
The sea looks unusually placid but the winds start blowing as soon as we board the ferry and in a moment we are all swaying holding the rods . We are a motley bunch of tourists from Asia and Europe – while most of them are ace swimmers and divers, a couple like me have no idea how to swim. As we arrive close to the Sister islands, Hyacinth anchors the boat and some of my travel companions vanish below the surface of the water with their gear.
I am tempted to join them. Looking at the turquoise blue waters and the outreached arms of Hyacinth, I jump ignoring my fear of the water. And then I lose myself in the colour below the oceans.
Whoever created Seychelles took a large brush, dipped it in the most gorgeous hues and painted the archipelago of 115 islands. The oceans keep changing into many shades of blues – from aquamarine to turquoise to cobalt while the granite rocks stand out in shades of ochre, beige and brown. The mountains are clad in a fabric of green – soaked in tinges of emerald and jade.
But the world below the ocean is an experience by itself. It is like looking through a kaleidoscope and watching the colours dazzle in front of my eyes. I am gasping, literally as well, but the bright corals leave me breathless. I am learning to float as a shoal of fish waltz around me.
The parrot fish in different shades swims past as I see the lion fish, the butterfly fish, the trumpetfish, the clownfish among many others. Hyacinth lets go of me for a moment and points to every living creature below. The corals mushroom in different shapes and they are painted in hues of pink, purple, blue, brown and red.
I can barely remember the names. All I remember is a canvas of colours – yellows, oranges, pinks, greens, blues, reds – all merged together in one large palette. I am just bobbing along as fins swish past me . The octopus stretches out its tentacles, the thorny spikes of the sea urchin lurk below while turtles swim around.
One of the highlights of this marine adventure is to swim with the turtles. Bernadette, a friendly Hawksbill turtle christened by the locals often accompanies swimmers and she joins the crowd as I head back to the boat. But some of the Chinese who are with us get all excited and start grabbing her so that they can get a photograph for their facebook page. The turtle struggles to get away from their clutches as an angry Hyacinth yells out at them. The turtle is angrier as she starts chasing the men . “ Now, wait, she will bite them, “ murmurs Hyacinth.
It is time to leave and we are heading to our next island, Cocos . We wade in knee deep water to head to the beach, layered with pristine white sands. The sea looks dreamy and giant boulders crowd around the shores giving it a rugged terrain. I plunge into the waters again and wear my snorkeling gear, only to find the salt water in my mouth. It’s a challenge to breathe below water without letting the salt get into your eyes and mouth. The aquatic world looks much closer here than in the ocean. A riot of colours surround me. I almost feel that an invisible mermaid is luring me and then I realize that it is Hyacinth’s hand above my head as he dunks me below. Everytime I attempt to pop my head above, Hyacinth pushes me further, his loud booming voice echoes below. He is probably oblivious to me by now as he is busy yelling out some instructions to his crew. I keep my feet up away from the ocean floor to ensure that my bare feet is not poked by the spikes of a sea urchin. The ocean bed is just a few inches below my feet but then in a moment I am finally up floating on the waters as the waves splashes on my face and Hyacinth lets go of his hand. We both laugh as tears run down my cheeks, with the salt in my eyes. I guess my fear of water is all washed away in that moment.
The shore is inviting. I laze on the sands, resting my head on the rocks for a moment until it is time to leave again .
This story was published in Rediff.com
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