Michael Wolraich's picture

    Escaping Below the World

    There is much to be said for vanishing. Short escapes from the frenzied tumult of modern life help to calibrate the soul and maintain perspective.

    I've learned that proper escape requires more than disconnecting electronic devices and traveling to faraway lands. Though people may not follow you on your journey, your thoughts are more tenacious. Anxieties, memories, hopes, and fears stow away in your crowded cranium, accompanying you across the globe like irritating travel companions.

    But not under the water.

    Every scuba dive begins in commotion. The serenity of a leisurely boat ride shatters as passengers and crew scramble to prepare for the dive. Put on the wetsuit, rinse the mask, check the tanks, attach the gear. You clamber into a harness and totter shakily towards the stern of the boat with fifty pounds of equipment and weights strapped to your body. There is no room for superfluous thoughts as you long-stride off the edge and crash into the bright blue water.

    The clamor disappears in an instant as the sea's silence swallows you. Your mind is now occupied by urgent demands of survival. Equalize the pressure in your ears, check your air gauge, watch your depth, keep your buddy in view, establish buoyancy. And breathe. In and out. Slow and smooth.

    Now you've reached the sea floor forty or fifty feet below the surface, all sandy and pale. You poke one finger into the sand to feel the grains and push off gently. Your companions settle beside you and mutely exchange "OK" hand signals. Then you swim, casually scissoring your legs to propel yourself gently through the blue.

    At last you have some space to think...but not about the world up there. Your anxieties and cares remain far above, deflected by the rippling surface of the sea that you can still see shimmering in the sun when you look up. This dark silent space is too alien for them to penetrate.

    There is no sense of gravity down here, nothing to prevent you from fluttering in any direction you please other than the gentle tug of current and the need to stay close to your companions.

    Your senses are mediated and transformed by the sea. The vivid reds, greens, and yellows of coral and fish struggle to shine through a blue filter. At first, the only sound is the slow rhythm of your breath, but when you listen between breaths, you can hear the crackle of fish tapping hungrily at the coral.

    Your mind turns to exploration. You peek into purple trumpets of coral to look for fish sheltering inside. Floating head down, you peer under crevices to find huge lobsters and crabs staring sullenly back at you. Squinting into the blue, you scan for green sea turtles sprawled on the sea floor and sting rays fluttering in the sand.

    In some dive spots, great pillars of calcified coral rise up from the depths; you can glide between them like a bird through a forest of giant trees. In others, round knobs of the coral reefs extend in a line across the sand, presenting their charms like beauty pageant contestants as the current carries you over each in turn.

    But even as the fish and formations distract you, the sense of precariousness remains. You are able to visit this strange land by the grace of your air tanks, and the visa is brief. You take your breath slowly, sipping it like wine, but every glance at your air gauge reveals the dwindling supply. Meanwhile, a dive computer strapped to your forearm like a chunky Dick Tracy wristwatch attentively reminds you how much time you may safely stay down. Eventually, the clock ticks down, the air dwindles, and it's time to ascend.

    You pause motionless for a few more minutes just below the surface to give the compressed gases in your blood enough time to slip away. Then the dive computer beeps, and you pop your head out of the water, back into the sun and the wind and the harrumphing sound of the boat churning towards you.

    As you clamber aboard, those thoughts and anxieties slip back into your head unannounced. But they're quieter now, chastened perhaps by their momentary exile. And in a few hours, you will be able to dive again.

    If you enjoy diving or would like to learn, Cozumel, Mexico is one of the most beautiful dive spots in the world as well as a great place to vacation. I highly recommend the fantastic folks at Dive Cooperative, who trained and guided me.

    Update: I will also discuss my experience with Tim Danahey on Castle Rock Radio at 2:15pm ET on Wednesday, June 22.

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    I'd sink like a tub of lead.

    Great travelog by the way.

    But stay away from describing our southern neighbor in terms like Great Dive! hahahahaah

    You'd be surprised by how well a tub of lead floats when it's wearing a wetsuit and airtank.

    Oh jesus h christ I missed this!

    As if you need it, I hereby render unto Genghis, our great leader the Dayly Line of the Day Award for this here Dagblog, given to all of him from all of me. ahahahahahahahaah


    I have hundreds of slides my father took during our many diving trips in SE Asia in the 70's. I was raised undersea so to speak. I learned to dive when I was 9. They were some of the best times of our lives. I even did a blog about it here at DAG. I think this one is my favorite photos from 1977 in the South Pacific on our way to Truk Island to see the tankers sunk in WWII:

    Although I have many others. This one really shows the beauty of the undersea world, although soon I will be finished with many others. I plan to display them at my blog.

    Ah yes, found your link: http://dagblog.com/arts/raised-underwater-south-pacific-philippine-islan...

    Fantastic photos.

    I only started diving this year, when I went to Thailand. It's cool that your dad took you diving as a kid. (Though 9 sounds too young. While I was in Mexico, I heard a horrible story about a guy who almost died chasing after his 8 year-old-son, who panicked and shot up to the surface.)

    I was already training to be in the 1980 Olympics when I was 9 so I was a very strong swimmer. It does sound young to me too, now, but am glad that we were able to have those experiences.  We knew better than to shoot up to the surface of the water, as we had extensive training prior to diving. We were knowledgeable about "The Bends", and we were very comfortable in the water, it was literally our second home, as I'd been swimming since I was three. It was actually prescribed to me by a physician who felt it would help cure my severe asthma, which it did, by the time I was 13 I was in complete remission as they say now, but back then they said I was cured!

    Your blog has made me motivated to get working on the rest of those slides.

    Those are great pictures, I hope to see more. I have done a lot of snorkeling, and once could free-dive pretty deep, but very little scuba. It is a whole nother world down there for sure.

    I've been working on another one, it is called "The Four Masted Summer". But I am still working on the pictures so it will be sometime before it goes online. But thank you, I love the pictures too and am so glad my dad took them and that my folks kept them. 

    You look great in that photo, dude.


    And the blue's really workin' for ya.

    That's my girlfriend, asshole.

    No that's my......Oh, never mind.

    You've captured the feeling of being under water beautifully. I went snorkeling for the first time last year in Indonesia and I was absolutely terrified. But once I talked myself into the water and put my face in, there were so many things to look at that I forgot my anxiety. I've been several times since then and now, I can't wait to get in the water. 

    I tried diving in Bali last year as well. It was neat, but the anxiety was still there. I had a two-week holiday recently and I spent most of it at Tioman Island where the snorkeling was the best I've seen so far. And, for the first time, I wished I were diving instead so I could better see what was below me. 

    On my last snorkel, I saw a Bumphead Parrot fish that was bigger than I am. It was so incredibly amazing! 

    Malaysia is the second-least expensive place to dive, after Honduras, and it has some of the best coral reefs in the world (as does Indonesia). If anyone is thinking of getting their PADI, check it out.

    Keep diving! It takes a little while for the anxiety to wear off, but then it's much more rewarding. Malaysia sounds great. I wish that it were closer.

    It's about surreal as a Dali painting. Of course, we can only adapt ourselves as a curious tourist unable to channel the environment to our advantage. Interesting that the lack of an atmosphere, like space, or immersion into another more dense, such as a lake or ocean, slows us down to a point where we move as fast as we slowly can rendering our land-based abilities useless.

    Been there, done that and lost a few teeth I didn't know had small cavities that collapses when I was snorkeling in a 10 foot shallow cove in the Med.

    That sucks. A few? I've never heard of divers losing teeth, let alone snorkelers.

    Very descriptive writing. It reminds me of the one time I tried to go scuba diving. My GF and I were visiting Key West, and drove to some little place near Pennekamp State Park that gave scuba tours. Neither of us had tried it before. We rented and struggled into wetsuits, etc., got on the powerboat with half a dozen others, and headed off.

    Well, all of a sudden she didn't feel so good, and the weather turned threatening, too. I was torn about whether she was really feeling bad or just nervous, but she had been enthusiastic about trying scuba. At about the last moment, they called off the dive because lightning had been reported.

    By the time we got back to shore, she didn't feel any better. In fact she was in extreme pain. So we got quick directions to Mariner's Hospital. We quickly found that we had to slog through weekend traffic to get there. So she's moaning and I'm cursing. But we got there, and I picked her up and ran into the ER.

    Turns out she was passing a stone. So even though I didn't get to play Sea Hunt, I guess it was good that there was a storm.

    I think that passing a stone might interfere with the pleasure of diving. Better luck next time.

    I just want to say how much I am enjoying dagblog lately. Between this diary, Donal's about swimming, Orlando's thoughtful updates, Articleman's sharing, Barth's wonderful perspectives, and DDay's mastery of the segue (hey, I can't include everyone, but suffice it to say that the writing here is top-notch!) I really love coming here just for the pleasure of it!

    PS...Quinn's comments punctuate the whole thing, and bring me back to earth!!! So thanks, all...I'm loving this ride!

    We aim to please. (Except for quinn, who aims to chafe.) Glad you liked the pieced.

    Actually Quinn chafes because of some skin condition, can ask him the exact details. And he doesn't aim, which pisses me off to no end - he just happens to be a very good shot. And then there's his uncanny ability to clear the benches, but that's usually because of playing against poor sports and an occasional blind ref.

    Really nice writing.  The water imagery lulled me to sleep last night.  Thanks.

    >>>> 5 <<<<<

    Great Post, I too love to dive. It truly feels like another world.  While on the Yucatan did you ever get a chance to dive any of the cenotes?  There are a few where the underground caverns have fresh water meeting saltwater, which is a stunning visual expierence to dive through.  Sorta like the dream sequence in old 80's sitcoms.  Highly recommended.

    My favorite diving spot is the Red Sea, the water is perfect and the sea life is amazing.  For example this creature is the most astonishing thing I have ever seen in my life. Truly mind boggling. I was only 2 meters from one of these and I could not believe it was real.  I still am not sure if I trust my memory or even this video.



    I didn't unfortunately. The cenotes are a schlep from Cozumel, and we had some time constraints. I heard that they're incredible. Next time.

    Thanks for the video. I love the camouflaged octopus at the very end.

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