Tag Archives: shark

Even sharks can’t spoil my bliss

Watching the sun set... just before...

Watching the sun set… just before…

On my last night on the island of Moorea I sat on the beach barely 30 metres from my shack, dug my toes into fine sand and watched the sun set the sky alight.

I sat for a while and thought about all sorts, and I felt calm and content. The power of nature.

The globe disappeared and I got up to leave, but something stopped me, maybe a greedy goblin who wanted more of that blissed out contentment. So I took another seat on a bench – a higher viewing platform – and gazed out at the horizon flooded with pink, yellow and red.

And then I spotted them: two fins close in the shallows, separated from the shore only by a little strip of water and a slither of rocks. I looked around me. Two English girls sat chatting at the picnic table a few metres away whilst a Swiss mum showered sand off her two-year old son. No one said a thing. Had I imagined it?

I kept watching and sure enough, they surfaced again. ‘Sharks? Are they sharks?’ I asked no-one and everyone. The girls ran down to the water edge, fancy cameras to the ready. The Swiss woman shouted for her husband.

Well spotted’, said one of the girls as they bounced back up to the campsite. I was glad I’d said something, but, if I dare admit, the selfish part of me was secretly smug for having had a few uninterrupted moments to just take it in.

A little sharky send-off.

Moorea, je t’aime. Sharks ‘n’ all.

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Sharks? Nah, I’m off to find me some turtles

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Settling for a snorkeling spot

I didn’t want to go searching for the sharks let alone swim with them, so when the rest of my group jumped in to the water and quickly disappeared off leaving little old me way behind, I didn’t mind too much.

What I did mind, a bit, was being alone in unknown waters full of strange sea creatures.

I adjusted my mask, took a big breath and put my snorkel in my mouth. My heart beat faster as I submerged my head and I took little gasps of air as I tried to flipper with some gentle rhythm and grace. I don’t take like a fish to water. I panic, a little, every time I look beneath the surface and see the ocean world spread out beneath me.

I tried to see the flipper trails of my team, but they were long gone. What to do? Head off in a similar direction and possibly get lost, or stay closer to the boat? Sometimes I throw caution to the wind, sometimes I’m just silly, but this time I played it safe.

I surfaced for a moment and returned to the boat, head above water. ‘What happened?’ asked Fabricio, my tour guide. I shrugged. ‘I lost them. They went’. ‘You might see some turtles over there’, he said, pointing to the edge of the reef breakwater that was giving us some relief from the ocean chop. ‘Will you keep an eye on me?’ I asked before submerging again, still fighting some anxiety.

Cornetfish (© Matthew Meier 2006)

And then I relaxed into it and I swam along with rainbow wrasse, bluechin parrotfish and various jacks and snappers, and loads of cornetfish –  these thin and crazy looking things that you almost can’t see. A stingray (Raya Sartén) gently flapped by and I gave it a wide berth. Something about stingrays scares the shit out of me. Maybe it’s the Steve Irwin thing? I don’t know.

A stingray slides and glides through Galapagos waters (members.ziggo.nl/mauricef/index.htm)

But my real search was for turtles so I swam away from the colourful charm of these tropical schools, onwards and over towards the far corner of the little lagoon. I spotted the first about four metres down, chomping away on plantlife. Fish darted around her mouth as the ripped off chunks of seaweed in a manner not too dissimilar to the tortoise I’d seen a few days earlier, only here the water gave the feeding process some slow-mo, drifty chic.

Another two turtles coasted around the area, one so huge that it was well on its way to being the size of a Smart car. Closer to me, I swam a few feet above it, tempted like no other time to hold on and go for a ride. But out of respect, and fear, I didn’t’. I like to think that I’m unlikely to cause any nuisance or harm, but who knows what impact a clumsy human might have? And who knows when a turtle might turn on you? Or three against one, in this case.

Not my photo… no underwater camera for me… pity (www.lifesorigin.com)

How long I spent observing the turtles, I’m unsure, but for a good while I bobbed face down and forgot all about short breaths and fast heartbeats, lost in the magic of a private moment with these creatures. A few others from my group started to arrive so I made my way back over to the boat.

‘Did you see the turtles?’ asked a French tourist as we both sat out on deck warming ourselves in the afternoon sun. ‘And the sharks! You missed the sharks. There were many.’

‘Yes’, I told her, ‘I saw the turtles’. But, I realised, I didn’t just see the turtles, I actually had some precious time with them. And I’d sure as anything trade some shark spotting for that, any day.

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Spiders, snakes and other scary stuff

I spotted it just as I was about to climb into bed: a three inch black thing scuttling on eight legs across the floor towards me at hyper speed.

Now, I’m not arachnophobic by any means, and I’m not one to flush spiders down the plughole, but here I was in Byron Bay and I was well aware that Australia boasts so many of the world’s deadliest creatures. And that, quite honestly, did freak me out a little. Was this visitor one of the nasties?

I heard that funnel webs, red backs and white-tailed spiders were the ones to worry about, but in truth, I didn’t really know what I was actually looking for. Not to worry then, I guess.

My first introduction to Australian wildlife was the wonderfully fat leech that I found wriggling around in my sock post-Blue Mountain hike. It had had a good munch on my ankle, leaving me with an itch that bled easily. Nice. I was also warned about ticks. But neither of these seemed unique to Australia. Hiking in the UK bore the same risks.

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Pretty, pretty ugly or pest?

Cane toads, on the other hand, are a unique to Australia, or rather the problem of cane toads is pretty unique to Australia. The kids of the family that I was staying with found one in their garden. He was bagged up, ready to be destroyed by the time I got to see him Sound harsh? Not as bad as the story another friend told me about golf clubbing the things when she was a kid. Really. And whilst I was staying in Byron, the local council invited everyone along for a ‘cane toad muster in Mullum’. These creatures are definitely considered pests by a large majority.

Whilst I act blasé about getting taken by a shark, it is a thought that occasionally smacks me in the face when I’m bobbing about in the water. Luckily, I’m not as worried as my friend Dund who can’t even deal with shark pictures, and I do think it would be one hell of a story for my family if I died that way, but really, I’d rather not.

Although Lonely Planet states: ‘The risk of shark attacks in Australian waters is no greater than any other countries with extensive coastlines’, it is a reality of swimming and surfing these waters. Whilst I was in Byron, there were a few spottings on the southern beaches and in 2011 there was a marked increase in shark attacks on the Australian coastlines, three of which were fatal. Other things I’d been warned to look out for were stone fish, jellyfish, sea urchins and stingrays. Oh, and the brown snake that decided to take a swim with the surfers one day.

So onto snakes. Since I stroked a snakeskin in a museum in Middlesbrough, UK when I was a kid, I’ve had a real aversion to these scaly creatures. Australia has six of the top ten most deadly snakes in the world. Why I chose to spend time here, then, is anyone’s guess. New Zealand was a safer option for sure. But during my six weeks in Australia, I didn’t actually see a single snake. Phew. (And a little disappointment).

Crocodiles were another of Australia’s ‘one to avoid’ that I easily managed to avoid by just not going too far north. Not this time at least. But I’m one to face my fears, so maybe one day.

And bugs and beasties aside? There are some dangerous plants over Australia way too. Such as the stinging tree. Think massive stinging nettles. Don’t let their heart shaped leaves fool you because their hairy barbs can stick in for up to two months. And when in the rainforest, also steer clear of the long, mean Wait-a-While Vine whose harsh hooks…well… hook into you and stay stuck.

And what about that spider? ’It could have been a Huntsmen’, said my neighbour Daniella the following day. ‘It’s the small ones you want to worry about, but they prefer damp, leafy spots, not bedrooms’.

On that particularly night, anyone I might have gone to for advice was already in bed so I took matters into my own hands, turning my room upside down, shaking out absolutely everything and checking every inch of the room. But spidey had done a great hidey job. Enough was enough. I was tired. Crawl over my face if you must, spider, but just, god dammit, let me sleep.

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