Bird If By Land, Snorkel By Sea
Big Island, October, 2009, 7:45am check-in. We started our first full day (ever) in Hawaii with a trip in a rigid-hull inflatable out of Keauhou Bay. It was a FAST boat--the equivalent of a race car on the water. Very exciting to be in and bumpy like an amusement park ride. Totally fabulous, and we were only riding in the boat so far!
We were headed south to Honaunau and Kealakekua Bay and I was nervous. Fine with the boat ride but a little afraid that I'd keep sucking water in when I tried to breathe through a snorkel. Fine with swimming but a little nervous about water that could have such BIG creatures in it.
Out of the water I'm a very amateur birdwatcher, and I'd been excited to see the few new birds I hadn't been familiar with. I never would've guessed what was coming.
The water was like glass. We couldn't believe it could be so calm--more like a lake than an ocean.
First stop, a pod of spotted dolphins! If nothing else had happened the whole day it would already have been a wonderful day, sitting quietly in the water watching dolphins everywhere around us. Adults and juveniles, in and out, a few outbursts of jumping, and dolphins surfing on the wake when we finally left.
We couldn't imagine anything else happening until we arrived at Honaunau, but in no time at all we were beside a pod of pilot whales. So amazing! One swam right under the boat and another passenger snapped a picture with his underwater camera. He was so close it looked like a whale mugshot.
The captain finally moved us on--we'd already lost some snorkeling time and he wanted to put us in the water, which was the primary plan. He pulled into Honaunau in pretty calm water, and the other 10 or so people on the boat, including my husband and a couple of kids, had all snorkeled before and jumped quickly into the water. I was still a little nervous, but I really wanted to be in that warm, clear water. The captain patiently set me up with equipment and over the side I went, with a noodle for a safety blanket.
The first time my face was in the water everything else in the world stopped except what I was seeing. In very little time I ditched the noodle because it was a distraction. For anyone who's a birdwatcher, imagine going into a forest where there are a hundred times the number of birds you usually see and NONE of them are flying away from you. Substitute fish and you in the water and bingo--I was completely hooked! Amazing underwater topography, beautiful, warm, clear water and a kaleidoscope of fish and underwater critters so close it seemed you could reach out and touch them. Imagine there's a giant microscope and your mask is the lens, focused just by moving a little in the water. Breathtaking!
It's easy to lose track of time, lost in what you're seeing. Every once in awhile I'd look up to see if I could find my husband and be sure I was more or less near the others. The last time I peeked above the water EVERYONE else was on the boat and lunch was almost gone. Last one in, last one out, and I climbed back in the boat very reluctantly but started hearing about the next site we were headed to.
Kealakekua Bay, at the Captain Cook monument, was our second stop. This time I was the first one in! Again with the crystal clear warm water and even more fish, I think, but a much different underwater look. I avoided the deeper spot in the middle, which was a beautiful blue, and again was the last one out. I would've stayed all day if the boat hadn't been the only way out.
A couple of days later we snorkeled at Kahalu'u, with incredibly easy access from the beach. The water wasn't as clear but improved the farther we got from the beach. And oh, THE TURTLES! Never, ever would I have believed that something that looked so awkward in a picture could be so graceful in the water. They were oblivious to us, and I had to work to keep away from them because the light surge kept pushing me closer and they didn't seem to care at all.
The whole rest of the trip, snorkel gear in tow, I looked toward the water every single time we drove the opposite direction. We ended up taking a second boat ride to Kealakekua, on a bigger boat, and also back in the water at Kahalu'u.
That December I got my first tattoo, at the age of 45, of a sea turtle, and finally we're headed back in less than a week to swim with the fishes. I can't think of anything else and I wonder if we'll ever take another vacation that doesn't center on clear warm water. We already bought snorkel gear, which will easily pay for itself by the end of the next trip we take, and we'll spend the time it takes to rent it in the water.
Floating in the water, watching and listening to more than I can ever hope to take in, is now one of the "happy places" I go when I need to step away from the world and be calm inside.