Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

The Barrier Reef

Written 21 May

“I hope I’m not being too forward, but I figure we’re all going to be on this boat together for much of the day and it might be good if we all got to know each other from the beginning. Would everyone mind just saying where they’re from? I’ll start.”

You’d expect that out of a tour operator as an introduction. But as the boat headed towards the Great Barrier Reef without much introduction or information from the crew, it was an older gentleman from Tallahassee, Florida that made the move. People were a little wary at first but went ahead with it. Melbourne. Auckland. Perth. Washington DC.

The conversations went from there. And that is a good thing because the conversations were what made the day. When you sit on a rocking boat – and I have never been on a choppier ride with the exception of a jet-ski – for a few hours with strangers, you can either sit in silence or make the fun.

When talking with Tallahassee and his wife, Mom took the lead. She spoke for herself but also gave me an in. I nodded, still sipping my much-needed tea. My only major speaking role was to announce how cool I am by way of explaining my situation. “I’m here for a year. I had no wife, no kids, no house, no pets. I’ve always wanted to travel the world. And when my company closed down, that just seemed like God giving me that extra kick.” I’m not sure why I invoked God, but the message still was out there. And rather well projected I might add.

A minute later Mom quietly informed me that I had a couple fans in the corner. I didn’t look over but I knew who she was referring to: two attractive women about my age, the Aucklanders. (This is one of the many reasons that I love my mother. She gave me a heads up that women seemed interested, but she did it in the way a friend would, not the overbearing mother trying to set her son up with the daughter of her friend.)

I spoke with Ontario about the Canadian accent and yoga. I joked around with the Brits about their unease at the waters. We bantered. We joked. Mom and I laughed and played off each other. And eventually, finally, we arrived at our first snorkel location.

The weather was not ideal. The morning had been rain off and on. It would continue throughout the day. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes cold, sometimes overcast, sometimes raining. The waters were clear and the weather didn’t do anywhere near its worst. But it also didn’t give us continual comfort or what we had been expecting.

The first site was good. There was coral. There were fish. There was a dollop of Vaseline in my mustache to seal the mask on better. We swam around looking at the colors beneath the water. But it is a package tour, and the colors are never nearly as vibrant as the brochures. The reds don’t glow, they are the color of heavy stage curtains. The purple is just as bright, but there is less of it. The whole thing looks pretty cool, but not quite Great.

We got back in the boat, warmed up with tea, and arrived at the next location – a more circular tower of coral to swim around compared to the field of shallows from the first stop. Feeling more adventurous I duck dove under the water repeatedly, getting up close with the fish. I had a staring contest with an anemone fish (it looks like a clown fish, so I’ll call it close enough). I closely inspected coral designs. I found the most intricate and lovely purple spiral animals, which turned out to be the inspiration for the retracting trees in the Avatar forest.

Onboard we heard from a marine biologist about the various types of fish and coral we had been seeing. She was really interested in everything down there and that came across. And we followed her around on our third stop as she looked to spot various animals. That fish was building a nest of corals and is very territorial. That fish you usually see in deeper waters. That coral has been bleached, while that one has been attacked. It was educational, but between winds and rain and inexperienced swimmers floating into me, it was also only partially absorbed.

The highlight of the reef came in the last fifteen minutes, after many people had given in to fatigue and returned to the boat. I wandered off to find myself surrounded by different types of fish of all colors. I saw my favorite type of the day, a large, flat, arrow-shaped one of yellow, white, and black. I found a field of the purple retracting spirals. I even spotted a stingray swimming by. I dove to swim over staghorn corals and see the fish hiding among the branches. I just went exploring.

And then it was time for the ride home, another two hours of chop in bad weather. I didn’t mind the swaying. I didn’t even mind the cold as some others seemed to. I even got engaged in a long conversation with the Aucklanders about their lives and mine. I made up my past and had a jovial time. I found out about theirs. And at the end of it all I didn’t suggest we grab a drink. There isn’t a good reason so much as I just didn’t get signals to do so. The only signals that I seem to think are strong enough generally are flares.

The whole trip was fun. I spent time with Mom, joking, laughing, and just enjoying the day. We are traveling together, and we are on vacation together. I can no longer be the tour guide showing off my city. Here we are both new and experiencing the sights on holiday. And I met people, jumping into conversation and feeling more in charge of my own wits and witty banter again. And I snorkeled around a reef, which was cool. I saw coral and fish. It was fairly tropical and a good thing to do.

I walked away happy that I had done the day trip. It was expensive, but I’m happy that I did it despite that. And I did enjoy it; I had a good time. But I’m not sure I can clearly say it was worth it. Everyone says to see the Great Barrier Reef. And we followed everyone’s advice to go to the outer reef. And by everything we read the company we picked is good (and they were). But it is hard to say that it was just the weather not cooperating. Maybe it was. But the whole thing felt a little like something “you totally have to do” and not completely like something that I totally did have to do.

I was also the person who landed from skydiving to a feeling of, “Yeah, that was pretty cool and all, but I’m not really sure it was worth the couple hundred bucks.” Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe I just enjoy different things. I’m still figuring that out. And that is going to be a frustrating and, at times, expensive process.

One comment on “The Barrier Reef

  1. Steve Grace
    May 23, 2012

    Yeah, I guess it’s hard to top kneeboarding, skiing and wakeboarding (and catching your first fish) all in the same weekend for FREE. Some tours (and guides) are better than others.

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This entry was posted on May 23, 2012 by in Australia, Queensland (Brisbane) and tagged .

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