A reef encounter with Nemo
WHERE do we find Nemo, apart from on the big screen? That is our holiday quest, and the answer is an obscure island called Tenggol, 30km off the east coast of Malaysia.
My children are obsessed by Nemo, the cartoon orange fish that’s been seen by more than a billion goggle-eyed children. Vulnerable, brave, cute and a survivor, he is sort of everygoldfish. Except that he isn’t. As we find out, he is really a clown anemone fish. Yes, that’s right, of course, you spotted n-e-m-o in the word anemone.
But before this all gets too fishy, first things first, and that is our flight to Kuala Lumpur, with no Nemo in the flight film choices; Shrek3 instead does the trick for the children. And so on to Terengganu airport on a 50-minute internal flight eastwards, and the final frontier to finding Nemo.
Richard is our diving guide (OK, in my case, shallow snorkelling guide). My idea is to take us all of 4m under. Richard has a colour photographic chart of our quarry: the clown anemone fish. Forget the sergeant major fish, trumpet fish, zebra fish or even the more exotic types of shark, we tell him. We are laserfocused on Nemo.
Or at least we were before our children’s lovely nanny projectile-vomits her breakfast (fresh mango) on to a hapless German tourist sitting with his teenage girlfriend.
We are in the middle of the only properly stormy day recorded in August in Malaysia in the past 50 years. It usually pours only at night in Tenggol. Thunder and the rolling waves make two Japanese tourists turn green and lie down on the boat while hearty Scandinavians scoff and quaff around us.
All three of my children go very quiet on our hour-long sea voyage and eventually also turn green as we head to snorkel paradise. And so on to our elusive quarry.
Snorkels on and we are off. Baby sharks come and go. The sea is not the tranquil turquoise glass surface seen in our brochure. The waves are briskly choppy but my daughter Octavia, 7, is undeterred. As the Japanese lie corpselike on the floor, Octavia pleads with me to head towards the reef with Yus, a Malay diver, as our guide. Richard has gone with the real men to do some real diving.
And finally there he is. Wiggling and whirling and waving among the coral: Nemo in all his iridescent orange glory. Jasper, 9, and Monica, 7, are too scared by the waves but Octavia and I hit gold. We’ve met Nemo. Not, however, without a price. My sea legs are embarrassingly feeble and as soon as I put on a mask and breathing tube in the sea, I feel like death. I amso nauseous and enfeebled that if even lightly pressed, I would give away every state, or even marital, secret.
But when you are 100m out and accompanying a young child with a dream, you have to try pretending you’re a macho dad, or at least one who is trying. ‘‘ Please don’t throw up, Dad,’’ she shouts. We both keep going and Nemo makes one little girl very happy.
Elusive quarry: A clown anemone fish