Yesterday we sat in the bar of a restaurant by the marina, waiting the couple of hours to watch a large fish being fed.
Across the bay the sun sank, tropical mountains faded to blue clouds and yachts swapped places – exhausted, sun-reddened, madly-waving day-trippers exchanged for elegantly dressed, sun-reddened, madly-waving evening-trippers.
The larger boats were greeted by the clang of a bell from behind the bar (and much mad waving from both shore and sea sides) as they carried their catches of scuba-divers and snorkelers back home. A day ago (two days now) we’d been a part of all that. Out snorkeling on the outer reef.
Over an hour out, just before the ocean shelf takes a long, cold plunge into the blue-black waters of the coral sea, we took a long, but not so cold plunge of our own into the glowing turquoise waters of the reef to be instantly surrounded by fish.
Snorkeling is an odd experience. The instant you are in you forget about the above-water side of things – other than for a quick glance at the ship to get your bearings and get a feel for where your fellow mer-people were – this turns out to be a less than smart move later on when you realise that the sun occupied that forgotten part of the world, and your back is now a photographic negative of whatever you were wearing. (‘Trunks – a study in pink and white.’)
Fish are, on the whole, pretty fearless of humans, with whole shoals seeming to form around you as you swim (by swim, I mean of course: flail elegantly whilst trying not to crash into the oblivious snorkeler who has just appeared next to you and is affording you a close up view of their flippers in action). A reef-shark moves effortlessly below you on an errand of its own. The water filled with clicks and pops as parrot fish gnaw away at the reef.
The reef itself is incredible. You float a matter of feet above it, suddenly to find it plunging away in blues, greens and browns, tables, horns and boulders surrounded by fish and shrimp. In a crevice at the bottom the sand moves in slow breaths as something large rests, hidden.
The journey back is a blur. We ddin’t hear the bell or take part in the burst of mad waving – we didn’t even register that solid ground was on its way to meet us.
On reconsideration, sat at the bar, there’s something a little brutal about snacking on prawns, oysters, fish and chips while waiting to see a fish fed (a little like setting up a barbeque in a petting zoo). The clock hits five and large tv screens flicker to life as the fish-feeder drags a fish carcass out onto the decking and slices it – the smaller bits flung into the water as an appetiser – tying the head to a thick length of rope and plunging it into the bay. All this is repeated across the screens dotting the place.
We crane and wait, the audience getting as close to a rapt silence as Aussies ever get (a rapt hubub or rapt clamour just doesn’t sound right). Fifteen minutes later it’s clear that ths fish isn’t going to make an entrance today. A couple of smaller, palm-sized fish nibble apologetically at the floating food before looking embarassed and dashing off quickly.
It’s hard to feel let down though. We’ve seen more fish in the last day or two than we have in the last year (or two). And, besides, I’m keen to get home and write up my petting zoo barbeque business plan.