Saturday, September 26, 2009

Aliwal Shoal

Since we landed in South Africa I had been looking forward to diving at the Aliwal Shoal, a huge coral reef just south of Durban which is said to be one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. I signed up for two dives, one in the morning and one around midday. It had been a few years since my last dive and I was a little unsure of myself when getting instructions from my dive master Kenny, a young blond guy. After a drive to the beach we boarded a small inflatable dingy that required us to wear lifejackets, strap our feet into the bottom and hold on to a rope on the side in order to make it out to the reef. Hitting huge waves at full speed was very fun and an unexpected thrill for all but my dive buddy Andrew. Andrew, a young guy from Jo'burg, was doing his first ever ocean dive and immediately became sea sick. He would feel better once he was in the water. On the count of three we fell backwards into the water and before I was ready everyone was sinking except for me. I didn't have enough weight on my weight belt to take me down. Great. I signaled the driver of the boat who helped me put two more weights in my BC and pulled me over to the buoy attached to Kenny down below. Of course this whole sudden and unexpected situation frayed my nerves and I had to take a few breaths before my descent. I went down and calmed myself so that I wouldn't use us my oxygen up too fast. The first thing I saw was a small reef shark which was cool but I had to find Andrew.

When I found him we traded hand signals to indicate we were both okay. Then it was time to enjoy the scenery. There were incredibly colorful fish everywhere. The reef was intensely complex and colorful. Some of our companion divers had underwater cameras and Kenny pointed out some rock fish, scorpion fish and a lobster. When Andrew indicated he was at his minimum oxygen limit I said lets go up and I would just tell Kenny. I had been following him closely, knowing it was him by the cord he was carrying which led to the buoy on top of the water. I tapped on his shoulder and an older bearded man's face turned around. That's not Kenny, how strange. We came up and this bearded man laughed and said Who are you and Why have you been following us for 20 minutes? Just great. We'd lost the group. At least we hadn't lost each other, I thought. This group's boat went to go get our driver while we sat in the open turbulent water laughing at ourselves. Our driver came over and helped us out of the water. I was embarrassed but relieved once I saw that the same thing happened to another pair, apparently when this other group intersected ours which was about the time of my late descent.

This shook me up a little but I was determined to go on the second dive so I'd have a better experience. We went out a few hours later and Andrew braved the even rougher seas. I had a liter of water in my ear from the gigantic waves crashing on me but at least I wasn't throwing up on the side of the boat. So we went down this time all together and it was not as crowded with other groups as the previous dive. We landed on sandy ground at the bottom, looked for sharks teeth then moved on to the reef. The different shapes and sizes and colors of fish were amazing. Trumpet fish, paper fish, blow fish, florescent purple fish, blue polka dotted fish, angel fish. I stayed very close to Kenny this time and followed him into a cave where a white tipped reef shark was sitting. They are only about two feet long and not threatening. We moved on and came across a large rag-toothed shark which was the biggest thing I'd ever seen under water. It definitely looked more threatening and we were quite close but it luckily didn't feel threatened by us. We peered into more crevasses seeing eels and rock fish and then I heard a chirp like a dolphin. I swam up and heard someone grunt. There, 20 feet away, were schools of dolphin swimming by singing and encircling us. It was awesome. They seemed to be smiling at us as they swiftly flew past in small groups. When we surfaced and climbed back on the boat the dolphins were all around jumping completely out of the water and swimming really close to us. It was a magical experience to see them underwater and then above. I smiled as waves pounded my face all the way back to shore.


Bett Addams Williams said...

Temple, the queen of composure, even under water, following Neptune instead of her guide and admiring sharks up close! Wow!

foster said...

Encircled by dolphins! Hearing them sing! How magical!

Betsy Dalgliesh said...

So many excellent adventures..! The bungee jump looked terrifying. Slippery roads and the guy who wanted two rands to tell you were going the right way. Temple dancing with the stars..and the wildlife! Gorgeous photos, altho it's slow buffering since Jay and I are in St. John. Sending love from us to you! Cant wait to hear about your recent escapades.